When Heading Out Hiking, Is Your Phone GPS Enough?

Most people are rarely seen without their smartphone nearby. They provide a connection to our friends, families, social media feeds, bank accounts, and so much more. And now that the mapping and GPS capabilities are so strong, they have essentially made car-based GPS units obsolete. But, if you intend to go hiking in the wilderness, is the GPS on your phone enough to keep you safely oriented?

Well, it depends on which services you have and where you intend to go.

Concerns about Software

The most important thing to realize is that the default mapping application on your phone isn’t really designed to go far from populated areas. Most of these programs were designed to help people navigate roads and certain pedestrian areas, but heading off on a nature walk far from civilization wasn’t really a consideration.

Now, there are other applications you can download to help extend your smartphone’s usefulness once you head out of town. For example, apps designed to help people participate in activities like geocaching can help you track your movements more effectively when you aren’t using traditional roads, but they aren’t going to work in all situations.

When Heading Out Hiking, Is Your Phone GPS Enough?

Issues of Accuracy

A smartphone GPS isn’t going to be as accurate as a standalone model, especially once you get outside of cell phone range. These systems didn’t need to provide as much accuracy as off-road or hiking GPS models designed specifically for those purposes. That means your smartphone may say you are in one place when in fact you are up to 1,000 feet off target.

The GPS in a smartphone also coordinates information from cell towers when you use mapping applications. Once you get outside of range, that extra data point is missing. And that can increase accuracy issues as well.

Standalone GPS models designed for hiking are intended to be highly accurate, even when going through the woods. This means you have a higher chance of actually being where the GPS says you are. And that can be a big benefit should you become disoriented while out and about.

Problems with Battery Life and Durability

Most smartphone owners know that using the GPS function is hard on the phone’s battery. So, if you intend to be hiking for a significant period of time, your battery may give up well before you are ready for it too.

In comparison, hiking GPS units are designed to operate for most of a day on a single set of batteries. That, and if your original batteries die, you can simply swap them out for new ones and keep going. This is a much safer option for hikers, especially when they are truly heading out into the wilderness.

It is also important to consider the durability of more than just the batteries, but of the devices as a whole. Many smartphones aren’t designed to be especially rugged, so having it fall from your hand to the ground may be enough for it to break. A hiking GPS is meant to be used under potentially harsh circumstances, so a simply fall to the ground isn’t likely to affect its ability to function.

The Bottom Line

While a smartphone may be fine for walking through town or a small city park and can be appropriate for light hiking as is often required for geocaching, it isn’t going to replace a standalone GPS for the hardcore hiker. If you want more information about suitable GPS models, you can check out some Garmin GPS reviews on units designed specifically for the task, and then select the option that will suit your needs.

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