How to Get the Most of your Smartphone on a Hike

If part of your hiking experience is to remove yourself from
technology, then consider us supportive of your choice. Everyone
should Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH). There is great benefit to
disconnecting – both on and off the trail. And the hiker with no
electronic devices is also free from the concerns of data coverage,
battery life, theft, and accidents.

BUT it probably doesn’t surprise you that we are pro-technology on a
hike. Without our phones, we would not have blogged our 2013
Appalachian Trail hike. We also used our phones to check our progress
against our planning (downloaded into a spreadsheet App), order
emergency gear (we used Amazon Prime for MicroSpikes in Gatlinburg,
TN. Jess was NOT hiking another step in the Smokies without ice
traction), and of course as an actual phone to make reservations at
motels/arrange shuttles to and from towns when needed.

If you do decide to bring a Smartphone hiking we have some tips to
get the most out of it. Some of these ideas are specifically aimed for
multi-day (or week) adventures. Some are good practical tips to use
periodically for healthy phone-living even if you never step foot on a

1)  Plan ahead.  Don’t get to the trailhead and then decide your
phone “might be useful.”  Trying to download a 200MB app as you
walk down the trail isn’t the best start of any hike.  Try stuff
first.  Figure out what works and what doesn’t before you leave

2) Check for Apps of the area you want to hike in. This a general good
travel trip – it’s surprising how many
areas/associations/attractions have their own specific Apps. Some are
better than others, but since it should be a free App there’s no
harm in looking.

3) Use a mapping App to track your walk.  There are several goods one out there.  It can be fun to see where and how long you hiked.  It can also be useful if you get turned around on a trail – Jess has used MapMyHike to direct her to the road after getting badly turned around on a winter hike where she took a different loop than she thought she was on.

4) Use the camera. Try to avoid the compulsion to immediately share on
social media. Instead make a post-hike habit of reviewing photos,
writing up notes, and sharing that info.

5) For safety, snap a photo of your maps and your driver’s license.
That way if you lose your paper copies (or don’t bring them), you
have them. Your driver’s license is handy for anything from “I
lost my wallet” to “medical emergency”. And yes, we suggest this
for any length of hike.

6) Find Apps of wildlife. A good App for identifying birds, trees, or
other flora and fauna is probably going to cost around $15-$30. It
takes a lot of time and attention to detail to populate such a
database. The benefit of an App versus a book is that you can use search functions to quickly figure out you saw a downy woodpecker.
Most quality Apps will have a “Lite” or “Free” version you can
download and try with a limited database.

6) For overnight camping, use it for entertainment. Download a new
book (audio or “paper”) to read during downtime. With so much
being stored in The Cloud these days, double check that
your choice has been physically downloaded to your phone. Bonus fun if
you are in a new location and find a book (fact or fiction) set in the
area so you can immerse yourself in the experience.

7) Be tech-respectful around other people. Not only would it be
unappreciative to stare at a screen around the fire ring, it is
considered rude to use a phone in communal hiker areas in general. Use
your phone in your private area (tent/hammock/sleep spot in a shelter)
and keep the volume on mute. Set notifications to vibrate and typing
to silent. If you need to take a call in the presence of others (cell
service can be spotty), keep it brief and quiet. On the flip side, if
you meet someone hiking without their phone, offer the use of yours if
they are in need of one. Someone who is used to the convenience of
global communication may not have thoroughly planned for the
circumstance of needing a phone when they left theirs at home.

8) Good old fashioned note taking. Bonus is you can turn on “talk to
text” when you tired and laying in your tent or hammock with thoughts of the days’ events running through your head.

9) Delete or hide distractions. It could be a game you play at
lunchtime during the work week to blow off steam. Or maybe you
compulsively check your stocks. While on longer trips you may wish to
delete these, or at least bury them in folders and move away from your
home screen. If you are not a phone-checker by nature, this may not
apply. But if you are a go-go gadget person you will be amazed at the
psychological pull. The point of having your phone is to enhance and
help your trip, not distract from it.

And what good is your phone if the battery dies midway through?  Below are ideas to extend battery life and keep your tech focused on your hike, not the “real” world:

10) Delete unnecessary Apps. Remember when you decided to get organized
and downloaded five habit tracking Apps? Have you looked at them since
then? If not, hit delete. Freeing up space on your phone will make it
run more efficient (saving battery life) and gives you more room for
photos and notes.

11) If you receive email on your phone, consider deleting or altering
your settings. This will save battery life and your sanity. Do you
really need to know that the marketing meeting was pushed until
Wednesday? If you want to check email to stay in the loop, set it to
download when you manually request it. This is also a great time to
hit “unsubscribe” from any mailing lists you never read.

12) Go Airplane Mode.  See what other power saving options your phone may offer.  The Galaxy S5 ultra power saving mode on Tom’s phone brags of 12 days usage (Haven’t put it to THAT test yet since it also turns off the camera).

13) Dim your display.  This saves a ton of battery, but can also be inconvenient for using your phone during midday.  Invest in a cheap watch if you usually use your phone to check the time (or decide you don’t care what time it is – it’s hiking time!) and be prepared to fiddle with the setting each night/morning as part of your routine.

14) Turn off unnecessary notifications. Nothing can ruin a hike or
battery life faster than pings and dings. Check both the setting
inside an App and your general Settings location for what/when/how an
App can send you an alert and tailor it accordingly. Remember that not
all notifications are bad – weather and banking alerts are two we
consider important to keep us safe both on and off the trail.

15)  Consider an external battery.  If you’re out long enough to
kill your phone battery and that’s a problem for you, then pack some
extra power.  We carry several devices that offer charging capability
and there are many more available.