3 Worthwhile Gadgets for Backpackers
Some people begin their Appalachian Trail journey intending “to have a digital detox” or “to replace staring at screens with staring at stars”. Other hikers prefer to find a balance between technology and trees. I was one of the hikers to fall in the second category. During my 2014 thru-hike, I found my phone use to be higher than expected. It was my GPS, my music, my camera, my connection to home.
While computers in libraries or hostels were occasionally available, I was usually grateful to have my charged phone handy. I enjoyed being able to wish my best friends a (mostly) timely happy birthday. My father liked being able to write daily blog posts to update loved ones back home. My mother appreciated when we checked our bank account once in a while. Whatever the reason behind your desire to incorporate tech in your hike, there are tons of clever (and just plain cool) options.
So heads up to the class of 2015 as you prep to depart in a few months. Take a look at these 3 pieces of technology if you want to make your AT life easier:
Most people have heard about these fitness trackers. And so had I back in March when I failed to purchase one. I made up excuse after excuse, deciding to spend money on other gear that was “more essential”. Now, three months after my summit of Katahdin, I’m still kicking myself for not investing in a FitBit or some other fitness tracker.
Imagine coming out of your 5 or 6 month long hike with actual data about how many steps, miles, climbs, and active minutes you conquered each day, week, or month. Yes, as a hiker you already know how many miles you go each day. And you also know you “walked a lot of steps”. But for data geeks like me, seeing exactly how many calories and steps I took would be incredibly cool! Imagine the charts!
Unfortunately now when I mention my hike, many people inquire about the FitBit on my wrist and I have to explain I bought it a week after my summit. You don’t have to make that mistake. Besides charging the device, you basically set it and forget it. The battery life of these will easily last between town visits. They’re waterproof – and believe me, I would admit if they weren’t (*cough* REI pack covers *cough*). And finally the charger and device are barely heavy enough to include on your gear spreadsheet. What’s not to like?
2) FluxMob BOLT: The Smallest Combination Battery Backup & Wall Charger
I discovered the BOLT before my thru-hike but only had the opportunity to use it for the last two months as it was still a Kickstarter. Despite the short trail trial, I can tell you I loved this backup battery device. Weighing in at only 3oz, the BOLT is designed to replace your standard wall charger block. Meaning you plug the BOLT into the wall, plug your phone into the BOLT, and charge them simultaneously. Then you can grab both and go on your way back out of town.
The battery is a 3000mAh, so enough to support your devices for a few days of average airplane mode use between towns. I found this device useful as sometimes outlets were hard to come by. While I only needed one plug to charge my backup battery and phone, other people needed to charge these devices with separate plugs. There are plenty of battery packs on the market, but the BOLT has the right amount of power, the right weight, and the uniqueness to make it an obvious buy.
Finally, the best for last! As a runner, I often find myself training for races after work when my phone is already near dying. I enjoy running with Spotify and MapMyRun, so my empty phone battery is my nemesis. The same was true while on the trail. Phone battery is dying and I’m four days from town? No thank you. I used to shout at the universe (and occasionally my friends out of frustration) about there not being a portable, kinetic energy powered phone charger. And finally the universe (or AMPY) delivered!
AMPY is something every AT hiker should purchase. AMPY is a wearable device that captures energy from your motion, turning it into power to charge your phone or any USB-powered device. Simply by walking 10,000 steps you can charge your smartphone for 3 hours, your smart watch for 24 hours, or your fitness tracker for 72 hours!!! The AMPY clocks in at 2.5” x 2.5” x 0.75” and weighs 140g. It contains a 1000 mAh battery (giving you enough juice to get through the day). While it can be charged through the wall using a standard micro-USB cord, we all know hikers generate more than enough motion to charge this device many times over. I mean really? Only 10,000 steps? Ha!
Love it or hate it, technology will likely play at least a small role in your Appalachian Trail experience. You’ll want pictures, you’ll want to Facebook your new AT friends, you’ll want to call you wife or mom and tell her you saw a moose. So let’s all agree to move on from talk of solar chargers and start discussing these other awesome inventions – I mean, come on. A motion powered battery pack? That’s got AT hiker written all over it!
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