iPhone vs Garmin, again

Back in May, rpg51 posted about using the iPhone for GPS. After reading his post and getting waterproof case and bag for the iphone, I made the switch. I’m pretty happy about it, and wanted to post some details for anybody thinking about going the same way.

Waterproofing: I got a LifeProof case. And following the “pants and suspenders” advice found in another post, I am using an iArt mini-drybag for the phone. I’m not happy with the iArt because it has an earphone plug set up that I don’t use and which gets in the way, but other than that it is fine. One nice thing about the bag is that it traps enough air to keep the phone afloat if I happen to drop it overboard. Pictures taken through the case look okay to me, but seems like there must be some degradation from the extra layers of plastic. Hasn’t bothered me thus far.

Apps: I use Gaia and Runkeeper.

Mostly I use runkeeper because I like the presentation, the charts, and the fact that every time I save a workout it uploads the map and the route to the Internet. So, the maps have always been there and I can look back at a trip I made 6 months ago and it is all there, and I didn’t have to do a darn thing. Runkeeper does need cell coverage to download the maps for display, but it will continue to track when off network and go back and get the map data later. There are many similar apps, like irunner, map my hike and I know there are others. Runkeeper was an early player in this market, I’ve been using RK for a long time and I just kept using. I’m not saying it’s the best. It would be nice to find an app that is specifically meant to be used on the water.

I like Gaia quite a lot. It will also create a track of where you’ve paddled, but if you can upload it to the Internet, I don’t know about it. When there is coverage, Gaia shows you where you are. It is very fast and easy to download a section of mapping to the phone, after which you no longer need coverage. However, if you paddle off the edge of the mapping you downloaded, your track and position just appears on a grid–not useful. I like being able to put my finger on the map to drop a pin where I want to end up and Gaia then displays the distance and compass heading to the pin. When a map downloads, lots of data about features downloads with it. And, you can search for locations and features even while you are off network. At the bottom of the map display there is a little box showing trip distance and speed. The figures are too small for me to read without my glasses, which is probably why I haven’t used Gaia more.

Battery Life: I think Garmin beats the iphone on this criteria. A recent 8-hour trip consumed over half the iphone’s battery life. Granted, I used the phone for pictures, failed to put it in airplane mode the first few hours, it was a hot day (reduces LI battery performance) and I was sometimes running both RK and Gaia. The battery is fine for day trips, but multi-day trips will be a challenge. I just bought a power pack to take on a three-day trip I have planned later this week. We’ll see how that works out.

Weight: Weight doesn’t matter much for paddle touring, but I occasionally hike and backpack, so weight matters to me. I’ve always taken my phone with me while paddling or hiking, so bringing the phone isn’t making me carry any extra weight. The battery pack I just got weighs 4.6 oz (good for 3 recharges), so that is extra weight. But, I’m leaving the CSx 76 and my Lumix camera behind, 6.8 oz and 5.1 oz respectively. So, on balance, I am lighter by about 7 oz, not counting an extra set of AA batteries for the GPS or an extra battery for the Lumix.

Just wanted to share my experience, so far, with giving up the Garmin. I’d write more, but probably nobody reads this far anyway. If you have thoughts on this topic, I am interested.


Perfect timing, Chip.
Thanks for the update - which I did read completely. Rpg51’s post got my attention as well. Have a no-contract Android phone, which is so slow I use it only for an occasional phone call, text, and the USCG app. The screen is small and difficult to see and the keyboard - well, I can write in longhand faster than I can use that keyboard.

My iPad 2 (2011) is showing its age so I updated to an iPad Mini 4 which I plan to use while paddling. At present I haven’t opted for a protective case (do have an Aquapac for it). I’ve looked at Lifeproof and decided against it because I don’t want it in a case 24/7 and I’ve read you can damage the seals by removing and reinstalling. The other option is an Otterbox Defender - I can get a larger Aquapac to accommodate it. Never used any type of case for my iPad 2. Just a silicone back cover and the front smart cover and it’s survived without a scratch for five years. But the only time it was near water was when I had my pontoon boat.

Can you easily see your screen? Haven’t checked the Mini’s screen readability yet while on the water; hope to do that this week. I do know it’s zoom-zoom speedy at whatever it’s asked to do. Just unsure where I’ll carry it. Not keen about keeping it on deck. That’s reserved for a spare paddle and my Forerunner. Maybe an under deck bag, behind the seat, or if those don’t work out, in the tactic pack attached to my PFD.

I think it will be handy when paddling Lake Michigan and our large inland lakes. Wish I had it last weekend when I wanted to paddle to an island and around it, but needed to know more about the distance and wind speeds so I could estimate timing.

LifeProof Battery
For the iPhone 6, Lifeproof has a battery case which more than doubles the battery time for the phone. I’ve been using it on the water for 6 months now. Love it

and where is
the marine NOAA map showing depths and contours ?

you missed the entire point of it …

Sunshine makes it tough to see
I have to say that it is tough to see the display on a bright day and direct sunlight. That said, on a trip last week I succeeded in finding the ten-foot opening to an amazing little complex of ponds. I was with a group of six. Other people had GPS, but we had passed the opening. The topo map I was using on Gaia showed the opening. I had to create a little shade for the iphone and remove my sunglasses to see it. It was 11 a.m. on an extremely clear, bright day. Gaia saved the day.

The iphone bag has a lanyard which I have been wearing around my neck and stuffing inside my pfd. That’s not going to work for an ipad. I read somewhere that heat decreases LI battery performance, so this time of year, I am not leaving it on the deck.

iPad bats are more robust, so your battery performance and charging requirements will differ.


I look at it from another perspective
it’s good to have options and backup.

I take my Garmin GPS with me on any trip; same for my phone (and a camera). GAIA sounds like something I’ll have to load and play with. Thanks for the description.

Garmin 76CSx Metric
For what it is worth here is some data on the battery use with my Garmin unit.

Use pattern - turn on at the put in and turned off as I reach the take out. Lithium AA batteries.

This set of batteries has served me through 9 trips so far. Approx 24 hours of battery use.

I just put a VOM on the batteries and they still show >1.5 volts.

Besides the power use efficiency, another reason to consider bringing both your GPS and phone is that you have backup mapping. And if you’re using the GPS for tracking you are saving the phone’s battery for other uses.

Garmin vs. smart phone
I’ve used the waterproof Garmin GPSMAP 76 and 78 series GPS’s for more than 12 years now. No need for waterproof protection. I mount the GPS in front of me on all my tripping canoes.


With advanced lithium batteries, I can have gotten five days of continuous use – I mean, always on, all the paddling day. Then, I simply replace the batteries. In my Garmin 78sc I not only have road maps, but also topo maps, extensive NOAA blue charts, and downloaded satellite maps.

I’m not sure I can match all this versatility with a smart phone, but with my Android running a GPS app, I doubt I could get more than six hours of screen time. And and then I’d have no way of recharging unless I bought some kludgy battery pack or solar charger, which I don’t want to do. The phone stays in my waterproof day pack as a backup communication device.

I do find myself using the smart phone in my vehicles for daily road driving in preference to my Garmin, but there I can continuously charge it.

depth ?

so there are ‘aps’ giving depth contour into a smart

phone or are there depth contour ‘aps’ into a dumb phone ?

Haven’t read mention of Blue Charts on phone devices until now on page 6 Bing


contours are essential as the flow rate increases at main boundaries