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GPS Device or Smartphone App Navigation?

Smartphone Mapping Resolution
Smartphone Mapping Resolution

I’ve been testing two GPS navigation devices this summer: a higher-end GPS unit and a smartphone app that has very good maps. Except for having a longer battery life and being waterproof, I can’t see what the value is in having a dedicated $400+ GPS versus using the GPS on your smartphone with a ~$15 mapping and tracking application and an extra battery or recharger for longer trips.


Which do you prefer for backcountry and hiking trail navigation?

  1. a GPS device or a GPS-enabled smartphone application?
  2. Why?

Please leave a comment.


  1. Android smartphones since 2009, because:
    – There are so many apps with different useful functionality that you will never get at once on one dedicated GPS device.
    – I don’t want to waste money and time on choosing, buying and managing (updating, charging, uploading maps, downloading tracks, etc.) one more device – too much electronics in our regular life already!
    – Smartphone (at least Android, just don’t know about iPhone) saves precious time by letting you do every thing to manage your map/track data even on the way to/from a trip through 3G or Wi-Fi, without a need to plug the device into computer, use additional software, etc. I cannot emphasize this enough, because when I had some Garmin device, I ended up with reading/writing GPS coordinates manually, because I was too lazy to buy cable, install software, find maps, etc. It can even get dangerous, because having GPS device without proper content and skills to manage it gives you a false sense of security.
    – I prefer carrying spare electricity sources instead of spare devices, because of weight, pursuit for simplicity and that I always go with friends on multi-day trips, and they have their own smartphones that act as spare navigation and emergency devices for me too in case my smartphone is lost or non-functional.

    For navigation I currently use (sometimes simultaneously):
    – Free RMaps which downloads regular, satellite and height maps from popular online map services and then uses them offline.
    – Free My Tracks (by Google) – records path, keeps position always fixed, shows stats, speaks out distance and current average speed loudly on each kilometre walked, shares tracks with friends after the trip, uploads them to Google Drive and shows them on Google Earth.
    – Some old, but sometimes useful maps in .jpg and .tiff formats on SD card for manual navigation (without automatic GPS positioning).
    – Free OSMand (offline vector maps) for getting to the trail and for popular tracks, like Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.
    – Free app that specializes on local maps. Don’t use that much. I could’ve paid $15 if there was something worthwhile for my location, but there isn’t.

    One battery is enough to use all this for a whole day of walking. I always carry one original spare battery, a cheap external 2-cell (“5600mAh”) charger enough for 2 full charges when on long trips, and I think I’ll just quit using whole day track recording if I go to remote places for a long time, which will allow me to use one battery for 2-3 days of navigation. If I could oftenly go into wild for more than 3 days, I would buy a cheap non-original spare battery for each day of a trip – it may be the best balance of energy/weight/cost (not ease of use obviously), at least theoretically.

    Smartphone also acts as:
    – Number one “signalling and rescue” item in case of emergency.
    – Spare flashlight.
    – Average mirror.
    – Offline wikipedia copy (without images), mushroom and knot reference book. I also eager to find a good first aid reference app in my native language.
    – Power-hungry when compared with special devices, but convenient music listening and book reading device. If you do it like 1-2 hours a day, I don’t think it’ll make sense to take extra gadgets.
    – Some new smartphones can also act as a pretty good camera (not my 2011 Moto).
    – There is a growing industry of low-power wearable sensors like heartbeat monitors that communicate with smartphones via Bluetooth 4.0/ANT+, although I don’t think it’ll be useful it hiking for now.

    Some tips and tricks:
    – Turning on flight mode (which turns off all wireless but GPS) doubles or triples battery life. Turning phone off for a night may also save some juice, but constantly powering off/on is a bad idea, because booting is an expensive action – it takes 0.5-2% of battery life and “fully sleeping, but on” phone with screen off and no running GPS, wireless or app activity may use 1% for 1-8 hours depending on model and configuration.
    – Folding waterproof clear TPU case is a must for rainy weather (touch screen won’t work when wet on most models) and recommended for river crossings.
    – Plastic+rubber protective case that sticks out of the screen a little on the edges saves my phone’s screen (and everything else, of course) for almost two years. I think it’s a great investment for 10% of the phone cost.

    Weight measurements if someone is interested: phone with battery and protective case is 6oz, spare battery – 1.24oz, 2-cell universal charger with short microUSB cable – 4.85oz, waterproof clear case is about 1oz. So my kit for 1-2 days weights 8.24oz, for 3 days or more – 13.1oz.

  2. There seems to be a lot of chat across various blogs (UK especially) about digital mapping, smartphone apps and so forth at the moment. I’m sure it’s the way forward, but until I can be confident that all the mapping I might want (UK and abroad) is available in some vaguely consistent way, I’m inclined to stick to paper maps!

    Having said that, if the shortcomings of each device could be ironed out so that there was one with a good screen definition that works in all lights, with a waterproof casing, excellent battery life and quality mapping available, I might be tempted! :-)

    • Paper maps??? Seriously?

      • Yeah, paper technology has come a long way. It is now 100% powered by light. It works under both solar and artificial lights as well. You are also able to buy optional accessories such as a stylus device which can allow you to write directly on the map. I use them to draw declination lines across the map which make it easier to use with another accessory: the compass. This device uses magnetic technology to identify direction. When combined with the declination tech, it allows you to orient the map to the land.

        You should check it out. The battery life is phenomenal. I haven’t had to replace them yet, and I’ve been using some of my maps for 20+ years. Crazy!

      • It’s also platform independent, has flex screen capability, doesn’t crash, and the obsolescence cycle is very long. The tech is backed by over 4000 years of research. It’s amazing stuff. Millennials should try it out!

  3. Being a map and compass guy, I only use my smartphone app for recording where I have been and logging interesting waypoints, including natural history features that I want to put into a field naturalist’s journal. I have been using the Backpacker GPS Trails Pro (Trimble Outdoors Navigator) app for several years and have found it perfect for what I want. When I need it to be waterproof, I put the phone in a zip lock bag, in which, I can still use it. I invested in both a portable charger and heavy duty Otter Box to protect it.

    There are several nice features in this app; several map types, weather radar overlays and the ability to download maps ahead of time. I have tried others, but this has everything I need and I only have to use one app.

  4. Smartphone.

    Spare batteries are a must if you’re using a mobile so Android is the way to go. My Galaxy Note 2 has a nice big screen and battery, as well as GLONASS support + barometer. I keep it in an Aquapa case after ruining a previous phone. I mainly use Aplinequest and create maps using Mobile Atlas Creator for Scotland and Viewranger premium maps in Europe. It’s really just backup for a map and compass however. My tracks is nice to play with but I don’t often use it.

    The most common app i use is “Grid reference” – it’s sole function is to return a simple six figure OS grid reference. Used in conjunction with an OS map this is pretty much all you ever need. I’ve never really found satisfactory plain grid reference apps for in europe. Spanish Maps are awful, I think the French maps use some specific GPS coordinate system, Swiss maps are so good I’ve never had the need.

  5. Dedicated GPS (but I always carry a compass)

    Three reasons – battery life, battery life, battery life.

    Yes, my iPhone (and Android before it) has lots of useful GPS and navigation apps, but my Garmin GPSmap 60Csx can go for 20+ hours on a set of AA lithium batteries while the iPhone lasts maybe 3 hours using the GPS. (The Android was even worse). Apps are great only if you have the battery power to use them.

    • Exactly, John. Once they have batteries sorted I’ll start using a smartphone. Even my gps watch lasts 50 hours on battery.

    • I use my Garmin eTrex Vista HCx for situations where I’m running the GPS constantly (recording a track of my entire trip)– I’ve got up to 40 hours out of a pair of lithium AA’s in that case, and I generally get 24 hours out of rechargeable Sanyo Eneloops.

      I’ve used my iPhone 4 for tracking myself on occasion, though, and I’ve done four or five hours with the phone on in my pack and draining only 50-60% of the battery. I wouldn’t rely on that for long-term use, but using any smartphone for GPS use, the best use is to keep it off until you need it, and then use it only for location checking.

      The other bonus of smart phones is that you can use multiple map layers– with Gaia GPS, I have USGS topos, OpenCycleMap topos, Google Aerial imagery, and so on with one device without having to pay $100 for a set of Garmin’s basemaps.

      Of course, bringing both the phone and the GPS if you have them can’t hurt too much :)

      • I’m getting fed up with bringing both. I think I’m going to a phone for a position-check only route with a battery backup. No need to track myself. I know where I am. :-)

        • Fair enough. I bring both because I use the eTrex to map trails for my apps, but that’s all business ;-)

          I’ve been thinking of this question a bit, though, for if I ever get around to hiking the Continental Divide. I’m confident enough in my navigation skills that I might leave the eTrex at home, take the iPhone with spare battery charger, and only use the iPhone GPS occasionally for backup navigation. That would be kind of cool.

        • What’s your opinion of Android vs iPhone? I honestly hate my Android and it seems that GaiaGPS on iPhone is probably usable, compared to the Android version. Assuming I carry a big backup battery, is it worth switching to an iPhone. What about iPhone 4 vs iPhone 5? Does it really matter? (2 year window).

        • Well, I’m certainly biased toward iPhone, but then again I think most people are biased toward what they use (think of Mac vs PC debates that go nowhere). Since I also write programs for iPhone, that’s just another level of bias. But it does seem easier to write programs for iPhone than android, which may be why Gaia works really well on iOS and less so on Android (I’ve never used the android version, but the iPhone one is great).

          As for which hardware version, even if the battery life of the 5 is less, I’d go for it. Faster processor and more memory and other higher specs just mean it will be useful longer. Buying a low end computer always just leads to frustration later on :-)

        • I help make Gaia, and I agree with all comments! Our iOS app is great, but our Android app is sub-par.

          We’re totally rebuilding the Android app as we speak, though… the lead developer on the project is a thru-hiker, and we’re building the app totally in-house, just like we did iOS.

          You can check out the latest Android beta on the Market… we are developing it openly while keeping the old app up, and then we’ll release the beta to the regular app.

        • Thanks for the comment Andrew – I’ll postpone judgement until your new release comes out on Android, if I still have one by then. :-)

        • You should really try out the beta on the Market, as it exists today. It’s very functional, and I prefer it to the current production version of Gaia.

          You can send an email to [email protected] for a reimbursement for the beta too. We just charge for the beta so it doesn’t become a substitute for the real app, and we’ve reimburse anyone who emails about it.

    • I just spent 3 days backpacking using an iPhone 4 and had 78% battery left upon my return.

      As far as battery use, I can get a full week of GPS use out of an iPhone. The way you do it is (a) turn off all cell activity in settings (b) turn down the screen brightness as low as you can bear it (c) turn the phone off completely if you’re going to use it less than once every 2 hours (d) use an app like Gaia that only uses GPS momentarily when you need it (e) Don’t use any kind of breadcrumb GPS tracking – that will kill your battery very quickly (f) use common sense – you don’t need to be checking your maps every few minutes – whether paper or digital.

      I love Gaia because I can flip back and forth between USGS topo maps, satellite images, road maps, etc. Almost any map you can imagine. They’re all downloaded instantly, don’t require a cell connection to use (you pre-download them) and are pretty fast. We had to reroute in the car because of wild fires, and I was able to download all the additional maps I needed right from the car. For reasons like that, I’ve quite carrying my Garmin GPS.
      I can set way points and flip between maps to see what they look like. Much faster and more accurate than old school paper maps.

      It does take some getting used-to though. You can also buy an auxilliary battery pack for about $25 that will give an iPhone a full charge, and weighs 3 oz.

  6. I’ve used both, but prefer the dedicated GPS unit. When I used my iphone, the battery drains extremely fast (generally within 8-10 miles) because the GPS feature only works when the radios are on… not only does the battery get sucked down from the GPS radio, but the phone is constantly searching for a signal which is non-existant in most parts of the Whites. Also, because it is an Apple device you can’t swap the battery and the only option would be to use some sort of external battery pack. I still bring my phone, but prefer to use it as a camera and turn the radios off with “airplane mode”.

    I have a Garmin eTrex20 which has lasted 3-days (30+ miles) of hiking without a battery change. It uses AA batteries for easy change and costs less than $200. I mainly use it for making tracks and keep it on the “trip computer” so I can see mileage, elevation, etc during the hike. I’ve used it enough that I would trust it as a backup navigation tool (to a map and compass of course).

    • Hi Kris, if you have an iPhone by ATT you can turn off cellular data, wifi, etc. The GPS chip will still function with all of these other things turned off. I did this on a recent trek of 4 days and only had to charge my phone once with a solar panel.

      • I do have ATT and I do turn off cell data, wifi, etc, but the phone still looks for a cellular signal (just not a data-carrying signal). It helps a bit by not downloading emails, etc, but still drains the battery quickly. I will actually be upgrading my phone soon and plan to keep the old one for GPS use… the GPS chips still works, but it doesn’t look for the cell-signal when deactivated.

        I also used the Gaia GPS app and I think it’s fantastic.

        • Really? I tried using GaiaGPS yesterday on an Android and found it very hard to import a GPX file without having to buy a microSD card. From some reason I can’t get dropbox installed on my Galaxy S…mutter. Plus map display is amazingly slow with an ofline downloaded map. I like the built in compass heading and the offline mode, which seems to suspend GPS pinging, but so far I prefer Viewranger much more.

        • Can’t say that I’ve had those problems. Importing GPX by email or dropbox is straightfoward or you can do it by connecting to a computer with itunes. Offline mode should be more responsive, maybe you have too many layers going at once which might bog it down? I’ve always found it responsive and easy to use, certainly would be great for “spot checks” which I’ve done and definitely saves battery.

  7. GPS – waterproof, long battery life, and – especially with the new Garmin (i also use an extrex 20) very easy access to upload/download of the tracks. It just looks like another usb file system on my linux box. The newer android has a “smart” file system that needs all sorts of drivers and doesn’t play nice (at least on an asus tablet). I can go quite a long time, about a week, on a pair of photo lithium aa cells. The lithium cells are also significantly lighter than regular ones, which adds to my smug feeling of lightness.

  8. Dedicated GPS device, as you said it “for having a longer battery life and being waterproof”. Also proper buttons easier to use with gloves (even mitts) in the cold than a touch screen.

    • They now have “e touch” gloves that allow you to use a smartphone without having to expose your fingers to the cold. Saw them at REI a few months ago.

      • Yes they do but when it’s proper Nordic witner, I prefer way thicker gloves, or mitts. I can use my GPS with big mitts as well though it’s little slower. And lithium AA batteries work a lot better than the cell phone battery when it gets close to -40C/F.

  9. Smartphone because its cheap and convenient.

    Whatever I use I always have a backup. I lost my phone last week whilst on holiday but luckily had a road atlas in the car and guidebook (with some maps) on my Kindle.

  10. I’ve switched from GPS in years past to Gaia GPS app for iPhone. In fact, I recently used the smartphone app for a trek along the PCT a few weeks ago. I always carry my phone with me anyway for pictures and for making calls. The biggest issue I had with a smartphone for navigation was battery drain. I fixed this by purchasing a SolarMonkey solar panel which worked great to charge my phone, my ipod, and a friend’s ipod on our last adventure. I still bring map and compass in case technology fails in the field.

  11. As a Garmin GPS user started since the days of GPS V till now using Oregon, We had a chance to challenge ourselves 40 days backpacking using a Sony Xperia Smartphone and Garmin Oregon. Had the maps loaded to the Oregon and as for the smartphone had used Offline Google Map since we were not prepare to pay for roaming services and set our phones to flight mode. .

    Frankly with the APPS for smartphone these days, it simply takes over our Garmin GPS. We travelled Indonesia, Cambodia and all the way by road to Singapore. We never had a chance to use our Garmin GPS. Smartphone was doing the job for us and all we needed was WiFi services to download more maps. APPS such as GPS Essential for Android was good enough.

    As for hiking, I suppose it can be done the same. Why carry a GPS since smartphone can do all the tracking.

    As for backup battery, had chance to find a made in China AA battery charger. All we need to do was to carry extra eneloop AA batteries and since some of our gadget uses the same battery that saves a lot of weight, If for longer hike, we could use Solar Panel and charge the batteries .

  12. Smartphone when I’m on the AT, because I rarely need to navigate and I carry it anyways. It’s tucked away in a waterproof case, turned off, buried in my pack.

    For day hikes and search and rescue, I use a Garmin 62s. I can leave it on to record my route all day, it’s waterproof, it has dedicated function buttons, and it gets great reception even in tree cover. Also, the batteries are cheap and can be found everywhere.

  13. GPS, because I live in Alaska and much of the State has no cell phone coverage at all. I’ve heard some of the newer phones can actually get satellite info for GPS but I have an old iPhone 3GS and it for sure does not.

  14. I use a map. I carry an iPhone, turned off. That is for emergencies.

    @Ramon Instead of a first aid reference, take a 16 hour wilderness first aid course. Knowledge and practice is far more useful than a reference.

  15. Neither.

    Compass and a paper map. A GPS is not necessary and I don’t own a smartphone. The cell stays in the car because I don’t get service where I hike.

    • This is actually how I navigate. The GPS is on and on the top of the pack to give me a log to post, and my cell is off and wrapped in plastic for emergencies.

  16. Smartphone. Use backcountry navigator in uk – simply fantastic. Can’t understand why anyone would shell out the silly prices for a dedicated gps. Walking in northern spain at the moment and bcn just loads maps for me, nothing to pay and all works fine. Simples. Carry spare batteries and will outlast all gps. Dedicated gps are dinosaurs, only sold to the ignorant by the ignorant……..

    • Valid arguments are being given for both or neither. Probably want to take rhetoric down a notch or two.

      Another argument for dedicated gps that I haven’t heard mentioned yet it ruggedness. Broke my smartphone screen on my last outing (bushwhacking 3 miles in 12 hours!).

    • Backcountry Navigator app on Android works great in U.S. too. Does everything and much, much more than my Garmin Etrex.
      Battery life isn’t too much of a problem is you have an Android phone with a user replaceable battery (HTC doesn’t). On my basic Samsung phone I get 10 hours of battery life in airplane mode (phone and data off, but GPS still on).
      The biggest disadvantage is usage in winter. There are supposedly gloves that will allow the use of a capacitance-type screen, but when it’s sub zero I will not be using such gloves. My old Garmin Etrex with buttons can be used with mittens on, so it’s still the winter unit.
      I also don’t think my phone is a good at getting a GPS lock when in trees or on a north-facing slope as my Etrex. If I think I really, really, need the GPS, the Etrex will still come with me.

    • David, you appear to have a severe problem with your ego. Nobody with any sense would call others ignorant because they don’t agree with your choice of mapping hardware. Have that checked by a therapist.

  17. This is a great discussion topic. Starting in 1994 I used GPS solely for hiking in the Whites and while serving in the military. In 2004 after going on many search and rescues for lost hikers who had GPS’s I realized solid map & compass skills are needed before relying on GPS solely and created an 8-hour detailed Land Navigation Course (modeled after AIARE). Today, as a converted smartphone user I no longer own a separate GPS and use an App called “ViewRanger” on my iPhone. There are ways to prevent over reliance, like strong map & compass skills, and carrying back-up power (I carry Goal Zero recharger that can recharge my iPhone 4s 3 times from a completely dead battery. I’m not really using if for navigation, but more to record my adventures. I never hike without a map & compass, and practice those skills regularly, but it’s fun to upload hikes and see average speed, elevation gain, etc…

    The GPS chip in the iPhone 4s, and I assume the 5, is as accurate as any Garmin GPS I have ever owned, and I have owned at least 3.

    • The application I’ve been using with the great maps is ViewRanger USA which only runs on Apple devices. I’ve also been testing ViewRanger Open for Andoid. It’s a very good tool platform once you figure out how to optimize your battery usage.

  18. Like other posts I’m a GPS guy. I started out with a Garmin 62CSx => Oregon => Montana (aging eyes) but have since down rev’d to an eTrex 20 (primarily lower weight). Going to the trail head I use a Garmin app on my iPhone. Once on trail I use the eTrex for recording my travels. I will also download the trails from the White Mountain Guide Online and load them into the eTrex as a reference. Being a believer in redundancy, I also carry a map and compass along with the ‘Topo Map’ app on my iPhone which allows me to carry all the topo maps for NH and Maine. (it’s a great app). I also have an InReach unit which comes with its own set of maps.

    Lots is good, more is better and too much is just enough….

  19. Joe (Tahosa) McCarthy

    I’ll use a GPS as I have for over 12 years. But a GPS is only as good as the user. One should know how to plot UTM waypoints on a map and translate them into a viable location analysis. Knowledge of a Topo map and its friend a compass are probably the most useful tools for back country land navigation.
    I’m an avid geocacher who hides them in the back country of Crosier Mountain Colorado and many of my caches require the usuage of maps and compasses, I literally take away the GPS and make them do it the Old School Way.

  20. Both. I like to record and save my tracks, so the battery life, waterproofness, and toughness are important for a device attached to my pack strap and running all the time. Plus, the “Go To” feature works much better. But for really studying the topography (or aerial views), the maps of Backcountry Navigator on my Android are far superior to the Garmin maps. IMHO.

  21. I grew up around maps and will always have a map and compass with me. To me, a detailed topo map is like having a good book to read. I wrestled with the phone vs. GPS issue and went with an Android phone.

    I’ve had a couple DeLorme GPS units and the screen is way too small and I find the software clunky. Also, my unit started having problems right when the warranty expired and upgrading my phone was cheaper.

    I looked at iPhone and instead went with a Samsung Galaxy S3 (which I drowned) and replaced with an S4 (and purchased a waterproof case). Android beat Apple in my orchard because of screen size and the ability to replace batteries–a handful of spares costs little on eBay.

    The phone also carries research software I use daily along with reference programs, such as knot guides (I never can remember which way the rabbit goes around the tree or when he disappears down the hole), star guides, etc.

    I’ve got some free hiking apps but I also sprung for Backcountry Navigator Pro, which I really like. There’s a load of free map and imagery sources available and I’ve used the detailed satellite photography many times in the desert. I also got the upgrade to use Accuterra with it, but if I had it to do again, I’d forgo Accuterra. The free map sources are better in my opinion. Backcountry is constantly updating the program and I’ve found them to be very responsive to questions and issues with it. I installed a 64GB SD card for my maps.

    The problem I have with the Android (other than the fact it cannot swim) is that bright sunlight makes it very hard to read, so much so that I thought the battery had died when I was on top of Franconia Ridge a few weeks ago. The battery was fine–the sun was so bright, I couldn’t see anything even when I tried to give it some shadow. I’ve been told the Oregon series GPS units are sunlight readable. If I find that to be true and I get independently wealthy, I might get one for the desert motorcycle excursions I make with my brother in law.

    On the paper map issue, USGS has all their topo quads available for free download. Since I own a small sign company and have a wide format printer, I print my own on Tyvek. I print maps on both sides and sometimes will edit and bring several maps together into one. Being in the graphics biz does have a few perks.

  22. My vote is for a GPS unit.

    While I like using different GPS apps on my hone, which gives much better picture and resolution, it all comes down to battery life. I usually record my tracks during trips. With my phone, that kills the battery in less than 12 hours. With my current GPS unit I can do the same thing for days on a set of AA batteries. When the battery life on my phone becomes comparable to that of the GPS, I’ll switch, but not until then.

    I should note that I rarely actually use any GPS based navigation. I’m a map and compass guy. I mostly use it to record my trips.

  23. I like to use an Android application. I use a combination of a few different applications in fact. If you have an Android phone I would recommend Locus maps. You can download maps of an area to save for offline viewing.
    Why? It’s free.

  24. I like my eTrex 20, mostly for the trip computer and logging the tracks & waypoints. This past Sunday we also looked at the topo map on the GPS to correlate with the paper topo map and make sure which road we were crossing while on the AT in PA (we crossed three or four roads). I also carry a compass, in case the GPS (and set of extra batteries) fails. Mostly I rely on the paper topo map and printed trail descriptions, using the GPS trip computer for mileage, so we can be on the lookout for landmarks, side trails, expected locations of campsites, etc. I use my iPhone for pictures, but I try to conserve the battery in case we ever need to make an emergency call (as if there would be a signal).

  25. Mostly I solo and enjoy depending on myself.

    I have carried trail guide(s!), maps (!) and a compass and am looking at a GPS. While I’m off in the woods I turn off the cellphone and I’m still on the hunt for a digital camera with built in GPS.

    But I’ve been wondering if, on the AT (at least), the maps, compass, and GPS aren’t simply pacifiers.


    • Come to New Hampshire and try that. You can forget about the GPS, but having a map and compass are real handy since the local trail system isn’t white blazed that heavily. Then there’s the problem of above treeline whiteouts. Regardless, I always carry maps on the AT so I can find a road and a resupply.

  26. Primary navigation, laminated A4 route maps & a compass.
    Carry a Garmin Geko 201 (basic but only ~ 3ozs).
    Also carry my iPhone which is loaded with View Ranger Atlas & maps, great to have back up mapping (& GPS) just in case the paper ones gets blown away or I walk off the map! Also use the iPhone for photos, a bit of music, downloading weather forecasts when on an extended trip & occasionally a phone call; a multi-functional piece of kit! Normally a full charge will last over a week (on airplane mode most of the time).

  27. GPS as the phones reception always runs out at the crucial moment!!!

  28. So what is the current thinking on using apps for navigation? I have been playing with AllTrails and ViewRanger and plan to try them out on my section hike on the AT in a couple of weeks. (Also have the Guthook app) So far I like the AllTrails app because you can make custom maps to download or print out. I still take paper maps with me as well.

    • It really depends on the trip. I’ve reverted mostly to maps because I trust them more and they don’t need batteries. When I hike the AT I bring torn out pages from the AT guide and ATC maps for that section, not that I really need the maps, but because I like to read them. If I were to use an app for the AT, I’d probably use Guthooks, if only because it is so simple and provides all of the info I need. Other apps are horribly complex and chew through battery life.

      • Yeah I doubt I will need the apps for the AT, just trying them out in a low risk environment. My current goal is to improve my navigation skills so I can start to do more off trail hiking.

  29. I am currently fighting BackCountry Navigator Pro on an Android phone, a Samsung Note 3. I’m losing.
    I thought the Note 3 with it’s 5 1/2″ screen (diagonal measurement) would be the way to go, have my doubts at this moment. And the BCN interface is making me want to swear. Also their aerial maps are years behind Google Earth so that’s not helping either.

  30. I have several Gamin GPS receivers and several GPS apps on my Samsung Note 3.
    For Hiking and Backpacking I carry the Garmin GPSMap62ST. For casual walking I use Gaia on the cellphone. Much prefer the 62ST but the screen is achingly small

  31. Good grief. Some of these replies display one letter wide! WTH?
    Also some that I can read are Eurocentric so they aren’t all that relevant to a US audience.

  32. I’m reading this on my Samsung Note 3 which is now on Android “Lollopop”. Lollipop, at least the Samsung AT&T version, is not behaving as I expect it to. In several ways it’s a loser.
    The blog coming thru as one letter per line is one of them and that’s new to me this morning. Rotating the screen and switching over to the full Web page seems to fixed it so maybe it’s a problem with the blog/email format?
    I did a multi day hike in the Ellicott Rock Wilderness area (South Carolina, USA) and carried both the Garmin 62ST and this phone. The Garmin won. Still I wish it had a screen as large as this phone and as readable as a Kindle Paper White in daylight. That would be ideal. I’ve even thought about using a 7″ tablet, but something that size? The first time I fumbled getting it out and dropped it in the mud … would be the last time!?.

  33. Update: using GPS apps with the new iPhone 6s+ huge screen is beautiful!

  34. Gaia GPS on an iPhone 6.
    Huge improvement in battery life over my iPhone 4.
    You can use the GPS while the phone is in airplane mode, which is a major benefit.

    I have no need for my Garman Vista anymore, and would love to sell it to some some sucker.

    Cautions for phone GPS use – always keep your phone protected from the elements, even if it’s in a Ziploc bag, and always carry a back up power source, such as an Anker auxiliary USB charger, cost about $10 and is about the size of your thumb.

    • I concur. I’m evaluating a shit-load of GPS apps at the moment to include as a module in my off-trail navigation course and Gaia is the best so far by a long shot. The 24k maps are included for free. Something you need to pay extra for if you buy a brick (Garmin GPS receiver).

  35. iOS 9.1 w/Gaia GPS on an iPhone 6

    I understand from the Gaia site that GPS needs to get locked before activating airplane mode on an iPhone 6 using iOS 9.1. Would this fact make the iPhone 6 an unreliable GPS mapping unit in the backcountry? I am about to hike the CDT for 30 days and want to ditch the Garmin, if possible. I will not, however, be able to test the iPhone in a proper backcountry environment before departing. All thoughts or experience would be much appreciated!

  36. K…. so amazing info as always. truely thankful for it. In regards to cell phones and sunlight compatibility….. isnt there screen protectors that help with that? I seem to remember seeing something like that once upon a time. But by extension if u had some anti sun glare film or laptop protector u could custom make one if u were that MacGyver. Lol now im gonna hafta research that because it would solve the readability issue.

  37. To me the biggest advantage of using a dedicated GPS unit is the durability. I have broken my phone by dropping it just two feet onto carpet. I wouldn’t expect it to fair much better out in the wilderness. I personally don’t want to risk destroying another nearly $1k phone by pulling it out of my pocket constantly while outdoors. A dedicated gps can be had for under $200 which will greatly reduce the risk if dropped and since most of them are waterproof you don’t have to worry about getting them wet either. Besides that, many people are saying to “just carry an extra battery”. Well, these days, very few of the higher end phones have a removable battery. So to use the phone for any length of time you’d need a fairly big charging brick. If you’re going to carry a heavy charging brick then you might as well just carry a gps unit.

  38. I have had a Garmin Oregon 450 for 6 years, the maps lock up fairly often and leave me without supplemental navigation, do IPhones do that in TOPO GPS mode?

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