I’m running through my mental checklist as I head out the door to go bushwalking: Backpack, map and compass, first aid, water, food, rain jacket, head torch… and phone. Especially my phone.
Bushwalking with my phone
My mobile phone serves multiple purposes on the trail – it’s my camera, my fitness tracker, and my communications device when walking in the Sydney bush where coverage is good. I don’t hike without it.
But there are two problems to solve when taking an expensive smartphone on the trail – keeping it safe from water and shocks, and recharging it when it goes flat.
Protecting my phone from water and shocks
My phone, like yours, wasn’t cheap. I’ve been known to fall into rivers. My fitbit (pedometer) died when I accidentally took it for a swim around a Pittwater headland to avoid some scrubby bush-bashing on land. It rains and I get sweaty when out and about, phones don’t like moisture. I drop things, and sometimes rocks are involved.
I use a nüüd Lifeproof case to protect my phone from its owner and the elements. It’s water proof, snow proof, dirt proof, and shock proof. It adds only 41g extra weight, the phone still works as designed, and I quite like the firmer grip it gives me on my phone. Lifeproof make cases for the iPhone and Galaxies.
I also use that wondrous low tech multi-purpose device, the humble zip lock bag, as extra protection from water and dirt in some extreme environments.
Charging my phone on a multi-day trail
On a recent 5 day trail adventure, I wanted to use my phone as a GPS tracking device, and as a camera, book and clock. That meant I needed a way to recharge it. I had considered a Solar Monkey (approx $115, 265g), because who can resist something called a Monkey? But it seemed fiddly to me, and what if it rains all day. The Powerpot looked clever and cute – can you tell I’m a geek who likes gadgets? But again it was expensive and seemed fiddly.
Ultimately I settled for a simple Plox 6000 Lightning portable battery – easily obtainable and relatively cheap at a local store. At 150g it is lightweight, small, pretty and simple to use. I popped it into the dry sac containing my night gear, and set it to charge my phone while I snoozed. It kept my phone charged for the entire 5 day trip, and still had enough oomph for another charge after I left the track.
Saving battery life
Battery life is seldom a problem on day walks. But even with a battery recharger, you should still pay attention to minimising battery drain on a multi day trip. The following tips relate to an iPhone 5s.
- Wifi goes off, Siri, personal hotspot, mobile data and bluetooth likewise go off and all stay off for the duration of my hike.
- I check Mail, Contacts and Calendar and ensure that Fetch is set to Manual, and not automatic.
- Check iTunes and Appstore have Automatic Downloads Off and Use Celluar Data Off.
- I go into Notification Centre and turn notifications off – and then leave them off – I don’t like those irritating chatty apps.
- In the Settings, I go to Privacy and Location Services and check it is on, else GPS won’t work. But I turn it off for apps that don’t need to know where I am all the time, like Facebook. And while I’m in Privacy, I make sure that Limit Ad Tracking is on.
- In ControlCenter, ensure that AirDrop is off.
- Set screen brightness as low as your eyesight will tolerate, and set the screen timeout as short as possible.
As soon as I finish GPS tracking for the day, I switch my phone to airplane mode, which still allows me to take photos. When I want to start tracking again, I turn airplane mode off.
At night while I’m sleeping, I turn the phone off completely. Keep the phone warm.
I found that my iPhone 5s battery usage was about 30% per day with the above steps and GPS tracking active for about 5 hours.