Today’s smartphones are equipped with numerous bells and whistles to keep users entertained for hours on end. Even when in the great outdoors, it’s hard to escape cell phones or the benefits they can deliver, especially in emergency situations.“The most effective use of a smartphone often depends on signal strength,” says Tim MacWelch, owner and operator of Advanced Survival Training, a wilderness survival school based on Fredericksburg, Virginia. “If you have access, call for help! But when signals are weak, it might still be possible to get a text to a friend or loved one who can alert the proper authorities.”
Despite spotty reception in remote areas, smartphones can be lifesavers if disaster strikes.
With a variety of built-in technology and downloadable apps that can be used regardless of connectivity, users can successfully endure perilous situations. Consider these often-unforeseen uses of your smartphone.
When you’re lost or have been separated from others in your party, a compass can be an invaluable tool to help you gain your bearings. “Many smartphones come equipped with compass functionality, which can help prevent you from walking in circles, even when the sky is overcast or at night,” MacWelch says. As a precaution, be sure to take the program for a trial run before striking out on your own in the wilderness to familiarize yourself with the application.
Communicating an exact location when you’re lost or injured can be challenging. But with the latest smartphone technology, users can rely upon maps and other global positioning satellite (GPS) information to help identify a location.
GPS capabilities can also enable others to find you as long as the phone is powered and holds a signal. Using GPS coordinates to geotag photos or videos on your phone before uploading to social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook or remote “cloud” storage can also help search parties pinpoint your general vicinity should you be unable to communicate.
You can also document a perilous situation and send messages to loved ones even if the phone gets damaged after the upload is complete.
Anyone who has been to the movies in the past five years can attest to the light output of most smartphones. Some models come equipped with flashlights, but for those that don’t, there’s an app for that. There are several free flashlight apps available for iPhones and Androids that use the devices’ LED displays to fill the screens with bright light and illuminate surroundings. Even the lock screen or home screen can provide enough light to assist with navigating terrain in the dark.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) apps can help in locations where signals are weak, using the Internet to make calls rather than a voice line.
One very popular VoIP application is Skype (www.skype.com), which can make calls over WiFi and 3G cellular networks. Skype and other VoIP technology also enable you to send video, enabling users to share visuals of their surroundings and possible injuries.
First Aid Kit
As injuries often set off an emergency situation, being well versed in first aid can help ensure survival in the wilderness. There are various first aid apps for smartphone users, ranging from injury care guides to medical history collections.
Edible plant encyclopedia
When facing a survival encounter, securing shelter and locating water are top priorities. But many adventurers’ thoughts quickly turn to food. An edible plant encyclopedia can help ensure that you stave off hunger while you navigate your way to safety.
One popular app is Wild Edibles from forager Steve Brill. The app is available in a free “lite” version with limited functionality and a paid version that gives users information on how to identify, harvest and use 165 of the best wild edible and medicinal plants of North America, as well as details on look-alikes.
Don’t Discard A Broken Phone
Even a busted smartphone can be of use in the wilderness. While it may hurt to completely dismantle your phone, various pieces can provide the tools you need to survive or even facilitate a rescue.
Most phones have reflective parts that can be used to signal for help, much like mirrors. In a pinch, the circuit board can serve as a spear point.
Just break or sharpen the board into a point and lash it to a stick. The same sharp edges can be used to cut rope, foraged food and other items.
The compass function on a damaged phone doesn’t provide much help. Instead, locate the magnet in your speakers and use it to magnetize a piece of wire. When floating in water, the magnetized wire will act like a compass and help you navigate through the great outdoors.
A smartphone battery can serve as a critical piece of equipment for starting fires. “Any battery with a charge higher than three volts—which is pretty much any cell battery—can be used to start a fire,” says Tim acWelch. “Just touch the positive and negative ends to wires or dry steel wool to create a spark.” Be careful, though, as the spark happens quickly and needs tinder close by to catch fire.
Cover all the bases
When preparing for your outdoor adventure, don’t neglect your smartphone. Take a look at the apps available to help navigate your way through both the wilderness and emergency situations. And one final word of advice be sure to tell someone where you’re going and how long you’ll be there. Smartphones are smart, but you should cover all your bases.