Don’t use your cell phone flashlight when camping

cellphone flashlight, led lantern, headlamp, aaa flashlight

First of all, we get it. It’s nice to have a single, solitary device that can perform so many tasks. You can make calls, text, access social media, read the news, check the weather, calculate difficult math problems, play games, watch videos, etc. The list goes on and on. 

Now, hopefully, you are ignoring all of those features when you are heading out into mother nature for the weekend. If so, great. In addition to ignoring those conveniences, we’d urge you to forego using the LED light on your phone as a flashlight as well. 

Why? We’re glad you asked.

Why it’s bad to rely on your cell phone flashlight 

sitting around camp fire at night
Using lighting efficiently can give you and your family a great camping experience. 

Let’s focus on why a cell phone is not a good choice when considering a flashlight in the outdoors.

The Bad #1: Your battery drains very quickly

emergency call on cell phone with first aid kit and tourniquet.
If you can get service during an emergency, you’ll be thankful that you can call for help.

There are very legitimate and important reasons to have your cell phone with you, especially when calling for help in a true emergency.

Being in remote locations will drain your battery much, much faster than normal because your phone is trying to connect to cell phone towers and is constantly in a “find” mode.

Wasting your battery on its poor-quality light is misusing battery power that you will miss when you need it.

Save your battery in case you need to make a call in an emergency.

The Bad #2: A cell phone flashlight is inefficient at doing the job

morning coffee at camp in a gsi french press
If morning coffee is as important to you as it is to us, having hands-free light to make coffee before sunrise is always welcome.

It’s hard to find a firm answer, but a number of folks tend to put the output of the LED on an iPhone 6 at around 10-15 lumens.

This is inefficient for most tasks outside of looking for keys under a car seat. There are much smaller flashlights that have way more output than your phone.

Get the tool that is designed to make your job (like setting up camp in the dark, or making coffee before the sun rises) easier.

The Bad #3: Your cell phone is not rugged

Cell phones are not designed for the potential abuse of camping, hiking, backpacking, or most extended outdoor activities.

Besides, you wouldn’t want to drop that new $1k iPhone X in rocks, stumbling around your camp at night.

Yes, you can get several ruggedized cases that do a pretty good job of protecting your investment. Or, you can buy a flashlight for way less and it will do a better job.

Get a flashlight that you don’t mind using and abusing and keep your cell phone put away and protected.

The Bad #4: Using your cell phone as a flashlight is awkward and not ergonomic

Yes, it’s true … Your cell phone wasn’t designed to be carried around as a flashlight. It’s a feature, not the main function.

With small pocket lights, headlamps, large camp-size lights, and everything in between, you can find a reliable, well-built light that can better serve the task you’re trying to accomplish.

Save your phone for its primary use, which is making calls.

The Bad #5: Be aware of hidden privacy threats

Aside from all of the reasons listed above, there is also a hidden privacy threat related to a lot of flashlight apps.  

Wired published a very intriguing article regarding flashlight apps and found that they can extract all sorts of personal data from your phone. We often download apps and agree to their Privacy Policy and Terms of Use without thinking, but it’s good practice to pay attention to what you are agreeing to.

Be aware of what you’re signing up for, and that goes for any app you stick on your phone.

But, having your cell phone with you is not bad. Let’s talk through why it’s good to carry a cell phone in the outdoors.

Why it’s good to carry a cell phone

Here are a few of the things your cell phone can be used for while in the backcountry.

The Good #1: Communication

We believe a cell phone’s primary purpose in the backcountry should be to call for help if emergency services are needed. This should be the sole use for carrying a phone in this situation.

If the need ever arises and you have to make that call, you want to make sure you have to juice to make it happen.

It would make a bad day even worse to find out you burnt up your battery the night before looking for the s’mores ingredients in the dark.

The Good #2: Navigation

navigating with cell phone
When it works, your cell phone’s built-in GPS is a good way to navigate in a pinch.

A cell phone can be used for navigation, but there are much more reliable and capable tools built specifically for that purpose. You should always have a map and compass and know how to use them.

GPS is a nice convenience to have as well. (Keep in mind, a cell phone shouldn’t be your primary source of navigation and should only be used as a backup).

Again, this function will quickly use up the battery and limit your ability to make emergency calls.

The Good #3: Accessing first aid information

If you’re fortunate enough to pick up a signal, being able to access first aid information using your phone is a great advantage to having the internet in your pocket.

Nothing can replace proper training, which should be acquired in advance. Never rely on a phone to guide you in an emergency situation.

Let’s sum it up

  1. For most tasks, there are better and more reliable alternatives than using a cell phone. Use specific tools for specific jobs to make your experience much better.
  2. Nothing can replace the knowledge, skills, and abilities that you carry with you. When we have an unwavering trust in technology, we are creating a false sense of security that help/advice/rescue is always a couple of taps away. In reality, this is not the case. Something as simple as dropping your phone and breaking it takes all that away. Don’t count on being able to YouTube your way out of a situation and don’t count on that phone to always light your way.

Happy camping.

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

Recent Posts