Thoughts about gadgetry
The benefits of getting a Garmin, depending on the model, can include: topo maps, GPS tracking (e.g. onto a map that friends/family can check from afar), texting (even/especially when phone reception is bad), weather updates, emergency beacon and additional comms options in case of an emergency. This makes it a lot more useful than my one-use-only PLB. Also, the battery life isn’t bad and it would extend the battery of my phone (because using GPS on the phone when looking at maps uses a lot of juice).
These are all great things, so what’s holding me back? First, it’s hundreds of dollars for the device ($400+ for the Mini, $600+ for the Explorer), then you have to pay a subscription fee for $20-$100 a month (with the more basic plans, you also have to pay for tracking points and extra messaging). NB: there are cheaper ways to do it - either by buying second hand, borrowing or renting the device. So, that’s something to keep in mind if you really want to take a Garmin with you on a trip.
The other issue is I don’t want to carry more devices than I need to. My phone should be able to do a lot of what the Garmin does. I can download topo maps for offline use (e.g. Gaia premium), I can get weather updates (though only when I have internet reception, but I can check the 5 day forecast when available), I can text (when I have phone reception), I can get updates on the water tanks from other walkers (i.e. FarOut/Guthook). Paying for premium Gaia and buying FarOut for the track costs less than buying a Garmin and paying for the subscription. Plus, my phone can take photos (I have made the decision - which I may regret! - to leave my camera behind).
Of course, the phone won’t be any good in an emergency if I'm out of range and, as I said, using it for GPS tracking gobbles up the battery. It’s also possible that it will just crack the shits and stop working (Garmin is, as far as I’m aware, a much sturdier piece of equipment). So, what are my plans for that?
- First, I already have a Personal Locator Beacon - a one-time-use emergency beacon. While this doesn’t give you the option to communicate with emergency responders (e.g. texting info about your injury or location), it is only for absolute emergencies when I don’t have phone reception - in that case, I don’t know how well I’d be able to text anyway. I don’t need to pay any extra subscription fees for the PLB.
- Second, I will have my phone turned to aeroplane mode most of the time, which uses less battery, and I will carry a larger battery/charging pack to get me through the long stretches without power. I was planning to get a big battery pack - and I may have needed to use it for the Garmin anyway - so this isn’t such a big deal.
- Third, I will carry the paper maps as a back up if my phone doesn’t work. To be honest, I’d probably carry them even if I had a Garmin because (a) you get a much better overview of the area on a spread out paper map than on a small screen and (b) paper maps don’t ever run out of batteries. Also, I do love a paper map!