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How to use a GPS on your smartphone

May 12, 2017

When outdoors, one of the most important hiking tools is the GPS. This is a fundamental part of you hiking and trekking gear and it can be both an external unit or a GPS app on your smartphone. Indeed, there are a lot of GPS mapping apps, together with plenty of other outdoor apps you can use when hiking and backpacking. However, many beginners don’t really know how to use a GPS and follow a track properly, or how to use a GPS file on your smartphone.

So let’s see how you can turn your smartphone in one of the most precious items when it comes to backpacking gear, sharing a few hiking tips on how to use a GPS and how to do it on your smartphone.

Dress for success

First of all, you have to make sure your smartphone is ready to serve your purposes. So besides providing it with a nice and resistant smartphone case and a waterproof case to protect it in case of rain and other sorts of water, make sure you won’t run out of battery. But how do you keep your battery charged while hiking?

This will be possible by either carrying with you a portable power bank, capable enough to recharge your device as many times and days as needed, or you can opt for a portable solar panel that will allow you to store energy and have it available any time you need it. You can also opt for multiple batteries, however this could be a good and practical option only when your hiking trip or backpacking experience lasts for a day or two, otherwise it could turn very uncomfortable, as you would have to carry way too many batteries with you. 

Also, make sure your phone has enough memory. Nowadays, the majority of smartphones on the market give you the option to increase the amount of external memory on your phone, thanks to additional SD cards. We highly suggest using one, in order to store all the apps, files and maps you’ll need.

How to use a GPS on your smartphone

First of all, let’s just dispel the myth for which you need internet connection to use your GPS. Indeed, GPS, which stands for Global Positioning System, is a system that works regardless the presence of an internet connection.

Of course, when it comes to actually setting up you smartphone for a GPS track you will need a connection, but once you are set, then you can even be in the middle of nowhere, a thousand miles away from civilization, and it will still work.

So how do you set up you smartphone for GPS and how do you keep your GPS working without the internet?

First things first, download an off-line map of the area you are going to visit during your trekking or backpacking time in the outdoors. Many apps allow you to do that. Make sure it shows a wide area, even broader than the one you think you are going to need, so you won’t encounter any obstacle when orientation is needed.

At this point download on your smartphone the GPS file you need and give it a try when still at home, so you can make sure it actually works.

At this point, you are ready to go, and even if you have no signal or you choose to switch off the internet to save battery, you’ll still be able to use your GPS.

When it comes to how to read a GPS, it’s very easy: it basically works like a traditional navigator, with more or less features according to the app you are using. It will usually notify you when it’s time to make a turn, or if you are going offtrack. However, always keep an eye on it, so you’ll make sure you are interpreting the itinerary correctly, especially when there are bad weather conditions.

Also, we always suggest to run a test before actually setting off for your adventure: this will save you time and doubts, besides avoiding any sort of inconvenience.

Of course, this goes for all kinds of apps for outdoor activities, softwares and gear when it comes to hiking, backpacking, biking and venturing. Indeed, always remember that something unexpected can happen and it’s always a good thing to be prepared and know how your equipment works.

Also, you can find many tutorials on the internet on how to use outdoor apps, maps and GPS tracks and because there are so many, make sure you scout them properly and find the one that suits you best.