Other articles in this issue talk about tech for when you’re lost in the woods such as GPS units, satellite text messaging and tracking, etc. What if it’s just a short hike along a trail for a few hours or the unplanned walk because you ran out of gas? Although, I’m guessing you’ll never own up to the latter because that’s just very bad lack of planning!
If all you have is your cell phone there are some tools and features that can help. You can use Big Brother to your advantage. Your cell phone has the capability to receive signals from GPS satellites. This works whether you’re in range of cell towers or even when in airplane mode. The phones use Advanced GPS (A-GPS) when in range of cell towers and/or Wi-Fi to increase their accuracy or track your location when inside as they need to see the sky to get GPS signals.
There are a number of apps and tools, some of which are already on your phone, that can help determine where you are. They can also show where you’ve been in order to backtrack. Things like where the car is parked, where your car keys were left, and where your favorite coffee shop is. If you have a newer car with Bluetooth and have connected to it, the system will automatically leave an “X” on your map when the car is turned off.
If you want to note your location for another reason or have a pre-bluetooth car, then manually mark an “X”. Go to your maps program, press and hold on the location, and it will drop a pin. This is useful to mark your location at a trail head or parking lot.
Your maps app won’t work when out of range of the cellular system. However, there are a number of apps you can get that will store maps and work with the GPS to show your location. The apps I found include:
- CoPilot Premium
- iHunt Journal
- Navigator Free
- Gaia GPS
- Trimble GPS Hunt Pro
Of the free apps that I looked at most still require an in-app purchase for most of the features to work. Do your research and find one that you like.
Another method if you’re in cellular range is to take a picture of the map screen. On the iPhone you press the off button and the main button at the same time. I don’t have an Android but it’s probably something similar. You will also need to use the built-in compass to figure out what way to go. So even though there’s all this tech in your hands, you still need old fashioned compass and dead reckoning navigation skills.
Let’s talk a little about the compass in your phone. The compass on the iPhone shows direction both in the traditional needle format as well as in degrees. It also provides your latitude and longitude. If you have an Android, download one of the numerous free compass apps.
Emergency SOS Calling
In the iPhone there is an emergency SOS feature. While it only works when in cell range you can set it up to call 9-1-1 as well as a number of pre-designated numbers. It’s a setting right off ‘settings.’ When turned on you just press the on/off button five times quickly to activate. Emergency call will still work if your phone is locked. Most Android phones have an emergency option on the lock screen. Use it to call 9-1-1 and to have your emergency info accessible.
Emergency SOS Light
There is an app in the Apple store called Flashlight. This is a free app that allows you to send morse code messages with the light as well as a built in SOS mode. As it’s free you have to put up with the ads but that’s a minor inconvenience. Most Androids have a flashlight on the pulldown menu, and you can also download a morse code flashlight app.
As a side note, always leave your intended plans with someone. Use text messaging if you’re in trouble or even doing a routine check-in. There’s a better chance of a text message getting through than a call in a poor cell coverage. In some cases, it may be delayed but it’s still better than no voice capability.
Sudden weather changes have caught many people by surprise. These sudden shifts can lead to a situation where you aren’t prepared. If you live in areas prone to sudden weather changes, always keep an eye on the weather. There are many free apps that will show weather radars, and these are essential if you’re outdoors.
Emergency Medical Information
You should always carry your medical information, emergency contacts, allergies, etc. Most phones have an area you can list your medical information where first responders can gain access without unlocking it. Although tech has made this much more available it’s still wise to have a printed copy in the back of your wallet. If you have serious allergies, such as peanuts, consider the MedicAlert bracelet. Medical personnel are trained to search for these and it’s much quicker than looking through a phone or wallet. There are other similar products, but MedicAlert is the most well recognized.
Always be prepared with at least the basic items on you at all times. Keep in mind that there may be a situation that catches you unprepared. Don’t automatically rule out your phone as a resource if you think a phone call won’t go through. With a little bit of preparation, it can still be a good minimal resource.