You’re hiking to get away from technology, to unplug, and be in nature. The idea of carrying a cell phone may seem kind of silly when hiking. There are lots of reasons to carry your cell, and plenty not to. There are also a few alternative options. Personally, especially when hiking with a baby, I highly recommend you carry your cell phone.
Reasons not to carry your phone:
You want to unplug and disconnect
You don’t want to break it or lose it
You’ve never carried it before
Reasons to carry your cell phone:
Most smart phones have pretty good cameras these days. A cell phone with a good camera is smaller and lighter than even small travel cameras.
You may get spotty service in areas which can be lifesaving in an emergency
In the US, ALL smartphones with GPS are required to have a feature where if you call 911 and do not have service it will ping your approximate coordinates to emergency services. This can drastically reduce the time it takes for rescuers to find you. (see emergencies)
You are hiking with a baby, having the possibility of calling for help is important
In the worst of situations, a cell phone’s parts can be used for a variety of survival tools
If you are found, your info and ability to contact family is in your phone
Maybe you want some music
There are emergency only phones that are light weight and can ONLY call 911. Overall many do not have good record of working well
Satellite phones. These things are heavy, extremely expensive, and require extra knowledge, but they exist.
Live GPS tracking. There are many GPS devices these days that live track your location back to either a designated person or a ‘home’ device that others can watch you on. That being said, GPS doesn’t work everywhere either, and your phone is one of these devices in the first place.
Ok so I’ll carry my phone, but how do I stay “unplugged”?
Simple: put it in airplane mode! And if you plane to take lots of pictures or be out for a while, low battery mode is helpful in prolonging battery life. Going for more than a day? Bring a portable charger. These range from the size of a USB flash drive to a small book and hold 2-8 charges. There are also solar powered options.
Add On since original posting:
Thanks to companies like Garmin and Spot you can now also have GPS trackers that link with your phone. I carry an InReach Mini by Garmin. While I can use the device alone, I can also use my phone to send messages and see maps and save waypoints – ALL WITHOUT CELL SERVICE! Just one more reason to carry the phone.