Hiking with a smartphone vs a gps

Pros and Cons of Smartphone vs GPS for Hiking

As smartphones become more and more prevalent, they are dominating markets. For instance, smartphones have essentially substituted handheld music players. For many users, smartphones also fill the function of digital cameras. If you love the outdoors, you may even have to compare smartphones vs GPS for hiking.

The choice generally depends on the way you use GPS. There are cases where your smartphone meets your requirements for navigation. But still there are areas in which smartphones can’t match what GPS units can provide.

Smartphone vs GPS for Hiking: How Do You Choose?

Smartphone and handheld GPS both have its advantages and disadvantages, and the concern, whether a smartphone can substitute an appropriate GPS receiver, is more complex than you might think. Read on to understand more about the differences of smartphone GPS and handheld GPS for hiking.

Smartphone GPS


  • The main advantage of using a smartphone as GPS is convenience. A smartphone is a gadget that you most probably carry or have on hand all the time. This means, it’s readily accessible when you need to use it, and you don’t have to ponder about carrying additional equipment.
  • A smartphone GPS is good to carry on hand for hikes, since it has trail details and can be used in case of emergency.
  • Numerous smartphones have integrated GPS maps intended to provide instructions from one point to another. There’s also a range of reliable applications available, explicitly designed for GPS tracking and for refining smartphone GPS precision.
  • Accuracy is significant and smartphones offer this particular feature. The days of mobile phones depending exclusively on tower signals for positioning and locating are long gone. Majority of new smartphones use international GPS, which permits quicker satellite acquisition times.


  • If you get a smartphone explicitly for outside activities, then there’s a slight chance it might hold up in harsh outside weather conditions.
  • A smartphone is a compact computer that can complete almost every job. But all its superpower is useless if there’s no power. If you own a smartphone, you have surely already observed that battery life of smartphone can be a concern.  Using your smartphone as a GPS unit when hiking only makes the issue on its battery much more evident, as the applications consume it. Additional battery packs can help, but again, it’s an added cost.

Handheld GPS

While there are numerous areas where smartphone GPS shines, there are some areas where a smartphone cannot yet vie with the finest handheld GPS gadgets.

  • Durability is the most apparent advantage of handheld GPS. Various GPS units are splash-proof or waterproof. This means, this handheld GPS performs fine, even in harsh weather conditions such as heavy snow or rain. If you unintentionally drop it in the lake or river while hiking, it will not be easily damaged.
  • Convenience, cost, and accuracy will not matter even a bit, if the gadget isn’t sturdy enough to handle the knocks and wounds of track riding and hiking.  This is the part where dedicated GPS units actually stand out. Handheld GPS units are built to deal with the manhandle that accompanies the inescapable drop on the trail during hiking. While there are many types of bags and cases available for smartphones, those are an extra expense, and for some instances, their effectiveness is questionable.
  • Another good reason why a handheld GPS unit is better for hiking or long trips in the highlands is its battery life. Handheld GPS units have switchable batteries. Many functions using AA batteries that can simply be swapped. If a power source is not available for an extended period of time, then a handheld GPS unit is a better option for you than simply using a smartphone.


  • Handheld GPS units do not have the numerous mapping applications that are offered for smartphones and the recurrent updates. Handheld GPS units generally restrict hikers to branded and expensive upgrades.


There are numerous strong and weak points of smartphones vs GPS for hiking. Both systems provide precise directions and can be operated in many ways.

Since a GPS chip function is similar, whether it is placed within a dedicated gear or concealed within a smartphone, the very first thing to do is define your requirements and purpose for using the GPS.

If you’re looking for a GPS device to take with you when going around town or for day treks, then a phone can be the most reasonable option. Nevertheless, if you need a dependable equipment to take with you on hiking, backpacking tours or in tough terrain, then a handheld GPS device is still an ideal option.

It is likewise important to remember that neither a smartphone nor a GPS device can substitute a solid comprehension of navigational systems. Before proceeding with any trail hike, you should learn and understand the fundamentals of how to use a compass, read a map, and study the topography and structure of the trail.

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