Electronics go another step too far!

7:15 p.m. on May 17, 2010 (EDT)
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I don't know whether this should go in Backcountry, Trip Planning, or Gear Selection, but it does seem a bit too much.

Backpacker Magazine is offering apps for the Android and iPhone that provide GPS-based guidance for trails. Although most smartphones these days have GPSR capability built in, and you can get turn by turn directions with maps on them (for an extra cost), these apparently do it for trails. I suspect that the only ones available will be near major metropolitan areas, and even then, in our local area (SFBay Area), you quickly get out of cell coverage in a lot of our local state and county parks and open space preserves.

I can see it now - hiker wanders along trail in Montebello OSR, staring at his iPhone, missing the warning sign at the trailhead that cautions that another mountain lion has been spotted in the area, and that there are also rattlesnakes and ticks. Hiker gets bitten by rattlesnake, and as he falls down, the mountain lion leaps upon the meal opportunity. Searchers find the dropped iPhone a day later, marking the exact spot he was struck and was eaten by the lion.

9:28 p.m. on May 17, 2010 (EDT)
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Here is one from along the trail last year. You can see a boot print.

My jury is out. I found a WWII air craft wreck site that I would never have found with out a GPS.

I have never seen so many snakes!

9:34 p.m. on May 17, 2010 (EDT)
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Next thing you know the backwoods electronic gadgets will start talking like the Magellan in my truck.

"Right turn in .3 miles....followed by a left turn."

I can even choose between a male or female voice. Sometimes I wish it would just shut up because it is not always right, there are many factors the devise can not take into account like wrecks, road construction, etc.

You have to apply some common sense to the use of the GPSR, something that requires basic skills. What worries me is that some people seem to just rely on the electronics without developing basic navigation skills.

Kinda like kids that can't read an analog clock.

10:26 p.m. on May 17, 2010 (EDT)
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Went camping with a newbie-yuppie-gotta-have-it gadget freak type last year, in the fall. We had emerged from a hillside of aspen, and I wanted to note the location, in case snow obscured the trail, making it difficult to find its entrance into the aspen. He got out his cellular gadget with a GPS app, and bragged how it can do this and that. I got out my map and compass, and was done logging coordinates before he figured out how to use his app. Coming home, I asked him to retrieve his GPS notation. He replied his battery was dead… Always have back up to battery operated mission critical equipment.

10:49 p.m. on May 17, 2010 (EDT)
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I did a side-by-side comparison in Southwest Virginia last month -- iPhone with a GPS-enabled mapping app called Navigon vs. my Garmin eTrex Vista CX. Sitting in the car at a gas station along a state highway with no cover and clear skies, the iPhone got no signal while the Garmin picked worked exactly as it was designed (which is to say, off by whatever it's always off by -- it's not the greatest GPSR out there).

Battery life is the real buzz kill for iPhone and other apps -- unless you get a backup battery pack, they're not much use on a long backcountry outing, except for short expanses of time to check location.

1:07 a.m. on May 18, 2010 (EDT)
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Geez, now I am REALLY glad that I do not own and have no idea how to operate any of these gadgets, especially since using one might get me "et" by the local Cougars!!!!

Soooo, will there be a thread on "guns for backcountry Cougars", "Cougar sprays I have known" or. perhaps " applications of titanium chainmail in backpacking defence against Felis Concolor, the ferocious Cougar"????

You know, a large Cougar used to come into our condo parking lot some nights in Coquitlam, BC, when we lived there circa 1983-'85 and never bothered anyone, but, they are hell on pet cats and small dogs....

Guess, I better stick to my 41 yr. old "Leupold Sportsman's Compass" and a timepiece plus notes!

9:11 a.m. on May 18, 2010 (EDT)
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Well, we all know that common sense isn't so common, but I think the intracacies of an application such as this could easily elude the average technophile. I think most iPhone/Droid/Blackberry users could foresee that there may not be service along the trail depicted on their device, so guidance may be limited. They may even be able to foresee that battery life might not be sufficient for any trip of any length. The greater danger is the same set of perils that any new adventurer encounters. Most simply won't be carrying the necessary gear to be prepared for the unexpected.

I can attest personally to a lack of preparedness in my beginner days. I'd go day-hiking, disc golfing, and fishing with little more than a 0.5L squeeze bottle of water. It took running out of water at the half-way point of an all-day trek (a story i've related in detail elsewhere on this site) on a hot and humid day to suffer some sense into me. That was when I found this site and its article on the 10 essentials, and realized just how reckless I had been for so long.

These new apps will bring new people onto the trail, but they won't bring new dangers. It'll be just like any other influx of new hikers. It's up to us to seek these people out and offer our assistance.

11:07 a.m. on May 18, 2010 (EDT)
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I have mentioned before that I don't own a GPSR, and think it is a bad idea to use them as your sole navigation device. However, I would LOVE to have a Trail Topo program with integrated GPSR functionality on my Android phone. I don't think I would use it that much in the backcountry, but I use GoogleMaps Terrain View on my phone constantly as refference in conversation or in just getting more familiar with the wilderness areas I like to haunt. But Google Terrain isn't very detailed, and it doesn't include trails or all of the other wonderful info that a real trail topo would show.

What I would want is this: A trail topo app for the Android platform that utilizes the phones gravitional, ferromagnetic, and GPSR functions in consert with a bank of available Maps actually stored on the phones removable memory. Heck they could even sell the App and downloadable map segments seperately. A program like that would not need to have Cell or Data service at all to function, though there is no reason it couldn't utilize it if signal is available.

I would use it like a topo program on my computer or online, but it would be completely portable, and have the added benefit of having the functionality of integrated GPS info. It could be pretty sweet if you ask me!

EDIT: I just went and looked at the link Bill provided (shoulda' done that before I blerted out my ideas!) and it looks like their program does almost all of what I said above, and it says it *doesn't* need cell signal to function. I will wait to see if they expand the list of available maps to virtually everywhere, right now it looks like just popular places near cities, which doean't help me much.

11:14 a.m. on May 19, 2010 (EDT)
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Gonzan: I do a little hiking guide writing on the side for a company called Everytrail that does much of what you're talking about. Here's a link: http://www.everytrail.com/android ... the maps-stored-on-the-phone feature is in the pipeline, but I'm not sure how soon it'll be available.

11:50 a.m. on May 19, 2010 (EDT)
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interesting, thanks, Tommangan!

11:50 p.m. on May 19, 2010 (EDT)
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I have a Blackberry, but I'd never take it hiking. It has a very short battery life and even if it had a GPS app, which it doesn't since I don't want to pay a fee for it, it would be worthless in a couple of hours without a solar charger.

I do have a GPS, but a map and compass works about as well for most navigation.

3:29 a.m. on May 25, 2010 (EDT)
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I used to think it would be cool to have an "iPhone Extreme" or maybe "Android Extreme" that is totally waterproof, shock resistant, long-life battery, and withe true GPS map capability, and maybe throw in an EPIRB and avalanche beeper as well, maybe a can opener, corkscrew, and Posi-drive for those ski binding emergencies. Then I realized that you want to keep your avalanche beeper close to your body, while you want to be able to whip out your GPS and phone at any time, so scratch that part of the idea. As it is, I carry a cheap cell phone (it doesn't take pictures! I use a thing called a camera for that), and an iPod touch when I want tunes etc. My GPS (Garmin Vista CX) died just outside the warranty period so it sits in a drawer at home

11:37 a.m. on May 26, 2010 (EDT)
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...My GPS (Garmin Vista CX) died just outside the warranty period so it sits in a drawer at home

I think that is a feature intentionally built in to electronic widgets - "operational expiration date = one day past warranty expiration date". I have had a very large fraction of my widgets die shortly after the warranty ended. And they never die if you spend the exorbitant fee for the extended warranty, although I did have one device that died twice, once during during the standard warranty period, and a second time during the extended warranty (one of the only 2 times I have spring for the extended warranty). That company offered me a further extension for an even more exorbitant fee. But by then, the usual progress in electronics had happened, and I could buy a new one with more capabilities for less than the warranty extension cost. -

General conclusion - extended warranties are rarely if ever worth it.

General observation - buy from a dependable company in the first place, and the widget will last until the technology has gone a couple orders of magnitude beyond the original technology.

Second general observation - if the widget stores data, within 3 years the format and media of the storage technology will no longer be compatible with anything current (I am finding that a large fraction of my peripherals and old favorite software are incompatabile with my new Windows 7 64 bit machine - scanner, HRM interface, GPSR interface, plus there are no serial or parallel ports, and the current version of MIDI doesn't like my old MIDI machine).

4:51 a.m. on May 27, 2010 (EDT)
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I don't like to take electronics with me into the backcountry, personally. I'll take a small cell phone with me and leave it off, in case an emergency situation arises it's worth a shot, but I always assume that I won't be able to get a signal.

I NEVER take mp3 players with me, as it's completely the opposite of why I'm getting out the the backcountry in the first place.

GPS is a nice idea, I'd like to get one, because there's always that one amazing off trail spot you find, and it'd be nice to make a Google Earth layer of my favorite secret spots. I still prefer the map and compass method because I don't like to leave my safety and knowledge in the hands of batteries.

1:57 a.m. on May 29, 2010 (EDT)
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With the exception of my camera, I do take a cell phone with me. I know that I most likely won't get a signal, but my phone is GPS enabled, so theoretically as long as I can turn it on and power it up, my GPS beacon will show up. I read about doing this in an aticle (I think Backpacker Magazine) and it supposedly has worked to help save some lost hikers after they did not show up to their pickup point.


4:43 a.m. on May 29, 2010 (EDT)
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I do take a cell phone with me... ..as long as I can turn it on and power it up, my GPS beacon will show up...

Correct me if I am wrong - but cell phone's “GPS” capability is not based on GPS satellite systems, instead they determine your position by triangulation off cellular receiving bases. Thus if you don’t get a signal, you can’t determine your location.

Personally I am anti-tech in general (do not own a Ipod, celular, GPSR, my truck has crank windows, etc.), and particularly I am anti-tech on the trail. Part of the reason I camp is a conscious effort to simplify life, at least for a while. If you need to reach me, there is always smoke signals! ;)

10:09 a.m. on May 29, 2010 (EDT)
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Well that makes sense that they would use tower triangulation. I don't know which kind mine has, but it does have a turn-by-turn road GPS, so I guess I just figured it used SAT. Like I said I read about it as a backup plan in a magazine. Either way, it has come in handy when the battery in my camera has died (mine doesn't used the every-handy AAs).


10:39 a.m. on May 29, 2010 (EDT)
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It depends on the phone whether it utilizes satellites, cell tower triangulation, or a combination of both, for its navigation program.

But as far as rescue being able to locate you, I believe that is only possible via cell tower triangulation because I'm pretty certain the GPS chipset in consumer cell phone are only receivers, not transceivers.

1:38 p.m. on May 29, 2010 (EDT)
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OK, lots of misimpressions here -

The vast majority of cell phones sold currently in the US have a GPS chipset in them. All the major carriers and most of the small ones do the legally required location by use of the GPS (correct term - the Navstar Global Positioning System provides the data signals via the 32 currently active GPS satellites that enable the chipset to compute the location of the antenna center). This location is transmitted when you make a cell phone call. Some cell phones also can also act as GPS receivers (GPSR) and, with the aid of an extra-cost mapping service, provide your location, nearby restaurants and other establishments, and some allow targeted advertising by establishments in the vicinity.

Older cell phones and a small number of currently sold ones are located via triangulation off nearby cell towers, or in case only one or two towers are receiving the signal, by signal strength.

The location of the cell phone is, by law, required for e911 emergency service. Since all cell phones in the US can call 911, whether activated with a provider or not, the location is provided by one or both of the GPS-derived location or triangulation/signal strength.

9:30 a.m. on May 30, 2010 (EDT)
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For backpacking (and for day hikes in non-cell phone areas) I use a map, compass, and garmin etrex vista hcx.

But I hike 2 to 5 times a day in a local state park and in a local nature preserve, both situated in the middle of suburban towns next to a major metropolitan area so cell phone coverage is excellent. Those hikes are mostly for exercise, although I do stop to take photos with the blackberry bold for things that are of interest to me.

I have the GPSED pro program (one time fee of $10) and the everytrail blackberry program (which seems to still be in beta.)

The GPSED program does a great job of recording my hike, but I haven't figured out how to geotag photos with it. The everytrail program geotags photos but I haven't figured out how to get it to record my track.

12:54 p.m. on July 3, 2010 (EDT)
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7:32 a.m. on July 6, 2010 (EDT)
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my garmin apparently hasn't hit the built in obsolescence point yet. works great. re: extended warranties, i have learned that you have to be choosy, but sometimes it's worth it. netbook was a prime example - as with every heavily used rechargeable item, the battery life declined over time. extended warranty paid for itself, new extended life battery for free. on a more expensive gps unit, something that protects ordinary wear and tear (abuse) might be worth it.

i bring my blackberry but keep it turned off. sometimes bring gmrs radios if i'm with a group & we may split up for some reason. not much good for navigation, and range isn't nearly as good as advertised, but it's a decent solution for groups that might get split by no more than a few miles, and they pick up NOAA weather broadcasts.

map and compass is a given.

9:41 p.m. on July 6, 2010 (EDT)
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Searchers find the dropped iPhone a day later, marking the exact spot he was struck and was eaten by the lion.

Well, see, it's a good thing the hiker carried his iPhone! :-)

But seriously, I really don't see the problem with people using these devices, if the devices actually work where they're going. I use Google Maps with my Nokia device, but it's only functional if you have a cell signal (so that rules out most places I'd hike). But if it did work, and if Google Maps displayed hiking trails (I don't think it does) I'd probably use that. I don't see the problem in that. Well, except that my phone battery would be dead in about a half day if I kept the GPS receiver turned on... :)

11:42 a.m. on July 9, 2010 (EDT)
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my GPS consist of a good topo map and a compass I will take a cell in with me but I keep it off I will power up once at night and once in the morning to send the wife morning ok and goals for the day and at the end of the day to say where I am at on the trail (all in text) she wants me to get a SPOT but I have been reluctant to I have heard they are not worth the effort in the back country, they tend not to get a signal. I do carry with me though a VHF/UHF transmitter/scanner run from a battery pack ( a Standard C156A 144 Mhz radio by Marantz) I keep this if I need to call for help and to get weather updates

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