A few weeks ago I was on a two-day trip in an unfamiliar forest. I used a really nice free application called "Maprika" to combine my phone's compass, GPS, and some crowd-sourced trail maps and chose a site to camp that was well off-trail. The first night there was quite a bit of rain. My shelter didn't leak but the humidity messed with my phone and charging brick and put the phone in a useless state.
When the rain let up late the second night I decided to move camp closer to a water source and to my morning pickup point. It was very difficult to get oriented in those flat, dense woods from my off-trail location. I was glad I had a paper map and a little clip-on compass on my watchband. I found a pipeline trace that was on the map and was able to plot a longer but surer route back to the main trail from the pipeline and a few side trails. The watch was a big help in guaging distance traveled, helped out by the flat terrain. Even the tiny compass was enough to match up subtle turns in the pipeline trace with absolute position on the map. I'm sure I would have figured it out without the map and compass in the daylight, but it would have been really frustrating at night.
Redundancy in important systems is important, and it's easy to forget how important some things are until they're not immediately available.
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
Electronics, as you found out, can and do malfunction. The weight/bulk of compass and map are quite small. I keep the map weight/bulk smaller by photocopying the portions of map(s) that I'll need, on both sides of the paper, and putting them in a plastic zipper lock bag to keep them dry. That also means that the original maps remain in an unblemished condition for future use safely back home. I don't care so much about the watch because over the years I've pretty well learned to estimate time from the sun. My main use for the watch is to keep me from taking a break after only 20 minutes of hiking!
As a card-carrying Luddite, I refuse to rely on any gadget depending on batteries, so the paper maps and the compass are all the navigation materials I need. The only batteries are in my camera and my headlamp.
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey
I agree - as a fellow Luddite, the only batteries I have are for my headlamp. I also use a map and compass, and never bothered to learn GPS - map and compass is also simpler. (As Colin Fletcher said, “If that puts me further out of the mainstream, just call me Eddy.”)
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
I really love my GPS and my topo maps and compass and bring them on even short trips that I'm familiar with. I don't always use them, but I almost always bring them.
Two things we have in abundance here in the Ozarks is terrain and dense forests. It's pretty easy to get confused and lost in an unfamiliar area for those who don't pay attention going in. I've had to guide several hikers back to their cars here over the years.
And I had to learn myself how to pay attention. Some of the first longer hikes I did here I scared myself on the way back by not knowing exactly where I was because nothing looked familiar. I had to learn to make a habit of turning around now and then and taking a good look behind me so I knew what to look for and recognize it on the way back.
A GPS that has your starting point "waypointed" or track recorded from where you started on it can make it really easy to get back fast, and that can come in really handy.
Over the years of hiking here I've gotten a lot better at reading topo maps and figuring out where I am on those, so I really don't need a GPS, but they are just too cool not to want to bring. One of the great things is being able to waypoint spots of interest and save them in a mapping app like Garmin's Basecamp. I have spots waypointed from hikes I did years ago that I would have forgotten about otherwise and it's fun to download a track when I get back and display it on a map and go over the data they record.
A GPS can really help you fine tune you mapping skills too. I still take out my topo map and compass and triangulate my position using terrain features and then check my position against my GPS map. I can honestly say I've never been far off but it's still nice to get the affirmation and humbling when you're further off than you thought, which incentivizes one to be more precise, and I have become more precise with that incentive to motivate me.