Stop with the Smart Phones already

Last year I wrote about how you should stop using Smart Phones for backcountry navigation. News outlets continue to post comments from local SAR teams highlighting what I wrote about; people using their phones as navigation devices are running the battery down and are having trouble calling for help.

The Vancouver Sun writes about a search for two hikers on Burke Mountain and how they were using the smart phone; in the words of the SAR Manager Dwight Yochim:

“For whatever reason, hikers go out and they keep their cellphones on the entire day, and when they need it the most, they’ve got very little battery life left,” said Yochim. “What we had him do was shut off his phone, and turn it on every half an hour.”

Two more recent incidents were recounted in the North Shore News, both involving people  navigating with their phones.

Things the map won’t tell you

  • how long the hike will take
  • how well the trail is marked
  • how much water and food you will need
  • landmarks and signage
  • whether there is cell coverage in that area
  • if there’s still snow on the ground
It appears that these recent searches the subjects not only relied on the phone, but two of the three ended up getting lost anyway — despite the online map and GPS coverage.

Battery Life, Durability are still problems

I wrote about battery life before, and it is still a problem. On a recent search on Mount Hood, Oregon, the climber registered that he had a GPS when in fact all he had was a GPS app on his smart phone which is NOT THE SAME THING.

A wilderness GPS is more accurate, durable, and has better battery life than a smart phone. You can also change the batteries.

Calling For Help

  • Call 911
  • Let them know your position to the best of your ability.
  • If they don’t specifically request it, let them know you’re going to turn off your phone to conserve battery life, and turn it on again at specific times. Once every half hour, on the hour and half hour should be good.


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