Smartphone GPS for Snowmobiling: Pros & Cons + How to Use

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Going on a snowmobile ride in the backcountry is a thrilling experience. However, ensuring you have accurate navigation is essential. After all, no one wants to be lost in the cold.

So, should you use smartphone GPS for snowmobiling, or should you buy a dedicated GPS unit like Garmin Xumo XT?

Both have their pros and cons, and the best choice may depend on your specific needs, and of course, your budget.

In this article, we will lay out the key considerations and provide some practical advice to help you make the right choice.

Smartphone GPS vs Dedicated GPS for Snowmobiling

Cost Comparison

When it comes to using a GPS for snowmobiling, there are two main options: a smartphone or a dedicated GPS unit.

While dedicated GPS units may seem like the obvious choice, they can come with a hefty price tag. On average, purchasing a dedicated GPS, maps, mounts, and subscriptions can add up to nearly $700 to $1000.

On the other hand, using a smartphone with the help of GPS apps like Ride Command or BRP GO can cost significantly less, and save you a decent amount of money.

Offline Maps

One major concern with relying on a smartphone for GPS navigation is the potential lack of cell signals in remote areas.

However, many GPS apps offer offline map downloads that allow you to access maps even without a signal. This can be especially helpful for snowmobiling in areas with limited or no cell service.

But, all the good apps may not have this feature, so make sure to do your research and choose one that offers offline maps.

Durability and Cold Weather Challenges

Another concern when using a smartphone as a GPS device is its durability in harsh weather conditions.

Snow, ice, and extreme cold can all potentially impact the functionality of a smartphone.

However, there are solutions to combat these challenges such as using a heated cell extension or opting for a rugged, waterproof phone case. But, still, a smartphone is not designed for these kinds of conditions, and there is always a risk of damage or malfunction.

On the other hand, dedicated GPS units like the Garmin Zumo XT are specifically designed for outdoor use and can withstand harsh weather conditions without any issues.

How to Use Your Smartphone GPS for Snowmobiling

Choose Your App

First, select a reliable GPS app. Ride Command and BRP GO are great choices, but you may also want to consider Gaia GPS for off-road navigation. These are not the only GPS apps, you can find many apps that can be downloaded on your iPhone or Android. If you want to know more about the apps, then you can read my article about BRP GO as your Ski-Doo snowmobile GPS.

Download Maps

Once you’ve chosen your app, download the necessary maps for your trip. Remember, it’s essential to have offline access to these maps for areas with no cell signal. Whether you use an Android phone or an iPhone, you can find apps that will give you this functionality.

Protect & Waterproofing Your Phone

Protecting your smartphone is probably the most difficult task. A rugged, waterproof phone case is a good solution, but it may not be enough in extreme weather conditions. Using a heated cell extension can also help keep your phone functioning in the cold because your smartphone will discharge faster in low temperatures.

Mount or Don’t Mount

It’s your choice, whether you want to mount your phone on your snowmobile or not. There are many mounting options available, but if you mount your phone, make sure it’s secure and won’t fall off during your ride. You can also consider using a handlebar mount to ensure easy viewing while riding.

Test Your Smartphone GPS Setup

Before going on a ride, test your setup. It should work well even when there is no signal. I’ll also recommend to make this a habit.

What’s My Recommendation?

While smartphones can be an economical and handy substitute for a dedicated GPS device, they have limitations.

You will face challenges related to durability and the impact of cold weather conditions.

Therefore, my recommendation is to start with using your smartphone if you’re on a tight budget. However, as soon as your budget allows, consider investing in a dedicated GPS unit like the Garmin Zumo XT which is the best snowmobile GPS out there. This device is designed to withstand the varying conditions you might encounter during your snowmobiling adventures.

Remember, a reliable navigation tool can make all the difference between a great ride and a potentially dangerous situation.

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Thomas Miller
My name is Thomas Miller. I have been riding snowmobiles for the past 10 years and I'm completely in love with snowmobiling because it's fun, relaxing, and a great workout.