Smartphones on the Trail: All Your Mountain Biking Electronics in One Package

Some people denounce the smartphone as a technological leash forever tying those who own them to the world of digital screens and the internet. I, on the other hand, choose to think of my smartphone as the ultimate liberation from the burden of mountain biking electronics.

(Note: In this article, I may say “iPhone” frequently, simply because I own an iPhone, when in reality most smartphones can fulfill these same functions.)

Once upon a time before I owned an iPhone, packing up and hitting the trail was an ordeal. In addition to gathering the standard gear, such as bike, helmet, water, tools, etc., I also had to grab the various electronics I’d need. I rode with a minimum of cell phone (for emergencies), point-and-shoot camera (to document the experience for Singletracks), and a GPS unit (so I didn’t get lost, to record statistics, and to create maps for Singletracks). In addition, I’d often carry an iPod for long endurance rides (4+ hours), GoPro camera to record video, and a light when riding at night.

All of these (plus an mp3 player, not pictured) vs. one of these.

Once you start adding all of these things up… that’s a lot of expensive electronics to be toting around! It’s also a lot of things to remember (or forget) to pack, make sure are fully charged, and worry about getting broken in a crash. Plus, for those who are gram counters, all of those different electronics add a lot of weight.

Enter the iPhone.

I bought my first-ever smartphone with some Christmas money this past December. Suddenly, I was packing remarkably few electronics. In fact, on most of my rides, the sole battery-powered device that I carry in my pack is my iPhone.

Using an iPhone completely eliminates the need to carry the first four devices on the list: it is, first and foremost, a phone; I quickly realized that my 4S takes better-quality photographs than my point and shoot camera; the GPS capabilities are remarkably accurate (with the right app); and it can, of course, play music.

Obviously, if you’re night riding you’ll still need a helmet lamp, and despite having tested a video case for my phone, the GoPro (or Contour) is still unrivaled for on-bike video.

Nowadays with my iPhone, I feel free from the oppression of mountain bike electronics! While I used to get irritated at having to pack so many gadgets, now I just throw my phone into my pack, which I carry with me all day regardless of what I’m doing. I don’t even have to worry about making sure my battery is fully charged: just plug it in to the car on the way to the trailhead, and I am good to go!

Several people on the forums have recently been contemplating the pros/cons of buying a smartphone versus buying a GPS unit. Sure, a GPS unit might have better battery life and is a little more accurate than a smartphone, but can it function as your phone, camera, mp3 player, and a mini internet browser, among other things, as well? I think not.

Your Turn: What electronics do you carry with you on the mountain bike trail?