I was re-reading our earlier discussion on another thread about buying a GPS and the pros and cons of just using a smartphone when I had this epiphany.

Here’s my “thesis statement’

The smartphone has made the hand-held GPS unit obsolete.

There... I said it.

We tend to forget, or some never knew, that when the first hand-held gps models became affordable for the general public in the late 80’ to mid 90’s, the gps unit served one primary purpose for the backpacker/mountaineer, and that was to give a ‘grid coordinate’, (UTM coordinate) or a Latitude/longitude location.

You would then take that gps coordinate and use the UTM grid lines or lat/long lines on your map to locate your EXACT location.  Boom! Done!

Alas, many folks don’t know what all those lines on the map represent. 

Another phil-sophy I have is, folks today don’t have access to topographic map training unless they deliberately seek it out.  I, as have many others, learned (or started learning?) about map reading in the Army. (wanted to say military, but not sure about my navy and af brethren, sorry).


IMO a paper map is still mandatory!

This is not about beacons.

There are times having a gps, to get that grid coordinate, to pin point your EXACT location on a PAPER MAP, can be extremely helpful.  I wanted to say ‘life saving’, but toned it down, although several times getting an exact location fix would have ‘felt’ life saving, and sometimes reputation saving.

But now a smartphone  doesn’t need to give you just a grid coordinate, it will SHOW you your exact location on a beautiful map on that large HD screen you carry 24/7!

And, by the way, it is at this point where I turn off the phone and switch back to the paper map which was already in my hand.

I’m not going to lie, there are many times on my group trips, when even I get tired of the ‘are we there yet?’ questions and want to show that I’m not just guessing where we are (or am I?). 

Further, forest service and other maps are not always up to date (that’s another story) (paper and digital) and the trail network had been modified and it was absolutely a good thing we gps’d our position!

In conclusion, smartphones have killed the hand held stand-alone  gps. (hummed to ‘video killed the radio star’).

Unless gps units can provide competition for the smartphone map apps, with HD map viewing, easy downloads of literally hundreds of various outdoor maps, gps location service, and downloadable gpx route files, and easy setup/configuration, etc, etc, their business model is dead.

Maybe they need their own app to survive.


REI Member Since 1979 YouTube.com/philreedshikes