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.
The old perennial!
The tools are only as good as the person's experience & ability to use it.
I use M&C, but have GPS to log
— Mike (@PeakRambler) June 8, 2016
— Daron linney (@hillwalker66) June 8, 2016
Downloadable OS map on the phone plus GPS – best of both worlds (unless the phone gives up!)
— Sir Malcs (@sir_malcs) June 8, 2016
@liziwake we got extremely lost on the side of Mount Etna using a sat nav and nearly missed our boat to Genoa because of it.
— Sue Cowley (@Sue_Cowley) June 8, 2016
And finally, a lighthearted poll I posted to settle the matter once and for all.