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Discussion Starter #1
hi fellow bikepackers,
i am planning my first bike packing adventure and am stuck between buying a new smartphone (my first) with GPS or a handheld GPS. Other than battery life and durability, are there any clear disadvantages of smartphones? i will be often times in areas with very poor or no cellular nor data signal, and will most likely use the phone on airplane mode to conserve batteries. My route will be passing through villages and urban areas every now and then meaning i will have time to charge my phone a bit. Any experiences with bike-packing only using a smart phone? or should i go for a garmin etrex20 or something else affordable? I checked the GPS/HRM thread but found no such posts, only ones talking about app features and so forth so i figure i try to ask the question here.
 

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major disadvantages using a phone. if the phones don't have cell service thentheir GPS usually will not work properly. they use cell towers still to lag the maps etc. ..

you can not beat a handheld GPS unit. I have owned several from Garmin and in love them. some come with cameras too. they are much more accurate
 

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In my experience, all recent smartphones have a real GPS chip that functions in airplane mode without issue. I frequently use this for overnight trips through areas with spotty or no cell reception to prevent battery drain. I just did this over the weekend and after recording a 60 mile ride the first day, and a 25 mile ride the second, still had 90% battery on my year-old phone (battery life not quite as strong as new). It's pretty rare these days to find a phone that still relies on cell data for positioning.

That said, I'd really advise both options. You have the stand-alone GPS with the phone for a backup. Did that for my cross-country ride a few years ago, and frankly, finding directions to local resources (restaurants, stores, etc) works way better with a smartphone (when you have service) and not to mention access to social media, ease of reaching out to loved ones, etc.
 

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saddlemeat
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If you download the relevant map tiles to your memory card you don't need a cell signal. I prefer my phone/tablet gps, backwoods navigator pro, because of the larger screen and the unlimited selection of free maps and aerial photo tiles. My $23 power supply will keep my phone, camera, and light charged for ~2 weeks.
 

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I'm fairly unimpressed by the useability of my Etrex 20. It might be better if I was to get more maps for it but the interface is overly complex and hard to use, and there is a serious lack of functionality.

That being said I love it for simply following preloaded tracks. Good battery life, that can be extended indefinitely by simply carrying more batteries, and great durability. For most of my trips I will create and load tracks onto the Etrex at home, then fall back on my phone if I get lost or need to head off route for some reason.

Like others mentioned, if you download maps a phone with a good case will take the place of a dedicated GPS for a lot of reasons, but battery life is still a big issue for some trips.

Also, it'd be nice to have a GOOD case/bar mount for a phone. Maybe I'm not looking hard enough, or my phone isn't cool enough, but most cases and mounts I have seen have some major shortfalls.
 

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saddlemeat
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^I'm thinking a gas tank bag with a clear pouch on top might work as a mount. I normally have my screen turned off unless I'm looking at it, so a pocket works good too. Here in the high desert SW the heat of direct sun light can be intense.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
thanks for all the feedback. in terms of phone cases, the bbb case looks quite good. not sure if they sell those in the US but you can find them everywhere in europe. I also looked into battery banks as i will have to charge my camera as well so that can solve the battery life on smartphones.
 

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Just another vote for using a smart phone as a GPS. I recently upgraded to an iPhone 6 and kept my iPhone 5 as a glorified ipod and GPS device (much to the disappointment of my 9 year old daughter). I have no data plan so can only connect to the interwebs with wifi. No matter, as the GPS functionality does not rely on cell service.

The key is to preload maps. I use Gaia GPS but have also had good experiences with Navigator Pro. I also have an app called PDF Maps which allows you to view pdfs that have geospatial data. You can get all the USGS maps for free and the app will locate you on the map while out in the field which is pretty cool.

With all extraneous stuff turned off (cellular, wifi, location services for everything but the GPS app, etc.) you can really minimize battery use. I saw posted in another forum on this topic that the latest system upgrade allows you to get a GPS signal even in Airplane mode. This was previously not the case for Verizon users on iPhones (ok with AT&T). I have not tested this to see if it is true. But that makes for a really easy way to minimize battery use.

I use a battery recharger made by a company called Trent. Can’t recall the model but it gives me about 7 full charges on the phone before it needs to be recharged (and has more than one USB output to charge multiple items at once). There are others out there that take regular batteries which might be better for a longer trip with few opportunities to plug-in and recharge. Be sure the amperage is correct for your phone first!
 

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My experience: Cell phone with careful battery monitoring. As everyone has mentioned, use it in airplane mode to save battery. The GPS will still receive. And then you can kick it over to get data as needed and make calls or send messages.

Some apps will let you download maps for use in "out of service" areas. Google tracks used to be one that did this. I say "used to be" because I haven't used it in at least two years. You used to have to mark an area for off-line use so there's some up front planning. Maprika does as well with less planning. I used that last week.

I carry a Goal Zero solar charger as well as spare cell phone batteries. Most recently I've noticed a trend in cellphone "chargers." I bought a 40,000 amp one that weighs about the same as the goal zero. So it's your choice, charge via solar or charge via battery.

Ultimately, I just think the two way communication of the cell phone (when available) out weighs the hand-help GPS unit. Caveat: the most extreme isolation I've bikepacked was Baxter in Maine where we went three days without connection.

Best of luck!
 

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I've been thinking about this. I've pretty much decided to go with my edge 1000 as the primary and my nexus 6/phone as secondary using Locus Pro for navigation. Phone as secondary as I find the phone's touch screen not so great through the waterproof case and I worry about the phone overheating in the sun, not that that has happened.

Edge 1000 over my etrex30 as I like the bigger screen.

Locus pro is the best Android app for nav (proximity alerts, routes, etc.) I've tried, though I have back county navigator as a backup.
 

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I'll go ahead and throw in my 2 cents worth... I just finished the Dixie 200 on Sunday and I will not be using my iphone 5s as my primary gps again...

The good:
-- Gaia GPS is a great program and easy to use.
-- The Rokform stem mount is expensive but rock solid.

The bad:
--The Rokform case is sweet but not waterproof so I just bought their adapter mount and velcroed it to my lifeproof case.
--Iphone screen is a PITA to see in the sunlight
--I had my phone on airplane mode and the backlight as little as possible and my battery was dead in less than 6 hrs.
--I updated the iphone ios the night prior to the race and when I got to the campsite/start line I was checking my tracks and realized that all of my mapsets I had downloaded in Gaia Gps were fuzzy and unreadable. If the town about 5 miles from the campsite wouldn't have had good service I wouldn't have been able to re-download the maps. Guess maybe I should have re-checked everything immediately after updating the phone but I still don't think it should have been an issue.
--I run a dynamo hub and a usb cache battery so my big plan was to keep my phone charged the whole time... Less than 10 minutes from the start I start getting the message that my cable is not compatible or authorized for my phone or some **** like that and it wouldn't charge. I had been using the cable for a month prior so I'm assuming apple has some fight going on with charge cable makers or something??

If I wouldn't have had my etrex 30 stuffed in my bag I would have been dead in the water and pissed off. I can see the iphone being ok for a day ride but with all of the annoying things I had go wrong with it the iphone will stay as my backup navigation plan.
 

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On the trail under partial tree cover in the hills, my iPhone 6 isn't all that accurate. It's maybe within 50 meters at times. Average seems to be under 5 meters, but when it really matters I'm still grabbing a compass and topo map to make sure.
 

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I am in the smartphone camp. One drawback is that I do have to turn airplane mode on/off between checking my location to save the battery so that the phone isn't constantly checking for a cell signal (iPhone 5s still has this limitation). However, it might seem like a hassle until you've tried it but it takes all of a split second to turn airplane mode on and of - doesn't really bother me. I am not a GPX recording whore - I just check mine periodically to make sure I'm on the right path.

Also there is the issue of a non-interchangable battery (there are a million aftermarket battery cases and charge packs that solve this issue). But I could see this being a problem if you are heading outside the U.S., particularly south of the border or outside the western hemisphere where you might have trouble finding a replacement battery. I believe most standalone GPS units take AAs or something.

People talk about the lack of ruggedness of phones. I think this has been addressed through water resistant hardcases. Mine is even compatible with touch ID.

I know you said you weren't too interested in the app information but I thought the below info would be helpful to those who haven't quite figured out how to use a phone as a dedicated GPS effectively who are interested - it's actually quite easy, but stop reading here if you're not interested in that...

I use Galileo offline maps for iPhone. There are similar apps out there for other platforms. To generate offline maps for free, I use MOBAC - Mobile Atlas Creator on my laptop to generate topo and satellite maps in whatever size, shape, detail and configuration I need. Then I upload them into the Galileo app on my phone using iTunes. I create GPX/KML files using Google Earth for routes overlaid on my offline map. MOBAC allows you to add waypoints and such as well. Galileo also has a free vector map of the US which can be downloaded state by state, to save space that includes POIs and such.
 

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I use a Garmin Etrex 20 and leave the smartphone at home unless I am doing a rare tour near urban centres.

The Etrex is waterproof and a set of batteries last days. It's far more rugged than my smart phone and costs ~25% of what my smartphone does so damage or loss won't hurt near as bad.
 

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Right now I'm looking into getting a new smartphone that'll best fit in with bikepacking and hiking so I can streamline my electronics as much as possible, ie. no standalone GPS, no camera, preferably no solar charger/battery pack.

To that end I'm thinking of getting a Galaxy S5 since you can load it up with all the map resources you could ever want on the microSD card, it has removeable batteries so you can just bring 2-3 spares with you for half the weight of an external charging unit, and the camera is good. It's also supposed to handle water well.

Alternatively, you can look into dynamo hubs and broaden options greatly that way.

If you want to make a phone work for GPS though you need to put a lot of forethought into it though, and work out a few kinks. It seems to me like a good option for weight weenies like me, less so for people who just want to get out there and don't want to invest that kind of time and energy in advance.
 

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I would argue that you should always have a backup gps of some form. Etrex 30 is my primary and I can get AA batts just about anywhere. Gaia gps on my iphone with all my tracks loaded is now my backup. I do run a dynamo hub but got tired of issues with cables deciding to be incompatible and crap like that.
 

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saddlemeat
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I am carrying a 30 dollar
kmashi blue 20,000 mah power supply, which can keep my phone/gps, and mirrorless camera, charged for a couple weeks or more. Only need one short charging cord and the 16 oz battery fits easily in my framepack side pocket. It also runs a small led camp light, and can charge my mini newt bike light if I take another charging cord. The power battery does take a full day to charge when fully discharged. Gives me unlimited phone/gps use very simply.
 

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Reasons I use a Garmin instead of my phone:

Google doesn't provide cacheable maps in many regions of the world, so if you're going to 'odd' places (i.e. ones where telling people you're an American gets reactions of novelty) then you usually have to purchase a 3rd party solution.

Battery gets sucked dry very quickly using GPS. My portable battery goes much further when it's charging a 100% drained Garmin and a 10% drained phone than a 100% drained phone.

I use my phone as a camera so it's much more convenient to be in a pocket rather than attached to a stem.
 

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Google doesn't provide cacheable maps in many regions of the world,
Depending on where you want to go, Google's maps are not all that great anyway. For me (northern Europe) Google is good for roads and major paths and terrain features. For singletrack size trail, something else is needed. Caching looks OK on my Samsung phone.

I usually keep mobile data Off on my phone, until I really want to upload or download something.
 
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