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Editors’ Choice 2021: Outly

Find paradise with this guide to campsites around the U.S.A.

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How well do you know your dispersed camping regulations? Chances are, you could stand to bone up on what types of land you can throw down on when campgrounds are full, that elusive permit didn’t come through, or your kids have asked “Are we there yet?” for the thousandth time. Relying on luck to find perfect, people-free campsites can still work (sometimes), but this app offers an easier way to scope out potential weekend getaways while providing nifty mapping capabilities as well.

First, let’s get to perhaps the best part: Outly is free. Not “free to start” or “free, but with paid add-ons;” free as in “never pay a dime.” That quality is all too rare in outdoor tech these days, and we are deeply appreciative of that fact. So what exactly do you get after downloading the app? Outly’s newest and most notable feature (there have been a few iterations since its release in 2018) is a mapping layer that highlights campsites, from official campgrounds to scenic pullouts along remote Forest Service roads. Clicking on an official campground will provide info about the site, such as elevation, GPS coordinates, and water and vehicle access. Some campsites even have a brief written description.

Uniquely, Outly relies on crowdsourcing to constantly grow its database of sites. Love that spot overlooking a lake on some Bureau of Land Management plot, and want to share it with the world? Mark it on the map, throw in a short summary of its charms, and upload. If it looks good, the app’s admins will approve it within a couple weeks. After a night spent on a canyon rim outside Grand Junction, Colorado, we submitted our campsite so that other hikers could car camp with unfettered views of the Grand Mesa in one direction and Unaweep Canyon in the other.

Outly’s topo maps are clean and functional, if not as detailed as other apps that have more specialized mapping capabilities. But testers praised the layers that highlight water sources and their flows, cellular coverage, roads by vehicle usage type, slope angle shading, and different land management designations. They’re all easy to switch on or off, and all are downloadable for offline use. We think that new hikers and campers will especially appreciate both the information and the interface, but even the grizzled vets at Backpacker look to Outly for beta on where to lay their heads.

Free; weightless

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