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Should You Rely On Your Phone As A Hiking Navigation Tool?

A survey of 4,000 hillwalkers carried out by Mountaineering Scotland found that 87% of respondents used smartphones or GPS devices as a navigation tool when they were out walking. Concerningly, 40% of these respondents have also had at least one episode where the device didn’t function properly.


Electronic devices can be useful sources of information, and a lifeline in an emergency situation. However, there is some debate about to what extent we should rely on them as a means of navigation.


Older walkers will remember the days when there was no choice but to learn how to use a paper map and compass if you were spending a day out in the hills, but the younger generation may not have developed these skills. However, paper maps can also get wet, torn, or blow away and even a compass can be dropped and damaged.


It seems that there is no point in trying to turn back the clock and avoid all use of modern technology for fear that it might fail. Mountaineering Scotland Safety Advisor, Ben Gibson, recently issued some sensible advice with regard to the use of smartphones when out hillwalking.


He said: “When going out into the hills this winter or at any other time of the year, it is important to look after your phone as it not only gives you additional information to help with your hill and mountain navigation but, is also your lifeline to contacting the emergency services in the event you or a group member finds yourself in a serious situation.”


He added: “Remember, if you’re downloading your route from an app, it’s always worth checking it against other reliable sources to make sure it’s safe and suitable for your level of experience and ability.”


The obvious solution would be to carry a paper map and compass as back up, and take care of your electronic device to mitigate against the risk of it failing or becoming damaged. This includes taking simple steps such as charging your phone on your car journey so the battery is 100% before you set off, and keeping it in a sturdy protective case.


Even when following a route on a map on a phone, it is still necessary to know how to read the map to avoid the risk of getting lost if you stray from the displayed route, or have trouble locating it. Keeping your phone in airplane mode will help to preserve the battery life during the walk. Back up power bank battery chargers are also useful.


There are also various high-spec ‘rugged’ smartphones on the market, that are specially designed for toughness and durability when being used in the great outdoors. They are built to withstand hard impacts, extreme temperatures, water and dust. Many also have super size batteries and other useful features such as infrared cameras.


Ultimately, whatever your means of navigation, a safe and enjoyable walk comes down to preparedness and forward planning of both your route and equipment.


If you are interested in finding out more information about a Skye Munros course, please get in touch today.

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