Smartphone vs GPS for Hiking

smartphone vs gps for hiking

GPS is an essential tool for hikers when navigating the hike toward the destination. A handheld GPS can provide the much-needed data, but with the advancement of smartphones, a mobile phone can also download a GPS app that can be used during hiking activities.

But which is better when it comes to navigation? This article will answer this question as it compares the use of smartphone vs GPS for hiking. Other related information is included to help hikers choose the best navigation tool to use during the hike.

Feature Smartphone Handheld GPS
Practical Usage Frontcountry Backcountry
Connectivity Tendency to Lose Signal Will Never Disconnect Completely
Battery Life Tendency to Drained Quickly Battery Lifespan is Longer
Durability Delicate Tough
Cost Cheaper More Expensive


Practical Usage

Both the handheld GPS and smartphone can be used to navigate during the hike but these two tools perform better when used in a specific hiking activity. As for smartphones, it is better to use their GPS capability when hiking on front country trails and camps.

In these places, charging and communication facilities are available, which is beneficial to the mobile phone. This situation will ease the fear of the phone being drained from the battery as you will be using several apps to provide a comfortable and enjoyable hike.

Trekking around a park is also perfect for using a smartphone as the GPS navigation system. You do not have a handheld GPS when hiking in this simple place. On the other hand, using a stand-alone GPS is perfect when hiking backcountry destinations, especially those mountains and forests.

The durability of the handheld GPS device will be perfect for all the challenges that will be faced in hiking difficult trails. Other benefits of using a handheld GPS device during the hike will be discussed later.


A smartphone provides convenience with regard to GPS navigation because the app can easily be downloaded. With most people carrying smartphones, the accessibility of your GPS navigation will always be there as long as you bring your phone with you.

Also, most smartphones are integrated with GPS that aligns quickly with satellites. This feature makes it easy for satellites to locate exact locations even if the signal is not strong. Using GPS maps is also more convenient than using a smartphone as it can be saved and used again.

On the other hand, a handheld GPS will have the tendency to lose signal when you are located in dense foliage. However, you will never encounter that the GPS device will run the risk of losing signal completely compared to smartphones that use cell towers to get the signal.

Battery Life

There is also a big difference with regards to the lifespan of the battery of a smartphone and a GPS device. The battery life of a GPS device far exceeds the battery life of the average mobile phone.

Another advantage is that the battery of a handheld GPS device can be interchangeable. If you have extra batteries, you will never have to worry about your battery being drained in a GPS device. You can easily replace it if there is a near-empty battery.

On the other hand, a smartphone will provide navigation as long as its battery is not low. But most smartphones lack the battery power needed when doing long or multiple-day hikes. Even portable chargers will not help you because they will only give you a short extension of the battery power.


Another factor that differentiates a smartphone and a regular handheld GPS device is the durability. A GPS device is manufactured to last. This device will not break or damage easily when they accidentally fall during the hike.

When hiking in an area with bodies of water, the GPS device will be able to withstand it as most devices come with a water resistance feature. In general, a GPS device is durable enough to withstand different types of conditions.

On the other hand, trekking in the wilderness can be challenging when you use the smartphone in a hiking activity. You will need to take care and be mindful of the phone’s delicate nature.

The durability of most smartphones cannot keep up with the changes in the weather, temperature, or any damage that might happen when the phone accidentally falls off from your position.


When it comes to the amount of money needed to use a GPs navigation system through the smartphone or a GPS device, using the smartphone will be cheaper. When you use a smartphone, you will only need to pay a GPs app subscription which should last for a year.

If you use a GPs device, you will still purchase the device and buy an updated preloaded map and additional accessories. With all of these factors considered, I can say that the smartphone is more affordable to use compared to the GPS.


The difference between a smartphone vs GPS for hiking is obvious. For those regular hikers, using a smartphone is enough for their navigation system but for serious hikers, using a more advanced hiking GPS device is essential for their navigation. Choosing the right one for you all boils down to your preference and hiking needs.

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