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Modern Walker and Technolgy (part 3)

The modern walker with some disposable income has options open to them now that walkers of even ten years ago did not have. A GPS receiver can be a vital walking aid. Although they do not replace the traditional tools of navigation such as a map and compass, they can be used to complement these and help to reduce the risk of getting lost. For many years I have walked all over Scotland without such a piece of equipment, and I resisted buying one because I thought it an unnecessary expense. Certainly, GPS receivers have disadvantages; they require batteries to work, so spares must be carried to ensure you can rely on it, it's an extra piece of equipment to carry and worry about losing or breaking, and they can offer an illusion of safety to those who don't take a map or compass with them into the mountains (news reports about rescues often mention that the walkers were not equipped with these).

In some ways there is a parallel debate amongst hillwalkers about the utility of carrying mobile phones into the mountains. Many walkers have been rescued quickly because they were able to contact emergency services even though they had little idea of their location. However, in many parts of the Scottish mountains (especially the high-sided glens) there is no mobile phone signal, and relying on one to get you out of trouble could be a very hit-and-miss affair, apart from which, one of the aims of walking in the mountains is surely to escape modern life and experience nature without the effects of man. A mobile phone is a mental connection back to civilization and it can be an extremely unwelcome intrusion to those trying to have a 'wilderness experience'. There's nothing more bewildering and surreal than sitting on a summit soaking up an astounding panorama of mountains and glens stretching for many miles, whilst a fellow walker chats to their friends about the football scores.

Can't Beat a Good Map!

Having said that, a walker venturing into the mountains should probably not be without a mobile phone. Their usefulness in certain situations cannot be ignored. However, etiquette demands that the phone be turned off and stored away and used for emergencies only. This is practical too - phones are of no use if the batteries have run down or they fall out of a pocket when fording a stream. The latest 'smart' phones can be even more useful - with a good signal, some phones will allow a connection to the Internet and the possibility of viewing the latest weather maps and reports. Of course there have always been low-tech methods of doing this as well, like carrying a small radio and listening to the forecast, but you can't beat a good map!

Eddie Boyle is currently working as a software developer at Edina, part of the University of Edingburgh on Go-Geo, a portal of geophysical data sources. Eddie climbs mountains in his spare time which he records in his blog. (http://www.edwardboyle.com)

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