Are walking and navigation apps safe?

How to stay safe in the hills when using your phone to navigate.

Walking apps have opened up the great outdoors to everyone. Now you can follow routes, see exactly where you are and forget about taking those large paper maps and a compass with you.

Or can you?

We’ve all seen the news reports about lost walkers having to be rescued after using a walking app. So, are walking apps safe? We’ve spoken to the experts in mountain safety and they say that yes they are, as long as you follow our tips below and make sure you have a backup.

A walker in a waterproof jacket in the rain looking at a phoneCredit: Shutterstock / Rawpixel.com

Walking apps are more popular than ever with a host of different ones to choose from, including Ordnance Survey, Komoot and Outdooractive – for more information read our guide to the best walking apps.

Last year, Mountaineering Scotland carried out a survey of 4,000 hill walkers and found that nearly nine in 10 (87%) of them used mobile phones or GPS for navigating.

However, the survey also found that a worrying four in 10 respondents had experienced a situation where their device had stopped working in some way.

So, make sure you you use your smartphone in the right way when out in the hills or wilderness. We’ve got these great tips from Mountaineering Scotland – which is made up of experts from Scottish Mountain Rescue, Police Scotland, Mountain Training Scotland and others.

A man is sitting on a rock on a mountain looking at his phoneCredit: Shutterstock /Egor Baliasov

Charge

Ensure your phone is 100% charged when you set out.

Protect

Protect your phone from the elements and keep it close to your body when not in use, to help it stay warm and dry and save battery life.

Download

Download all the maps you might need before setting out, so you don’t need to rely on mobile data to access maps during your walk.

Extend

Extend your phone’s battery life by using flight mode or taking a power bank. A small, lightweight power pack typically costs £20-40. Exceptional’s Fitness Channel Editor Phillipa Cherryson uses the Anker Powerbank when she’s out on day walks. It weighs just over 200g (7oz) and can charge an iPhone twice. It isn’t waterproof so pop it in a plastic bag or similar to keep it safe.

Have a paper backup

As a backup, always take a printed map and compass (and ensure you know how to use them) in case your phone stops working.

Using walking apps safely: advice from the experts

Mountaineering Scotland Safety Advisor Ben Gibson says: “When going out into the hills, it is important to look after your phone. It not only gives you additional information to help with your hill and mountain navigation, but is also your lifeline to contacting the emergency services in the event that you or a group member finds yourself in a serious situation.

“Remember, if you’re downloading your route from an app, it’s always worth checking it against other reliable sources before you set out to make sure it’s safe and suitable for your level of experience and ability.”

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her

Published:

Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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