Well, the simple answer is, “It’s your hike …” you can carry as much and whatever you want. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to go through all the electronics and electrical gizmos I take out on the trail.
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Moto (G4) Cellphone/GPS
Almost any modern cellphone will work as a GPS. I’ll never (never say never) buy another GPS. The phone-based systems are, in my opinion, ten-times better. They provide a bigger, better screen, The user interfaces are easy to use, and adding notes is simple.
In my experience, my cellphone GPS’s accuracy and speed are just as good as a dedicated GPS unit. Switched to Airplane mode with Bluetooth and WiFi turned off, the battery lasts well.
I use an old Android phone and the Gaia GPS app (https://Gaiagps.com). There are many others to choose from, but I recommend giving the Gaia app a thorough review. I particularly like the selection of maps available, as I often refer to older maps to find disused trails and forest roads. Printing paper backup maps with Gaia is straightforward. I have an equivalent app that comes with my Satellite Communicator — Earthmate — and I also have Alltrails (alltrails.com) at my disposal, but so far I’ve been sticking with Gaia.
Gaia requires a subscription to use the maps on a phone in Airplane mode, but with all the trip planning and map options available, I am happy to pay the annual fee.
I also use my phone to read Kindle books, which is excellent for those long cold winter nights. Unlike some hikers, I don’t watch videos or listen to music while I’m out on the trails. My phone can be recharged from my battery bank whenever needed.
Garmin InReach Mini Satellite Communicator/SOS Beacon
I now hike solo most of the time. I have some minor health issues, and Ginger likes the reassurance of knowing where I am and that all is okay. So we decided it was time to invest in a bit of insurance in the form of a satellite locator/communicator.
The InReach Mini allows me to send and receive texts anywhere on the planet via the Iridium satellite chain. I can keep Ginger informed of where I am, which means she is more than happy to push me out the door to let her have some ‘Me time.’ — I should qualify that by saying that we both work from home, so we’re around each other 24x7x52.
The InReach Mini includes a GPS — so my location is attached to all my messages — and Ginger can ‘ping’ the Mini to find out where I am. It has an SOS option that will connect me to a global rescue service if I ever need it. The Mini is tiny, which means the screen and user interface can be a chore to use. But it works, and that’s all I need. If I can be bothered, the Mini can connect to the Earthmate App on my phone via Bluetooth. That makes reading and writing text and seeing the InReach’s GPS data straightforward. I will admit that I’ve only paired it once or twice. I prefer to stick with the Mini’s onboard UI, as, in an emergency, that’s more likely what I’ll be using.
The Mini can be recharged from the battery bank using the same charging cable used to charge my phone.
Fujifilm X-E3 Camera
I could use my phone, but one of the reasons I go out is to take pictures. Most are boring documentary stuff, but now and then, I get something worthwhile, and I’m happy to carry the weight of a small mirrorless camera.
Guess what? I can recharge my camera from my battery bank too! Though it’ll drain it if I fully charge it, it’s a hungry beast.
Nitecore LR10 Camping Lantern
I had decided that I could manage without a general camp light. I quickly discovered that a light burning in my camp made finding my way back to my campsite after dark a lot easier.
The light I picked has a childish panda face printed on it (I didn’t realize this when I bought it – I thought it was just some marketing gimmick). I was going to send it straight back, but it arrived the day before a trip, it only weighs 2oz, and I thought I might as well give it a trial on the trail. It runs for a long time, I used it for more than six nights before I decided to recharge it. When a lot of light is needed, at 250 lumens, it can light up an area quite well. It’s also nice to have some general lighting, though I also like the LED Light string (below).
I recently realized that some reflective material might work just as well for finding my camp at night. It certainly works for finding my food bag. That’s something I may experiment with this year.
It’ll come as no surprise to find out that I can field-charge the lantern from my battery bank.
Petzl IKO-CORE Headlamp
What can I say? Apart from I think a headlamp is a backpacking essential.
In 2020 I upgraded from my ten-year-old Petzl headlamp to a Petzl IKO-CORE, and I am delighted with it. It’s not your standard headlamp, the battery is at the back of your head in a separate compartment, and it has a semi-rigid plastic frame instead of an elasticated band — it is a bit like having a hiking crown or tiara. At its brightest setting (500 lumens), it is exceptionally bright, so bright I’ve only used it on its highest setting a few times. With this headlamp I’ve had no qualms about night-hiking unfamiliar trails. The battery seems to last well. I’d used for around nine-nights before it reminded me that it needed recharging (A red LED briefly comes on when you turn it off).
However, it is expensive. But it is lighter, brighter, weather resistant, and rechargeable — much better than my original headlamp, and no spare batteries are required.
Guess what? I can charge it from my battery bank…
LED Light String
This item is verging on the frivolous, but a LED light string makes for great general camp lighting, and I found a USB powered one which I could run off of my battery bank.
But I can’t. It doesn’t draw enough current, so the battery bank thinks it’s not connected to anything and shuts down (I’ve since learned far too much about how battery banks work). There are ‘Stay alive’ electronic kits to fix this problem and even a couple of battery banks that allow you to override their shut-down options.
Until I decide what I want to do, I have another light string powered by a couple of lithium batteries. I must admit I’ve not taken it out with me since I bought my camp light.
10,000 mAh Battery Bank
I have an aging 10,000 mAh generic battery bank, which I use to recharge whatever items need it. I have ensured that the electronics I’ve bought recently are rechargeable. Everything has the same USB-C connector, so I only need one cable. That said, writing this, I’ve decided it might be worth carrying a spare cable as misplacing it would be a right pain. And, if I have two I can also charge two items at once, right?
What do I really need?
- Garmin InReach Mini.
Nowadays I consider the Garmin InReach Mini an absolute essential, just to keep the folks at home reassured and my headlamp can provide for all my lighting needs.
I can manage navigating with a compass and paper maps (he says confidently), though I’ll admit, not as quickly as with a GPS.
- Garmin InReach Mini.
- Cellphone — GPS, plus extra bonuses: flashlight, camera, and something to read.
If I were to add anything to the above it would be the battery bank to extend my range.
Water and electricity don’t mix. A lot, but not all of the items I carry are at least weather-resistant. Notably, the Garmin InReach Mini you can dunk in a creek and it should keep going (no I’ve not tried it. I think ‘Dunkable’ should become a recognized international standard term for water resistance of a maximum of 1 meter for 30 minutes).
- Garmin InReach Mini
- Nitecore LR10 camping lantern
- Petzl IKO-CORE headlamp
- LED light string
- Moto (G4) cellphone/GPS
- Fujifilm X-E3 camera
- 10,000 mAh battery bank
Kayaking, I keep my cellphone, camera, etc., in waterproof boxes.
On the trail, I keep my cellphone and paper maps in a weather-resistant DCF shoulder pocket from Hyperlight Mountain Gear. I keep the Garmin InReach in the exposed mesh pocket on the front.
I used to keep my cellphone in my pants pocket, until the incident of the unexpectedly deep creek crossing. Luckily I realized its plight, and managed to grab the phone from my pocket before it was immersed.
If I’m ever in water up to my neck while I’m wearing my backpack, I think I’m going to have more pressing concerns than a soggy cellphone.
My camera is usually attached to my belt or sometimes my backpack’s shoulder harness. If it rains, I put it in my pack. When it is on my belt, it is protected by my waterproof jacket. So I prefer keeping it on my belt. I’m hoping the next version of the camera (due to be announced in late January 2021) will be weather-sealed. I’ve already invested in some weather-sealed lenses.
The battery bank lives in my Zpacks Multi-Pack DCF ‘Go-Bag.’ This is a separate DCF water-resistant bag that sits at the top of my pack and contains all my ‘essentials’:
- First Aid Kit
- Battery Bank
Cold and electronics don’t mix either. Overnight, to make space, I put the bulky items like my first aid kit, spares, and journal that I keep in the Go-Bag into my ridge-line organizer. I then put my phone, camera, headlamp, InReach Mini, and water filter in the Go-Bag (it all fits, just). Putting my electronics in the bag keeps everything together, and I keep the bag down near my knees where it stays warm and isn’t too intrusive on my comfort. I’ve found that doing this works much better than having an irritating bunch of loose items rolling around in my hammock. However, the weight of the bag does make me wonder what I ought to leave behind.
I might end up carrying a spare DCF stuff-sack to keep electronics in overnight. That’ll save me decanting things from the Go-Bag and cluttering up my ridge-line organizer. As for the rest of the electrical items, I can cope with them failing, so they have to fend for themselves.
That’s a quick run-down of what electronics and electrical items I take out with me when I’m backpacking, and how I carry and manage them. What do you take with you, and how do you keep your electronics dry and warm?