Technology in the Backcountry – How Much is too Much?

Here’s a recent blog entry from Philip Werner, who is the force behind “Sectionhiker”.

photo from Section Hiker
photo from Section Hiker
Philip’s post captures the dilemma of electronics- why, when, and why not. Check it out and then read my response, which will include the electronics that I plan to take on my April 2013 CDT thru-hike attempt.

Technology in the Backcountry – How Much is too Much? | Section Hiker.

I have no dilemma-I favor electronics. There, I’ve said it.
Here’s why:
I like to write. I do it every day. The bulk of my professional time is writing or gathering information about cases that have to be detailed, precise, and succinct. On my down time, I write about hiking, biking, what I read about and what I view about biking and hiking. Since 2008, I’ve plugged away at my blog, which has enabled me to meet and sometimes hike and bike with people who I would have never met if I hadn’t taken the time to do it. Slowly, it all adds up. There comes a point where the cumulative hours that put into this work cluster into a massive snowball that gains more size as it rolls down the mountain and then it’s bigger than we can imagine. I have more than a half-million hits on the four thru-hike Trailjournals, and my WordPress blog just pushed 139,650 hits from 590 posts.
I also enjoy the process of sharing my thoughts with others, and then experiencing the surprises that come out of my efforts. On the PCT, my daily efforts at writing and then sending out into the universe those parts of myself generated connections that were surprising in their multitude. It was as if the loaves and fishes were raining down from the sky. I do remember one weekend in Oregon where Megatex and I had three offers of trail magic on the same day. It’s insane to tell someone who wants to help you that you have already filled your dance card.
Mega changes have already taken place within the last decade that have allowed the wilderness writing process to become easier.

When I wrote on the Appalachian Trail in 2007, the device of choice was the 8 oz. Pocketmail, with an ancient, but reliable, acoustic telephone coupler system that worked well at the time. After paying my annual fee and I was able to locate a pay phone or a land line, I emailed my daily journal to V8, my transcriber, and she posted it to Trailjournals. E-mails came in to me as well when I was able to hook up. Popularity of the PocketMail peaked around 2000, but in 2007 the Austrailian company stopped marketing it, changed its name to Adavale Resources Limited and now owns uranium mining prospects in Queensland and South Australia. In February 2010; without explanation or prior warning, Pocketmail stopped providing contracted services, took its own website down, disabled customer service phone lines and has basically evaded questions and inquiries from remaining customers with subscriptions yet to expire who were no longer receiving services they paid for. ( source- Wikipedia)

In 2010, for my Pacific Crest Trail hike, I replaced the Pocketmail /land line system with a Verizon MiFi device and an iPod Touch. The MiFi transmitter weighed 5 oz (including the charger) and the 8 Gig iPod Touch 4 oz., a system that allowed me more independence in posting online reports. Before I put the system into work mode on the trail I practiced entering data via the on-screen keyboard, using my two thumbs. The Touch added a voice recording option, via the Dragon Dictation app. After recording, I edited and then emailed right from the device. I was also able to clipboard the result into my Facebook, Trailjournal, WordPress, or Twitter posts. It is a rugged little system, standing up to extreme weather conditions and the sort of regular neglect that befits a thru-hiker. The system was one of only three things that didn’t break, tear, or wear out on that hike. The other two were my Western Mountaineering 20 degree down bag and my Bushcooker LT1 multifuel stove system.

In November of 2011, I replaced the MiFi/Touch system with an iPhone 4S. My MiFi contract had expired and I was able to upgrade to the iPhone at a big discount, although it’s costing me about $94 a month versus the $50 a month plan I had with the MiFi.

I plan to use the iPhone as my primary electronic device, but hike with it shut off, except to write, and then to send and receive messages once a day.

Additional electronics: I’ll have a digital camera, with a spare battery and charger. I will carry a Garmin eTrex 30 GPS. I have had good luck with my classic Solio solar charger, which can give the iPhone, and a couple of almost weightless iPods additional charging. The iPods have music and audiobooks on them. I am not sure which headlamp I’ll take. I have three. Of course there will be headphones.

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