How To Save Battery Life when Using Your Smartphone as a GPS To Track Your Hikes or Cycling Tours

Endomondo GPS Tracking App for Android

The technology we have available today is ridiculously powerful but, for portable devices such as smartphones, it's limited by battery life. And that's frustrating.

I'm almost done reading a book on green energy - Mad Like Tesla - and, if all goes well for the inventors who claim to revolutionize energy storage, you'll charge your phone just once a month. Until then, we have to actually think about saving battery life when using our smartphones extensively - especially outdoors where we can't charge them (not really true - more on that below).

Now, perhaps you've noticed that the battery runs out fast if you have 3G (internet), GSM, WiFi and GPS all turned on on your phone.

So what do you when you wanna track a 6 hour hike up the mountain? How do you make sure your phone doesn't run out of power?

A simple and effective option is to:

Put your phone in flight mode when using GPS

This is the best thing you can do to save battery if you don't have a smartphone solar charger with you.

Why it's so effective, you may ask.

Think about this - the GSM or 3G signal is weak or nonexistent when you're in the backcountry. So now your phone works hard to search the signal and when it finds it, it works even harder to keep it. And if the signal is weak, the effort your phone makes to keep itself connected to the network drains the battery very fast.

Flight Mode - Android Phone
Charge Smartphone with Solar Charger

With the GPS signal, on the other hand, it's a totally different story. Since you're outdoors, in open spaces, the GPS signal is always strong so your phone doesn't need to do an extra effort to keep the signal.

Thus you can enjoy a full day of GPS tracking without draining your battery.

How I do it

So I kill all wireless network connections. I turn on the GPS. Then I start Endomondo (my GPS tracking app of choice - for Android phone) and I simply lock the phone, throwing it into a pocket of my hydration pack.

I don't use it at all and because the display is always off, the battery lasts longer.

Example: After a four hours bike ride, the battery symbol showed full.

When I reach my destination, I turn on the GSM connection and, if I'm vain (which I am) and wanna share the track on Facebook, I turn on 3G as well. I send a text to my sweetheart telling her that I'm okay and then I turn off all connections again.

This is the frugal way.

But, with a portable solar panel, you can have have all services turned on as long as your phone is being charged continuously via a USB cable that comes with the panel. This is the high tech style.

Over to you
  • What's your favorite GPS tracking app?
  • Do you keep your 3G connection on while outdoors?
  • Do you share all your tracks on Facebook?

Let's chat. Leave a comment.

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  1. I don't really turn anything off when I'm using Endomondo, because I just plug my phone into the Goal0 battery pack.

    Plugging directly into the solar panel doesn't guarantee a steady charge and I've had my phone die on me once because I walked into the woods and the phone stopped charging. Even after I walked back into the sun, the phone didn't restart the charge.

    1. Yup, it happens to me: when I get into the shade, the phone is no longer charging. But when I get out again into the sun, the phone charges again (I can hear the notification sound).

      Write to the guys at GoalZero - maybe they can replace your unit. Or maybe this is more about the phone that it is about the panel (try it with other type of phones as well).

      I don't wanna take the solar charger with me on short trips (one day) so I prefer to turn off all "distractions". :-)

  2. Nice suggestions Constantin, I'll have to try this (and also get a solar charger).

    1. Thanks!

      For one day tours, keeping your phone on flight mode will do. And you can focus on your activity without getting calls or web notifications.

  3. Great idea although I must admit to preferring no contact with the outside world when I am in the bush, however having that phone charged and ready when you need it is always great backup just in case something goes wrong :)

    1. Yes, that's the point. I love not being available when I'm doing my thing outdoors. It's kinda like email - I get back to you when I feel like it. :)


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