Finding Cell Phone Coverage in the Great Outdoors

Finding Cell Phone Coverage in the Great Outdoors

Going camping, hiking, and spending time outdoors is the perfect opportunity to get away from all your devices, emails, and messages, and unwind with nature.

Some of us can’t go without a little contact with the world however. While some people can’t go without a lot of contact for more than a few minutes – as anyone with teenagers will know all too well!

It’s actually a very good safety measure to have mobile contact available. You never know when, or if you’ll need to call for help or let someone know where you are. Not to mention being able to bring up maps, use to-do lists, track steps or distances traveled, research information, and more while outdoors.

Pulling out your phone and seeing zero bars of signal is incredibly frustrating. Sometimes your phone will even tell you it has a little signal, just to let you down if you try and load a webpage, I’m sure plenty of people reading this will know this all too well.

If you always have no signal when you’re outdoors there is some hope. There are a few gadgets you can take with you to help out, and some steps to follow to give yourself the best chance of finding a cell signal outdoors.

Here are some things to consider:

Chargers/Power Packs

A problem with being outdoors and having electrical devices is the lack of power points. If your phone or any other devices run out of power then they are useless, regardless of how strong your signal is, so I thought it’s worth covering battery life.

It’s always a good idea to do everything you can to extend the life of your cell phone battery in case of an emergency. Here are some simple tips to stretch the battery life a little further that can make a pretty big difference:

  • Turn the screen brightness down, this makes a huge difference on large smartphones
  • Switch off the WiFi so it’s not continually trying to find and connect to WiFi ports
  • Switch off Bluetooth as this is a huge battery drainer and you’re not using it
  • Shutdown and disable any apps running in the background that you do not need
  • Only use your phone when you really need to

Extending your battery life will only take you so far. I recommend carrying one or more spare battery packs. There are some different options depending on your model of phone, there are some pretty handy phone cases that double up as chargers for most models, and plenty of stationary battery back kits.

The following video shows you a fairly typical portable USB charger. It’s a small cylinder that you’ll barely notice in your pocket or backpack and will give you hours more use from your phone.

Prepare for Using Your Phone Offline

Being able to use your smartphone to look up information outdoors is really handy, however they can also prove useful without signal if you’re prepared. Here are some handy tips to think about before leaving cell coverage:

  • Take screenshots of maps and directions you’ll need while trekking
  • If you’re heading to a campsite take screenshots of the site address and any other relevant information you may need, like proof of payment, etc
  • Save some URL’s for important resources on a notepad in your phone for quicker access

Cell Phone Signal Boosters

You’ve probably heard of cell phone signal boosters. These devices are designed to ‘boost’ the cell phone signal they are able to receive and strengthen the signal. Obviously, they are of no use if there is no signal to boost, but if there is some signal these little devices can be a lifesaver.

Having no cell reception is typically going to be due to one of two reasons:

  • You’re outside of your phone carrier’s coverage area
  • There are some materials blocking the signal, such as being inside a building

It’s easy to check both of these options to see what is affecting you most.

If you’re camping or hiking with someone else check how strong their signal is compared to yours. There is a big difference between carriers and phone models. If you feel let down by your current provider you may want to switch or give them a call and see if they can do anything for you.

You can also use the Field Test mode on your phone to keep an eye on how far out your signal strength starts to drop off. I will explain how to use Field Test mode in more detail below.

If you’re camping with an RV or tent check how strong your signal is inside and outside. Put your phone into Field Test mode to more accurately test the signal strength, it’s a lot more accurate than the few bars that show the strength.

How to Use Field Test Mode on iOS Devices

Here are the steps to follow to change your iOS device into Field Test mode to more accurately check your signal strength:

  • Dial *3001#12345#* and press ‘Call’
  • Press the power button to bring up the ‘Slide to power off’ option, when you see this let go of the power button and press the home button
  • You can now switch between bars or numbers to indicate signal strength

A number of -80 and above is good, while -110 and below indicates poor signal. By walking around with your handset and watching the numbers change you can determine how much difference where you’re standing makes, as well as buildings and other obstructions.

How to Use Field Test Mode on Android Devices

It’s really straightforward to enable on Android phones. Some models and phones will vary slightly, but check in your ‘Settings’, then ‘About Phone’, and you should see an option in your network or status settings.

Handy Resource – You can check the phone coverage across the US per carrier here.

Just How Effective Are Cell Phone Boosters?

It’s important to remember that cell phone boosters cannot create a signal, they can only amplify what signal they can find. There are instances when they can create signal when you can’t detect any on your cell phone. This has lead some people to think they are actually creating a signal, when they are in fact picking up a signal that your phone cannot.

The strength of cell phone boosters vary from model to model. They will usually have a square footage rating indicating the area they cover to give you an idea of the power. You’re best bet is to do a little research to determine the power and size of booster you’ll need.

This video covers some interesting tips to help you understand how to track exactly how strong your cell signal is and how to boost your signal.

In Summary

There you have it, you can’t generate cell signal from thin air but you sure can find a few ways to boost what you can get and make the most of your phone. As mentioned in the opening comments, while it’s a good idea to get away from work and there is no better place than the great outdoors, having contact with the rest of the world is an important safety measure.



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