See how the gear below actually performed in our Post-PCT Gear Review.
In Part I and II of our Pacific Crest Trail Gear List, we covered the basic equipment of performance clothing that will keep us alive and protected on our 2,650 mile hike. Now we move on to the good stuff: Technology!
Every thru hiker has their own opinion on which gadgets are necessary and which are a waste of space. Even though we’re high tailing it to go live in the middle of the woods, modern technology has filled some essential niches that even the most rugged survivalists can’t resist. We’re far from being rugged survivalists- we’re ex-yuppie bloggers- so our technology is a must, but our opinions are apt to change after a few hundred miles.
For now, we’re looking to bring gadgets that will let us continue to take high quality photos and video, keep up the trail journal and blog, as well as listen to music and audiobooks to stave off boredom.
Of course as travel bloggers, we will need the ability to blog on the Pacific Crest Trail. That includes a means of writing and a data connection to post everything online.
The good news is, we won’t be hauling around a computer! That would be pretty dumb… Instead we’ll be using our phones and a lightweight bluetooth keyboard to type (because tapping out even a text message on your phone is a recipe for frustration).
OMOTION Ultra-Slim Bluetooth Keyboard – weight: 11oz. It’s cheap, lightweight and has worked great so far with the iPhone 5s
64GB iPhone 6 – weight: 5oz
This blog is an opportunity for me to get back into something that I loved doing when I was younger: taking pictures.
I’ve recently upgraded to a Sony A7II, after crossing over from Nikon a few years ago. Mirrorless cameras have come a long way and have one huge advantage over DSLRs for travel photography and size. I had a blast experimenting with my first Sony, the NEX-7, and I’m excited to be using one of the most cutting edge cameras on the market today.
I am pairing the Sony A7II with two lenses: the Sony 35mm FE f/2.8, and the new Sony 24-240mm FE f/3.5-6.3, a zoom lens. My goal is to photograph wildlife while on the trail. So although it’s heavy, the zoom lens is essential.
Because we’ll be outside almost 100% of the time, we’ve added a circular polarizer to our photography kit. The polarizer is essential for photographing nature in the harsh sun. If you’ve ever worn polarizing sunglasses then you get the general idea of the polarizer for the camera. It saturates photos and smooths out harsh glares.
Sony A7II – weight: 20oz
Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 – weight: 4oz
Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 – weight: 28oz
This trip will provide some amazing opportunities for taking landscape and night photos, so we will also begin our hike with the JOBY Gorillapod Tripod, necessary for stabilizing the camera during video and long exposure shots. It’s versatile and not too incredibly heavy.
JOBY Gorillapod SLR-Zoom Tripod – weight: 14oz
B+W 72mm Kaesemann Circular Polarizer with Multi-Resistant Coating – weight: 2oz
Apart from the cameras, the only addition we will have for taking videos are two Rode smartLav+ Lavalier Microphones for iPhone. Recording video through a digital camera is great, except for the audio- you need to have an external microphone to capture audio and really make the video watchable.
We originally planned to use a more bulky microphone set up (external recorder + ars Technica microphone), but tested these mics with recording straight into the iPhone and the sound quality was just as excellent. These great little mics weigh almost nothing and utilize something we already planned on taking: our phones.
Rode smartLav+ Lavalier Microphone for iPhone x 2 – weight: 2oz
There’s a lot of truth to the statement “if you tell people that they should be enjoying nature and nothing else, you probably have never gone on a long hike.”
Though we are uncontested nature lovers, after many weekend backpacking trips, we had the idea to listen to audiobooks together while we walked. It was a great use of our time and helped to stave off trail weariness. Though we fully expect to appreciate nature in silence and solitude and all that, we’ll be listening to music, podcasts and audiobooks while we walk some of the time.
Sally and I have hiked in the past with the speaker on our phone set to full blast, but in order to hear well you need a clear, windless day and to walk very closely to one another. To solve this problem we’ve acquired a BOOM Swimmer Waterproof Wireless Bluetooth Speaker to pair with our iPhone. We’ve tested this speaker at home and it works great, even in the rain! I’m excited to “read” dozens of books while on this journey.
Bonus: It looks like a sperm.
BOOM Swimmer Waterproof Wireless Bluetooth Speaker – weight: 7oz
When I told my parents that I was essentially going to go live alone in the woods for 5 months they panicked. In response my mom bought me the DeLorme inReach Explorer Satellite Communicator so that I could message her every night to tell her that I was alive. The Satellite Communicator also sends our location to a map and allows anyone that has access to the map to ping it to see where we are at any given time. We’ve also figured out a way to keep our readers abreast of our progress by linking Google Maps to the feed from the satellite phone, which will be on the site while we are hiking the trail.
DeLorme inReach Explorer Satellite Communicator – weight: 7oz
To supply our gadgets’ diet of electricity we’ve purchased a 55.5Wh battery pack and a 9W solar panel, both made by RAVPower. We owned an older model of the battery pack and used it successfully for dozens of long weekend hikes on the Appalachian Trail.
RAVPower 3rd Gen Deluxe 15000mAh External Battery – weight: 11oz
RAVPower 9W Solar Charger – weight: 18oz
When it comes to battery packs a little knowledge can go a long way:
[accordion] [accordion_item title=”Expand this section to get some battery pack knowledge!”]When you go to a battery manufacturer’s website you’ll usually see the battery storage written in “mAh”. When battery manufacturers go about selling their packs they often employ dubious practices like using mAh as their measure of the amount of storage a battery pack contains. mAh stands for milliamp-hours and measures the amount of current a battery pack is able to discharge in one hour.
The mAh measurement of storage is only good if you are comparing batteries with the same voltage, if you aren’t, then the battery manufacturer can trick you into buying a smaller battery than you expect. A more easily comparable measure of battery storage capacity is the Wh, which is a measure of capacity and stands for watt-hours.
When comparing watt-hours to watt-hours you have to keep in mind that most of our gadgets are charged through USB, which operates at 5 volts (V), but that most batteries in consumer electronics operate at a voltage different than the USB voltage. Changing the voltage of an electric current is inefficient and you lose a certain amount of energy when converting from the 3.7V in the back up battery to the 5V output of the USB and then you lose more energy converting again from the 5V input from the USB to the voltage of the gadget you are charging. After researching on the web, I’ve figured out that the amount of energy typically lost with each step of this conversion is about 15%. So the battery pack we bought that has a storage capacity of 55.5Wh actually can only deliver about 40Wh of juice to our gadgets (55.5Wh x 85% x 85% = 40Wh).
This is important to keep in mind because it seems like the battery pack we purchased should be able to charge our iPhone 6 eight times (55.5Wh/6.9Wh = 8.0), but in reality the battery pack can only charge our iPhone 6 approximately 5.8 times or less (40Wh/6.9Wh=5.8).
|Item||Battery Capacity||Expected Charges||Actual Charges|
|Sony Camera Battery||7.3 Wh||7.6||5.5|
|iPhone 6||6.9 Wh||8.0||5.8|
|iPHone 5s||6.0 Wh||9.3||6.7|
|Boom Swimmer||2.4 Wh||23.1||16.7|
|inReach Explorer||9 Wh||6.2||4.4|
We will also be bringing a RAVPower 9W solar charger on the trail to keep our battery pack charged. The solar charger is rated for 5W at 1.8A meaning that it can theoretically output approximately 9W of power per hour (5W x 1.8A = 9W/hour). The battery pack we purchased can take a maximum current of 1.5A so this reduces the maximum amount that the battery pack can be charged to 7.5 W/hour. But we have to once again convert the 5V to 3.7V, which brings us down to 5.55 W/hour. After removing the 15% loss from the conversion we are left with a maximum charge rate of 4.7W/hour so we can charge our battery pack from empty to full in approximately 11.8 hours.
I mention these numbers because you have to be mindful of the loss associated with charging gadgets through a battery pack and plan accordingly. Please be careful and do not run out of juice on the trail!
Even with all of our other gadgets, the iPhone is a truly indispensable tool for life on the trail. Without smartphones, navigating, finding water sources, communicating, taking photos and videos, and blogging would be that much harder. Here’s a quick overview of some of the apps we’ll be using to help accomplish all of the above, as well as to keep us oriented and safe on the trail.
- WordPress – WordPress makes it easy for us to blog while on the trail. With the app we can write and edit new blog posts offline and then upload them directly to our site once we find an internet connection.
- PlayMemories Mobile – The Sony A7II has built in wifi so you can export images straight to your phone. It’s a great app to manage photos without the use of a computer.
- Photogene – This app came highly recommended for editing photos on the iPhone and has a lot of functionality that is more than sufficient for editing photos on the fly and posting them to the blog or Instagram.
- Pic Collage – Pic Collage is an easy-to-use app that helps you make collages of photos. You can stitch all your photos into a variety of collage styles, then post to Instagram or to your blog.
- Earthmate – The biggest drawback to the DeLorme is the inability to load maps into it. Earthmate is a free extension that bridges the gap. It connects to the inReach through bluetooth and picks up the GPS feed, enabling topographic maps that are helpful for wilderness backpacking. It also gives you the ability to type messages on the phone instead of using the clunky interface on the inReach.
- Halfmile PCT – Perhaps the god of PCT guidebooks or maps, this is available for free and will be our main source for navigating in and around the PCT aside from the preloaded maps that we downloaded in the Earthmate app.
This all seems like a lot, but it’s the extent of all of our tech for the trail (for now, heheh!) In order to keep up our blog, navigate and stay alive, we’ll be using most of what you’ve read above.
If you have any suggestions or comments about trail and travel-friendly technology, please share them with us in the comments!