Any device that uses a battery will die. When you’re on the trail, you can expect that battery to die when you’d really rather it not. With more and more hikers using smartphones as navigational tools or for photography, communication, journaling, or whatever else you can imagine, it’s a little surprising you don’t hear of phones dying at inopportune times, though. There are many good ways to keep that device juiced up while you’re out on the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail. Here are some of my favorites so far.
Really, the easiest way to make that battery last is to use it less. Turn it off when you’re not using it, or at least turn airplane mode on so that the phone isn’t looking for a cell signal all the time. I keep my phone in airplane mode while hiking, and only turn that off when I need to check my location or messages. Just by doing that on my last trip, my phone charge lasted five days before recharging. Nothing fancy.
On the other hand, I write apps that people use in the backcountry, so I shouldn’t be telling you to put the phone away, right? Adventure Alan has the most thorough guide to getting the most out of your iPhone’s battery, which I think all iPhone users should read if they plan on taking their phones out on the trail. It’s iPhone-specific, but a lot of the advice could easily work for Android as well.
On my latest backpacking trip, I figured I would use my phone a little more than usual, so I brought a spare battery. For Android phones, this is a bit easier than iPhones, but a friend pointed me toward the Anker Astro battery, a rechargeable power pack for various USB devices.
With the charging cord and wall plug, the whole thing weighs just over 6 ounces, and I measured 2.74 full charges of my iPhone 4 from the pack. The USB cord that comes with the battery has interchangeable tips, so it charges the phone from the battery pack, the battery pack from the wall charger, and the phone from the wall charger. It could also charge my Petzl Core battery for my headlamp as an extra bonus.
There’s been a slew of new hiker-portable power generators in the past few years– solar panels, kinetic chargers, wood burning generators, and who knows what else. I’ve never seen one that’s really worth checking out. Everything is either too heavy, too inefficient, or both. But the technology is improving.
A PCT hiker who uses my iPhone apps recently told me about his Suntastics sCharger, and it looks intriguing. Check out his solar hat, and this mini-review by Stumpknocker. It seems the technology for portable solar chargers is getting better, to the point where it may even be practical for use by backpackers. Obviously, solar is far more viable out west than it is in the east, where direct sunlight while hiking is a rare luxury, but Patches Pal’s solar hat or Stumpknocker’s solar backpack-lid don’t seem nearly as inconvenient as the “old days” of backpackers carrying solar panels. They may look silly, but you can bet you’ll see more of them in the future.
There’s plenty more to discuss on the matter of smartphones in the wilderness, but on a purely functional level, it seems they are becoming more and more viable as backpacking tools. It will certainly be interesting to see where things stand in another year or two, as technological progress marches onward.