GPS Apps for Your Smartphone: Do You Need One?

Smartphone GPS Apps

It’s all about technology and when it fails, it can leave you stranded. Do you have a backup plan? Some experts claim that standalone handheld GPS systems are a thing of the past, because of advances in Smart Phone technology. There is an app for everything it seems, but do you need a GPS app.

When you purchase a handheld GPS device you buy it for one purpose only, and you expect it to work virtually anywhere, because GPS is after all, an acronym for Global Positioning System.

The typical GPS system relies on a network of satellites, up to 24 in some cases, placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense. The technology was originally intended for military applications but in the 1980’s the government made the technology available for civilian applications. A GPS system is designed to work in any weather conditions, anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day. There are no subscription fees or setup charges to use a GPS.

Obviously the batteries can die, and in some rare cases, you may not receive a signal, but overall they are quite dependable anywhere in the world. A cell phone on the other hand is not as reliable, because they rely on cellular signals to download and update maps as you move about. You can lose signal in your own home, let alone out in the backcountry, so maybe you better have a backup system for your cell phone apps when it comes to finding your way in the wilds.

Battery Life Is a Problem As Well

If you are wandering around holding up your cell phone for a strong signal, you are draining the battery. Depending on the phone and others apps running your battery can discharge in a matter of hours when running a GPS or mapping app. In the backcountry the only option besides extra fully charged batteries, is a solar battery charger that can be strapped to your pack or body. To charge a battery however, takes time, time you may not have if you are lost.


While most standalone GPS devices only perform one function they perform it well. Something else that will not fail you is a compass and a map. The problem with a compass and maps however, is that they require a certain amount of skill and knowledge to navigate using them. Anyone can learn to use a map and compass, but if you have not actually ever used them to navigate, then trying to figure them out once lost may be too late.

Technology is ideal, and when training and practicing, it can bring you to a certain point, but you always have to assume that technology will fail at some point. The old saying “one is none and two is one” holds true. Something will fail, break, or become lost and so you need redundancy, which is actually the best backup plan there is.

Use technology to your benefit, and there is no reason not to use it when available, but on the other hand, you cannot become so dependent upon it that you cannot function without it.

Get back to the Basics

Using devices as a crutch can only carry you so far. If you depend on a crutch long enough, you may forget how to walk on your own. Use devices when you need them, but do not bet your life on a device. Learn how to survive without them, learn how to read a map, and use a compass, because once you have the skill you can carry it with you anywhere, without the fear of a lost signal or a dead battery.