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Backpacking with Smartphones?

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Backpacking with Smartphones?

Postby mschnaidt » Wed Oct 12, 2011 5:25 pm

I've been taking my Android smartphone backpacking this year. I've found it to be a great addition to my pack and won't hit the trail without it in the future so I thought I'd share what works for me.

Typically I backpack in areas without cell or data service and I like it that way. The last thing I want to do is take a phone call or reply to a text when I'm on a pack trip (Of course emergency situations are a different story). So I use my phone as a handheld computer that replaces single purpose devices like cameras, gps, iPod etc.

I have an Android but iPhones are great also. The apps I describe are available in the Android Market. I’m not sure about iPhone apps but I would imagine you can find similar apps in the App Store.

I've configured one of the 7 available "Home Screens" on my phone with the apps that I use on a trip. I've paid for some and others are free or included with the phone.

I've included Altitude, Camera, Google Earth, Backpacker GPS Trails Pro, my photo gallery, Amazon
Kindle (ebook reader), Flashlight, Music player, photo editor, GPS altimeter and Geo reader.

Altitude will give you elevation readings off of the phone GPS and when you have data coverage a reading from the geo names database. Free

I really like Backpacker GPS trails. It's $3.99. Pay for this one. It allows you to download and cache topo maps to your device at different zoom levels. This enables you to use the app when you don’t have data coverage. Make sure you do that at home before you leave for your trip. It's simple and the maps are great. The app has a lot of options/functions including a compass. Check it out online for more details.

Cameras in phones are getting pretty good. Mine has an 8 megapixel camera that will also shoot 1080P video. The quality is excellent for a phone so I’m leaving my digital point and shoot camera at home. Included on phone

Google Earth is handy if you want to view sat imagery. It will also cache imagery to your device and is usable in the backcountry. Free

Photo gallery is where you can access your photos. Included

Amazon Kindle is a great e reader. I can carry as many books as I’d like and there is no extra weight. The app is free but there is a charge for books. You can purchase books on your phone or from your PC. I usually have a novel or two and have a book on first aid.

Flashlight is a free app that uses the camera flash as a flashlight. I prefer a headlamp but this is handy at times.

Music player is a basic feature and works like an iPod. I don’t use this when I’m backpacking but you might…

GPS Altimeter is good if you have data coverage. If not it’s worthless. You can scroll the map to any location and get an elevation reading. The downside is that it uses Google maps or Google Sat images and no topo option. A little hard to use but can be useful. Free.

Geo Reader is an interesting free app. I’m usually in a hurry to get to the trailhead and don’t bother to stop to read historical markers. This app uses GPS to locate you and is capable of reading the historical markers to you as you pass by. Kinda cool.

Of course with any electronic device battery power is an issue. When I hit the trailhead I put it into airplane mode which turns off the phones cellular radio. It saves battery power and I don’t get phone calls or text messages. I can get several days of use off of a charge. Mostly reading, taking photos and pulling up the backpacker app for the occasional GPS fix or to plan the next day’s day hike.

I experimented with a solar charger on a couple of overnighters and discovered they are pretty much useless. I have a cheap single panel charger and will never take it again. There are some good ones available that will keep you in power for an extended trip but they are pretty big and weigh close to a pound. I’m trying to shed weight by bringing my phone so that’s not an option for me. I’d bring an extra phone battery for an extended trip.

I’m attaching Screen Shots of my home screen and some of the apps.

Enjoy!
M

Backpacking Home Screen.png
Altitude.png
Backpacker Pro 1.png
Backpacker Pro 2.png
Kindle.png
GPS Altimeter.png
Geo Reader.png



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Re: Backpacking with Smartphones?

Postby The Other Tom » Thu Oct 13, 2011 3:58 am

Nice review, thanks. I have most of the apps you describe and bring my phone on short trips, but as you pointed out, battery life is an issue, so it stays at home (or in the car) for longer trips. Also, weight tends to be more of an issue for me on longer trips, so the phone is one thing I can do without.
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Re: Backpacking with Smartphones?

Postby mschnaidt » Thu Oct 13, 2011 8:04 am

Old Ranger,

My solution to longer term battery life is throw in an extra battery or 2.

Typically a backup battery costs $30-$40 from a cell phone or electronics store. I found a great deal on E-Bay. 2 batteries plus a wall charger for $10 delivered. Very cheap and light. Each battery weighs an ounce or so.

With backup batteries and the phone in airplane mode and the screen brightness turned down I'm easily good for a week plus. I do turn it off when I'm not using it.

Other options would include an external power supply. Here's an option:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0029U ... d_i=507846

It's under $50 and less than 6 oz. Should be able to recharge your battery at least twice.

Or you can go solar. Pricier and they take a long time (days) to charge.

http://www.rei.com/category/40004198

Dedicated e-book readers like Amazon's Kindle have great battery life. They can last weeks on a charge. The new one weighs less than 6 oz. But it's a single purpose device.

http://www.amazon.com/Kindle-eReader-eB ... d_i=507846

My trips are usually less than 10 days so the extra batteries work for me. They are cheap and light.

Hope this helps,

Michael
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Re: Backpacking with Smartphones?

Postby Flux » Thu Oct 13, 2011 1:41 pm

I have exported topo maps (from NG topo!)of the area I am heading into and saved them to my phone. Iphones let you pan and zoom. Nice to have as a backup to my usual printed map. Once I did forget my map and was pretty glad to have it saved to the phone.
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Re: Backpacking with Smartphones?

Postby freestone » Sun Oct 16, 2011 7:27 am

Here is a hiking blog article on backpacking with the iPhone, apps that are good, and tips on saving battery life. I also see that there is an app that will allow you to connect a SPOT device to the iPhone via Bluetooth. I like that idea except I wonder if a dead iPhone would render the SPOT devise useless. I would hope not.

http://adventurealan.com/iphone4gps.htm

http://www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=116
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Re: Backpacking with Smartphones?

Postby no2haven » Wed Oct 19, 2011 9:44 am

You can also cache the terrain layer (topo layer) for google maps as well...from the maps app go to Settings->More->Labs... and click on the enable cacheing. Then, in the map, click on the area you're interested and select the 'Pre-cache map area' option. This saves the few square mile area around the point you clicked with a coarse topo, and maybe the two square mile around the point with the highest res topo they have available. I tried this out last weekend and it worked really well on the hike from Echo Lakes to Lake Aloha.

There aren't any trails marked and it wouldn't be good if you need a large swath of topo maps for a long trip (you're limited in how many areas you can cache), but its good if there's a specific place you want detailed info for or need a quick GPS fix. Plus its free.
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Re: Backpacking with Smartphones?

Postby sparky » Tue Nov 01, 2011 1:43 pm

I only use the camera function and in airplane mode I get 5 days off a single charged battery. I carry a backup battery also. Phone is the HTC evo. 5 days with screen at medium brightness.
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Re: Backpacking with Smartphones?

Postby mschnaidt » Wed Nov 02, 2011 7:35 am

The Evo is a great phone. I bought one on launch day. I was very happy with it. I recently switched to a Samsung Galaxy S2. Sprint's version. Battery life is about double with the S2. I'm still going to carry a backup battery.

There are some great battery deals on EBay. For my Evo I was able to find 2 batteries plus a wall charger for $10 delivered. These batteries are off brands. I was leery of them at first but for $10 I thought I'd give them a try. They worked well.

M
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Re: Backpacking with Smartphones?

Postby mattherrington » Thu Mar 01, 2012 6:00 pm

Anyone had any luck with the Harrison Maps for the iphone?



The entire JMT set is available for $14 and from the screen shots it would appear as if they're simply digital copies of the paper maps (which I happen to love for mileage and elavation reasons).

I just got a 4S through work and am giving some serious consideration to going paperless. Solio's new Bolt ($70, 5.3 oz.) charges itself in 8-10 hours, can charge and/or discharge all at the same time, will charge an iPhone twice, and can be charged before you leave the house. That's three phone charges before you need 8 hours of sun.



That means for 10 oz. you can have your GPS, 8 MP camera, 1080p HD video cam, some evening music, some digital .pdf scans of Secor so I can quite carrying copies, and if you're REALLY lucky comms somewhere in the middle of nowhere (as my wife never knows where I'm at!) Bundle that with the 40 use USB chargeable Steripen Freedom (2.6 oz) and the USB chargeable Petzl core system and I'm lighter than just my beloved Katadyn Hiker Pro and 3 extra AAA batteries.

What am I missing? Yeah, I know I'm going to dunk it but at some point tech catches up and makes obsolete older ways of doing things. I used to print out emails too to make sure I could prove someone sent me something.
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Re: Backpacking with Smartphones?

Postby rlown » Thu Mar 01, 2012 6:21 pm

mattherrington wrote:Anyone had any luck with the Harrison Maps for the iphone?
...
I just got a 4S through work and am giving some serious consideration to going paperless. Solio's new Bolt ($70, 5.3 oz.) charges itself in 8-10 hours, can charge and/or discharge all at the same time, will charge an iPhone twice, and can be charged before you leave the house. That's three phone charges before you need 8 hours of sun.



You need a clear 8 hrs of sun.. The reviews on solar recharge on this site haven't been stellar.

That means for 10 oz. you can have your GPS, 8 MP camera, 1080p HD video cam, some evening music, some digital .pdf scans of Secor so I can quite carrying copies, and if you're REALLY lucky comms somewhere in the middle of nowhere (as my wife never knows where I'm at!) Bundle that with the 40 use USB chargeable Steripen Freedom (2.6 oz) and the USB chargeable Petzl core system and I'm lighter than just my beloved Katadyn Hiker Pro and 3 extra AAA batteries.

What am I missing? Yeah, I know I'm going to dunk it but at some point tech catches up and makes obsolete older ways of doing things. I used to print out emails too to make sure I could prove someone sent me something.


You're missing the point where you accidentally drop it and crack it, or dunk it in the water. My friend brought his android on the last trip. He brought one of those battery based fast chargers and the extra batts for that. It worked well for 2 days.. We didn't try the solar because, well, we were on the move. Not a lot of 8 hr days to just let the phone sit and charge. Clouds ruin that as well, and we had lots o' clouds last Sept.

It seemed like a great Idea at the time. YMMV.
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Re: Backpacking with Smartphones?

Postby mattherrington » Thu Mar 01, 2012 10:49 pm

Not missed
Yeah, I know I'm going to dunk it..
but still, very valid concerns. That being said, a.) must be my young hands or things being built better but the only thing I've dropped to inoperable in last 10 years tech or otherwise has been pint glasses and b.) you can really mitigate that risk with the phone to the toughness/waterproof level of most GPS units with a waterproof impact resistant case (of which there's a ton) and a lanyard.

So then it falls to the solar performance. I have the first Solio that won the CES show product of the year a few years ago and it's solid and has been wet a few times. Clouds and trees w that one, big problem. This particular new charger though doesn't need 8 consecutive hours of sun nor does it need to be connected to the device while it's charging.
Not a lot of 8 hr days to just let the phone sit and charge.
It can get juice 30 mins or an hour at a time and you can pre-charge it at the house. I'd just be banking on the fact that in the time it takes the phone to discharge 3 times it can get at least 4 hours of sun between fishing, lunching, etc. If the back of my neck is any indicator in most years that's no problem. I should probably just wear the damn charger there.

Seems like the biggest risk is whether or not the sun shines, how good the maps are, and if it performs as advertised. I'd also be concerned about operating temp as most batteries performance degrades as they cool. This one just won Men's Journal product of the year but IMHO that doesn't necessarily mean that it's worth a squat. REI and Amazon reviews both put it at 4/5 stars which is pretty consistent w my last one. I can't plan w/o paper topos anyways so I'd have 'em.

What else?
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Backpacking with Smartphones?

Postby ScoobyMike » Fri Mar 02, 2012 8:25 am

I take my IPhone along as a backup GPS. I have MotionX GPS & preloaded Topo maps. I've never had to rely on the phone GPS but I do use it sometimes on day hikes and I like the way it performs.
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