I own a garmin etrex vista hcx - quite an old unit now - probably over 10 years old design. Its good for tracklogging and its ok for navigating.

However, I recently installed Strava on my phone and its clear that the iPhone 5 can do track logs. Battery life is not a problem because I've got a back up solar charger and neither is durability as I have a rugged case for the phone.

My question is, is there any need for both items? If I can avoid using my GPS unit then that means I also don't need to take AA batteries, spares, or an AA battery charger.

Lastly any good GPS mapping / track logging apps for iPhone for general hiking (in Spain / Georgia).

  • 5
    I am torn between answering this question and asking for it to be migrated to Outdoors SE.
    – JoErNanO
    Mar 12, 2015 at 12:58
  • ok well please make up your mind so that I could get an answer, that would be greatly appreciated Mar 12, 2015 at 14:53
  • How long does it take to charge your smartphone with your solar charger?
    – gerrit
    Mar 12, 2015 at 16:09
  • I've got a portapow 11w panel and a 6000 mah battery with a solar panel on it. It charges in about 2 hours but I see your point. for the sake of continuity. I've also got an anker backup battery which will charge my phone 3x over and that can be charged up, so power is not a problem. Mar 12, 2015 at 16:25
  • For cycling on roads or cycleways the dedicated GPS doesn't offer much of anything over the phone. If you're in actual mountains, miles from the nearest road, and getting lost is a concern, then you might want it. Mar 14, 2015 at 14:00

2 Answers 2


The core differences between a phone app and a dedicated handheld gps are:

  • battery life - the gps will have much longer battery life, but you have a charger for your phone so as long as you get enough sun you'll be fine. What's the weather like where you are heading?
  • ruggedness - gps devices are considerably stronger than an iPhone. Generally they are waterproof as well. Again, this may not be an issue, unless you fall in a river...
  • sensitivity - dedicated gps hardware is often much better at ascertaining your position. This may or may not be useful for you - in steep sided mountain ravines it can make all the difference.

So if you don't need any of those features, go with your phone. Personally I'd always take the gps unit and my phone. And while I may log my track on the phone as well, my core nav service would be the gps, and my comms service would be the phone.

  • main thing is the potential difference in sensitivity then as you can cover battery life and ruggedness with a back up battery / solar charger and waterproof rugged case. Mar 13, 2015 at 14:18
  • 1
    Have you measured the difference in precision of your two devices? This is just for curiosity.
    – Vince
    Mar 13, 2015 at 15:14
  • Just a note to add to this, I think the iPhone battery (5 in my case) doesn't respond well to the cold, so that would be another factor. Mar 14, 2015 at 20:00

I would say no; your iPhone is not replacement for a dedicated GPS unit when you are in rugged outdoor conditions. The biggest reason is sensitivity. I keep my data off on my phone unless I want to use it, and I have frequently run into situations in which my phone will not acquire a GPS location without first knowing its approximate location from the data service. This was most noticeable in Europe (cities not wilderness) when I didn't have any data access and the GPS would not acquire despite multiple attempts over a number of days. Your phone may be more sensitive than mine, but I wouldn't risk it.

At the very least, test the ability of your phone to acquire a GPS position in random areas when it doesn't already have an approximate idea of where it is from the data service.

  • 1
    It is probably slower, but I have used my phone's GPS on multiple occasions in the wilderness or in cities in North America without real issues (I usually have a signal within 10 seconds). I have no mobile data at all, I just use WiFi (I don't know if it is really used for approximate position). And overall, the precision my phone pretends to have is 20-30m (with a reasonable battery usage)
    – Vince
    Mar 13, 2015 at 18:25

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