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5 Reasons to bring your mobile on the hill.

By Dave Roberts   

on January 11, 2009    No ratings yet.

5 Reasons to bring your mobile on the hill.

1 – the obvious one. If, and ONLY IF, you are in an emergency situation you can phone mountain rescue. An emergency does not include running out of jelly babies, or that the cafe on Snowdon’s closed. Phone if someone’s in danger. Often, people ring up and they’d either be ok walking off on their own steam, or the following morning after a rather uncomfortable unplanned night on the mountian.

2 – Entertainment. If you’re wild camping, then you can use it as a radio or an mp3 player for music and audiobooks. This saves on weight, but you may well run out of juice if you fall asleep with the radio on.


You can play your music, or check the weather.

3 – Second rate, back up camera. Maybe the other brands are better, but i’ve not been impressed with the images from my Nokias. The N82 was a bit better, but i’d still rather take my’real’ camera. When it’s too naff for the real camera and you just want a few snaps for the record, you can’t go wrong.

4 – Internet. Yes, some of us go into the hills to get away from it all. A weather forecast however is vital. You can access the Met office website on almost any wap enabled phone, but you’ll need a more modern smartphone with acrobat reader on it to read the MWIS forecasts. It’s also useful to check up on bus times, this works for Snowdonia as the timetables are downloadable as pdf files. You can even refer to them when you’re out of the mobile signal.

5 – As a mapping GPS. This is a clincher for me. Installing Viewranger on my N70 and subsequently my N95 had been quite useful. This piece of software costs a paltry £25 for all the UK national parks (including Ben Nevis as an added bonus) in 1:50,000 scale. Compatibility can be checked here. You can make use of Viewranger if you’ve a compatible phone and a bluietooth GPS. This is what I did eighteen months ago with my N70, and the setup cost me about £75 without the phone.

Bluetooth GPS units are now much cheaper, available for less than £30, and you may be willing to risk a second hand smartphone from Ebay. Even so, the N70 can be found for about £70, giving you a price tag of £125 for a half decent phone (internet, mp3, camera and radio) and a mapping gps solution.

The screenshots below give you an idea of the capability of the software.


The mapping capabilities of Viewranger as seen on the Nokia N95.

The view ranger is useful to identify elusive peaks. There’s also a useful trip computer as on any other GPS.


The killer app / gimmick is the’viewfinder’ feature. This creates a 3d view from your current location and annotates the features. I’ll be honest and say that i thought this was purely a gimmick when i first got it and didn’t use it till a few months back. Then i saw how useful it was for identifying that elusive peak in a strange area.

The only drawback is down to the phone and not the software. The N95 is a notorious battery hog, and i find it struggles to run this software for more than a few hours. I used it exclusively to navigate on the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path from Amroth to Freshwater East, and i had to put a fresh battery in after a matter of hours. I made a few calls and checked the cricket score online in that time, but this sort of battery life is totally unacceptable. Considering that an Asus eee 901 computer has a battery life of 6 hours, a phone should manage twice that. Check the reviews before buying! The newer Nokias will have better battery life with the same features (or the older N70 has a better battery life with little less features).

You can record your route as you walk just as on a normal GPS, export it and view it on your PC mapping software. That’s the only drawback with the software, that it runs only on your mobile. A version on the PC would turn this into the only software you’d need, though the features would not be as good as what’s available on Tracklogs (currently the easiest and most feature packed IMHO) or the other PC mapping packages.

Other than that, it’s similar to using a GPS unit – with a trip computer giving you the information you need, such as speed and so on.

If you just want speed information, then Nokia do a free program caled Sport Tracker – http://research.nokia.com/research/projects/SportsTracker/

Sport Tracker allows you to log your walks, cycles, runs or anything else you wanted on your mobile. It needs a Symbian mobile and a GPS connected to work, and keeps track of distance, time and other statistics and logs them by date. So you can look at the calendar and see what days you did a certain walk, or compare how fast you ran 10km on the 1st of the month to the 30th.

It’s an incredibly simple idea, with parts being similar to the data you’d get from a GPS device. You get speed, distance, altitude, time and a height profile. There’s even a map of your route, which is more useful if you walk on roads that appear on Nokia Maps but does not show them on useful maps like Viewranger. One downside i found is that it provides location, but in latitude and longitude – an option for using the British National Grid would make this a viable GPS replacement. This isn’t a difficult feature to implement, as there are methods of converting from one to another.


This shows the information, mapping and altitude visualisations.
Sports Tracker has various ‘trip computer’ options to suit different users. From hill walkers, to the individual keeping fit by walking in the park at lunchtime.


This piece of software is available for other Symbian Nokias free, and is worth downloading

Finally some tips to make sure you make the most of the above.

Get an aquapac mobile case. This is only £15 or so, and cheaper than a new mobile. Drybags work, but mine failed after a fair bit of use and nearly ruined my phone.

Spare batteries. I’ve got 3 spares on me for my N95. Even if you have a phone with more economical battery use, a spare battery is always useful and not really that expensive.

Check coverage. In Snowdonia, Voda’s pretty good and so is O2. Some areas will only have one network. Beddgelert is orange only, while O2 works better in Capel Curig. Ogwen Cottage gets a signal from Bangor (Voda definite), while places like Pen y Gwryd and Nant Gwynant are dead spots. However, climb up a litte and theres relatively few areas where you’ll go all day without some sort of signal. I was surprised to get a pretty decent, though mercurial, signal at Llyn Du in the middle of the Rhinogydd. I carry a spare orange mobile if i’m walking near Beddgelert, and often leave my better phone at home. I intend to put an 02 sim in it as well (it’s rattling about behind the battery ATM) with a twin sim device – these seem to be as difficult to find as a Labour win in a by-election. Another option is to get a foreign sim card which should roam from network to network, so if there’s a signal you can use it.

Check for network coverage on the following pages; Orange, VodaO2T-Mobile,Three. But take them with a pinch of salt! I can see many claims of signals by these operators in locations that never receive a reliable signal.

SILENCE! If you don’t want funny looks from others, keep it on silent on the hills. If you have to make a call from the top, often the only place with a signal, then don’t be the Dom Jolly wannabee shouting “Guess where i am?” I find a quiet spot and make my call, often with an important ETA for whoever’s got the responsiblity to call for help if I or my group don’t appear by a certain time.

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Dave Roberts

siDave Roberts founded Walk Eryri in 2004, with the aim of providing routes that are off the beaten track. Walk Eryri is now part of Mud and Routes which continues to provide more off beat routes and walks in Snowdonia and beyond. Dave has been exploring the hills of Eryri for over thirty years, and is a qualified Mountain Leader. Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.

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