GPS Vs Smartphone: Which is Best for Hiking?

With all of the GPS apps out there for both Android and iPhone smart phones, it’s easy to wonder how companies like Garmin are still in business. This question looms even larger when there are great reviews for the phone-based navigation systems. What’s the secret? It turns out that those reviews are usually referring to apps that are used in cities to find roads. Road-finding, however, is much different than navigating untamed wilderness during a backcountry hike. This GPS vs smartphone comparison is being made with camping and wilderness navigation in mind. Here are some of the major pros and cons of each option:

GPS vs Smartphone: which one is better for hiking and camping?

Smartphone GPS

It’s easier to install maps. Most smartphone apps are made to be so easy to use that anyone can do it on the first try, and this is true of those that provide GPS service.

Access to overhead photos from Google and other sources can eliminate the need for a GPS lock altogether. The catch here is that if you haven’t pre-loaded the map, you’re out of luck when you aren’t in range of a data signal. Most good hiking spots are out of range.

Smartphone GPS is often inaccurate. They can get a reading on your location that’s close, but can off by up to 100 meters. If that means that you end up on the wrong side of a river or aren’t warned about a cliff, this is a very big problem.

Dedicated GPS Systems Like Garmin

Maps can be hard for the inexperienced to download. This is one of the biggest downsides to dedicated GPS systems. Once it’s done, however, the user gains many benefits.

It takes longer to get a GPS lock. Systems meant for hikers and campers are made so they don’t rely on cell towers, so they have to do all of the heavy lifting of pinpointing your location. This, however, is likely not much different than a cell phone that’s out of range of the towers.

Dedicated systems are extremely durable. While smartphones can be protected with upgraded cases, a true GPS system is factory-built to be both shockproof and waterproof. Factory-built superiority almost always outdoes piecemeal upgrades.

Battery life is better. A dedicated GPS is made with extended use in mind and comes with a battery meant to handle it. Smartphone batteries, on the other hand, typically last just a few hours.

Accuracy is unparalleled. A Garmin system can pinpoint your location within just two meters. That’s close enough that if there’s a cliff or waterfall nearby, you’ll know to be on the lookout.

Thanks to the superior durability, battery life, and accuracy of dedicated GPS systems under wilderness conditions, it’s clear that these are the best options for outdoorsmen who will be traveling far from civilization. If you’re a hiker or camper, go for the Garmin and enjoy the reliability of a system meant to work out in the woods.

Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in other camping gear be sure to check out the LiteFighter website!