November 20, 2015 8:16 PM MST - Subscription purchasing, account maintenance, forum profile maintenance, new account registration, and forum posting have been disabled
as we prepare our databases for the final migration to our new server next week. Stay tuned here for more details.
Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Best smartphone for backcountry use
Display Avatars Sort By:
christopher smead
(hamsterfish) - MLife

Locale: hamsterfish
Best smartphone for backcountry use on 05/23/2012 23:57:03 MDT Print View

Some of the comments on my other thread about using a gps with built in camera inspired me to consider a smartphone instead.

What's the best smart phone in regards to:
Offline gps capability
Battery life
Spare batteries available?

Believe it or not I don't plan on using the phone function.

Mark Ryan

Locale: Somewhere. Probably lost.
Iphone on 05/24/2012 07:41:20 MDT Print View

iI enjoy my iphone.

Pretty light, GPS is excellent. Battery life can last days with some tricks. I also bring along a battery brick (lighter than it sounds) if i go on longer trips. Camera is good for me. Clear pics.

What really matters is you service provider. Does your provider have good service where you are hiking? I have AT&T in the NE. Not amazing in the Dacks but go everywhere else I have been.

Edited by Sixguns01 on 05/24/2012 07:43:23 MDT.

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: The Deep Frreze
Re: Best smartphone for backcountry use on 05/24/2012 07:48:36 MDT Print View

Problem with the iPhone is the batteries cannot be changed so you need an alternate power source.

I was using a Motorola Defy for 13 months untils the screen went crazy and it was out of warranty.

Currently using Motorola Triumph with a couple of spare batteries, I keep it in an an Aquapac case.

I do have a Otterbox Smartphone/gps rugged waterproof case but it's a bit heavy and bulky but absolute bomb proof.

Whichever phone you get you will need to put it in Flight mode, and crank the power settings as low as possible.

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Moto on 05/24/2012 07:53:56 MDT Print View

I got a Motorola Galaxy S II. I wont go back to an iphone. Overall I like it better. GPS is good. You can swap out cards and batteries. Light. Feels pretty durable. Big honking screen.

Chris Scala
(Scalawag) - F
No Cellphone on 05/24/2012 09:05:05 MDT Print View

I have an iPhone, and out of the woods it's a convenient tool... However, when I'm hiking, the last thing I wanna deal with is a cellphone. Sure, it can get the weather and all that, but it is too tempting of a distraction to suck you out of being in tune with the natural environment. I have an awesome camera, so I wouldn't use it for that either.

Basically what I'm getting at is, does anyone have a way of NOT bringing a cell phone on a trip? I know it seems obvious - leave it at home - but for example when I fly out to do the JMT, it'd be nice not to have to worry about an iPhone in my pack, but it will also be the device that helps me get there and and home in an organized fashion.

I'm probably out of luck... but it kinda stinks having $300 of fragile, "useless" weight in your pack in the backcountry.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
smashable on 05/24/2012 09:12:36 MDT Print View

I have a Casio G'Zone Commando Android phone. Without an add-on case, it's waterproof, smashproof, cold-proof, heat-proof, dust-proof and requires no screen-protector. It cooks breakf...well, no.

Okay, so the in-store display for this phone was a fishbowl, full of water. They'd start it playing a tune, drop it in the tank, let it sink, reach in and use the screen, then adjust the volume using a physical toggle button on the side (you can see the screen bar change) and then take their hand out and invite you take the phone out of the water. Of course, it's playing just fine when you do.

It's not smashproof, but I can verify it handles being dropped just fine. I drop phones. I drop phones in water. I drop phones on asphalt and concrete. Coupla scuffs. It's got a Gorilla Glass screen, as many newer phones do now, and it needs no stick-on shield. You could scratch it with a key and leave no marks --another stunt at the store, btw.

It's got mil-spec email and VM encryption! Yeah, whatever. Karl Rove has the codes, trust me. (Let me reiterate, I love Big Brother and that gin is great.)

The GPS is fine, the on-board OEM software is good and spare batteries are cheap, although you cannot use "extended life size" because there's only one waterproof rear door available. The Android updates work fine and they're currently updated to use 2.3.3 . I have High Sierra coverage up to the JMT at Thousand Island Lake (moved south along lake and lost it), all over the Lagunas, Cuyamacas and San Bernadinos and it works flawlessly in Puerto Rico (where it darn sure also got wet). The onboard camera is crap, however.

The Commando is now obsolete, so Verizon sells them new for under $100, a far better price than I paid after smashing an armored Razor into pieces and walking into a Manhattan store with rubble in my hands...

Edited by EBasil on 05/24/2012 09:13:10 MDT.

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: The Deep Frreze
Re: No Cellphone on 05/24/2012 09:18:39 MDT Print View


My phone is always switched off unless I turn it on to use the Gps for a few minutes or use it to read a book before sleep time.

I will say though that up to most of my hiking has been in areas with no trails and not many folks about so in emergency it could come in useful, if I am going to be in an area with no phone coverage I bring along another methods of calling for help.



Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: The Deep Frreze
Re: smashable on 05/24/2012 09:21:10 MDT Print View

Hi Erik,

I looked at that phone a while back, you say it's obsolete, is it very slow as a smartphone?



Aaron Lehoux

Locale: Southern Maine
+1 for iPhone on 05/24/2012 10:09:26 MDT Print View

I have an iPhone 4s that I keep in a waterproof Otter box. If you turn off the Bluetooth, Wifi, and push notifications it will last for quite a while. I turn it completely off though while on the trail. Since I usually go solo, my fiancee asks me to check in at night when I'm able. I've gone for days and finished with over half a battery left with 15-20 minute conversations at night and a few pics sent.

Charles P
(mediauras) - F

Locale: Terra
offline GPS functionality? on 05/24/2012 10:24:57 MDT Print View

I don't think any smartphone supports offline GPS functionality though. Or am I wrong on that? I know that would be impossible with my android phone. Google maps and navigation won't load without a data connection.

Nathan Watts
(7sport) - MLife
Re: Best smartphone for backcountry use on 05/24/2012 10:30:14 MDT Print View

I have an Aquapac Keymaster case for my iphone. The touchscreen works through the case and it's submersible up to 30ft with 1/4 turn gasketed seals. It's like a ziploc bag on some serious steroids. You wouldn't be able to take pictures (or good ones anyway) while the phone was in the case, however. But it's very lightweight and much less bulky than hard sided cases.

That being said, I always bring a dedicated camera with me. I have a waterproof Sony point and shoot that's submersible to 15ft and is probably smaller in volume than my phone. Takes excellent pictures - much better than probably 99% if not ALL phones out there.

I rarely use GPS and when/if I do, I use my phone. But I also use my phone daily as a phone and in the backcountry as lots of other things around camp.

If you're not looking to use a smartphone as a phone, I think you're wasting your money. Yeah it combines a GPS and camera into one smallish convenient package, but I think you'd be better off with a dedicated GPS and dedicated camera. You'll get better GPS functionality, much better battery life, and much better pictures this way. You will likely save a bunch of money compared to buying a smart phone too. As well as some flexibilty about which gets packed and when. Sometimes you might want one or the other. Sometimes both.

If you do need a phone at some point though (I can't imagine being w/out a cell phone), it may be worth it to get a smart phone instead of dedicated camera and gps units. But otherwise I think a phone will be a waste for you.

Katy Anderson
(KatyAnderson) - F
Offline - YES on 05/24/2012 10:33:27 MDT Print View

This is what makes a smartphone a viable replacement for a GPS.
Can't speak for other phones, but the iphone 4 and later has a real GPS that is not dependent on cell or data coverage. Download a GPS app and the maps you are going to need while you are at home with wifi. Once out on the trail just use the GPS app as you would a regular GPS. If you want to save on battery life, just turn it on occassionally to check your position. I have found the GPS to be very accurate, down to a few feet.

Nathan Watts
(7sport) - MLife
Re: offline GPS functionality? on 05/24/2012 10:34:14 MDT Print View

"I don't think any smartphone supports offline GPS functionality though. Or am I wrong on that?"

for offline GPS use, you'll want to pre-load maps etc. into the phone with various GPS apps available. Google maps is not one of those that can store maps, although some map data can be cached for offline use sometimes. To slow battery drain you'll want to turn off your phone/data functionality while leaving the GPS functionality enabled.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: No Cellphone on 05/24/2012 10:37:26 MDT Print View

How about a prepaid phone for your trips? You can get one much lighter than your iPhone and worry free. It won't cost anything when you aren't using it. They make good backups to leave in your car, etc.

Charles P
(mediauras) - F

Locale: Terra
corrrected on 05/24/2012 10:50:13 MDT Print View

Ah, okay, stand corrected. I hardly use GPS so haven't really explored it. But good to know, thanks.

I'm sympathetic to the general problem somebody else stated of what to do with your smartphone when backpacking. I also don't want to leave mine in the car at the TH, so lug it around, but I don't use it or want to use it. Its deadweight. Maybe we need small locking car safes. :)

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Best smartphone for backcountry use on 05/24/2012 10:54:47 MDT Print View

John Muir gets more amazing every day :-)

Jason G
(JasonG) - F

Locale: iceberg lake
iphone on 05/24/2012 10:59:10 MDT Print View

+1 on iphone

wait 1 month for the new iPhone 5 come out. i think they announce it the 8th and it will come out a few weeks after. and don't forget to jailbreak it to unlock its true potential..

Ben F
(tekhna) - F
Re: Re: Best smartphone for backcountry use on 05/24/2012 11:00:11 MDT Print View

Not an iPhone. Or, basically anything other than an iPhone. Small screen, fragile, and no removable battery. It's the battery thing that kills it for me. And I couldn't live with that tiny screen anymore.

Scott Bentz
(scottbentz) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
iPhone GPS Apps on 05/24/2012 11:08:54 MDT Print View

Any recommendations for iPhone GPS Apps?

Nathan Watts
(7sport) - MLife
Re: iPhone GPS Apps on 05/24/2012 11:20:58 MDT Print View

"Any recommendations for iPhone GPS Apps?"

I have the following:

Topo Maps (has some very cool unique features)
Google Earth

Other related apps you should check out:
Star Walk