iPhone Survival: Not Just for the Urban Jungle Anymore
When I think survival, I think “Rule of 3’s”, 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food. Next, I might think about specific items to have with me so I can get out of the situation. Cordage and tools are two items hard to duplicate in the wild. Not impossible, but hard. Just having a good knife and some 550 cord might make the difference. The knife will help you make shelter and the cordage will help hold it together (unless your building a debris shelter). Most good survival items are multipurpose too. The knife can be used to cut things, be an axe of sorts with the help of batoning, be the striker for a fire steel, be a signal mirror (if polished), a weapon, self defense item, etc. The cordage can help hold your shelter together, be part of a bow drill, a snare, an arm sling, etc. Lots of uses there to say the least, and I didn’t mention using the inner strands yet. So, what if you could have the following list in a 4 5/8″ X 2 5/8″ X 3/4″ water resistant package?
* Signal mirror
* Flash light ( which does different colors, flashes, and knows S.O.S.)
* Digital compass (with GPS coordinates)
* Local weather report
* The Weather Channel
* A 500 page Dept. of Defense survival manual
* Edible and poisonous plant guide (with color pictures)
* Unlimited amount of various colored glow sticks
* First Aid manual
* Book of over 130 knots
* Game calls
* Ability to look at Google Earth
* Maps, normal and topographic
* Video recorder
* Voice recorder
* Checker board
* Air hockey table
* Full encyclopedia
* Hundreds of books
* Your favorite movie
* Camera (with geo tagging)
* Texting device
…an iPhone to be exact. Now before you stop reading thinking that the iPhone is for folks with BMW’s and a latte’ card, hear me out. Admit it; you were a little intrigued by the above list. You’d need a full sized van to bring all that stuff along. Well you can bring it all right in your pocket. And, with some extra kit, you can use it as long as it takes to get un-lost!
First off, I know it can’t replace the knowledge you SHOULD have before you venture into the wild. But, it has more uses than skipping it across a creek when you’re frustrated because you’re lost. It really can do all the above things. It came to me in the truck while driving home from work one day… (Cue the flashback sound effect!) I was driving home in the truck, new iPhone on the seat next to me. I wanted to protect it somewhat so a friend gave me a plastic case and I had just bought a screen saver pack, clear and mirrored. The mirrored one looked pretty cool so I put that one on. It’s laying on the seat and at just the right angle, the sun hit it and reflected it and hit me right in the face. I thought someone shot me with a Sure Fire light! It was blinding. Holy survival Bat Man, a signal mirror! That’s what got this article going (ok, fade to present time!). The more I thought about it, the more I researched it, and I found that this could be quite the helpful little device. I have come up with three levels of use, pertaining to whether you have power & signal, power only, and no power or signal.
Power and Signal.
Of course the best conditions are having full power and signal. If lost, fire up Google Earth, Google Maps, Tom Tom software, etc. and you’re on your way. Need medical advice? WebMD is a touch screen away. We all know what’s out there in Internet world and with the iPhone, it’s all right at your finger tips. Full signal means Internet and cell service, so you can call 911 if need be. But what if you have full power/signal, and you can’t move? You’re wedged under a shifted rock and can’t get out. Open up the compass app to get your GPS coordinates so that info to whomever you call for help to get them to you faster. It just might save your life. Going a little stir crazy? Download the latest podcast from “This American Life” and have an hour of entertainment until help arrives. Read a book, play checkers, fly a jet, race a car, jot down notes, cruise the Woods Monkey web site! However, chances are slim that you’d have a full signal AND be in the middle of nowhere. So on with what I think would be the most common circumstance, power but no signal.
Power, No Signal.
This is where the apps come into play. You should have things stored on the iPhone already so you won’t need the Internet for valuable info. My iPhone has files for different categories on there. One is marked “Survival” so I can access these apps quicker and there is less clutter on my phone. Apple has made it so that you can move apps around easily on your computer when the iPhone is synced to iTunes. So, make all the survival apps live on one page for quick access on a regular phone. I found a great app that is a 500 page survival, escape and evasion manual. It was recently updated with an edible, medicinal, and poisonous plant guide that includes color photos. It covers evasion, navigation, radio communication and signaling, recovery, medical, personal protection, water, food, and the will to survive. It’s all in an easy to use searchable format that allows you to bookmark certain sections if you want. If you desire to read it through like a book from start to finish, you can do that too. And I suggest it, it’s an information packed read.
For an even faster reference of a picture in the manual, take a screen shot (hold down the home button, then tap the sleep button), and store it in your camera roll and/or make it your back round picture. I could do an entire article on this one fantastic app alone there’s so much information there. And for 99 cents, how can you beat it? The next app I found very useful is one that comes with the new 3GS models; it’s the built in compass. You do not need to have a signal for this app to work, it works all the time. It moves just like a regular compass and you can pick from either true North or magnetic North for orientation. At the bottom it shows your GPS coordinates and will take you to a Google map of those coordinates, but only with a signal. It’s still useful and from my testing, very accurate. Another great app is one of the various TOPO maps. You can download a map of the area you’ll be in and you can view it any time with no signal. There are a few of these and they all have the same basic features. You’d have to look at them for yourself and pick the one you liked. There are also dedicated first aid apps but the 500 page (537 pages to be exact) survival manual has lots of good info in it.
Quite helpful at night (duh), the iPhone has lots of different lighting choices. I have a flashlight app that is just that, a flashlight. The whole screen lights up white and it a great short distance light. None of these apps will make the iPhone work like a KC Daylighter pencil beam but will be great around camp at night. This one app has white, red, blue, green, black (used as a spacer in some flashing modes), strobe black and white, strobe red and white, strobe red, white, and blue, strobe red, black, blue, something called Trippy, and Deep Trippy, and it will also flash S.O.S, and a bunch of other weird lighting tricks. You can change the brightness right on the colored screen so before you use it, go into your settings and set the brightness to it highest and then control it within the flashlight app itself. Keep it low to conserve battery power but you can have the high setting if need be just by moving your finger vertical on the screen. It’s quite a thorough app and I think it was 99 cents. I also have a Coleman Lantern app that acts light a flashlight but shows pics of their various lanterns to pick from as the background picture. Interesting, but I like the first one better. So, beyond using it to see around camp, I thought setting it up above your shelter, set to flash white/black or put it in S.O.S. mode, and leave it on all night might be a good idea. You’re now sending out a signal, albeit a short distance one, while your sleeping. If you have built a debris shelter, you’ll know how it just disappears in the woods. It’s the perfect camo right? And let’s say you’ve done this for a couple nights in a row and you now have NO power left…
No Power, No Signal.
Nothing left. It’s dead. Hopefully you have put your mirror finish screen protector on under your OtterBox (more on that in a bit) and now you at least have a signal mirror. Yes, it’s only feature with no power or signal is as a signaling device. Still, better than any other cell phone out there. Part of that is because the iPhone has a real, glass screen that’s nice and flat. Add that mirrored finish protector and you’ll see what I mean. I mentioned in the beginning of the article that all this was wrapped in a water resistant package. That feature comes from the good people at Otter Box. They make some of the best phone protection devices around. The case I’m speaking of is the Defender. Ha! Perfect for the Land Rover fan! Anyway, there are 5 different cases for the iPhone from OtterBox that range from the Impact, which is basically just a silicone cover, to the Commuter, Commuter TL, Defender, and finally the 2600 Series PDA/smart phone case that is virtually indestructible. They make the best case in the industry in my opinion. I have subjected mine to rain, dust, mud, and lately Micarta knife scale dust and flying metal debris from working in a knife shop. I used the mirrored screen saver in conjunction with the OtterBox but you don’t have to. In fact, having the two screens makes the touch screen a little less sensitive in the corners of the screen but nothing that can’t be worked around. It would be fine to use the mirrored screen when you went to the woods and remove it when home if you wanted.
So, we have some how to use the iPhone in three different levels, and a way to protect it but what about when it does loose the battery charge? Now we need to get this thing up and running again. That means recharge. Now, I have attached a schematic on how to build a water wheel and make conductive wires from… ok, not really. I did run across some great products from Griffin Technology though. They make about 14 different “power solutions” for recharging the iPhone. I was able to try out the TuneJuice and the PowerDuo Reserve. The TuneJuice is a small recharger that comes with 4 AAA batteries to get you started. Simply pop the silicone port cover out of the way on the OtterBox cover and plug in the TuneJuice. In one hour it went from 61% to 89% of charge. So, about half the battery was recharged. This one I like the best because it will charge with the Defender cover in place, and I can use rechargeable batteries. What it might lack in recharging, it makes up for in reusability (especially with rechargeable batteries and a solar charger for those). It’s small too, and could easily fit in a pack or jacket pocket.
The PowerDuo Reserve is a different beast. This one charges a special battery via a wall socket adapter or 12V DC adapter for your car. They both also have a port for a USB cable so you could be charging both the iPhone and the Griffin battery while on your way to the trailhead, pop the battery in your pack and use it later to charge the iPhone. Likewise, charge both from a home/cabin/hotel wall outlet and put that battery in a pack and off you go. Granted, this will only be able to charge the phone one time but Griffin does sell extra batteries so you could have a couple charged up and ready to go. There is a button on the battery, along with 5 LEDs. The LEDs will act like a fuel gauge and fill up as it’s being charged and while connected to the iPhone, hit the button and you can see what’s left in the battery. I found that this little battery packs more punch than the TuneJuice but they both add hours of use to your device depending on what your doing with it. I have charged and drained this little battery LOTS and it keeps on working very well. My only complaint is that you have to take the iPhone out of the Defender case to plug it in; it won’t fit through the opening in the case. A small caveat but it still works great.
So, next time you head out into the woods, keep the iPhone with you, not turned off in the car. There might be a good chance it can help you with an injury, help light your way when your main light gets lost, or take some nice pictures or video if you forgot your other camera. One last cool app before you go: the a photo app that I found called Camera Genius will let you take a picture via loud noise. So, set it in a tree, stand in front of it with your buddy, let loose with a loud whistle, and snap! You got the pic you wanted. And it has an anti-shake feature too. Keep your iPhone updated with the right apps, keep the Griffin stuff in your pack, and go buy an OtterBox. You’ll appreciate it more than just in the woods when it gets bumped out of your hand at work too.
Associate Editors note: While I’m not an iPhone user I do have an iPod Touch with a similar Otterbox cover. While the iPod doesn’t have all of the functionality that the iPhone does it also allows you to take a tremendous amount of data with you to the woods. Books, manuals, maps and many of the apps that don’t need an Internet connection or GPS signal are all available to you with an iPod as well! T.S.