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  • Fitness Tracker GPS Question

    Hey! Does anyone have any experience using a fitness tracker GPS while in the mountains? I am seeing models that work with connection to a smartphone but I am wondering what happens when your phone loses signal. I have not been a fan of playing with a GPS while hiking. I gave mine away a long time ago but glancing at my wrist now and then doesn't sound so bad! Thanks for any info.
    And because of all their tears
    Their eyes can't hope to see
    The beauty that surrounds them
    Isn't it a pity
    -George Harrison

  • #2
    There's a couple of aspects of this- both the GPS tracking of your route, as well as the fitness device tracking your personal stats (heart beat, steps, calories burned, etc.).

    With regards to the GPS tracking of your route, I believe that a cell signal helps to more specifically refine GPS tracking, but generally speaking this component of a fitness tracker should still function fairly well without a connection to cellular data. The biggest thing to be aware of is that if you are also using your phone for navigation in an area without cell service (like the High Peaks), you'll need maps pre-downloaded onto your phone- and the "free versions" of many hiking navigation apps don't permit this. I will also add that most of the "basic" models of fitness trackers aren't going to display GPS data on the tracker itself- you'd still need to pull out the phone. I'll also mention that most of the fitness apps designed for use with a fitness tracker aren't really ideal for navigation, so you'd likely end up running a separate app (AllTrails, Gaia, etc.) in addition to the fitness tracker's app if your intent is to use your phone as a primary navigation device. If you want full functionality of your phone in this regard, this may mean paying for two separate apps- the navigation app and the app associated with the fitness device.

    And in any case, I'm sure you area aware but I'll state this with emphasis for anyone else reading this thread: If your phone is your primary navigation device then you must also still carry a map and compass, and more importantly, know how to use them for when your phone stops working on you.

    With regards to the tracking of your exercise data specifically, this also generally does not require a cell signal, at least for a few days. My experience is that you usually want to let your fitness tracker Bluetooth sync with your phone once or twice a day to upload the data to your phone, and that you also want to let your phone sync with the fitness tracker app's online servers to upload data to there at least once every 4 or 5 days. I have noticed that on longer trips without cell service that when I finish, and finally once again have cell service and all the info from my trip has finished uploading, that some of the tracker data from earlier in the trip is sometimes missing. But FWIW, those experiences were with an older phone that had limited available data storage space on the drive. I'd guess that a newer phone with plenty of empty drive space would probably be able to store data for longer between uploads to the web.

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    • #3
      Thanks for the info. You are absolutely correct about knowing how to use a map and compass which I always do and have with me. I never used a GPS to find a peak. I've always enjoyed really looking at the lay of the land with map & compass and finding a route. My thought was using the GPS go back function on my wrist as a back up, a second tool for on the way out.
      And because of all their tears
      Their eyes can't hope to see
      The beauty that surrounds them
      Isn't it a pity
      -George Harrison

      Comment


      • #4
        Disclaimer before I go further: I'm a map and compass guy, but use E devices as quick reference and stat keeping items.

        I use a Garmin Fenix 5X "Sapphire" in tandem with an iPhone 12 Pro and absolutely love the data I get from the Garmin connect app. Essentially, my watch is always synced to my phone via bluetooth, but its maps are self contained. While they're pretty rudimentary, these maps do indicate most known DEC trails and popular summits in the ADKs (or at least as far as I've bothered to check). I primarily keep the watch set on navigate or hike mode, both of which I've tweaked in the watch's settings to include an altimeter setting. The Garmin connect app also lets uses very easily install a plethora of different watch faces and widgets which may allow you to view virtually any relevant hiking/mountaineering data real-time with pretty solid accuracy.

        The watch itself is head and shoulders above Apple watches in terms of fitness tracking and how the data is measured within the Garmin connect app. Once your activity has ended and you hit save, the data is then transferred via bluetooth or wi-fi (if available) to your Garmin connect app, where you can view obsessive level details about your body and where its been and what it was doing during the activity.

        I haven't used the watch in tandem with any other 3rd party mapping software yet, because again, I only use it for quick reference (primarily distance and elevation) during hikes. Supposedly the new iPhone 13 has the ability to function as a non cellular-assisted GPS, which means that apps like Gaia, Guthook (is it gut-hook or guth-ook?), etc should run reliably and smoothly as long as you have a premium version, regardless of cellular signal.

        And because this conversation can't come up without somebody (frequently me) harping how much AllTrails sucks... AllTrails sucks. There's two main issues with it. One is that its always relied on the device's cellular-assisted GPS, so in the back country its really not all that accurate. Secondly, it shoehorns users into using somebody else's GPX track rather than the actual established route (if there is one). These two issues combined are primarily why so many people run into trouble when using it. If you're going to be regularly using mobile-based mapping software, spend the $20/year and get Gaia. You'll thank yourself for it.

        Edit: I should add that the Fenix does not need a mobile device companion to function. You can use the watch as a standalone GPSr and connect it with your computer's Garmin mapsource or other software like you would with any other GPS device. I do a data dump from my watch to iMac about 2x per year, but generally stick with using it for fitness stat tracking on my phone.
        My mind was wandering like the wild geese in the west.

        Comment


        • rockysummit
          rockysummit commented
          Editing a comment
          Thanks. I will check this out. Like your disclaimer BTW!
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