Posted in Helpful hints, Hiking

Hiking with a Smartphone

GPS trace of a hike

Does this seems familiar:

Her: Wow, I can see for miles. What a great view!
Him: beep-ding … Hang on, got to check this e-mail, and Twitter, and look at Facebook and …

A hike is an opportunity to get some exercise, unwind from daily stress, and enjoy nature. One argument for not bringing a smartphone on hikes is that it can destroy the natural experience for you and those traveling with you.

So, should you bring your smartphone with you on hikes? Yes, definitely! A smartphone is a multifunction device, but first and foremost, it is a communications device. Think of it as an emergency communications device. If someone in your party, or some other person that you meet on the trail requires emergency assistance, you can use your smartphone to call for help.

Admittedly there are places in Ohio where there is no cell service. But these days such spots are fewer and fewer. The Hocking Hills used to be a dead zone, but now cell service is more generally available, though still a little iffy. Usually if you can’t get a signal, a short hike to the top of a nearby hilltop will yield a bar or two. When the signal isn’t strong enough for a voice call, you still may be able to send a text message.

As I discussed in a previous article, a smartphone can be used for car navigation to direct you to a trail-head. Once you’re hiking, a smartphone can be used as a handheld GPS to help keep track of your hiking path, and if necessary, get you back to your starting point. Deb and I have Android phones and use an app called ‘My Tracks’. This app will track your path in real-time, compute mileage, speed, and change in elevation. A feature was recently added that computes total calories burned.

Smartphones can be used to access on-line and off-line hiking information. The TrekOhio web site is designed to work on mobile devices. County guides can be obtained by entering:

Hence: will retrieve our guide page for Fairfield county. For off-line use, we will frequently download color hiking maps as PDF’s to our smartphone. This will allow us to refer to a map even if we don’t have cell service.

Smartphones are handy for quickly obtaining a short-range weather forecast. I like to get hourly forecasts the day of a hike and look at Doppler radar. Prevailing winds are generally from the west, so I can look at what’s coming our way from Indiana.

I occasionally use my smartphone as a camera. Google has added a feature called ‘photosphere’ to Android that lets you take 360 degree pictures. I’ve not used this feature often, but you can see a segment of a one of these pictures here.

We also use our smartphones for entertainment. We listen to audible books via our smartphones while driving to or from a park. When camping we often use a smartphone to read books in the tent during the evening.

Anyone who owns a smartphone knows how quickly they go through batteries. I always bring an external power-pack that can recharge a phone on the go. There are power-packs that use rechargeable lithium batteries, as well as ones that accept AA batteries.

And remember if social network updates are distracting you from your experience of nature, you can turn your phone off or put it in airplane mode.

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© Deborah Platt, Robert Platt and 2012 to 2021

5 thoughts on “Hiking with a Smartphone

    1. Robert, while hiking we typically have our phones in “airplane mode” and are just using them for the GPS feature. The GPS capabilities of the phone can be very helpful when the trail is confusing, or when in areas that don’t have trails, but do allow hiking, such as some nature preserves, wildlife areas and state forests. Since the phone is airline mode, the ringtone is not going off.

  1. I love this post. Interesting info. We both in my family have newest Samsung Android phones, but we have not loaded any kind this program. Last autumn we trekked in quite “difficult” Arctic fells and many time I thought that we are happy when having the possibility to call help, if needed.

    To see how many km / miles trekked is really nice to know and also at which level. I listen to my favorite music from my phone. Because I am learning languages, the newest one Portuguese, I check every day news from Brazil, France, and Spain in their original languages. It is easy way to learn more than on courses. Of course I listen to radio stations from South and Central America which play Cumbias and Merengues.

    1. Sartenada, Bob and I have Samsung Android phones, too. He has a Nexus, and I have a Galaxy S3. I have discovered a really nice language learning app for my Android phone. It is called Duolingo. I use it to practice Spanish. But it also helps people to practice French, German, Portuguese, Italian, and English. If you already have some knowledge of the foreign language, it lets you test out of some of the beginning material. I really like it, and it’s free. There is also a companion web site:

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