I think that I am in general agreement w/ you which is why I posted my opinion up-thread that a GPS was not required for any hike. The ability to navigate is though. I have navigated via map/compass for many years, having purchased a GPS less than a year ago,so am sort of playing devil's advocate here.
A GPS is like a cute little toy that may help in certain situations, but to people who need to navigate in the heavily forested areas….
While I might agree that the GPS enabled cell phones are not much more than toys, a quality mapping GPS is a powerful tool with the ability to track in even the densest of our NE forests (think Rocky, Balsam Cap, Friday Mts) as well as in steep terrain with amazing accuracy. However like any tool it is useless, or worse, in the hands of someone who does not know how to use it.
Knowing how to relate features on a USGS map to what you are actually seeing in the field is critical.
Agree 100%. Which is why, IMHO, a mapping GPS is vastly superior to a non-mapping one. While knowing that I am at a certain lat/lon (or utm coord.) is neat, and having a GPS tell me to head 2 miles "that-a-way" can be nice, the ability to look at the map and see that there is cliff or river or something else in the way can save more than a few headaches. The commercially available GPS topo maps for our area kinda suck. (At least the ones for/from Garmin anyway, then best that they have is 100k for the Cats!) However, there are third party 24k topos that are MUCH better, and can include almost, if not all info from the USGS maps.
It is in route planning that I think that GPS navigation can rally shine. When I lay out a route for map/compass I usually try to keep it as simple as possible, relying on major features to mark the way. When laying out a GPS route, you have more flexibility to optimize your route. I have incorporated info from aerial photos (ie, dense coniferous forest,) and tax map overlays (private property – we would not want to piss anyone off around here would we?) that might be difficult to observe in the field until you were into them.
I too would not head off on a new BW w/o topo & compass, but have been surprised at how quickly the GPS has become my primary nav-aid.