When we first did the PCT in 1996, the only electronic device we brought with us was a watch that had a temperature gauge and barometric altimeter and a 35mm SLR camera. Today, there are many more different devices that a hiker can use. The electronics that we now carry are cameras, chargers, MP3 players, a cell phone and a Spot device.
On this years hike, Mama Raven will be using a Panasonic DMC-LX10, which is an upgrade from her Sony RX-100 I. The LX10 has a number of features that she desired. First of all, it has a very fast and accurate macro focusing. When trying to take close up of flowers, there were many times on the PCT she would have to place her finger next to a small flower to get the RX-100 to focus because parts of the flowers were too small for the camera to read. Also, the LX10 auto focusing is more precise in low light situations. Another item Mama Raven likes about the camera, is that it has a Leica lens. She says this probably will be the closest thing she will ever have to owning a Leica camera. The LX10 is a heavier camera, but she does not have a problem with that as long as it takes quality pictures. Mama Raven really liked the new Sony RX-100 V because of its sharp images. However, its $1,000 price tag made her decide to go to the Panasonic.
Since Mama Raven has a new camera I get her leftovers, hence I’m going to be carrying her Sony RX-100 I camera. This is the camera she used on the PCT so it has taken more than 20,000 pictures. Yet it is still in good condition, although it sometimes does not like opening or closing. Given I do not take many pictures this should not be a problem. The Carl Zeiss lens, takes quality images and it has a built-in function that finds faces and focus on them. I like its panoramic feature.
We carried two batteries for each camera. There were many times that one battery would run empty and just dropping the second one in allowed Mama Raven to keep shooting pictures. Batteries can quickly go empty on colds days or very picturesque locations. Before leaving town I always made sure that all camera batteries were full.
Micro SD cards: On the PCT Mama Raven shot about 20,000 pictures. On the CDT she shot 28,000. Holding all of those pictures takes a lot of memory. Her cameras were configured to save photographs in JPG format. We did this, so we could fit more pictures on a card. Yes, JPG is a lossy format, but opening the image once will not make a visible difference. Once home, she converts her images to Tiff. On the CDT we carried 8 – 32Gb cards. We could have gone with 64Gb cards, but we did not want to put all of our eggs in one basket. Our plan was to fill one card, then, when it was full, backup it to a second card and mail it home. A friend of ours would copy all the images off to an external hard drive and then he would mail the card back to us. We used this method on the PCT and it worked well, but we ran into problems on the CDT. The only way to backup the pictures was to use the tablet. I would copy 7-8Gb of pictures to the tablet (that was all it could hold), then insert a spare Micro SD card and copy the pictures to it. I had to repeat this process until I copied all 32Gb of pictures. This process took a lot of time and it could only be done in town. One of the big things Mama Raven did in town was to edit pictures and she needed the tablet to do that. She need the tablet most of the time and that left me very little time to backup pictures. On the CDT we were only able to send one disk home. We carried the rest of our pictures along the CDT. This was dangerous, we almost lost all of our pictures in Rawlings WY. In the future we have to find a better way to backup and save photographs.
Anker External Battery
For our power needs, we have an Anker external battery. We used this on the PCT and found that it would fully charge our Razr smart phone 2.5 times or the Sony Rx-100 3 times. This gave us enough power to get from town to town. In fact, not once did we run out of power. It does take time to fully charge the battery so it was the first device I starting charging in town. Anker does not make this version any longer.
For the CDT we need more recharging power so we carried a second, larger external battery. I decided on the PowerCore Speed 10000. Not only did it hold more power, it also had quick charge. This feature really speeds up the charging of our two smartphones. It would charge a cell phone to about 80% in 30 minutes. The only drawback, I discovered while on the trail, was that it would not charge our MP3 players. In fact, it drained their batteries.
I have looked at solar charges, but they are sometimes unreliable and weigh about the same as the battery. This external battery worked so well that two different thru-hikers sent their solar charges home and picked up this battery. The main problem they had with their solar charges was the lack of sun, hence very slow charging times. Yes, there is plenty of sun in southern California or New Mexico, but once you get north there is a good bit of tree cover. Solar chargers work best with full sunlight.
In general, if you are going to be using a electronic device for guidance and not carry paper maps, make sure you have a way to charge it. You do not want to be in the middle of nowhere and lose your GPS program, this especial true on the CDT. You will be using your GPS many times a day.
Anker USB Wall Charger
In towns, we need to charge several devices at the same time. For this job we use an Anker USB charger. It took a while to find a charger that would work the way I wanted it to. Most multi-port wall chargers, will cut down on the wattage with every device plugged in. One device plugged in it, chargers at full power. With two devices plugged in, each will charge at half power, taking twice as long to charge them. With four plugged in, its 25% or four times as long. Also, different devices charge at different amperages, so many multi-port wall charges have dedicated plugs for different devices, i.e. Apple device plug into the top plug and Android devices plug into the bottom.
The Anker 36W USB Wall Charger solves many of these problems. This charger will charge 1 to 4 devices up to a maximum of 36W. This means that four iPhones or three iPad Mini’s can be changed at full power at the same time. As for the port problem, the Anker Wall Charger will since the device that is plugged into it and only deliver as much power as that device can handle. This means you can plug-in any device into any port. This charger is no longer available from Anker.
I’m looking at Ankers PowerPort Speed 5. This is a 63W charger with two quick charge ports and three normal ports. The quick charge ports would speed up charging when I’m in town.
I prioritized my charging in towns. Certain devices were critical to charge first.
- Smart Phones (4)
- Water purifier (1)
- Camera batteries (4)
- External batteries (2)
- Tablet (1)
- Mp3 Players (4)
In this write up I list only one smart phone, but in actuality we carried four phones:
My Driod Turbo-This was our main GPS phone and I used it almost every day.
Bling’s Samsung smart phone-this was our backup GPS and we did need to use it a number of times.
Mama Raven’s flip phone-This phone was powered off most of the time, but if we needed a phone connection in a bad location, this was our go to phone. This old phone has a very strong antenna and it would get reception when the smart phones could not.
Whisper’s old Razr-This was the phone I used on the PCT and its speaker died a long time ago. Whisper only used it in town to watch horse videos.
Having a smart phone is very useful for several reasons.
- Contacting people; there will be times we will need to contact people for rides or to check in with family. This can be spotty. Only 70% of the PCT has phone coverage and that 70% is across all cell phone providers. Verizons coverage will be smaller. On the CDT the coverage is even lower.
- Halfmile’s PCT app; this is an excellent free app that employs the phones GPS and Halfmile’s PCT data points to determine your current location on the PCT. It is accurate to about 5m. It will also guide you back to the trail if you get off. The app also has a lot of information on water sources, towns, and alternate routes. I would select Halfmile’s app over Guthooks.
- PCTHYOH app; this app has a lot of very useful information for thru-hikers. Water reports, trail re-routes, trail conditions, local weather, snow reports, and much more. It is an excellent resource to have while hiking.
- Continental Divide Trail app (Old name: Guthooks CDT Guide); this is really the only option for a GPS app for the CDT. The app is broken up by state and you have to purchase each one. The app worked well for determining our location and supplying information on upcoming points of interest. One nice feature was the comments people attached to a waypoint. Just beware some of the comment could be very old (years old) and not applicable any longer. One frustrating feature was the Custom Route. If you rested your finger on the screen t0o long it would turn on custom route. I wish you could just disable this feature. It is unneeded on a thru-hike. Just before we started the CDT Guthook added the Bear Creak map numbering to his waypoints. This really helped cross-referencing what I saw in Guthook’s app and my paper maps.
- Avanza Maps app; This is the app I used for viewing the Ley maps. The Ley maps are a second source of maps for the CDT. They have different alternate routes which sometimes come in very handy. Although, it is hard to look at the maps on a small phone and can be very confusing to find your current location. That is a problem with the maps not the app.
DEL 7″ Tablet
Yes, we carried a tablet on both our PCT and CDT hikes. The main reason we got it was to edit pictures for the blog. It is very difficult to see photographs on a smart phone’s small screen. We selected a 7″ Del tablet. It has 12Gb memory and a micro SD slot. The 12Gb memory was too small and when we buy a new tablet for backpacking we will get one with more memory. Both of our cameras saved their pictures to micro SD cards, so the tablet’s slot gave me a way to load our images. I made a point of getting a tablet that did not have a cell receiver. They are cheaper and I have a smart phone for that purpose. I did not like the idea of paying extra to attach another device to Verizon. The tablet does have Wifi, so either connect in a hotel room or I would create a hotspot with my cell phone and connect to the Internet through it. For photo editing we selected Aviary. It is not a bad program and it does most of the basic photo editing tasks. It is easy to use, but there were times it would crash and we would need to restart the program. The other app we used was ResizeMyPics. There is limited storage on blog sites like this one and loading full size images would use up too much memory so all of our pictures were sized down to about 800 by 600. I liked this app because it has a batch process, thereby reducing all of my images sizes at one time. Since I carried the tablet I ended up writing all our blog entries on it. I used the WordPress app and found it to work well. I could do most of the things that the full program does on the PC. The one thing to be aware is recharging a tablet, they require a lot of power to fully charge. On the CDT I had to recharge mine 2 or 3 times and I never let it fully recharge. I just gave it enough power to make it to the next town. In the future, I will continue to carry a tablet, I have gotten too much value from one.