Hiking,  Hiking Guidance

How to Completely Unplug Without Giving Up Technology

I usually can be seen fumbling down a trail with my phone in one hand, camera in the other, simultaneously taking Instagram videos and blog pictures. Sometimes it’s comical–shouldn’t I just be immersing myself in the moment, after all? Isn’t that why I’m here?!

Photo credit: www.tintrunksafari.com

(Hashtag, nature!)

Truly disconnecting from urban life is difficult. As much as we would love to turn our phones off, the truth is we have appointments and emails and people whose happiness and hunger levels depend on us. And even when we do set aside time away from all those distractions, isn’t it OK for us to get our phones out and capture those perfect Instagram-worthy images? (I say, heck yeah.) So the question is, How to you immerse yourself in the beauty and peace of the natural world while also not totally disconnecting? When is it OK to have your phone out?

Here is what outdoor bloggers and Whit’s Wilderness readers have to say.

Set boundaries

It’s all about balance. If you have a clear understanding of what you’re wanting to get from your time in nature you can make a more conscious decision about what roll technology will play. Whatever you decide just decide it on purpose! – Noel Stacey, My Wild Kitchen www.mywildkitchen.com

Put it on Silent

I take mine with me for photos or emergencies and leave it on airplane mode – I believe there should never be ringtones or music blasting in nature – if people want to listen to music or podcasts that’s cool, just bring headphones. – Mallory Moskowitz www.youradventurecoach.com

I always have it on silent. I agree the phone shouldn’t have ring tones blasting. I go to nature for peace not to hear a phone ringing. – Heather Smith Www.thewanderinghippie42.wordpress.com


Keep it out for the photos

We put our phones on airplane mode to conserve battery and to keep from being interrupted while trying to enjoy our time outside, but we usually have them in our pockets for easy access picture taking and in case of an emergency. Our phones take pretty great quality shots and with them safely in their Otterboxes, I’m not as worried about the elements (like rain here in the Pacific Northwest) as I would be with our DSLR camera. – Katie English, www.homesick-wanderlust.com

When we go hiking, we typically don’t have cell service, so my phone is simply my camera. It fits in my pocket and is easy to take out anytime! But when we reach the summit, I get out the “real” camera. – Karen Ung www.playoutsideguide.com

Track your mileage

I normally leave my phone on airplane mode and have it for emergencies. There are times that I do use it to track my mileage, but other than that, it stays in my pack. — Magretha Palepale www.thecluelesswandererblog.com

When I am outdoors in the countryside my phone is typically on in my pocket with tracking on. Used mainly as a safety, and occasionally comes out for a picture or two 🙂 – Alice Horwood https://www.alicehorwood.co.uk

Take it for safety

I take my phone with me. In fact, I have a portable charger in my hunting/hiking pack. The main reason is for safety. Even hunting on a private ranch or hiking at a state park you can take the closeness of civilization for granted. In a life or death situation (for example: rattlesnake bite, heat stroke, etc.) the use of a cell phone is so important to getting the care and help needed. And it may not be for you- you may find someone in a predicament who needs your help. I especially to take pictures of my friends sleeping on wildflower hillsides waiting for turkey…but ultimately it is a safety issue and that is the number one reason to always have a phone! 😉 — Kristin (one of my hunting buddies!) www.anxioushunter.wordpress.com

Use it for navigation

I go into the wilderness to get away from that kind of stuff. The only exception for me is when I am hiking a long PCT section where the navigational apps are sometimes helpful (but not a sub for map/compass). I have a regular camera that I don’t have to worry about dropping/breaking/getting submerged. It’s all about being disconnected for me. — Mary Emerick http://mountainsskin.blogspot.com


Use it to engage your kids in nature

I love handing it to my 3 year old to see what captures his eye. – Kathy Dalton www.facebook.com/goadventuremom

Years ago we took books and etch a sketch to keep kids entertained while we waited in the deer blind. Now, just give them a phone and they will sit for hours. It’s hard to play the cloud game on a clear day. — Warren Blesh, Whit’s Wilderness blog reader

Whit’s Wilderness Readers Weigh In

I always have it handy because my hiking buddy tends to not have space available on her phone for pics… just sayin’! 🙂 — my husband, who nearly ALWAYS has to cover for me when I run out of space!

I take mine. I use the GPS to track my route and the camera for photos. It’s in airplane mode, so even if I could get a call or text, I wouldn’t hear it. — Michelle

It depends! I take it on hikes for pictures, sometimes to write notes. But I leave it at the cabin when I go hunting. — Liz

I take mine. I enjoy taking pictures. — Maria

I have my phone, because there is a great chance I’ll get lost. — Chelsie

I leave mine.. the less people that can reach me when I’m out… The better! — Amanda

I take mine with me for pics and safety. Not for texts and calls unless it’s a work day. — Megan

I take it for the camera! — Charlotte Mitchell

I take mine. — Jill

I take it with me 🙂 — Carmiñia

I bring it, mainly because I have teens who are usually home alone. I don’t use it, but I like knowing I have it. — Tara Schatz

Let’s just say, I saw the previews for 127 Hours and I will NOT be going out without a phone any time soon. And you guys know I love my Instagram shots!

What are your thoughts?


  • Ashli

    It’s truly a delicate balance! I use my phone for taking pictures and tracking my hike. You can actually track your hike even in airplane mode by the way! I use an app called Gaia GPS that lets you view maps offline and uses your phone’s GPS to show your location without an internet connection 🙂

  • Jeannie Peters

    It seems like the general census is that tech should enhance your experience, and not distract. I really like how all the contributors found a good balance between online and in nature.

  • Lauren

    I typically take my phone – for pictures and navigation backup. I’ll usually put it in airplane mode to conserve battery and make sure I’m not interrupted if I’m somewhere that has service.

  • WanderingPine

    I love airplane mode! I can still take pictures, pair it with my old school Delorme inReach and the Earthmate GPS app for Navigation/communication in emergencies while saving the battery.

  • Rozanne

    I never leave home without my phone. I know, sounds obnoxious, but why would I leave the only item that can multitask better than me? Photos, GPS, emergency services and finds the closest diner after my trek. These are great ideas for finding a balance!