Maximizing Smart Phone Usage Outdoors

5:44 p.m. on January 26, 2014 (EST)
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There is a piece of equipment I'm always carrying in my pocket--my Android smart phone. Currently, it serves 2 purposes--to stay in touch with my wife and shoot pictures and videos.

Since I'm carrying it (and on longer trips, I'm carrying a solar charger), I started thinking about maximizing its potential more.

For example, I no longer throw a book into my pack, because I've downloaded it onto my phone (as well as some puzzle games to do in my hammock late at night).

Today, I was wondering if I really need to carry a headlamp. After all, the phone has a built-in flashlight (as does the battery pack on my solar charger--100hrs of constant use per charge!). I only use the headlamp to putter around camp after dark, and I don't need a light to read my late-night book, because I'm reading it on the phone's illuminated screen.

Obviously, there are some GPS value to this. However, I won't go without a compass and topo map--those features are only useful as long as you have a working phone.

So what else could I use my phone for to reduce redundancy? 

What apps have you found to be beneficial to you?

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Yes, I know there is an argument to be made to leave the phone at home and get away from technology. But I'd really like to discuss uses for a Smart Phone when a person has chosen to carry it.

5:25 a.m. on January 27, 2014 (EST)
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I would warn against not bringing a head-lamp...particularly a water-proof head-lamp...it would be terrible if an unexpected night-hike turned for worse because the pouring rain and moisture made short work of your cell-phone:-) On the plus-side...having a second source of light at no additional weight (cause you're carrying your cell anyways) is a total plus!

Having said the above...I will say that I think cell-phones are a weight savings powerhouse! My cellphone...which is a very cheap Android phone...is the multi-tool of electronics...providing no less than 8 devices for the weight+space+cost of a single device: 1) phone/beacon 2) compass 3) GPS 4) camera 5) notebook/voice-recorder 6) flashlight 7) book 8) music/video/game player. IMO...getting all of these things for the weight of your average digital camera is a no-brainer...the only discussion for me is how best to supply power to it!

Just a note about the above...I use the compass on my phone and the Backcountry GPS app ONLY when on familiar trails...neither require active cell reception to function (maps can be saved in different resolutions before you leave or on the way to the trailhead). I have used the compass on my Android phone at night in thick woods and pouring rain with total confidence...and the GPS app on my phone is for all practical purposes as good as any other GPS device (clear skies). However...on unfamiliar trails I would always choose to add a few ounces of security in the form of a "paper" map and a quality lightweight compass (I'm partial to the Brunton OSS 40B).

7:12 a.m. on January 27, 2014 (EST)
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I use an iphone and absolutely love it for its multifunction ability.

I use it as a camera/video, backup flashlight, gps and eleconic maps, weather-especially radar, plant id, sun,moon,star info, electronic books of any number of subjects, and I am sure I forgot something but most importantly facetime with my wife and kid occassionally so she keeps letting me go on trips!

7:41 a.m. on January 27, 2014 (EST)
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Rambler, do you recommend a specific Plant ID app?


Joseph, I get it about the headlamp. As I mentioned the battery pack carries a 100 hour flashlight charge and is as waterproof as my headlamp. So.....I'm just thinking on these things. I definitely would carry a headlamp on a solo hike.

Also, Joseph, what is the name of the GPS app you are using? There are a lot of them in the Google Play Store.

10:40 a.m. on January 27, 2014 (EST)
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Most places I go there is no cell service so I typically leave my phone in the truck.   It is just a psychological thing but I feel like I am cutting the cord a bit when I go without a phone.  One of the reasons I hike and camp is to completely get away from communication devices for a short period of time.  

11:28 a.m. on January 27, 2014 (EST)
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Jason, I completely understand. If my phone was not also my camera, I'd probably leave it too sometimes.

12:06 p.m. on January 27, 2014 (EST)
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I have tried several apps, some with more success than others. I have a windows 8 phone so some of the apps or slightly different than apple or android. I have found that the digital compass and altimeter apps are useful and accurate for figuring out how far I am along a trail or how much altitude gain is left before camp or summit. I obviously still carry and use traditional methods if needed.

I've tried an app called MapSnap GPS. It is supposed to let me take a picture of the actual map I use. I take a pic of one small area in order to see the trails I'm actually on. Then at the start of the trail and at 2-3 points later in the hike when I know where I am, I calibrate the app so it can tell me exactly where I am on the trail. I haven't gotten it to work yet but it is intriguing. 

For charging, I found a really cool charger on groupon a few weeks ago. It is slightly bigger than the phone itself, but when fully charged the night before a hike, it can recharge a smart phone 6-10 times. I keep the phone and charger close to my body so cold doesn't sap energy from it. This way in my tent, in a shelter, or during a stormy day, I don't have to worry about where the sun is. 

6:01 p.m. on January 27, 2014 (EST)
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iClimb said:


For charging, I found a really cool charger on groupon a few weeks ago. It is slightly bigger than the phone itself, but when fully charged the night before a hike, it can recharge a smart phone 6-10 times. I keep the phone and charger close to my body so cold doesn't sap energy from it. This way in my tent, in a shelter, or during a stormy day, I don't have to worry about where the sun is. 

 Funny you mention this. Just yesterday I purchased Goal Zero's Guide10Plus to go with my Nomad 7 charger (that I won through Trailspace's January '13 contest).

I need to go home and double read the manual, but I'm fairly sure they claimed a fully charged Guide10Plus will recharge a smartphone twice.

Today, I ran my Android down to 4% and hooked it up. It only charged to 61% before being done.


I'm going to try it a few more times to see if the battery pack needs a few charges to be fully effective.

6:57 p.m. on January 27, 2014 (EST)
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Rambler makes a good point about the weather...the only reason I have ever considered Verizon (since I live in a city) is that Verizon has the best rural coverage (at least where I live and play)...and sitting through a storm is a lot more pleasant with radar:-)

Goose I use an app called Backcountry...it is very simple to use...you can pre-load maps...it is small app (memory-wise)...and it is regularly updated. I think I paid 5.00 for the "Pro" version a year or so ago...I have been very happy with it.

What a coincidence...I also use the Guide10...the specs on recharging phones is a guess...at best they used an average...but since your phone Goose is a battery-monster of a machine...your 61% charge is probably near or better than two charges on my phone:-)

I think the Guide 10 is a great piece of gear...but you might want to take that with a grain of salt...because I would never seriously consider a charging device that didn't use AA or AAA batteries for storage...since AA and AAA batteries are used in all of my gear that doesn't use USB.

What kind of rechargeable batteries are you using? The Guide 10 comes with NiMH batteries...which are the best if you frequently charge and use them without fully depleting the batteries (no memory)...they are very user-friendly...but they do have a higher discharge rate...but still perfectly adequate for weekend use (I've used my pair for years). Lithium-ion batteries are also a good choice...they have a slow-loss of charge rate...but new studies suggest they do have a memory effect...and they are considered the least safest...I would stay away from any other kind of rechargeable battery:-)

8:12 p.m. on January 27, 2014 (EST)
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I'm using the NiMH that came with it.

12:16 a.m. on January 29, 2014 (EST)
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The batteries that came with the guide 10 are fine (possibly even optimized)...I (eh...someone) lost them after having only used them for a few months...but I remember them being excellent batteries.

To prevent some of the discharge that the NiMH are vulnerable to...you can take the batteries out of the charging device that holds them...this should prevent the "flow" from reversing from the batteries and help them keep more of their charge.

8:33 a.m. on January 29, 2014 (EST)
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So I tried it a second time. Same deal--only got to 68%.

I emailed the company and got a prompt reply and a potential fix. They are sending me an adapter to try. They normally charge $5 for the adapter, but they are shipping it free. Here's the write up on it:

Phones have different needs when it comes to charging. The phone checks its power source to be sure it will not by damaged by over powering and sometimes to prevent it from charging from different brands of chargers. Almost all devices are different when it comes to this. The Smart Adapter will communicate with the two, the power source and phone, and make the correct adjustments to the power source meets the charging requirements for the phone. The thing is that currently ALL USB ports are 5v, but some devices want 0.5 amps and other want up to 2 amps, the smart chip will sometimes tell the device what to expect so that it know and will then accept the charge.

While I would prefer the thing just worked out of the box, I have to give GoalZero big props for a fast response and (potential) solution.

2:24 p.m. on January 29, 2014 (EST)
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Yep!...nothing but good things to say about that company...and sunshine is free:-)

I hope it does the trick...I'm not absolutely convinced it will do the trick given the capacity of your battery (you simply cannot put in more of a charge than the batteries hold...but allowing higher amps might do the trick if your cell battery can handle it).

October 25, 2014
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