Virtually every adventure requires some level of research and planning. And having a great weather app on your phone can help you make the safest decisions possible. But a quick glance at the app store can be overwhelming—from storm trackers to powder alerts and craig-specific forecasting, the glut of weather app options makes it difficult to choose. We’ve sorted through the morass for you and are here to help with a deep dive into the three best weather apps for your next trip. Before we jump in though, there are a couple of key points to remember.
1. Accuracy Requires a Connection
The most accurate weather data comes in real-time. This is fine if you’re in the trip-planning stage but it means that even the best weather apps won’t be accurate in the backcountry (unless you magically get consistent service throughout your trip).
2. High-Quality Data is Key
The best data comes from great sources. The top apps draw their information from NEXRAD, a series of high-resolution weather radars operated by NOAA. Keep in mind that in order to serve up hyper-local reports some apps supplement their NEXRAD information with less accurate user-generated data.
3. Forecasting is still an educated guess
While technology has come a very long way in the last few years, forecasting is still a projection into the future. The further out the forecast, the less accurate it will be. Keep this uncertainty in mind when you’re planning out the perfect trip.
Best Weather Apps for Backpackers and Campers:
Best for: Weather Overview, Longer-term Activity Planning
Features: Weather Underground is known for its comprehensive forecasting and clean design. It utilizes NOAA’s NEXUS radar network, but it also taps into a huge 250,000+ network of personal weather stations spread across the world. Interested in contributing your own data? Check out their personal weather station packages.
WU offers easy to read forecasts, intuitive navigation and the option to toggle between a light and dark interface. From a 24-hr precipitation estimate to humidity, visibility and barometric pressure readings, the “Today’s Weather Conditions” feature has all the data you need to make informed travel decisions. The app also includes sunrise and sunset times, current moon information, robust radar maps and push notifications for severe weather alerts.
If you’re in a U.S location and really want to nerd-out you can also test WU’s accuracy by switching to the National Weather Service’s forecasting tool in-app.
Premium Subscription: $3.99/month or $19.99/year
With a premium subscription, you gain access to in-depth visual forecasts up to 15 days out and a “smart forecast” tool that enables you to build personalized weather forecasts for your outdoor hobbies. Like to bike in mild temps with zero wind? Build an alert for your preferred weather conditions and WU will let you know exactly when you should head out the door.
Also available: Storm, a separate app offered by WU allows you to focus on approaching weather using WU’s storm cell tracking, high-definition radar and customizable alerts.
Dark Sky Weather
Best for: Hyperlocal weather in the next hour
Features: Dark Sky is perfect for knowing exactly how much time (down to the minute) you have before the next weather event. And while it does provide a basic 7-day forecast, the app’s accuracy for minute-by-minute weather changes is really where it shines. Dark Sky uses NOAA and TDWR radar (radars operated by the Federal Aviation Administration) supplemented by proprietary algorithms to produce their hyper-local forecasts. It also utilizes user reports via your phone’s pressure sensors to provide an additional layer of data.
One of Dark Sky’s most beautiful features is the full-screen global radar map. Zoom between your city, state and country to see colorful and real-time weather patterns across the world. Use the time machine feature to view historical weather or future predictions based on seasonal averages.
Price: Pro Tier 1 $9.99/year, Pro Tier 2 $14.99/month or 99.99/year iOS/Android, $29.99 Mac/Windows
Best for: Professional weather forecasting
Features: Radarscope was built with the professional in mind. Used by pilots, truckers and search and rescue teams among others, this is the go-to app if you truly need to see layers of data on your radar images. Unlike most apps (such as Dark Sky) that smooth out their radar for design purposes, RadarScope provides raw views for the highest level of detail possible.
There are two subscription levels available for RadarPro. With Tier 1 you can select any NEXRAD or TDWR radar in the U.S., Guam, and Puerto Rico and view side-by-side panels of radar layers to see where and when the weather is moving. View map layers such as dual-polarization, reflective, accumulation numbers. You can also replay and export any of your selected images.
In Tier 2 you gain access to more data types such as azimuthal shear (a type of wind shear used to identify things like mesocyclones and tornadoes), local storm reports, a 30-day archive and much more.
RadarScope might offer a bit more than you need for the average outdoor trip, but if you’re interested in learning about weather patterns, it’s a fantastic app to use. They even offer an in-depth blog to help you get started.
As a freelance writer and designer, Claire Montana Jencks works with outdoor brands, non-profits, and publications to share stories of outdoor adventure. Though she works all over the world, her roots are in the PNW. Surfing, mountain biking, and skiing are her passions.