Saturday, 23 July 2016

Using Your Smart Phone as a Survival Tool

Almost everyone carries a smart phone with them at nearly all times. These handy little pocket computers are a survival tool in themselves in modern society given their ability to connect instantly to others, connect to a wealth of information via the internet, and give you precise location and navigation to anywhere vis GPS services.

Survival Features not Requiring Services

Smart phones come with a variety of built-in sensors, transceivers and applications that help us get around. Perhaps the most obvious is the phone itself but we're going to assume that's not an option. GPS navigation is also a great tool for getting to where you want to go, but that may not be an option either. You might be in a suburban area, but what if communications are down and you can't connect to online maps?

So let's see what you can do with these marvels of miniaturization...


One of the most obviously useful built-in tools in a survival situation is the compass. This is used by navigation programs, but you can have direct access to the compass itself through applications functioning just like a conventional compass, but perhaps a little better.

Smart Compass from Smart Tools co is a popular and versatile compass application that is free, or free from ads if you sling them a couple of bucks. It has many display modes, including night mode which can help with your night vision if you are travelling in the dark.

It also has a camera option which lets you take a picture with the compass heading overlaid. This can be useful for navigating by landmarks.

Note that some phone cases have metal parts and magnetic clasps that will quite understandably interfere with the compass function - remove your phone from such cases.

One side benefit of the digital compass sensor is that it can also function as a ...

Metal Detector

Smart Compass mentioned above has a secondary function as a metal detector. This might not seem immediately useful, but what if you drop your knife in thick scrub? It's nice to have the option at any rate.

In practice I've found that it's not very useful at finding smaller objects such as nuts or bolts, due to ground moisture affecting the magnetic field, but it will certainly help to find a hatchet or knife.


A camera may not seem immediately useful, but you can use it for navigation purposes again, documenting landmarks for reference later. There's probably other uses too.

Off-Line GPS

Not having access to the internet does not have to mean that the navigation services are useless. Google Maps won't do you any favors but there are excellent navigation programs such as Maverick that let you download maps and use them later when you have no service.

Maverick allows you to plot your tracks and place waypoints, letting you stray from your camp and still find your way back. This makes maverick useful in areas where there are no maps downloaded at all.

If you do have the map for the area you are in, it is a snap to find your way back to a main road (or avoid them, depending on what is appropriate for your survival strategy).

Maverick comes with a large choice of map sources to use. It is worth noting that the default (mapquest) is no longer available, but there are plenty of other choices. Microsoft maps seem decent for general road maps and National Geographic maps are good for terrain as well as main roads. You can select an area in which to pre-download map data quite easily.

Reference Applications

There are many reference applications you can install on your phone, not to mention ebooks and pdf readers - which open up a world of opportunities for reference material, including being able to carry the Doom Survival Guide with you in your pocket.

Three applications I find particularly useful are -

  • Useful Knots - Simply a knot tying guide. This application contains pretty much all the knots you'll need to know each with clear diagrams on how to tie them and notes on their uses and strengths and weaknesses.
  • Wild Edibles - This handy reference contains information on over 200 wild plants including high resolution images and cultivation information. To download all of the information, you must first access it, so do this while you have internet access. Unfortunately there is no free version.
  • SAS Survival Guide - Lite - This is a stripped down version of the SAS Survival Guide, with an option to buy the full version. There's not a great deal of information, but it does cover some essentials. Worth a free download.


Most phones comes with a notepad widget which is useful for, well, keeping notes. Although a physical notepad would be better, the phone version will suffice.

Conserving Battery Power

This is quite important as running your phone at maximum capacity can drain it in a matter of hours. Like anything in a survival situation, battery power must be rationed carefully. There are a number of things you can do to help reduce the amount of power used in your device and thus extend the time it remains useful to you.

Screen Brightness

A large consumer of energy is the screen itself, especially for the larger mini-tablet style pocket bricks. Choosing a smaller phone in the first place with less processor power and a smaller screen is a a good pre-emptive measure for an increased up-time.

No matter what device you have however, simply turning the brightness of the screen down will immediately draw less power.

Flight Mode

Another huge consumer of the battery is the actual phone part of the phone. This is especially true in areas where there is little to no reception, as the phone will put out a huge signal trying to connect. When the phone is closer to a tower it only needs to emit a relatively small signal in order to stay in communication, travel out to the sticks and you'll find your battery life reduced considerably.

If you have no reception, then there is little reason for having this part of the phone turned on. Switch your phone to Flight Mode and it will stay on much longer.

Widgets and Other Crap

Most phones unfortunately come out-of-the box with a whole bunch of bullshit installed. 90% of which you probably never use. A lot of these things are widgets that run constantly displaying things on your screen such as photo slideshows and Friendface notifications and other things. Do your phone and yourself a favour and uninstall the things that you don't need.

This will reduce the processor load and therefore battery drain. Note that it might not do any good to uninstall these things when you are already in the wilderness and need to conserve your precious battery, as the process of removing them can eat up the battery power due to the many writes necessary to the flash memory, so do it ahead of time.

Note: Some applications simply refuse to be uninstalled, only giving you the option of "uninstall updates", which simply reinstall themselves soon after. Here is an excellent guide from HowToGeek on how to tell such stubborn applications who's boss.

Portable Chargers

There are many portable phone chargers on the market that vary in size and therefore battery power. The one pictured is the model I use and can charge my phone from dead to full nearly 4 times. I carry this in my everyday carry kit which will be discussed at a later date. Couple this with a portable solar charger, and you will never have problems with battery power again (until it dies completely, that is).

In conclusion, there are many survival related applications around, but I have listed only ones that will be useful without service. If you can think of any more, drop a comment.

1 comment:

  1. Make custom iPhone cases with ... Make a custom case for your iPhone, iPod, iPad, Samsung Galaxy, MacBook and more with their lovely design...just for you.