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Gadgets and gizmos….

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

There was a great little article in The Professional Mountaineer this time (if you’re a MTA member you may have read it, pg13) about the use of gadgets like GPS and their place on the Mountain Training schemes.I had an email from a client asking if I’d written it under a pseudonym! Most of you know that I embrace technology on the hill and some of you may have even witnessed me use it in anger……obviously I knew where I was! The days of the Magellan ‘brick’ and being coded to deliberately add in error are long gone. A good theme of the article that I believe in is that ‘technology is used with relevance and in conjunction with traditional techniques’. It is simply another tool in your arsenal that you can choose from to allow you to find the most efficient method of reaching your objective. There are numerous occasions when poor conditions have made managing folk across tricky terrain quite challenging and the additional use of a gadget has made the journey considerably easier and less stressful for me! The tools I’m talking about that aid me on the mountains are my phone, my watch and my GPS and I’ve been using them for years now.


A GPS unit with OS mapping is hopefully fairly obvious as to the main benefit, there are many functions that my unit has and after I got rid of the ‘hunt and fish’ bit and others, I had all the elements that I need. I never leave home without my phone. It’s not really just a phone anymore and I find it so useful for quickly confirming my location using something like Viewranger for example.

My watch has the usual altimeter, barometer and features along those lines, I’m sure it could set my TV to record programmes too…if I read the instructions!

And that is the recurring theme that I see on courses. Some very nice sleek stealthy looking devices coming out of rucksacks that I’m instantly jealous of, but when I casually ask about how it’s set up or how to use a basic function…… know where I’m going with this!

Take the time to learn how to set up your device against your needs, for example the OS grid system is fairly universally used in the UK, so whilst lat and long have their place, it might be easier for everyone to use OS, especially if you don’t know what the numbers / digits mean! Do you know how accurate your device is and therefore how much confidence you can place in it? Additionally learn what your device can do you for and how it will strengthen your navigational tools. Garmin for instance do a brilliant series of very short videos that allow you very quickly to learn how to work the functions and understand the benefits it will bring. Don’t forget even doing some homework on what batteries are recommended for these units is hugely important, some normal ‘batteries’ will drain in hours, others in days / weeks!

GPS watches

The main failing of gadgets and gizmos is simply us! The list that has traditionally been used to highlight a weakness in technology is easy to counter these days, yes we could drop it - although most things can be protected in a case or tied to us, the batteries could run out - take some spares / battery pack / turn your phone off / put it on airplane mode and so on. It’s the same with lose your map - pull out your spare, break your compass - pull out your spare etc. These are all simple things to overcome by being prepared. For me it’s becoming, lose a map, pull out my GPS and then my phone with mapping on and use my watch, break my compass - pull out my GPS with a compass on it and my phone with a Silva type compass on it (I’ve tired it numerous times and amazingly it works!) and lastly my watch which also has a compass on it. Actually I’ve never ever lost a map on the hill or broken my compass and if I did I’d probably just reach over and nick yours!!


The main failing these days isn’t so much how accurate the gadgets are or how long the batteries will last,

but rather how to use the them.


Read the instructions, watch the videos, take the time to set your kit up, practise in good weather know to use it and then the day you feel it’s appropriate to unleash it and bring some Jedi nav to the day…it will work.

As I mentioned it’s about balancing your needs against the objective and selecting the right tools. One of the most basic non techie tools is your senses and the article briefly mentions this and it reminded me of a funny situation years ago. I was stood 15m from a raging stream at night on a ML assessment and someone said they were in the wrong place because there should be a stream where we were stood - he completely ignored the loud noise to our left - 10mins later we were still looking!

Pick the most appropriate tool for the job….

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