A Simple Backcountry Safety Tip

We've already seen a lot of stories this year about hikers, backpackers, and campers getting lost in the backcountry. Every time I see one of these headlines, it tears at my heart. Whether you're hiking alone or with a group, getting lost is a possibility, even for experienced hikers. Here's a simple way to leverage something you most likely already own to increase your ability to avoid getting lost in the outdoors.

If you have a smartphone, be it an iPhone or an Android phone, you have the ability to save maps and use them even while you're not connected to the Internet. In Google maps, there's an "offline maps" option (see pics) that allows you to select an area on Google Maps and store it in your phone's local storage.

Once you have defined and saved an offline map area, you will be able to access this area on your phone at any time. You can also continue to use GPS location, even while out of data range, so navigating with full GPS support is easy.

If you have an old smartphone lying around that you don't use anymore, it can still be used for this purpose. When I go backpacking, I will actually take my regular cell phone and a backup phone. Both phones have the area I'll be in saved in Google Maps, making it easy to find my way around. It's also helpful when hiking to keep tabs on your progress towards a destination.

Sure, there are more capable GPS units out there, but your everyday cell phone works great without having to spend the extra coin. Many of us have several old smartphones around, so put them to use in the backcountry.

One word of caution, however. Technology isn't perfect, and at times it outright fails us. You should never put yourself in a situation where you must rely on a phone's GPS to guide you. Technology is not a substitute for planning and knowing your routes. Phones can get wet, get dropped, have unexpected battery drain, or just plain not cooperate at times. While 99% of the time you'll have a reliable experience, make sure you still plan for that 1%.


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