Avoid Relying Too Much on Technology on the Trail

Hikers deal with basic survival issues every day out on the trail. In the process, they learn things about themselves that they may not have otherwise. As in the epic hero’s journey that echoes throughout so many books, films and television shows, the wilderness adventure draws out parts of yourself that you hadn’t realized you possessed before. Among other things, the experience can teach you self-reliance.

The state of technology today makes it easy for people to believe that they can navigate a section hike or even a thru-hike with a single app. You can download a map onto your phone, use it in conjunction with GPS, and it will show you everything of pertinent interest on a particular trail: the kind of terrain, the elevation, the distances between points, as well as the locations of water, shelters, road crossings, alternate routes, tent sites, hostels, etc. Most importantly, you can see where you are, at any given time.

Unfortunately, such a level of sophistication can encourage people to grow lax in certain common-sense areas when it comes to surviving and navigating in the wilderness, much like your basic math skills will get rusty if you constantly resort to a calculator or computer to crunch numbers. Given the comprehensive scope of a trail app, many people won’t bother to pack a physical map or compass – or, if they do carry such items, they may not take the time to familiarize themselves with the use of those tools before heading out.

An electronic device can help you navigate in an environment that it wasn’t designed to thrive in the first place. A cellphone out on the trail, for example, can be subjected to water damage either amid a storm, from a fall into the water or even on an occasion when you’re obliged to cross a deep river or stretch of wetland. It can be dropped or jostled along with other items in your pack. You might leave it behind at a shelter or campsite. Even if your phone never takes damage out on the trail, it can still run out of power. On certain trails, you can easily spend more than a week hiking between resupply towns.

Once you no longer have access to that device, you might realize how reliant on it you’ve been. Even if you’re on a well-blazed trail, you won’t know how far you’ve got to go to find water or lodging – unless you’re fortunate enough to run into a knowledgeable hiker. A map would give you that information. A compass and a map, used in tandem, would guide you back to the trail if you got lost.

These are accessories that belong in every travel pack. Your skills with a map and compass are bound to get rusty, though, if you assume that you’ll always have an electronic device on hand to outline your route for you.      

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