Navigating with map & compass, you can't help being aware of your surroundings as you're continually glancing up and down, relating the map to the ground and vice versa. I will usually only dig out the GPS if I want to confirm my position. A quick look at the crosshairs on the map, refer back to the map to check it makes sense, then the phone goes away again.
All well and good, but last week I had the rare set of circumstances when I ditched all that tried and trusted stuff and actually wanted to use the "Navigate To" function in Viewranger. All devices have some variant on this function, which in essence involves switching your brain off and dumbwalking round the hills following a moving arrow on the screen.
Matt & I were climbing at Creagan Cha-No, a winter climbing venue which is approached from the top. From here you have a choice of descents down to the start of the climbs, the most common of which is to abseil off the boulder pictured above. What you've got is a convex downhill approach towards a small target at the top of a 90m high cliff. We were trying to find this just as dawn was breaking in pretty bad visibility. On a previous visit I had saved the abseil block as a "Point of Interest" in Viewranger. POI's are saved as a ten-figure grid reference, which identifies a piece of ground just 1 metre x 1 metre square. In case you're interested the point in question is NJ 01719 06320.
So now I find myself with ice axe in one hand, phone in the other, looking at the screen most of the time and trying to gauge the increasingly exposed ground ahead the remainder of the time. This is not a great way to cover serious ground in winter. It's all too easy to enter a strange kind of zombie state, much like those annoying people in the high street who walk & text.
The Navigate To...function definitely has its uses, so it's a case of using it sensibly without "dumbwalking". If you're in a team the lead person can use map & compass whilst someone behind her can be checking on the GPS.
What this experience highlighted for me is that Navigate To...is best used in a very limited way to help you locate something so small that you might struggle to find with map & compass, for example a snowhole site, or gear cache. Where I think it gets misused is when folks just download a whole route as a .gpx file and the press Go at the start of the walk. This effectively puts you into 'Navigate To...' zombie mode all day long. Why not spend some extra poring over the maps at home, actually planning the route for yourself, noticing key points and really getting a feel for the lay of the land? This is way more satisfying than just downloading someone else's route, and means you shouldn't bump into lampposts, or walk over cliff edges.