How to get the most out of your smartphone in the great outdoors this summer

We use our smartphones all the time. But when we’re camping or hiking, the last thing we want to do is stare at a screen. It’s time to enjoy the great outdoors!

Yet, our smartphones can be extremely helpful tools when we’re venturing out into the wilderness, whether we’re at one of our great national parks, roughing it in the backcountry or out for a lazy weekend camping trip.

Here are a few helpful tips to get the most out of your smartphone this summer while enjoying the outdoors.

Planning a trip to a national park?

First things first, if you’re planning a trip to one of the roughly 400 national parks this summer, you’re in luck! Many parks have reopened, but they will be very busy

Make sure to plan ahead on the National Park Service website or on the NPS mobile app. And while you’re at it, don’t miss our suggestions for some great national parks to visit in the summer, fall or winter.

Saving your phone’s battery

If you will be away from civilization for any amount of time, you’ll want to preserve the life of your phone’s battery for as long as possible until you’re near a power source — especially if you’re relying on your phone for a map or directions.

Check our recent tip on ways to extend your phone’s battery life, with suggestions on avoiding extreme temperatures, turning on airplane mode, making necessary software updates before you travel, and more.

Additionally, consider purchasing an external USB battery pack, as well a car charger if you are traveling in or camping near your own vehicle. These devices are relatively inexpensive and will be invaluable on longer trips away from power.

Solar phone charger

Speaking of power — specifically green, renewable power — consider purchasing a solar-powered phone charger. These devices can efficiently recharge small electronic devices, including your phone. If you’re off the grid for any amount of time, a solar charger is a must-have. Be aware that if you’re backpacking, some of these devices can be bulky or heavy (think many ounces not multiple pounds). 

Here are some recommendations for solar battery packs and chargers from Outdoor Gear Lab and Wirecutter.

Download and use maps offline

Here at CREDO, we have the best and most dependable network, but there may be times when you’re in a very remote area where you may not have great service. 

If you’re using your phone to navigate or find points of interest, you’ll want to download and save maps ahead of time if you lack access to your cellular network. Here’s how to use Google Maps (download for iOS or Android) on your phone for offline use:

  • Apple: Go to the Google Maps app > Tap your profile image > Offline maps > Select your own map > Choose the map area you want to save > Download
  • Android: Go to the Google Maps app > Search for the location > At the bottom, tap the name of the place > Download.

Note: Make sure to download your maps when you still have cellular service, but preferably when you’re connected to a WiFi network. 

Making emergency calls without service

Some experts believe the increased reliance on technology in the outdoors can be dangerous, giving inexperienced people a false sense of security

So if you don’t plan to use your smartphones for GPS navigation or maps, you may want to keep your smartphone nearby (and turned off, to preserve your battery) for an emergency phone call.

You’ve probably seen the message “No network, Emergency calls only” on your phone’s screen at some point. That can mean you do not have service with your primary cellular network, but you may still be able to make an emergency call using a tower of another network service provider if it’s in range.

Need connectivity all the time? Consider a satellite communicator

If you need a connection to the outside world at all times, regardless of cellular reception, consider purchasing a satellite communicator. This is an external device that connects to a global satellite communications network, then to your smartphone, to provide you with network connectivity. These devices range from basic units that send simple two-way messages, all the way up to comprehensive devices that can send and receive calls and text messages and access data virtually anywhere on the planet.

Zoleo is the top choice for Cam, our Senior Data Analyst. Here’s a review of other devices that will match your needs and budget.

Download other content for offline use

Sometimes you just need the digital creature comforts of civilization while you’re enjoying the outdoors. Maybe you want to read a book on top of a mountain, but don’t want to schlep extra pounds up the trail. Or you’d like to listen to a podcast or audiobook while you fall asleep. 

Not a problem — but you should plan ahead, since you will want to be connected to a WiFi network and ensure your device has enough storage. 

Many of your favorite video streaming apps allow you to download content to access offline (here’s how for Hulu, Netflix, and Disney+), so do your music services (Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora) and popular audiobook platforms (Audible for iOS and Android; Google Play Books)

Your phone is a multi-use tool

Remember, your smartphone is more than just a little internet machine that can make calls and send texts. Your phone is a flashlight (iOS and Android). It can measure lengths and distances. 

Most importantly, smartphones come equipped with great built-in cameras. If you have a newer device, your camera is pretty amazing. Unless you’d like to take pictures with professional-level equipment (and lug around a few extra pounds), your phone’s camera will probably be sufficient for many situations to make great memories. Here’s our recent tip on taking better photos with your smartphone.