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My smart phone, a digital swiss army knife.
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Jordan Clymer
(jordanclymer) - F

Locale: The Columbia Gorge
My smart phone, a digital swiss army knife. on 06/26/2011 01:49:42 MDT Print View

Ok, so I am sure a lot of people here are familiar with smart phones and how they can be used to lighten the load of backpacking. But I thought I would make a special thread for people to share comments, concerns, and tips for other smart phone users or those considering buying one to add to the outdoor gear arsenal.
It offers weight savings, LOTS of weight savings (depending on what you normally bring packing).
Some of you might say "Don't want one, it is what I want to escape from, ect" which is understandable. But like any electronics, these things can also be turned off and tucked away. Just because you brought a flashlight, you don't have to use it all night...So lets just curb that attitude right now. =)

It's all about the apps! I didn't have much interest in smart phones, as recently as about two years ago. I liked to think of my phone as a phone and anything beyond that was frill. However I quickly learned how wrong I was when all my friends began to show off the nifty apps that unleashed the true potential of their phones. I am now a complete convert.

My current phone is a Samsung Nexus S (129 grams), it runs Android and since I have never used an iPhone I cannot speak on the kinds of apps available to Apple users, but I know the market is bountiful. So for just a moment I'd like to talk about how I use my phone to enjoy the outdoors and to lighten my load.

Keep in mind all these applications are free from the Android App market with the exception of my mapping software.

Mapping/GPS - My ONLY paid app, Viewranger mapping software. It allows you to store map data directly to the phone so you can still use it for navigation even when you are without a cell signal (or if you decided to turn it off). You can pre-cache ahead on longer trips, I think it pays to be prepared.
I like the Viewranger software, but as a secondary GPS app I also have GPS Test which provides me with loads of data like lat/long position, heading, speed, altitude, number of GPS satellites Im connected with, and the connection strength.
If you can still connect to a cellular tower, you can also run the bevy of free map options like Google earth, latitude, and maps.

Astronomy guide - I admire the stars, and sound confident about naming constellations with Google sky maps. Using the accelerometer, digital compass, and some magic, it will help to identify what stars you are looking at in the night sky.
Just one more way to remind you how insignificant we are in the scheme of things.

Translator - Google Translate and Google Goggles allow you to not only convert speech to text but you can also use the camera to scan barcodes and documents. The list of supported languages is fairly comprehensive, however I wouldn't rely on it entirely, as the speech to text can sometimes substitute the wrong words (it is a work in progress, but loads better than a physical dictionary) and it never hurts to know some rudimentary phrases "Beer please! Sorry. Thank you. Do you speak english? Where is the bathroom? How much?" for when you visit abroad.

Conversion tool - Converter allows you to do make on the fly conversions for nearly everything. From area to mass, fuel consumption, wave lengths, temperature, and more. An amazing app for any wonks who like crunching the numbers, or figuring out if those liters and ounces really add up right.

Library - I use Amazon Kindle to keep a literal library of books (200+) for on hand reading and reference. I grab mostly the ones in public domain (free) but nothing will stop you from buying the latest best seller either. I've also found free survival guides and wild plant identification books at the Kindle market. With Adobe Acrobat, I can also have the pdf manuals for any gear on hand to reference whenever.

Medical reference - I use the Medscape app as free medical reference that also provides me with a medication index and cross reference to make sure that providing emergency pain killers won't interfere with any prescriptions someone is already taking. I also have iTriage, which lets me find treatment, doctors, and look up symptoms.

Knot tying guide - Knots Guide has every kind of knot you could think to tie, and step by step instructions on how to tie it (some have a series of pictures as well). They have fishing knots, climbing knots, even decorative knots! It doesn't require an internet connection to run so it is a good reference anywhere.

Light - With the app Nexus Torch, I can turn on the flash LED from the camera to light up things. It is a great secondary light source and moderately bright (includes a high setting if you have a rooted phone), it also features an adjustable strobe setting.

Camera/Camcorder - My phone features a 5 megapixel rear facing camera that can also capture 720 x 480 video and a front facing 640 x 480 camera. I use it as my primary camera for when I am out, it takes great pictures if you can manage to hold it steady, and I also have the ability to adjust shooting modes for things like macro and high/low light (adjustable exposure). The video is recorded in H.264 MPEG4 and looks/sounds good.

Internet Browser/Email/Phone/Messaging/Remote photo gallery management/ect - This thing is literally a pocket computer! With a 1ghz CPU, 16 gb of storage, and all the antenna for connecting anywhere in the world (CDMA/GSM/HSDPA/802.11N/G/B WiFi/Bluetooth/NFC/GPS).
You can also turn them OFF (airplane mode/ect) to save battery power or just stay truly 'off the grid'.
I use Firefox, Gmail, Picasa Tool, and eBuddy for keeping people up to date on travels from anywhere I can get WiFi or a cell signal. Great option to hauling around a whole computer on longer trips...if you can tolerate working on a 4" screen (probably not for old people).
I am also a bit of a hacker and can use tools to SSH/FTP/VPN from anywhere in the world. So my server at home is just a login away.

Mp3/Movie/Game device - I use Winamp for playing music I have stored on the phone and it has a headphone jack so I can bring along my earbuds to enjoy a better quality audio experience (great for relaxing after a long days hike) and I use Netflix to watch movies if I could ever be that bored. I have several PopCap games that the Amazon app market released for free for a limited time. I believe they now cost around $3-4 each and are worth the hours of fun provided.

I purchased a Powerfilm AA/USB charger a couple months back, and with it I am able to charge the AAA (with a size adapter) batteries for my head lamp, and also charge my phone from it. This helps to make the charger multi use and just handy to have around in general. With these two items, my pack is saved a great deal of weight, as I no longer need a camera+camcorder/gps unit/phone/mp3 player/lamp/books/ect for any of my travels not to mention I don't have to pack as many batteries - one AA pair for charging the phone, and three AAA for my headlamp.

Now I know you might say, "Ok smart guy, what happens when solar winds/water/gremlins blow up those fancy tri-corders?" Well, I always carry a real compass, map, and very basic emergency medical diagram of arteries and vital organs just in case. However these are simple backups to what has become my go to outdoor device.

Anyone else know of some great/free/useful phone Apps please contribute! I feel that the smart phone really is the next big Multi-use device for the outdoors person. My phone is just one of many very capable phones on the market today, but always check features like antenna/gps/camera before spending money for one!

Laural Bourque

Locale: PNW
peakAR on 06/27/2011 14:49:50 MDT Print View

I just got PeakAR, which is similar to the star map but for mountains. You point your phone at a mountain range and it picks out the names of the peaks for you. Granted this is only good when you have service, but it's pretty cool!

Instead of Kindle I use Laputa for my e-reader, the library has a greater number of free books. Some probably shouldn't be free, like the Chronicles of Narnia, Wheel of Time, Harry Potter and Twilight Books. So don't PM me if you want copies of these. That would be wrong.

Edited by lauralbaby on 06/27/2011 14:54:30 MDT.

Keith Selbo
(herman666) - F - M

Locale: Northern Virginia
iphone on 08/15/2011 06:52:00 MDT Print View

I think you'll find that there are extensive apps available for the Iphone too. In comparing my Ipnone to my daughters Samsung Android OS, I think the Iphone apps, having been vetted by Apple, work better, crash less. Downside is no sd card, special cable.

I hike the AT a lot. I've loaded in the trail profiles and a pdf of the Thru-hiker's companion.

Raquel Rascal

Locale: Rocky Mtn. West
More apps on 09/30/2012 13:40:51 MDT Print View

I've been spending the day messing around with my Android getting it ready for the backcountry and I was pleased to find these two apps to add

iBird - for both iPhones and Android- it's a large database that is downloaded to your phone so it can be used in the field. The illustrations, bird calls and search functions are really great.

And a series of field guide apps from this new company called High Country Apps

The advantage of using an app over an ebook is the advanced searching techniques they use. I'm messing with their Colorado Rocky Mtn. Wildflower App. and it's very well designed and easy to i.d. a plant.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: My smart phone, a digital swiss army knife. on 09/30/2012 15:52:09 MDT Print View

Aside from the above, which I really appreciate on my phone, I also use it to generate white noise for sleeping. I use this app at home as well. I have never slept so good since discovering this app. I also carry two spare batteries, plus an AA battery recharger. The white noise app and e-reading drain the battery pretty quickly. I also have an anti-mosquito app that generates a noise that I can barely hear but apparently mosquitos hate it!??

When I am not using the phone, I always turn it off to conserve the battery. It is actually useless as a cellphone in this part of the world, as there is pretty much zero cell coverage in any of the mountains, but all the GPS and other stuff still works fine.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
My smart phone, sleep aid. on 10/02/2012 14:03:20 MDT Print View

Lynn: I started using white noise ("vacuum" or "hairdryer") at times when I'm having trouble relaxing my thoughts for sleep by playing a youtube video. Well, that's sucks a lot of power between sound and especially the screen. And I had to be on-line.

Then I dropped 99 cents on an itunes "song" and the power consumption went way down and I don't need to be on-line or even have 3G or wifi enabled. But I can't select a play time besides one play or continuous replay. I assume an app would let you set a timer. Ideally, it could be set to play for, say 15 minutes and then fade for the next 5 before turning off. What app do you like?

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: My smart phone, sleep aid. on 10/02/2012 17:40:46 MDT Print View

Bloom and Trope are both pretty cool. Relax while creating your own sounds, or just let the program create the sounds. Has a sleep timer. Created by Brian Eno.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Contrarian Viewpoint (as usual) on 10/02/2012 23:54:10 MDT Print View

"I feel that the smart phone really is the next big Multi-use device for the outdoors person."

I use a smart phone everyday. Right now I am traveling almost every week managing a multi-million dollar project and responsible for a team of remote employees (they all travel to client locations). It is amazing what I can do with an iPhone, iPad and a laptop. Laptop is for building software applications and other heavy-duty computer work while on the road. Heck, the phone almost replaces my computer for the everyday stuff I need to monitor/do/follow-up. I can monitor calendars for several people, track the project, etc., etc. I even use it as my boarding pass on most airlines. When I make plane/hotel/rental car reservations on my iPhone - poof -- TripIt instantly and automatically pushes everything to my calendar and syncs all my devices, and then emails the itinerary to my wife and others. I do presentations to clients with the iPad and with the stylus can mark-up PDFs and take notes. I keep all these odds and ends organized in EverNote. On the airplane I listen to music, read and sometimes to work on the iPad. With iCloud and DropBox it is easy to keep all the devices synchronized and Documents to Go does a pretty good job on most MS Office files if I need to look/work on files quickly. I can go on and on... too much detail for a post.

But for backpacking is is extremely lacking. The phone can do a lot of things, but it is the master of none. It is heavier than my camera and nowhere near as good. But I usually don't bring a camera anyway. I don't need a GPS -- unnessary weight. Besides a map and compass is more accurate. And a GPS works better than my iPhone. Real maps are better than a map on an itty-bitty phone. I have played around with TopoMaps on my iPhone and it is a great program... but not as good as a dedicated GPS, not as good as a real compass, and not as good as map.

Don't need an astronomy guide. For serious sky viewing I use my telescope at home or go car camping with it. But most nights when I am backpacking I just lay on my back and just enjoy the immensity of the night sky.

When backpacking I don't need Internet access, email, voice mail, photo management, etc.

The last thing I need on a hike is music, movies, or reading material. I am too busy listening and observing things around me.

I have been using my almost weightless Photon II for several years and have never changed the battery (reminder to self... might be a good idea to change it when you get back home).

Since I don't carry a phone, GPS, or most of the time a camera; I don't need batteries or chargers.

And the stuff people take as a back-up to their phone, just in case -- is what I use instead.

But if you want a smart phone in the outdoors, go for it. HYOH. IMO you don't need one... it is a "nice to have" item.

Raquel Rascal

Locale: Rocky Mtn. West
@ Nick on 10/03/2012 07:49:47 MDT Print View

Nick- I would tend to agree with you, except I'm addicted to reading. Reading helps me to fall asleep, esp. if I wake up in the middle of the night..

Having the survival, knots and field guides on the phone are just icing on the cake. The bird calls with the iBird app convinced me I needed to carry the phone.

I'm impressed that you can go digital free in the wilderness!

Jens Aarnaes
(Finnmark) - F

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Smart phone apps for backpacking on 10/03/2012 15:38:39 MDT Print View

A new app for me that I find very cool is "Time-Lapse". This allows you to take time-lapse video and I am amazed at all the things I have used it on. Have you ever wondered how the clouds above are forming and dissipating? This app will show you in no uncertain terms. How about a video of early snow melting off a nearby peak? I am sure there are many other uses for this app and I would be curious if others have any suggestions.

Edited by Finnmark on 10/03/2012 15:39:40 MDT.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
not just the apps on 10/03/2012 23:38:54 MDT Print View

"Anyone else know of some great/free/useful phone Apps please contribute!"

I think it's not just about the apps, but also about the mental approach to using the phone in general. So for example, the last five years now I've been carrying the instruction manuals to various gear on my phone (saves infrequent frustration when I want to remember how to work various modes on my watch ... except now I've gone back to a simple Casio, but still).

One app I use a fair bit on the trail is a voice recording app. Helps me remember things to do or buy in town, just thoughts that occur to me while I'm walking or in camp that I'm afraid I'll otherwise forget.

One very common use for me of a smartphone is for journaling while on the trail. On all of my long trips I've written up a journal entry for literally every day spent on trail, and looking at these later really brings the trip back clearly for me. On such trips I've carried a folding bluetooth keyboard, as I just don't type very fast nor accurately with an on-screen virtual keyboard.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: My smart phone, a digital swiss army knife. on 10/04/2012 00:21:50 MDT Print View

I have owned many PDA's and I'm typing this on an iPhone, but until they have better battery life and are waterproof, they are city toys. I'm not a Luddite at all, but I demand more reliability from the hardware and the buggy apps offered to date.

For now, I use map and compass, a small AM/FM radio, notebook and pen, and a far better camera.

I do have some philosophical issues with staring into the palm of my hand rather than connecting with the natural world.

apps on 10/04/2012 07:10:56 MDT Print View

smart phones are part tool, part toy. OK , mostly toy.

Discern between what you really need, vs what you think is cool to have

Yeah the apps add no weight. But most are for fun. They are a distraction from why you are out in the wilds too.

Also to rely on a single electronic device , not water resistant, with short battery life for very much would be questionable.

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: The Deep Frreze
Re: apps on 10/04/2012 10:55:23 MDT Print View

Waterproof cases and extended or spare batteries can help a lot.

Dan M
(dedevelopment) - F
think systematically. on 10/05/2012 17:40:44 MDT Print View

Call me crazy, but I think it's probably arrogant to assume that everyone goes out into the world for exactly the same reasons you yourself do. Not everyone is heading out to escape technology -- some people just like trees and sky and whatnot. Both perspectives are probably fine, aren't they?

Personally, I would never head out into the woods without my phone. I may not get reception everywhere, but I prefer knowing that I have it. I also think that there is room in the backpacking universe for a system that utilizes a reliable smart phone as the greatest multitasking gadget ever.

With a BioLite Stove or a Charge Cup, you can charge your phone with fire. No more carrying extra batteries. With the right phone your map, compass, book, camera, GPS, iPod, reference materials, bear bell, journal and other conveniences can all be contained in a single tool. Mine also makes a great signal mirror. There are more than one case designs out there that render the phone nearly indestructible (earlier this summer a friend of mine called me from his iPhone while he was eight feet under water). Add in an LED light that charges by USB and a Steripen Freedom and you've got the beginnings of a gear system that makes a lot of sense together.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: think systematically. on 10/05/2012 18:46:10 MDT Print View

Dan M wrote, "Call me crazy, but I think it's probably arrogant to assume that everyone goes out into the world for exactly the same reasons you yourself do. Not everyone is heading out to escape technology -- some people just like trees and sky and whatnot. Both perspectives are probably fine, aren't they?"

Of course. I think it was clear that I was speaking for myself. Like I said, I'm very much involved in technology and I personally like to escape it when in a natural setting. I do definitely go to the woods for re-creation, peace and quiet. I don't think that everyone must do the same--- as long as you are using headphones :)

If I could depend on the technology, I would see more uses for it. At this time, cellular reception is very weak in the areas I visit and can't be relied on. Some of the locator beacons are equally "spotty" (pun intended). I will hold that the apps are quite buggy, with the new Apple Maps being a good example. I do look forward to having a smartphone as a multipurpose tool in the future.

As to the battery issues, the BioLite stove is pretty weak. At this point, extended batteries are the best way to go, but they do add weight and bulk, as do the protective cases. If they can make a waterproof camera, a waterproof/hardened smartphone should be on the way. It came to pass with laptops and cell phones.

I became an adult in the early 1970's and Ive seen a lot of changes in cameras, automobiles, satellite technology, audio electronics, video recording, etc, etc, etc. Many of those technologies went though some clumsy periods and have become more user friendly, faster, reliable, and just plain useful. IMHO, as wonderful as smartphones seem today, they have a ways to go. Check back with me in 5 years and we will revisit this discussion.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: My smart phone, sleep aid. on 10/11/2012 16:40:45 MDT Print View

"Then I dropped 99 cents on an itunes "song" and the power consumption went way down and I don't need to be on-line or even have 3G or wifi enabled. But I can't select a play time besides one play or continuous replay. I assume an app would let you set a timer. Ideally, it could be set to play for, say 15 minutes and then fade for the next 5 before turning off. What app do you like?"

David, I use the Lightning bug app as a white noise generator. For me, I 'need' the noise all night long. I blame my parents. I grew up with a fan running in my bedroom almost all year round. Without the background noise, every little noise will wake me up. Music doesn't cut it for me.

I keep my phone in an Aloksak ziploc. Have yet to experience a problem with it getting wet, but I don't really use it for essential navigation. I stick to map and compass for that. But the ability to judge elevation is pretty nice, especially on a long climbs through trees when it's hard to know my progress. Since I don't usually carry a camera, the option of taking pictures has also come in handy. I certainly don't feel a need for a high resolution camera on my trips. It's also now my only time piece, a quick light source, add a valuable resource for all kinds of stuff, including bird and plant identification, not tying, first aid, etc... None of these are essential, but then I don't consider a Swiss army knife (or any knife) essential. Just all very handy for one small device.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: Spam on 10/14/2012 18:48:50 MDT Print View


Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re:spam on 10/14/2012 18:50:32 MDT Print View