I have a friend who often says, “Just because it can be done with technology doesn’t mean it should be.” For example, there’s nothing better than a good old fashioned compass on your belt. It’s lightweight, always turned on, and has no batteries to run down.
I don’t usually discuss gear, but the heat and humidity of Arkansas have me inside except for early morning jaunts around the lake with Hiker-dog. I’m going to share one type of technology that I now carry when hiking solo and a second piece of technology I carry if the backpacking trip is extended.
I’m not a big proponent of technology on the trail, but I do want my loved ones to have peace of mind and confidence that I’m alright out there in the woods.
One thing my compass can’t do is communicate my location to others. A few months ago I purchased an inReach Explorer so my wife would know my location when I’m solo hiking. I entered her email and phone as a contact so she can go to a mapping program that shows my location and route. Using the inReach, I can send text messages to my contacts from anywhere regardless of cell coverage. The messages pop up on the map showing my location. I turn the unit on when I leave the house, toss it in my pack and forget about it. It sends a location every ten minutes to conserve battery use.
I’ve been shopping for a way to charge my inReach and GPS. I only carry a GPS when doing trail scouting and writing, but the inReach is with me whenever I go solo. I find that scouting, writing, and photography almost require that I hike solo because the going is so slow. Hiker-dog even loses patience with my snail’s pace when doing a trail review.
I purchased a solar panel that I think will work well (although I resent its added weight). It would be good for a group of backpackers to have one of these units available to keep a cell phone, inReach,GPS and camera charged as needed. It is easy to use and easy to position facing the sun. Items being recharged can go in the shade behind the unit. I left my inReach in the sun for the photo and size comparison.
Another charging option is to use the battery pack to recharge items. The pack includes a built in LED flashlight to assist in making connections. It was nice of them to think of that.
Everything packs up pretty conveniently when you fold the solar panels closed. A netted zipper pocket holds the rechargeable batteries, charger wires, and maybe even a piece of technology in case you want to store it all together. The dimensions are 6.5 x 9.5 x 1.8 inches when closed. The cost is around $120.00. It weighs just over a pound which is a lot in backpacking weight.
I’m sure there will be improvements in performance and weight of solar units, but this will meet my needs for now. I just felt a strong urge to pack my iPod on my next trip… Think I’ll let the birds, creeks, and coyotes take care of my hiking music. “Just because it can be done with technology doesn’t mean it should be.”