Actually, there wouldn’t be a better possibility for a digital detox, than going on a long-distance hike for 4-5 months. Nature – Tranquillity – Hiking. What else do you need?
Curse and blessing
But in our digital age it’s getting harder and harder for us to live without these electronic helpers. GPS (navigation), SPOT + PLB (GPS localisation devices), Smartphone, Tablet, eReader, Solar Panel etc. These are very helpful devices indeed, which can make your daily life on a long-distance hike much easier and safer.
It’s easy to navigate with a GPS device. In an emergency you can alarm the rescuers with a SPOT or PLB. The smartphone is camera, gate to the Internet, music player and navigational instrument at the same time. With a tablet you can watch movies or update your blog comfortably. The eReader replaces all the heavy books.
But not everything is utopia. Electronic devices need lots of power. That means, you either carry a Solar Panel or a Powerbank. The GPS localisation doesn’t work all the time and suddenly you rely on that good old compass and a map. And just a few electronic devices are waterproof.
Electronic devices can enrich or sabotage a hike. Too many people completely rely on their electronic helpers and miss the knowledge about how to act in the wilderness, if their devices fail. There has been an increase in emergencies and rescue operations since the development of newer technologies like GPS navigation and localisation devices like PLBs and SPOTs.
Long story short: electronic devices are nice for hiking, but you shouldn’t rely on them completely.
We, like most of the people nowadays, can’t do without electronic devices. We need a tablet for blogging and a smartphone for communication; both are necessary to us. But we also enjoy conveniences such as an eReader.
What kind of electronic devices do we take with us?
The SPOT GEN3 is a so-called Satellite GPS Messenger and offers a lot of fee-based features:
- O.S for emergencies. Contacts the local response teams via the GEOS International Emergency Response Center and provides them with the GPS coordinates.
- HELP/SPOT ASSIST alerts your personal contacts that you need help in non-life-threatening situations.
- CHECK IN sends a pre-programmed text message or email with coordinates (or a Google Maps link) to your personal contacts.
- CUSTOM MESSAGE sends a custom message with GPS coordinates to your personal contacts.
- TRACKING records and sends your GPS coordinates regularly (Interval: 2.5, 5, 10, 30, 60 minutes).
Instead of using a public Satellite network (like the PLB) the SPOT GEN3 uses the private Globalstar network and a weaker emergency frequency (MHz). And you need a yearly service plan (different service plans and features) to activate the SPOT.
A SPOT has a few disadvantages:
- Because of the weak frequency, a SPOT GEN3 needs a clear sky to send a signal.
- There is no global coverage. A SPOT GEN3 is f.e. of no use in Antarctica.
- If you activate the TRACKING, it drains a lot of power.
Costs SPOT GEN3: 150 USD
Costs service plans: starting from 120 USD
Link: SPOT GEN3
Many thanks to Philippe’s parents, who supported us with a SPOT GEN3. In return we promise to send text messages regularly ;-).
SPOT GEN3 vs PLB
Before we had decided to buy a SPOT GEN3, we had a look at some Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) too.
A PLB has one purpose – to send an emergency signal – and does the job better than a SPOT GEN3 or other SEND-devices (f.e. DeLorm InReach).
- PLBs are connected to the satellite network of COSPAS/SARSAT, which has the best coverage and is also used by the military. The MHz emergency frequency is 5-10 times stronger than the ones of SEND-devices (SPOT GEN3, DeLorm InReach)
- PLBs are expensive (>300 USD) and don’t have additional features like the SPOT GEN3.
- You don’t have to charge your PLB, but it needs a battery replacement every couple of years. Or you just buy a new PLB because of the high service fees.
- You don’t pay for additional service plans because you don’t have any other features. After one year the costs of the PLB and a SPOT GEN3 with a service plan should be even.
Example for a PLB: ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+
More info about PLB: http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/Personal-Locator-Beacon-Reviews/Buying-Advice
Photos, videos, Internet, social media, navigation etc. Modern smartphones are all-rounders and that’s why a lot of long-distance hikers only take a smartphone with them. But we wouldn’t want to replace all devices with a smartphone. An all-rounder may be able to do a lot of things but not always good or very good.
We use a smartphone (a two year old Nexus 5) on the Te Araroa Trail for:
– Communication and Internet (hotspot): We buy a New Zealand SIM card for mobile Internet. Spark probably has the best offer, because there are a lot of phone booths, where you can log in to use WiFi for free (1 GB per day).
– Apps specifically for the Te Araroa Trail:
Navigation: We use the app LocusPro (Android), Which uses GPS navigation with offline maps.
Wetter: MetService New Zeland (Android/Apple)
Camping: WikiCamps New Zealand. In Australia, this app was very useful. Basically, it’s a map, where you can tag camping spots (free or commercial), toilets, showers, shops, attractions, sights etc. It’s based on wisdom of the crowds. We don’t know the New Zealand version yet.
👉 There are a lot of useful apps mentioned on the Te Araroa Wiki.
– Offline maps and Track Notes: The Te Araroa Trust has a great offer of free map material and Track Notes on their website. We compress the files and have them on the smartphone.
We bought a Samsung 8,4’’ tablet, so that we can blog more comfortably and are independent from chargeable computers in hostels and campgrounds. It was a purchase of convenience and we’re happy to carry the additional weight.
We have with us: Samsung Galaxy Tab S LTE
Most of the pictures from the Te Araroa Trail that we will share on social media and on the blog will be taken with the smartphone. But we wouldn’t hike without a proper camera. The quality of a smartphone camera is not sufficient for photo books, posters etc. And the batteries of Philippe’s system-camera last several weeks.
We started using a GoPro while travelling in Australia and we now have a remarkable amount of dusty video footage which waits for editing and organising ;-).
Nevertheless, we take our GoPro with us on the trail and hope that we have the inspiration to watch and edit the footage afterwards.
We have with us: GoPro 4 Silver Edition
The armada of electronic devices surely relies on power. We decided against the purchase of a Solar Panel and for a Powerbank.
Against a Solar Panel spoke:
- The weather in New Zealand (☔️). The charging with a Solar Panel wouldn’t have been efficient enough.
- The high costs for Solar Panels in Australia.
- The weight. The more power respectively watt your Solar Panel has, the heavier it gets. A suitable Solar Panel weights over 500 grams.
Example: Instapark 10 Watt Solar Panel
For a Powerbank spoke:
- The relation between weight and power. Theoretically, you could charge a tablet 4 times with a 350-grams Powerbank (20’100 mAh).
- The price. A Powerbank costs 110 AUD (80 USD) and is therefore much cheaper than most Solar Panels. If you buy a Powerbank in the US or in Europe it would be even cheaper.
The big disadvantage of a Powerbank is, of course, that you rely on an external power source. But if we use our electronic devices economically and occasionally stay in hostels and on campgrounds to charge everything, we should be fine with one Powerbank.
We have with us: Anker PowerCore 20100mAh
We wouldn’t travel or hike without our Kindle Paperwhites from Amazon anymore. Thanks to the LED lights you can read in the dark and the battery lasts up to three weeks. And with ca. 220 grams it’s lighter than most books.
With computer programs such as Calibre Library you are independent from Amazons Kindle platform.
We have with us: Kindle Paperwhite
At some point we have to charge all of our devices. Because we only have USB devices with us we bought an USB charger with four travel adapters (EU, USA, Australia, UK). There are four outlets, which deliver 2.2A per outlet and up to a maximum of 4.8A for the entire multi-USB port.
These numbers are very important because not every USB device has the same Ampere (A) Input.
- 1A: Smartphone, E-Reader, GoPro
- 2.2A: Tablet, Powerbank
That means: If you charge your tablet with a power adapter of your smartphone, the tablet will charge much slower. And it doesn’t work the other way round. Your smartphone doesn’t charge twice as fast if you use the power adapter of your tablet.
A suitable USB charger is very important on a long-distance hike because devices such as a tablet or a Powerbank need 8 hours and longer to be fully charged. Furthermore, the USB cable is relevant to the current supply. You should always use the provided power cable of your device.
We have with us: LETOUCH 24W (5V 4.8A) 4 Port USB Charger travel set
If you want to know more about our gear for the Te Araroa Trail you should have a look at our gear list. There you will also find all declarations of weight.
Disclosure: Most of the links in this article are Affiliate-links, which help us to cover the costs of this blog.