Let’s get one thing straight: You don’t need any fancy gadgets to hike a long trail. Heading into nature for a months-long thru-hike is one of the best ways out there to get away from the Internet and attention-draining technology.
But sometimes, that same tech can help you keep yourself safe and connect with family on your journey. These eight low-weight, low-distraction products come expert approved to help you make your hike safer, easier, and just plain fun.
This small GPS/communicator combo can send check-in messages to a pre-made list of family and friends via email, and takes up next to no room clipped onto a pack. There’s also an SOS button that sends your coordinates to the local emergency force if need be. Triple Crown hiker Ted “Scarecrow” Warren used a SPOT device during his Pacific Crest Trail trek to show his family where he was when he didn’t have cell service. Try the Spot Gen3, which retails for $150.
Wi-Fi SD Card
For shutterbugs, Scarecrow also recommends using a wi-fi enabled SD card, like those by Eyefi. The devices allow cameras to connect to your phone’s hotspot, and can automatically send and transfer images to the cloud. (Some newer models have this functionality built in.) Eyefi's Mobi Pro will set you back $99, and comes with a year subscription to its cloud-based service.
Portable Battery Charger
Fact: There are no power outlets in the woods. Instead, use a portable charger to keep your phone, camera, and other devices primed for action. Damien Tougas, who hiked the Appalachian Trail with his wife and three children in 2014, recommends the Goal Zero Sherpa 50 Power Pack ($450), which can charge by wall, car, or sun.
Action Sports Camera
They’re tough, lightweight, and simple enough that even small children can use them. Tougas’s wife, a photographer, opted for a waterproof Sony Action Cam for video. The most basic model, the AS20, costs $200, ranging up to $500 for the 4K-capable X1000V.
Portable Mini Speaker
A speaker might not be necessary, but sometimes music can add a nice vibe to sitting around a fire with new friends. Tougas and his family used a JBL clip ($30), and at times “had up to nine hikers in a line listening to Ender’s Game while racking up the trail miles,” he says. (Just be respectful with the volume).
Trail Guide Apps
They're no substitute for a paper map, but trail-specific apps can help make navigation simpler. For the Appalachian Trail, Bill O’Brien, accomplished thru-hiker and newsletter editor of the Appalachian Long Distance Hiker’s Association, recommends Guthook’s AT Guide (Free, iPhone/Android). Using the phone’s GPS, the app guides hikers to more than 3,500 detailed waypoints, complete with elevation profiles and an interactive trail register—no service necessary.
For the Pacific Crest Trail, go with Halfmile’s PCT app (Free, iPhone/Android). Named as one of the best outdoor navigation apps for 2015 by the Washington Trail Association, Halfmile’s PCT GPS app works in conjunction with Halfmile’s printed PCT map. Like Guthook’s app, it doesn’t need cell service to function, instead using your phone’s GPS to find your location and estimate trail distances.
There’s no need to bring your e-reader along, as long as you have a smartphone. The Kindle app (Free, iPhone/Android) allows users to access to an endless amount of books without worrying about weight or bulk. (If you’d rather read on a Kindle device, opt for the PaperWhite, which is sturdy and has a good battery life.)