➝ Smartphones and GPS in the hills

There was some interesting chat on Twitter this morning about the perennially controversial topic of whether it’s best to use a GPS or good old map and compass in the hills. I get the impression this debate isn’t quite so heated as it was a few years ago – technology has come on a long way – but it was interesting to see a wide range of views, some of them clearly very deeply felt.

My own opinion is that the belt-and-braces approach is best. By all means, navigate using only a (mapping) GPS or only a map and compass, but in most circumstances it’s a good idea to have the other system in your rucksack ready to be (competently) deployed if needed. Is GPS inherently dangerous? Absolutely not – but like any outdoor tool, user error can result in almighty cock-ups. If you’re using a non-mapping GPS, and try to navigate from waypoint to waypoint over complex terrain in a straight line, then you only have yourself to blame if your GPS sends you over a cliff. Almost all of the disadvantages of GPS and smartphone mapping can be easily overcome with experience and common sense.

As I recently discussed, I don’t think tech is quite ready for us to completely abandon paper maps, but the opposite is also true – in 2016 there is really no reason not to have some form of GPS on you when you go into the hills. If you have a smartphone, then you have an incredibly powerful GPS-equipped nav computer in your pocket.

Chris Townsend linked to his comprehensive and sensible article on the topic from 2012, which still holds true today.

Here’s a selection of tweets from this morning’s very interesting discussion.



And finally, a lighthearted poll I posted to settle the matter once and for all.


By Alex Roddie

Award-winning outdoor and nature writer, editor, author, and photographer.

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