Today’s fast-pacing development in the consumer electronics area has been benefiting the outdoors enthusiasts as well. Of course, it does have its flip-side too: Aren’t we supposed to get away from all the modern technology, and just enjoy the simplicity that the outdoors provides?
There can be a good balance, taking advantage of the technology, without going overboard. Technology can provide some added safety and convenience, and make the outdoors endeavor more fun.
One of the most useful electronic devices in the outdoors is the handheld GPS unit. It is a great navigation aid, utilizing the built-in compass, altimeter, mapping, and waypoints. It is so easy to mark the location of your car, before heading out on foot. Likewise you can mark various locations you might want to revisit later.
And there is the breadcrumb feature: the GPS unit creates and saves your track, which you can backtrack back to the parking lot. You can also upload the track to Google maps, or use it for other projects.
Keep in mind though, that the GPS unit is not failsafe. You still need old-fashioned navigation skills and proper navigation tools for the task on hand, such as compass and maps. Any electronics can fail anytime. They tend to run out of battery power sooner than expected.
Dedicated handheld GPS units, such as DeLorme, Garmin, and Magellan, among other brands, are the best and most accurate ones for outdoors use, and typically have the most features, including mapping software. But they can be expensive.
A smartphone can be a viable alternative. Nowadays the Android phones and iPhones have good GPS chips built in, and there are great choices of applications to use.
If you already have a smartphone, instead of spending money on a dedicated GPS unit, you can get the appropriate mapping/hiking app for the phone and use it as GPS. There are some major disadvantages though. Mainly, smartphones are not designed for tough use, the way the dedicated GPS devises are. They are not water proof or shock proof.
The GPS chip and the screen also consume a high amount of power, and can drain the battery quite fast. Typically, the maps are not preloaded on the phones, but they can be pre-loaded before the outing. But it can be quite a bit work to pre-load all the needed maps.
If you are a ”hard-core” outdoors person, be it hunting, fishing, hiking, geocaching, and you spend a lot of time outdoors, it is definitely better to buy a dedicated handheld GPS unit.
But for casual users, for occasional hiking, and even activities such as geocaching, you can get by, using your Android or iPhone as GPS, as long as you are aware of the drawbacks, and plan accordingly.