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iPhone for Backpacking-Ready or Not?
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Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
iPhone for Backpacking-Ready or Not? on 07/13/2007 22:03:59 MDT Print View

I am going Saturday to have a look at one of the new Apple iPhones. I don't have a cell phone and have never even talked on one. I see the iPhone as a possible multi-use piece of gear. I say multi use because with the ability to get on the internet I can go to pre-loaded trail information such as maps and trail data, I can send and receive email, I can update a trail journal, I can use it as a cell phone, I can use it as a camera, I can listen to music and recorded books, etc.

At this time all the above is just a big "maybe" till a really good trail test is conducted by someone who then writes up their observations.

As a backpacker who is always looking for a way to drop a few grams the iPhone looks like it could help me do that.

Do you have one yet and if yes what do you think about it?

Edited by bfornshell on 07/13/2007 22:05:29 MDT.

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: iPhone for Backpacking-Ready or Not? on 07/13/2007 22:14:43 MDT Print View

My friend has one and keeps taking pictures of his pocket because there's no way to lock it. That's a big downside.

There are much lighter options that can do internet, music, phone, camera, etc. I have this one:

It's 1.3 ounces lighter and $400 cheaper. No doubth the IPhone is cool though!

If you do a lot of writing, something like this with a keyboard is good:

But nothing is as slick as the iPhone- that thing is BEAUTIFUL!

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: iPhone for Backpacking-Ready or Not? on 07/13/2007 22:15:08 MDT Print View

the problem is short term battery life.

Mike Barney
(eaglemb) - F

Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
Re: Re: iPhone for Backpacking-Ready or Not? on 07/13/2007 22:24:42 MDT Print View

Don't forget coverage area. As a cellular phone, it's worthless unless you can get coverage in that area.

Coverage for cellular providers is specified as something like '95% of XYZ'***, where the *** is based upon the statistical population geographical distribution.
Turns out you can cover about 5% of the entire US population with a single super cell in one large metropolitan area. Throw out 19 of those and you can claim you have '95% US coverage', not that that's useful or anything.

The point is, in the hinterlands more than a few hundred yards off major roads, coverage typically drops off very quickly.

Good luck, let us know how you like the iPhone if you get one.


John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: iPhone for Backpacking-Ready or Not? on 07/13/2007 22:35:05 MDT Print View

6 to 8 hour battery life isn't worth it.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
iPhone likely not the best multi-use device on 07/13/2007 22:40:51 MDT Print View

My recollection is that the iPhone doesn't have a real GPS in it (?).

I thought through this stuff to some depth recently (though I didn't consider the iPhone); I ended up getting an ETEN Glofiish M700, and so far am pretty happy with it. It includes a SiRF Star III GPS, which works very well with Pocket Topo or other GPS software installed. The camera is the weak point on most of these; for scenery shots this will do so-so, a step down from the camera I had been carrying but a worthwhile compromise overall.

There are a lot of issues to sort through if you're going with a multi-use device. A year or so from now I'll probably have decided if this is the right path, but I'm content with it so far ...

Anyone considering this path should recognize that the offerings are changing quickly; if you're seriously looking right now, and you're looking for a pretty complete "all-in-one" device, I'd consider one of these options:

- HP iPAQ hw6945 Mobile Messenger
- Pharos gps phone 600
- Motorola MC35
- ASUS P526
- HTC Advantage
- Nokia -- multiple models, N95 - E90, or 6110 Navigator
- ETEN Glofiish, multiple models - X500, X800, M700

Not a complete list and, again, the offerings change pretty rapidly.

Brian Lewis

Andrew Gilbert
(s4agilbert) - MLife
Screen lock, weight on 07/14/2007 02:13:41 MDT Print View

Doug, I am lucky/silly enough to own an iPhone. I'm a bit confused by your friend that claims that his iPhone takes pictures of his pocket because it has no lock. The iPhone does indeed lock its screen, either automatically or with a single key press (the one on top). It takes two separate actions to unlock, one of which requires a finger on the screen to perform (the iPhone's touch screen does not respond to touches by inanimate objects such as keys, change, or gloved fingers). By the way, the camera's button is also a 'soft key' which would also require a live finger to activate.

Next, when the phone is in the pocket, the proximity sensor disables the touch screen. You can verify this by covering the top portion of the phone (just above the speaker hole) and trying to use the touchscreen. It does nothing, just as it would do nothing if placed in the pocket.

However, all of this seems somewhat silly to me. The iPhone is heavy. It doesn't replace a GPS if you choose to carry one. There is no lighweight way to charge it in the field. And why on God's green earth would you want to take a $500-$600 smartphone backpacking with you. Get a cheap, light GSM cell phone and pop the SIM from the iPhone into it if you absolutely must carry a phone. It'll weigh less, and you won't be reduced to a sobbing wreck if it gets soaked/dropped down a cliff/lost/or eaten by a very style conscious bear. Personally I prefer not taking any of my leashes with me when I backpack.

I know some people need to keep in touch, even in the bush. And some consider a cell phone an important piece of safety equipment. Just my 2 cents.


Andy Gilbert

Edited by s4agilbert on 07/14/2007 02:15:38 MDT.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Screen lock, weight on 07/14/2007 07:45:37 MDT Print View

We need a thread on the smallest and lightest cell phones...

Steven Nelson
(slnsf) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Re: Re: iPhone for Backpacking-Ready or Not? on 07/14/2007 14:20:39 MDT Print View

I took mine on a five-day Yosemite/Ansel Adams Wilderness High Passes Loop from 6/30-7/4.

Five days in "Airplane Mode" (WiFi, Phone off) and 154 pictures later, it had only used about 80% of battery.

Contrary to what Doug said, it absolutely can be locked - it only turned on when I wanted it to (and that requires a button press, then a finger-swipe across the bottom of the screen).

On the way there and back I was able to check eMail, get weather and traffic conditions, surf the web, etc. (I was a passenger). Also did SMS and calls, checked visual voice mail (a fantastic feature).

It also stores reduced-res photos, which can be anything: I've created an "information" folder in the Photos app that has maps, ferry schedules, etc. as graphics.

The only bad news: my camera lens had a flaw causing a blur in the same portion of every image I shot (drat!) I'd forgotten my real camera, so I was hoping I could use the pictures, but they're really only good at shrunk-down size due to the flaw. Apple swapped the phone out when I returned, giving me a new one. The camera is great in that one, everything else works fine, and it restored all of my settings and files except for security passwords for VM and WiFi when I plugged in the new phone.

My only complaint: significant RF interference, more than my other GSM phones - loud noise on speakers nearby, including in the car, when it pings the network. Minor issues: no Edge data while on a phone call (so, can't do eMail or get traffic or other info while on a call).

Definitely a fine device for backpacking. Mine weighs 5.05 oz w/o earphone.

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: iPhone for Backpacking-Ready or Not? on 07/14/2007 16:44:19 MDT Print View

The iPhone is blendable, should that be one of your criteria.

I've had very poor luck with ATT coverage in the Sierra backcountry (as a former subscriber) so that would be a deal-killer for me. YMMV.

IMHO the iPhone is a great interface still looking for a mission.

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: Re: iPhone for Backpacking-Ready or Not? on 07/14/2007 19:59:34 MDT Print View

It not really backpacking ready, or ready for sale, but if I were to get something like an iPhone my money would go to the FIC Neo1973 It is about half the price of the iPhone and best of all isn't made by Apple. It runs Linux too! Sure it has a stylus included, but its also a pen, laser pointer, and flashlight! Its multiuse, that should tip us off that its designed right! Anyway, enough of pimping Linux for now. You won't catch me dead with an iPhone.


John Haley
(Quoddy) - F

Locale: New York/Vermont Border
Re: Re: Re: iPhone for Backpacking-Ready or Not? on 07/14/2007 20:43:43 MDT Print View

Picked up a Blackberry 8830 three days ago. With it I'll be able to make journal entries AND include photos. Other than that, I've found it be great for everyday use... not just for internet access.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Re: Re: Re: Re: iPhone for Backpacking-Ready or Not? on 07/15/2007 12:02:07 MDT Print View

"We need a thread on the smallest and lightest cell phones"

Catch there is that small/light must be traded off versus delivered functionality, and different people will weight the value of different functions differently. I wouldn't consider the iPhone, clearly another person finds it an excellent option. Neither of us is wrong, we're just differently weighting the various functions versus various other factors including weight, cost, complexity, quality/reliability, etc.

"Five days in "Airplane Mode" (WiFi, Phone off) and 154 pictures later, it had only used about 80% of battery."

I've done a few power tests with my Glofiish phone, and camera use was the least power hungry of anything I tried. From a full battery charge I took 50 outdoor pictures at max (2 megapixel) resolution, turning off the unit between every three shots. At the end my battery meter still read 100% (rounds to the nearest 5%).

Indeed, having any of wi-fi, bluetooth, GSM phone, or GPS active sucks battery power, keeping those on only when needed is an important part of power management.

"I've had very poor luck with ATT coverage in the Sierra backcountry (as a former subscriber) so that would be a deal-killer for me."

The related question is whether any other provider would give better coverage --- if so, I've not heard. A few weeks ago I did some ad hoc analysis of the coverage maps of the majors (ATT, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint), basically plugging in various zip codes in more remote areas along the PCT. ATT and Verizon came out best. I can't use Verizon as only ATT and T-Mobile support GSM. To be clear, this was just an exercise looking at coverage maps, but in multiple cases I would find that a particular place I plan to walk through on the PCT has no coverage shown by Sprint or T-Mobile, but some coverage by one or both of ATT and Verizon. YMMV indeed (!).

Brian Lewis

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
iPhone for Backpacking-Ready or Not? on 07/15/2007 17:06:58 MDT Print View

I want to thank those that took a little time to replied to my question about the "iPhone".

For those that just felt compelled to write something, thanks but no thanks. Learn how to read and distinguish what the question is. If I asked about phones in general it would have been different. I didn't.

I have looked at most everything that will connect to the internet and NONE meets what I want.

I want first a small light weight computer that I can read without having to carry a really large magnifying glass. Next I want something I can type on with my fingers not a little stick . None of the others are there yet. Next it has to be able to connect to the internet and have decent battery life.

I spent about an hour playing with the new iPhone at my local Apple Store. I was quickly able to open and read over it. Typing the URL was very easy as the keyboard letters get larger as your finger is about to hit the screen. This is a great feature and I was quickly typing with few if any typos. I am sure I could type wearing a light pair of glove liners.

You can compose within the email feature in "Airplane" mode. This is working within Safari without being connected to the internet. This would let me write my journal entries or emails and then send them later. Steven had mentioned this.

I asked about turning off the camera and you put the iPhone in "stand-by" mode and that turns off the camera. There may be another way also. The camera - most of my hiking pictures are in the email resolution mode so the iPhone should be fine.

The best answer I could get about charging time when the battery was to low to turn on was 3 to 4 hours.

I asked about the small weight difference that Steven and the guy asked if it was the 4 or 8 GB version. He also said that the 4.8 ounce may have been the weight before the glass screen. In all that isn't much of a difference.

Brian, I agree that Verizon would make me happier than ATT.

I haven't decided if I am going to buy an iPhone yet but I think it would do what I am looking for as a piece of backpacking gear.

Edited by bfornshell on 07/15/2007 23:43:30 MDT.

Scott Peterson
(scottalanp) - F

Locale: Northern California
Re: iPhone for Backpacking-Ready or Not? on 07/15/2007 21:59:57 MDT Print View

Typing and internet just don't seem to be anything I will ever want while in the wilderness. I realize that I am not a thru-hiker (at least not yet)...but I would mainly want to hear my loved ones voices every now and then, and enjoy the experience for what it is...even if I was out for months. Not to say that I would not share photos and info. if someone was interested. But to make the effort to generate it real time seems so 2007.

Is anyone else starting to reach that point when someone else's BLOG about (insert any activity under god's green earth) delivered in real time is just more of the same? I realize that we, as a society, are only on the tip of the iceberg with this whole thing. But the thought that everyone needs to present their life in a media friendly entertaining way alters the way you approach the experience in the first place! Can't we just go out and enjoy without considering how it will read when it hits the web?

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Can you say Apple @ $130plus ? * on 07/15/2007 22:10:01 MDT Print View

As for Apple and IPhone scoffers----my Apple stock is laughing all the way to the bank. :-P

Bill, not quite wilderness-ready--- either you need to pack in a solar recharger or wait for version 2 (which hopefully will allow users to easily swap out batteries). It is VERY nice...

C'mon, Adam, what's the hate all about? Microsoft Bad, Apple Cool. :-D Can't stand the uber-hype?

Would I bring an IPhone or Blackberry into the backcountry? Nah--- occasionally, just occasionally, I like to totally unplug.

Along the lines of Scott, I prefer my trip reports to be digested and in the past tense. I must admit that some of the Wild- Blogs----the Arctic 1000 comes to mind--- can be very entertaining, but sometimes I find reading what in effect, are peoples diaries, can be on the tedious side. Something about writing when exhausted or addled by high altitude can bring out the worst in reportage and literature. d:-/

* am I thinking about shorting it? maybe.

Edited by kdesign on 07/15/2007 22:35:48 MDT.

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
iPhone for Backpacking-Ready or Not? on 07/16/2007 00:22:49 MDT Print View

Scott and Kevin,

I am not at all interested in the iPhone as a cell phone. I have never even talked on one and have never thought I needed a cell phone.

I am looking at the things the iPhone can do that would save the weight of the paper stuff I carry. My note book and pencil even though they are light still weigh something. I can give up my paper maps and my paper trail guide and download what I need into the iPhone memory. The iPhone could replace my digital camera. My camera is light but it is still just a little heavier than the iPhone.

ian wright
(ianwright) - F

Locale: Photo - Mt Everest - 1980
iphone on 07/16/2007 05:21:25 MDT Print View

What has gotten me curious but have not looked into yet is the Nokia N95 (that's what it's called in Australia at least). Phone, computer, internet, GPS, MP3, camera and I think something else I keep forgetting. For me who is into doing extended overseas trips this is the ultimate travel gadget. But then again, I like my little green Garmin Geko and I want a good quality camera and I still prefer having my travel notes in hard copy and why would I want a phone when overseas (I go to be left alone!). But under some circumstances it would be brilliant.

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: Can you say Apple @ $130plus ? * on 07/16/2007 07:19:06 MDT Print View

Kevin, yes Microsoft bad :).
As for Apple, my brother has a Macbook and its prettier than all get out. I would surmise to say I'm a little jealous of its good looks and how well its works for what he does. Unfortunately he paid a premium for it and I don't really have the funds for anything Apple. Therefore I must scoff at what I cannot have. Its really nothing more than that.
Although I did work on a Mac my first week at work. I almost drop kicked it. It was the most painful thing I've ever had to work on. I do hear they make good boat anchors though...


Scott Peterson
(scottalanp) - F

Locale: Northern California
Re: iPhone for Backpacking-Ready or Not? on 07/16/2007 07:24:00 MDT Print View

Bill...I am, again playing devil's advocate. There is no denying the potential to save weight when presented with the myriad of tasks the little iPhone can do. Just wanted to present the thought about BLOGs, but also suggest whether or not you truly could do all the things you require lighter than the iPhone. I am not certain how much you actually need detailed maps, for example if you are hiking on very established routes or not...but it would make me nervous to have anything life saving dependent on a machine with batteries! Also, one thing I don't like about electronics (and I know nothing about the iPhone)...but if it does not take regular batteries...that finding a place to plug in could be more of a pain in the butt than getting AAA's at a gas station.