Hiking without tech – why I sometimes ditch the modern gadgets

woman hiking solo
Enjoy the immersion of hiking outdoors without modern tech (Image credit: Getty Images)

Pressing the button on a sports watch as you start a hike has become as natural as tying your boot laces. Many people also tune into music, an audio book or a podcast via their mobile phone and bluetooth headphones as they stroll the countryside. Some outdoors enthusiasts are even choosing to wear smart rings as a way to constantly monitor their fitness. But what if you ditch the modern gadgets when hiking? Like so-called Naked Running, there are benefits to hiking without tech.

First, a few words of warning 

We are not suggesting you throw caution to the wind and go for a hike somewhere new without any technology. While a map and compass provide excellent tools for navigation (and that means you do not need navigation apps such as OS Maps or Komoot to find the right route), it’s still a good idea to carry a mobile phone and a personal locator beacon (PLB) to ensure that you can make contact with people if you end up in an emergency situation. 

What we are saying is that sometimes it is advantageous to switch off from modern gadgets and enjoy a hike without tech. You might still wear your sports watch and carry your phone with you but you make a decision not to connect with them.

man hiking

Switch off the sports watch and enjoy the simplicity of hiking (Image credit: Getty Images)

 Benefits of hiking without a sports watch

I am not a slave to my hiking stats but I do like to track some of my longer walks on my sports watch. It’s satisfying to see the distance I’ve covered and also the total elevation. I have my watch synced to update Strava and it can be useful to look back at routes completed.

Sometimes, I look at any pace and heart rate on my watch while I am hiking. I might also use my Garmin Enduro watch to follow a route that I have previously uploaded.

But there are times when my sports watch serves only as a timepiece and I walk just for the love of walking. Switching off form the stats and the monitoring of fitness and progress allows me to hike as far as my body and mind fancy going on that occasion.

On these hikes, I’ll probably be on a route I am familiar with and I will be walking as a way to enjoy being outdoors. For me the benefits of having no fixed idea of how far, how long, or where I am going is very freeing. 

Instead of keeping an eye on my watch, I have a greater sense of immersion in the natural environment. If I am hiking solo, I expect to hear and see more of what is going on around me. The chances are I’ll glimpse a bird of prey flying overhead, hear the tweeting of woodland birds or spot a roe deer or an otter if I’m at the coast. I like that my mind drifts to thinking about not very much, or I focus on something that I have been meaning to mull over. 

If I ditch the technology, there is a greater opportunity to think and ponder and I often solve a problem or issue I have been experiencing. I also find myself dreaming of other adventures and making plans for different trips.

Sometimes, I walk with a friend. On these occasions, it’s great to switch off the tech and focus on chatting and taking in the views. Hiking with tech can bring unnecessary distractions if all you actually want to do is spend time outdoors with a friend and enjoy their company.

Walking without tech allows me to consider what my body fancies doing. Rather than pushing myself to walk at a set pace or for a particular distance, I go with the flow of how I’m feeling. It might be that the hike is short but with great views and enough to give me a mental boost. 

However, sometimes I will hike until I feel tired. I can feel that my muscles have been worked and I am satisfied that I’ve had a good workout, yet I haven’t been beholden to a set pace or heart-rate and there has been no particular plan. I always return home in better spirits and with a nicely tired feeling.

walker in forest

Enjoy the views and natural surroundings rather than the distractions of a phone (Image credit: Getty Images)

 Benefits of hiking without connection to my iPhone

Many people are in a habit of always been close to their smart phone. In fact, some people have what is called nomophobia, which describes a fear of being without a phone.

There are plenty of advantages of modern mobile phones, such as communication while on the go and being able to listen to music and catching an audio book or a podcast while you are doing something else, such as driving a car or hiking.

Likewise, a mobile phone gives access to maps and ideas for walking routes. This is a bonus when you are looking for new places to hike or different challenges. A phone is great for taking photos, too.

But there are negative effects of being constantly connected to smart devices. These include higher rates of depression and stress. Access to social media via smart phones, can cause FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – too.

Hiking with your mobile phone firmly hidden in the bottom of your rucksack or the pocket of a jacket means you can switch off from constant communications and stressful daily lives.

In fact, I’ve discovered that some of my most joyful hikes are when there I am in a wifi blackspot. This is still quite common in the hills and mountains of Scotland and that means there is zero temptation to look at my phone.

Hiking without accessing my phone allows me to feel more present in my outdoors experience. Without the communications distractions, I am more aware of the natural world and the beauty around me. 

I do still use my phone for photography and I like having access to an off-line navigation app if I am hiking somewhere new, but being free of communications including phone calls, emails and social media updates, is good therapy for the mind.

Indeed, there is a term, wilderness therapy which is also known as "outdoor behavioural healthcare" and is acclaimed as a valuable way to combat mental health issues.

woman hiking

Ditching the tech while hiking can be a great stress reliever (Image credit: Getty Images)

Tips for hiking without tech

There are times when hiking without tech can be beneficial although it's also the case that having access to a range of technology gadgets can prove to a bonus, such as when you are doing more focused fitness training or you need emergency contact.

If you a keen to try hiking without tech here are some tips:

  • Walk where you know the route or you can be sure you won't get lost.
  • Let your body do the talking and hike according to how you feel.
  • Switch off you phone and pop it in a pocket to avoid the temptations of communications distractions.
  • Switch your phone to airplane mode and use it only as a navigational aid or camera.
  • Take off your sports watch and free your mind and hike of time restraints.
  • Upload GPX routes to your phone and use them in off-line mode.
  • Meet a friend and walk and talk, rather than walking while listening to music or an audio book.
  • Stop regularly to look around you and enjoy the immersive experience of being outdoors without tech distractions.
  • Think about how you feel – perhaps the reduction of stress – when you switch off from the tech and simply walk.
  • Enjoy the freedom of hiking as a simple and accessible activity.
Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.