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  1. #1
    Registered User Wolf - 23000's Avatar
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    Default Hand held GPS vs Cell Phones

    I know many hikers have talked about using apps such as Guthook or a free hiker bok to work with their cell phone. I havenít used either. There are also some really good GPS that come preloaded with Maps. Some of the hikers I spoked with briefly said they still used a GPS on their trip. Is there any advantage to using a GPS instead just using a cell phone? A GPS, even with the preloaded Maps, they canít tell you any information in towns. One of the advantage seems to be the GPS is more rugged compare to a cell phone?

    Wolf

  2. #2

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    If you are doing well marked trails, a cell phone is just fine. However, for poorly blazed trails, canoeing and bushwhacking, I strongly recommend you go with a stand alone gps like the Garmin Oregon. The Oregon is rugged, waterproof (I dropped mine in a lake, fished it out, and it worked just fine) and is much more capable than either the Gaia GPS or Backcountry Navigator apps, both of which I have used extensively. The Oregon has removable batteries (lithium are the best choice) so you can carry spares without having to lug a heavy battery pack. This offsets the weight of the unit, which is heavier than your typical cellphone. Downloading tracks and waypoints are a breeze with the Garmin Basecamp app and maps are free from gps file depot. Prices have really come down, I paid around $200 for my unit.


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  3. #3

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    The main advantage of the cell phone is it probably has a larger and higher resolution screen then the average Garmin. I bought a phone with a 5.5" HD screen and 18M camera for $75 which displays maps in good detail. And I can do so much more with it. Just have to try not to drop it in a river or step on it.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  4. #4

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    For most cases, my smart phone with Gaia and my local trails app is more than sufficient - I make sure Iím on airplane and battery save mode.
    Only time I use my trusty GPSMap is during winter. Battery life nose dives and itís nice having a spare close by. But the best reason for me is having buttons. You canít use a smart phone with heavy gloves but itís sufferable with a gps.

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    Personally, I prefer to keep my cell phone for emergencies and use Garmin eTrex 30 for hiking. As I already point out stand-alone hiking GPS is a lot more rugged and waterproof (mine already landed in a stream at least once), it runs much longer on standard batteries (20+ hours on 2 AAs, or roughly three 8-hour hiking days), and it records my track all the time (phone apps can do that too at a cost of depleting battery.) If you have a newer Garmin model you can download a version of OpenStreetMap formatted form Garmin which is currently my favorite source for trail data albeit far from complete or fully accurate. Here is more info: https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/...armin/Download

  6. #6

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    One thing I forgot to mention from my previous post is that I have owned numerous smartphones over the years and none of them had a compass that was worth a damn. I have a really good Silva and lined it up alongside my Garmin and iPhone 7 and the Silva and Garmin were right-on, while the iPhone was all over the map.


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  7. #7

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    I use a combined set-up if needed (and I have needed it on occasion). I used my DeLorme InReach paired with the Earthmate App on my phone which lets you download maps of the area you will be going through before hand.

  8. #8
    Registered User colorado_rob's Avatar
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    After a couple of decades of using various Garmin GPS units, I've finally made the Big Switch to using my phone for back country navigation, using the free app, er, "backcountry Navigator". I just couldn't be more pleased at how well this app (and I'm sure, many others) works. Folks rave about Gaia, and I'm sure that's an equal or better app.

    Cell phones get more rugged with every generation, and their battery life seems to also improve, that is if you manage their apps and settings appropriately. These navigation apps (at least BC navigator) runs in airplane mode just fine, except of course the maps of the area you're in have to be loaded in cache.

    For me, it's a convenience and weight thing. My latest phone (pixel 2) is 5 ounces, and has an excellent camera, kindle app for reading, and by the way also works as a phone. Couple that with an external battery , like the Anker 10,000 maH at about 6 ounces, and you are set for a long time for serious navigation.

    I notice zero difference in navigational accuracy between my phone and latest Garmin GPS unit.

    The real test came when a group of us did the Sierra High Route (well, 90% of it before winter-like weather chased us off) last summer/early fall. This is a very difficult, off trail mostly, route to follow, but with a track & waypoints to follow on my phone, it was a lark, easy-peasy and fun.

    This all being said, if I were solo, and there were navigational safety concerns involved, I'd be carrying a backup, specifically my Garmin Fortrex 401, a little 1.5 ounce gem of a stand alone GPS. As it was on the SHR, we had multiple phones loaded with the route, so that was our backup. And of course we carry physical maps and a small compass for such trails/routes.

    I personally think stand alone GPS units will be obsolete soon, maybe 5-10 years or so, except for professional uses. Just my opinion.

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    Correct me if I'm wrong, but a GPS uses navigational satellite fixes to determine Lat and Lon whereas a cell phone uses cell tower fix information to determine that. If true, then a cell phone will not work as a navigational aide if no cell towers or too few are in range.
    Everyone has a photographic memory. Not everyone has film.

  10. #10
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    I find the Guthook app to be a nice luxury because it's custom to the trail you are hiking.

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by colorado_rob View Post
    After a couple of decades of using various Garmin GPS units, I've finally made the Big Switch to using my phone for back country navigation, using the free app, er, "backcountry Navigator". I just couldn't be more pleased at how well this app (and I'm sure, many others) works. Folks rave about Gaia, and I'm sure that's an equal or better app.

    Cell phones get more rugged with every generation, and their battery life seems to also improve, that is if you manage their apps and settings appropriately. These navigation apps (at least BC navigator) runs in airplane mode just fine, except of course the maps of the area you're in have to be loaded in cache.

    For me, it's a convenience and weight thing. My latest phone (pixel 2) is 5 ounces, and has an excellent camera, kindle app for reading, and by the way also works as a phone. Couple that with an external battery , like the Anker 10,000 maH at about 6 ounces, and you are set for a long time for serious navigation.

    I notice zero difference in navigational accuracy between my phone and latest Garmin GPS unit.

    The real test came when a group of us did the Sierra High Route (well, 90% of it before winter-like weather chased us off) last summer/early fall. This is a very difficult, off trail mostly, route to follow, but with a track & waypoints to follow on my phone, it was a lark, easy-peasy and fun.

    This all being said, if I were solo, and there were navigational safety concerns involved, I'd be carrying a backup, specifically my Garmin Fortrex 401, a little 1.5 ounce gem of a stand alone GPS. As it was on the SHR, we had multiple phones loaded with the route, so that was our backup. And of course we carry physical maps and a small compass for such trails/routes.

    I personally think stand alone GPS units will be obsolete soon, maybe 5-10 years or so, except for professional uses. Just my opinion.
    Handhelds really aren't used professionally - I use GPS professionally, and the handhelds are only good for general estimation. What is more commonly used are survey-grade units with high accuracy and four figure prices. The next couple of years will be interesting. I think the majority of cell phones are reaching the point of "good enough" for a typical recreational use case. Add the utility of the various apps like Avenza, Guthook, GAIA etc. and its a pretty easy sell. But, if there was any chance that I might actually need a GPS for anything more serious than recording a track, and I'd stick to my handheld Garmin. On more than one occasion I noticed the GPS on my phones being way off - seen in both a map app and in the geotagging data written to photos. I've never been able to chase the cause of this down, but it was just an example of a multi-function device doing everything good enough but far from the best on anything. If I had to truly rely on GPS for navigation, I'd rather use a purpose-built device that wasn't running a dozen other unrelated applications using the battery and potentially destabilizing the system. Add a handheld's much longer battery life compared to any phone and field replaceable light weight batteries, and the choice is clear. Garmin will probably be the last survivor, but with their closed system of very expensive and often outdated cartography, we'll see how long that lasts. But to be honest, when I'm on a trail and only want to record a track log, I just use my Polar running watch - they somehow get an 8 hour battery life when the GPS is recording at one second intervals (making for a very high resolution track) or up to 30 hours at one minute intervals.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Hillwalker View Post
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but a GPS uses navigational satellite fixes to determine Lat and Lon whereas a cell phone uses cell tower fix information to determine that. If true, then a cell phone will not work as a navigational aide if no cell towers or too few are in range.
    My iPhone has a GPS radio and uses GPS satellites ó as well as cellphone towers and available WiFi sources to determine location. Using gaiaGPS, I turn on Airplane mode and turn off WiFi so as to force the phone to use only GPS satellites.
    In hilly territory, the phone gets confused leaping between distant cellphone towers and I get poor tracks being recorded. By shutting off the cellphone radios using airplane mode, and closing WiFi (because thereís no point wasting battery power searching for something non-existent in the bush) I get better tracks and longer battery life.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Hillwalker View Post
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but a GPS uses navigational satellite fixes to determine Lat and Lon whereas a cell phone uses cell tower fix information to determine that. If true, then a cell phone will not work as a navigational aide if no cell towers or too few are in range.
    Most modern phones have full function GPS receivers. Even my watch has its own GPS receiver.

    The differences arenít in the fact that both have GPS receivers, the biggest difference comes with the antenna: dedicated GPS units GENERALLY have better antenna and hence pick up more satellites and provide a more precise location. I say generally because a 2017smart phone has a better antenna and chip setup than a 2012 stand alone GPS.

    So the two primary differences are antenna, and the fact that most people update their phones every 18-24 months, whereas theyíll keep the same GPS receiver for 5-10years.

  14. #14
    Registered User ldsailor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rex Clifton View Post
    One thing I forgot to mention from my previous post is that I have owned numerous smartphones over the years and none of them had a compass that was worth a damn. I have a really good Silva and lined it up alongside my Garmin and iPhone 7 and the Silva and Garmin were right-on, while the iPhone was all over the map.
    Did you calibrate the magnetometer? I had the same problem. Once the magnetometer sensor was calibrated, my phone's compass worked flawlessly. I do have an Android phone, but there is a way to calibrate the sensor on the iPhone, too.
    Trail Name - Slapshot
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  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Hillwalker View Post
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but a GPS uses navigational satellite fixes to determine Lat and Lon whereas a cell phone uses cell tower fix information to determine that. If true, then a cell phone will not work as a navigational aide if no cell towers or too few are in range.
    They used to. Now they have GPS connections to satellites. I can put mine in airplane mode and still turn on the GPS location without my phone looking for a signal.

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by ldsailor View Post
    Did you calibrate the magnetometer? I had the same problem. Once the magnetometer sensor was calibrated, my phone's compass worked flawlessly. I do have an Android phone, but there is a way to calibrate the sensor on the iPhone, too.
    It also works better with GPS turned on. Declination is automatically corrected with GPS, otherwise you'll have to factor that in manually.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  17. #17
    Registered User colorado_rob's Avatar
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    Sorry folks, there are zero practical accuracy issues with cell phone GPS units these days, at least the last two I've owned. This SHR trek we did late last year absolutely sold me, once and for all, on the robustness of using phones for very accurate navigation, and again, all in airplane mode not using cell towers, but our fantastic GPS satellite system. I've even had excellent luck navigating in deep canyon country with my phone. Sure, there are drop outs in canyons with all units, but my phone does as good a job as my dedicated Garmin 30 unit. I'm amazed. My wife insists on keeping our Garmin 30 for some reason, she's not completely sold on phones. When she finally converts, and I know she will, I'll put my obsolete Garmin up for sale, cheap!

    I could get just about 2.5 days of navigating on one charge, layong down an accurate track, also using the phone for pictures and reading at night. I basically never had it out of airplane mode except for the couple town stops we did along the 200 miles route.

    The pic attached is a snippet of our SHR actual track recorded on my phone, a two year old Motorola android. There are no drop outs at all obvious, a nice smooth track. If you zoom in, you will see micro-wiggles, not sure if those are my actual hiking or small little inaccuracies, in either case, they are within a few/dozen meters or so. and PLENTY accurate. My early Garmin GPS (15+ years old) had drop outs all over the place, though my latest one is much better.

    We were following another hiker's track and waypopints, the waypoints are shown, but the old existing track is turned off. This is all from Caltopo.

    As a bonus, I also find it easier to upload/download tracks and waypoints to my phone than to my Garmin. Just plug the phone into your desktop, navigate to a folder on both the phone and desktop, drag the GPX file to or from the phone to the desktop/laptop. Very convenient. I think this process is very different for Apple phones, though I'm sure there is a convenient method.
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    Registered User colorado_rob's Avatar
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    Oh yeah, and my phones compass works great. Yours would too. You do have to calibrate it now and then of course, just wave it around in a figure eight for a minute. Still, I carry a little button compass, a few grams of backup.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Hillwalker View Post
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but a GPS uses navigational satellite fixes to determine Lat and Lon whereas a cell phone uses cell tower fix information to determine that. If true, then a cell phone will not work as a navigational aide if no cell towers or too few are in range.
    Consider yourself corrected.
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    Wayne

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    Ive found cell phone gps apps very capable. If actually wanted a gps for navigation, id probably bring two g ps units , and lots of battery backup. For backup only, cell phone and paper maps works.

    The large capacitive screens on phone eat battery life, but are way better than most hand gps. So is memory, and processor speed, etc. No doubt they are more fragile though .
    Last edited by MuddyWaters; 01-27-2018 at 17:46.

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