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Just like with everything else in backpacking, 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. Additionally, you will need to be prepared to protect your electronics in inclement weather, during freezing temperatures, in extreme heat, as well as when doing stream crossings. I bring a dry bag for that purpose and keep it easily accessible to quickly stow my devices should the conditions merit such.

Smart Phones:

With the continuous improvement in smart phone technology, many hikers now use their phones for GPS, maps, trail info, music, audio and digital books as well as primary camera, eliminating weight from carrying and charging multiple devices.  Many apps work in airplane mode, but some require advance preparation in order to use offline. The biggest concern is battery drain, my advise is to turn on airplane mode, turn off unnecessary programs running in the background, and be prepared with recharging options (see below). You may be surprised where and when you find service in the wilderness. It’s fun to turn on your phone at the top of a peak, take a photo and share it immediately on your favorite social networking channel, just don’t get sucked into checking email, facebook, etc. when you should be enjoying the sights and sounds atop this peak.

Favorite Hiking Apps:

    • Trimble Outdoor Navigator (maps can be used offline)
    • Peak AR (helps identify mountains, much like Google Sky)
    • Scats and Tracks (is it a mountain lion? a bear? a ???)
    • Every Trail (for tracking and maps)
    • Google Sky (identify constellations)
    • Flashlight (backup for headlamp)
    • Audible (for my audio books)
    • Kindle (for my digital books)
    • Reference my PCT Love page for PCT related apps

GPS Options:

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 are DeLorme and Garmin for outdoor activities. Lots of reviews, lots of options, 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. Just be sure you have adequate options to maintain power.

Camera Options:

Are you happy with your phone for trip photos and video? if so, just be sure to have plenty of memory and power.

Are you a point and shoot user? If so, consider memory, power, macro and wide-focus settings. Also know how to use your device in changing settings before you get on the trail. If you are taking an epic trip, it’d be a shame not to know how to take video, or the best sunset or sunrise or full moon photos, how best to zoom in on a moving animal, or capture an amazing landscape.

Will you be bringing a camera with a multiple lenses and full body? If so, be prepared for weather, temperatures and weight.

Emergency Devices:

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

Here is the link to a good description of PLB’s by REI

Satellite Messengers

Research Help

Recharge Options:

Extra Batteries

Think about the weight to benefit trade-off. It’s great to have backups, but is it better to start with fresh batteries and forego the backups on a short trip? Can you recharge with an external battery or solar charger instead of carrying extra batteries? Can you buy better quality batteries so less backups are needed (i.e. ultimate lithium)?

External Battery

I’ve been using a New Trent 5000mAh for a couple of years now as my primary source of power for recharging my phone. I can usually get 2-3 full phone charges out of it, and because I rely upon my phone for mapping and GPS, I’ve found the weight penalty worth it. Technology continues to change in our favor with more power, less weight, thus this device is no longer on the market and I’m sure I’ll be replacing it with one of the small USB battery sticks that are on the market. I may consider this a better option with or without my solar panel, cost and weight are both positives. I haven’t researched yet, so no recommendations at this point. You can be sure I’ll be looking for lowest weight per output ratio at a fair price. Stay tuned!

Solar Charger

These are a great choice for trips when you know you can count on sunshine! But if the weather is uncertain or for short trips, the external battery may be a better choice, then again on longer trips with intermittent weather, it may sense to bring both a solar charger and external battery, especially now that the lighter weight batteries are available.

I have the Suntactics sCharger-5 Solar Charger. I drilled tiny holes in the four corners and inserted S-Biners. I’m able to charge while hiking and using my device as long as I have continuous sun and limited tree cover. In intermittent tree cover, the solar panel will turn your phone on/off wasting battery, I’ve heard it does not cause this problem with iPods. When taking a break, I set my pack/panel in the direct sun while keeping my phone/device shaded.

Solar PanelReviews:

 Jan’s Tips:

  • 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.
  • We all know how easily screens of our electronic devices can get scratched. For non-touch screens, I’ve found the GGS DC LCD Screen Protector to provide the BEST protection. I’ve used them on my last 3 cameras. 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.

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