I grew up in an era where paper maps and Silva compasses were the main navigation tools, possibly accompanied with a Prismatic Compass for sighting.
The advent of GPS’s, mobile phones and other electronic paraphernalia have begged the question “What do you need to carry in the way of navigation tools these days?”.
Included in these discussions has been whether you need to carry paper maps or not, some of these discussions can be read here Andrew Skurka and here Alex Roddie. Furthermore Chris Townsend has provided an alternative perspective on the pleasure of maps and how maps prompt memories of past walks.
I do not intend to reiterate what has been said by many others, my preference is to carry paper maps, however, I have also began to recognise there was some redundancy if I was carrying a mobile phone and a gps. Especially as the GPS had only limited functionality and for most of my walking needs it was overkill. As a consequence I have rethought my needs and nowadays I am using the following setup
1. iPhone with View ranger maps, the view ranger topographical maps for Denmark and Sweden are excellent, but sadly on an upcoming visit to Australia the only maps available are Open Street maps which are quite limited.
2. Suunto Ambit Peak 3, I must thank Colin Ibbotson for his suggestion here, he indicated it was excellent for recording your track and synced quickly with the iPhone, which I have found to be true. I have also found that it is quicker at “locking onto satellites” than my eTrex 20.
3. For longer trips I carry an extra battery for back up, which I use to charge my phone and if necessary the Ambit.
From a weight perspective there has been no saving, however, the use of Viewranger software with the local topographic maps installed enables me to zoom in or out to obtain a much better overview of where I am than the Garmin eTrex 20 screen allowed. The Ambit is my watch, weather station and my GPS, with the phone as backup gps if needed.
Saving battery life on the phone is a critical element especially on long trips when there is no access to mains. I am yet to be convinced about solar chargers so I have reverted to looking at battery saving techniques for my iPhone 5. Alan Dixon’s extensive article on the iPhone as a Backpacking GPS has been very helpful in indicating the techniques to save battery life, the first being to operate in Airplane mode. In airplane mode the GPS still operates, though for the most part I have it turned off to further conserve battery life. Suffice to say, with the phone in flight mode and only turning the gps on (in privacy settings) when needed, I doubt I would need the backup battery for trips of less than 5 days.
I have been using this setup for a while now and see no reason to revert to carrying a separate gps. However, the maps will always be in my pack and will also form an integral part of planning for trips.