In the early-1700s, the British Government announced a reward for the creation of a navigational aid to prevent ships from becoming lost. As a result, the marine chronometer was invented and dramatically revolutionized navigation on the high seas. However, many sailors rejected the idea of that newfangled technology, saying it cheapened the experience and made it too easy. Oh, wait, that's my mistake. I'm confusing maritime navigational aids with cell phones again.
I'm not a fan of texting every 5 seconds while camping or Instagramming every tree I see, but a smart phone has become an indispensable part of my kit. There's no cheating when camping and unless you're wandering the woods in buckskin with a stone knife I don't think you can say, "Technology is bad" without being a hypocrite. Lewis and Clark would have gladly used 4-wheelers to cross the Rockies but they had to settle for horses. There’s no reason I should give up a device that has so much utility.
There's the usual things everyone uses their phone for: camera, flash light, basic GPS, e-reader, music player, and even a cell phone sometimes. Sure, I have my big camera for when I want to spend the time and effort to carry it and think through a photo. I also have a headlamp, and a better GPS if need calls for it. But nothing I have can do all of those things at once AND have thousands of songs and books waiting in the wings for that day when the rain just won’t stop falling. That's not including any of the awesome apps that are now out there to help you out when you get outdoors.
AllTrails is to hiking trails what Yelp is to restaurants; if you’re confused what a short sharp cry has to do with eating, let me explain my analogy. AllTrails is a compendium of hiking trails all over the country complete with ratings and reviews by users who have hiked the trails. There’s even photos that users have posted of the trail and the sights which might make the difference between deciding which trail you want to spend that weekend off hiking. (Side note: Yelp is the perfect app for when you get off the mountain and want to sit down for some good food. It has yet to fail me in 8 states and over 4000 miles).
If you’re training, or just want to keep a log of all of the running, hiking, and cycling you’re doing, there’s a lot of apps that track the mileage and routes of your trips. Stava does an good job for cycling and running and I know several people using it and loving it. MapMyHike is better suited for hiking and tracks pertinent information like elevation, so when you can’t walk the next day you can send the elevation gain/loss chart to your boss as an explanation why you’re wheeling your chair all around the office.
Depending on what you like to keep track of, there are apps to help you keep track of the birds and animals you’ve seen. Audubon Birds Pro is an excellent app that’s complete with pictures to help you identify the birds by sight, and over 8 hours of bird calls to do it by ear. (They also do identical apps for mammals, wild flowers, and butterflies.) It’s only $2 on Android and $8 on iOS, so either way it’s cheaper than a field book that will sit on the shelf and never make it into your pack. If nothing else, the investment is paid back on the first night you’re in a crowded campground and those neighbors insisted on playing their radio as loud as possible all day and their bratty children have thrown rocks at your tent as you tried to sleep. Since you’re not going to be able to sleep anyway, hook up your phone to the loudest speaker you can find, open the call list for the Barn Owl, and choose “Screech #1”. In the middle of the night there is no more terrifying sound in all the world.
Besides tormenting your tent mates with owl calls, I find a portable speaker is worth the trouble of packing and carrying it. For me, a portable speaker makes it easier to enjoy some music while cooking, sitting around enjoying a sunset, or when I need to power through a really tough climb; Queen’s Greatest Hits Album is the perfect motivation music. Just for ease of pairing and how the speaker can be anywhere in camp, I like the speakers of the Bluetooth variety. I’m planning on buying a Logitech UE Mini Boombox which weighs about half a pound and the rechargeable battery is good for up to 10 hours of playback. A friend of mine has a Jawbone Jam Box and I’ve been thoroughly impressed with how well it works, so if you find a good deal on one of those I’d jump on it.
All of this is useless though if your cell phone is dead, and I have yet to run into a fir tree with a USB port. Multiple batteries are an option if your phone has that ability but Apple users will definitely need a charger of some kind. So far, no one has invented a good paddlewheel charger for when you’re out kayaking so a solar charger is your best bet. Out of all the various chargers, the one that consistently gets the best reviews is the JOOS Orange, which can take an iPhone from completely dead to full charge in about an hour with good sun light; if you’re taking a longer trip and don’t want to carry a ton of batteries, bringing a set of rechargeable batteries for your cameras, headlamps, etc works out great with a solar charger. At $150, it’s definitely not a cheap accessory but neither are spare batteries for your phone.
For all of the good that cell phones can do, please understand that they’re not magical “Get out of Jail Free” cards that you can pull out any time you get into trouble. Their GPS receivers are heavily reliant on cell service and most places that are fun to go don’t have cell service so they won’t prevent you from being lost. Not having that cell service typically means that there’s no way for you to call for a rescue either, so don’t think that help is just a phone call away either.
Despite this, I’m pretty sure Lewis and Clark would have happily taken a cell phone with them across the continent, complete with long music playlists and their continual struggle to take the perfect selfie.
Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.