My BASE WEIGHT is about 14 pounds, with my ELECTRONICS representing 20% of the weight at 2.8 pounds.
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Electronics are probably one of the most controversial gear-related topics. You’ll find lovers, haters and a full spectrum in between.
With these devices representing a whopping 2-3 pounds of my base weight, I’ve obviously decided they are an important part of my backpacking and hiking gear. Without these devices, I would be less likely to explore, especially solo, as I do not have a good internal compass and am not as proficient as I should be with map and compass navigation.
This is my all-purpose utility device. I keep it on airplane mode and use it for:
- Halfmile and Guthook Apps (I use when hiking on the PCT)
- Trimble Outdoor Navigator App (I use for navigation and tracking)
- Maps (saved as PDF or as off-line document)
- Information & Guidebooks (scanned, photographed or saved to Pocket App)
- Fun/helpful apps (compass, identification of scat and tracks, wildflowers, constellations, peaks)
- Audio and E-Books
- Instagram/Facebook Updates
Tips: Go prepared for phone failure. Mine has malfunctioned, I’ve broken the screen, and one time I even lost (and found) my phone on trail. Know how your apps work and practice, practice, practice. Learn the best way to conserve battery life.
Photography plays a huge role in my hike (as evidenced by my blog). It is not unusual for me to take a few hundred photos per day. Not only do I prefer the quality of photos taken on my camera, the battery life and storage capacity is much better on my camera versus my phone. When selecting a camera, besides functionality, the other things I consider are:
- Battery – I prefer the lithium-ion battery packs as they can be recharged in the camera (vs AA or AAA)
- Recharge Port – Since I have an android phone, I’m able to bring just one USB/micro cord to charge all my devices
- The GGS DC LCD Screen Protector is a great solution for preventing scratches on non-touch screens. These are not like the cheap protectors. They are a harder plastic that doesn’t scratch, tear, peel, and is easy to clean without any degradation in visual quality. I’ve used them on my last 3 cameras and never allow myself to use my camera until one has been installed.
- Consider WiFi memory cards (i.e. ezSh@re) if you want the convenience of transferring photos from your camera to phone for upload to your blog, instagram or facebook (without internet access).
- If your photos are as important to you as they are to me, you may want to bring along a second battery (in case the primary battery fails), and a second memory card (in case your primary memory card fills or fails). I call this insurance!
There are basically two types of devices.
- Personal Locator Beacons (PLB)
- Satellite Messengers (i.e. SPOT and InReach)
I purchased the InReach SE in summer 2014. I can’t say enough good things about this device. It has given me freedom and security. What do I like about this device?
- I can send out customized “I’m okay” messages via email, texting and to my map
- All my messages have my location embedded
- I know whether the message was sent or not
- My family and friend network can text me and I can reply (and visa versa)
- I can use it for non-emergencies (i.e. coordinating transportation or to say I’m going to be late)
- When SOS is activated, dispatch can text me for more information (i.e. type of emergency) and I can reply
- The plan cost is reasonable and flexible (InReach Subscription Plans)
- The battery is extremely long lasting when the device is turned off when not in use
- It has a micro plug for recharging which allows me to carry one USB/micro cord for all my devices
- You can receive weather reports based on current location
- Although I don’t use this feature, it connects via bluetooth to my phone for easier texting and use of DeLorme maps
Tip: If you want to carry a standalone GPS you might want to consider the InReach Explorer which combines GPS and SOS devices.
Standalone GPS units tend to have many more features than phone apps, but can also be more complicated to use. The two most popular brands for outdoor activities are DeLorme and Garmin. There are lots of reviews and options; I don’t love mine so can’t share any recommendations. Carrying a unit you don’t know how to use or a dead one, is just worthless weight. On the other hand, they can be lifesaving, very helpful on finding trails, staying on trails, going cross country off-trail, etc.
While I use my phone for my music, audio and e-books, you may prefer an electronic reader and music player. Just like everything else in backpacking it’s a personal decision.
There are three options:
- Device Batteries – You could bring extra batteries for each device
- External Battery – This is the most common solution and there is a huge variety to choose from based on size, weight, capacity and price. The two most popular brands are New Trent and Anker.
- Solar Panel – While these are not a perfect solution, they can be a good option. I’ve been using the Suntactics5 model since 2013 with satisfactory results. Considerations:
- Works best if exposed to the direct sun (i.e. breaks)
- When attached to pack, the device being charged needs to accept trickle charge otherwise you’ll lose the benefit as the device turns on and off when traveling under tree cover or through shaded areas. Most external batteries accept trickle charge.
- If hiking in shaded areas (i.e. canyons) or in cloudy areas, it’s probably not worth the weight.
- I drilled holes in the four corners and inserted Nite Ize S-Biners to attach to my pack.
- Carrying electronics on hiking or backpacking trips most likely will result in accidental damage to your device. I consider myself careful and I take extra precautions to protect my devices, but yet I’ve still had more than my share of electronic accidents. I dropped my camera in a creek, cracked the screen of my camera when I sat on it, scratched the screen of my phone on granite, scratched my camera lens . . . . So now I buy SquareTrade Electronics Accident Protection Plan for my phones, cameras, GPS units, etc.
- Go prepared to protect your electronics in inclement weather, during freezing temperatures, in extreme heat, down scree fields, through water crossings, etc.
- The weight and purpose need to be considered when packing electronics. If not careful, soon your devices plus batteries will add pounds to your pack.
Lightening My Load
YES, I know there are ways I can lighten my base weight. I could eliminate either the external battery or the solar charger which would save 9 ounces. I could also eliminate my camera which would save another 10 ounces. BUT I love having my camera and want the insurance of having both my solar panel and external battery, so for now I’ll carry the weight.