Review: Planning Camping Trips with the Moonlight Mobile App

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Over the years, I've learned there are two general types of trip planners - those who think of, meticulously document, share, and cover every single detail before an adventure, and those who...don't. 

I'm in the former camp, and for us obsessive logisticians, getting everything written and shared can be a challenge. Nailing down details like campsite reservations, meals, snacks, who's bringing different items, and what activities you can participate in can be a logistical nightmare. But I love camping, and I love sharing experiences with friends, so trip planning challenges will never keep me from wanting to spend time with people I care about outdoors.

Over the years, I've tried and seen a number of different solutions with respect to trip planning, including online checklist options like Packwhiz, extremely long email chains, and everything in between. My most recent go-to option? Google Drive, and more specifically, Google Sheets. My tripmates and I build a Google Sheet with multiple tabs representing topic areas like group gear, individual gear, the itinerary, addresses and phone numbers, and meal planning. Google makes it easy to share and edit the document, which is key.

It's worked well so far, but when the folks at Active Network reached out to me to try Moonlight, a new camping trip planning app, I was intrigued. (Full disclosure:  the company paid me to do so.) Could the app meet my obsessive planning needs?

What Is Moonlight?

Sounds like a good day, no?
Moonlight is Active Network's new trip management app, and it allows subscribers to tailor adventures by organizing activities, creating and sharing itineraries and checklists, and making the best of their camping experiences with built-in interactive resources.
"The paid ad-free version [$5.99 annually] adds value to the app by giving users the ability to add activities and meals to the planner, edit capabilities for other paid users, share checklists with other paid users, assign items to users invited on the trip, and export action items through email." (From Active Network)
Translation? It's designed to make camping trip planning easier with feature like collaborative checklists, meal planners, recipes, packing lists, and “how to” content and safety tips. It includes built-in activities and games like capture the flag and cornhole, sports like rock climbing and hiking, ghost stories, songs to sing along to, and more.

Test Driving Moonlight and Overall Impressions

In general, Moonlight does a lot of things very well, specifically providing camping tips and activity ideas, but I don't see it replacing my other trip planning tools long-term...yet. 

On the positive side, I'd download the app just for the recipes, activities, and camping tips! Some of the recipe ideas are really, really good, some of the ghost stories are fantastic, and there's a good bit of useful information in the Camping Tips section. The user interface is well designed and simple to use. I can see and keep track of as many trips as I want in one place, and look back on past trips, which I love doing. 

The built-in recipe book, organized by meal, is one of my favorite features. 
It's clear the app is meant specifically for camping, but I was able to adapt it to backpacking trip planning. The pre-built checklist options make it easy to avoid having to type everything in every time I plan a trip, but leave flexibility when it comes to adding my own items. I also love the list of activities, and the fact that if I'm staying in a campground available from Reserve America, I know exactly what amenities the campground has. You can also check weather forecasts, and export the shopping list you've created via email and send to anyone you'd like.

With respect to things I didn't like, or missed, the biggest challenge is the fact that my tripmates need to have the paid version of the app to unlock key features, and they have to be iPhone users; the app isn't available for Android devices yet. Other tools like Google Sheets don't require a subscription or a fee, are significantly more customizable, and don't require a specific operating system. Though I give up features like a list of ghost stories to tell around the campfire if I choose Google Sheets instead of Moonlight, the flexibility is more important to me. 

A closer look at some of the built-in features and tools.
And with every trip I plan on Moonlight, at the moment, I have to start from scratch. There's no option to clone or copy past trips. My gear list is generally the same for most backpacking trips, for example, and having to re-create it each time is time-consuming. I also found myself using the same items on the checklist feature multiple times; I couldn't enter "3 t-shirts," and instead had to select "t-shirt" three times.

But there's more to come, and the new features just might change how often I use the app. After chatting with the team, I learned there are a bunch of planned enhancements, including:
  • Bear poop, a social features that allow you to provide secrets related areas that might not be well-known to the inexperienced user or first time camper. 
  • Pre-populated checklists so you can start your trip planning process with a list of suggested, common, and important items.
  • And "Offline Mode," which will be great if you're using the app in areas without cell service.
  • The ability to save, retrieve, and edit checklists made from previous trips.
So who is Moonlight best for? If you're a weekend car camper and need to keep track of campground reservations or learn more about your campground, if you camp with kids and find yourself in need of games or ghost stories, or if you're just starting out and need camping tips on the fly, the app is perfect for you. And I can't wait to see what the app looks like when updates and enhancements are in place. I also plan on keeping it on my phone to use for recipe ideas and ghost stories!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary Active Network subscription to try out the app, and compensation for test driving it, but as always, the opinions expressed here are my own.

What do you think, would you give the Moonlight app a try? If you have, did you like it? We'd love to hear from you!

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