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[motivation/hosting fund]


new news: [July 31st, 2018]
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The PCT is closed south of White Pass near the Goat Rocks. I grew up in this area and detailed the detour here.
My PCT Hiking Tips
PCT Hiking Tips: Tech

Technology (aka stuff invented in the last few years)
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1996: Avocet Altimeter Watch.
This was my most "hi tech" item on that hike.
A map and compass are about the only bare minimum things that are “tech” that you must carry. Everything else is just to enhance your journey, if you are one for enhancements.

I had a lot more tech stuff with me just because, well I'm me. Most people were not taking a lot of video or photos like I was. In the 170 days I was on the PCT, I took about 800 gigs of photos and video. This worked out to about 35,000 photos and 46 hours of video.

Iphone 5 / Cell Access:
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iPhone 5
For many people a smartphone will be about all you really need. A smartphone can contain your maps, journal, camera, music player, clock, quick flashlight, and GPS. For many hikers this is where their tech gear ended.

I had AT&T for cell coverage. Cell coverage is a bit spotty on the PCT overall. Cell access from the trail was easier in Southern california but pretty spotty to non-existent otherwise. Don't tell a loved one you will check in every day via text because you will be unable to.

I think the longest I had to go was about seven days between having cell access. This was in the Sierras and from Mt. Adams to White Pass in Washington. Another thing about cell access, if you have it, use it because it might be gone in another 50 feet. Just because you are going to be in town doesn't mean you will have service. Belden is a great example. I had decent 4G service on the trail 3000 feet above Belden, but once I got to Belden I had no service at all.

Wi-Fi is another thing, it was a bit spotty in trail towns. Also, if you need to do a lot of internet work and plan on getting a motel, be sure to ask to test out the internet beforehand. At a few hotels I had to go out and sit in the parking lot to send off my blog updates via the Wi-Fi. Other places will advertise that they have Wi-Fi, but it will be so throttled you are better off just pretending they don't have internet at all since it will be so frustratingly slow.

I've mentioned this elsewhere, but don't expect to be be able to upload all your full-sized photos home, the Wi-Fi is too slow everywhere.

Power Needs / Solar Charger:
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Anker® Astro Mini 3000mAh USB Battery. This was really good to have in Washington when there were more cloudy days. One charge of this was good enough to last me about a day and a half.
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Iphone 5/Ipod charger. I carried two plugs because if you have a power outlet available, you want to get stuff charged as fast as you can. These plugs also made it so I could charge my USB battery
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Camera Cable for charging the GoPro and USB battery cable.

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I carried spare AAA batteries for my headlamp. Next time around I would probably just use a USB rechargeable headlamp.
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The charger was hard to mount on the pack until I drilled holes in it.
Some hikers would hardly use their phone and just charge it in town. This obviously would not work for me since the iPhone loves to chew through batteries. Even keeping the phone in airplane mode most of the day, my phone would be dead after a couple of days. Using the GPS really grinds the battery down.

To charge the phone I had a Suntactics sCharger-5 Solar Charger. It worked great and would charge as fast as a wall charger would, provided you had full sunlight.

If you could see the sun you could charge the phone. If the sun was blocked by clouds it was much harder. The iPhone is really picky when it comes to power requirements.

I drilled holes into the edges of my charger and then ran some elastic shock cord through them. I put some little tiny carabiner clips on the ends and this allowed me to hook the charger to my pack. It also made it easier to hang the charger off of trees and rocks when needed.

Charging was easier in the desert because I could just put the panel on my pack and charge my spare USB battery (or phone) during the day. This basically ended once I hit the trees after the desert ended.

IMPORTANT:The iPhone will quit charging the second the power level drops (such as a cloud, tree, or your shadow blocks the sun). You have to unplug and plug the phone back in again to get it to charge. To counter this, I had to start doing the bulk of my charging during breaks. Place the charger out of the way so other hiker's shadows will not hit the panel. If their shadow hits the panel the phone will stop charging, to which you have to unplug/plug it back in to get it to charge again.

Skarrk Bluetooth Keyboard:
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Sharkk Keyboard. It seems they don't make my model anymore, but Anker makes one
This keyboard (note, this is not the same exact model as mine) was a luxury item that ran on two AAA batteries. If you are wondering why my blog entries were so long, this was the reason. Typing all those words with only the phone keyboard would have been tedious. This keyboard also made it easy to copy and paste too. I would sometimes need to SSH into my webserver from the trail via my iPhone, and having an external keyboard made it easy. It was like having a tiny little word processor at my disposal. Very few hikers carried a keyboard, but a few started carrying them after they saw mine.

Canon G15 Camera
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The first photo from my second G15 camera was taking a photo of my (smashed) G15 camera.
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G15 camera #2 and flash cards (4x 32gb, 1x 16gb)
This camera worked great for most anything I wanted to do. I was really chewing through batteries every few days, so having spares was a necessity. Four seemed to be enough for the stuff I was doing. I could charge them up in trail towns. I had a second battery charger in my bounce box but generally I only ever needed one. The four 32 gig SD cards seemed to be enough to get me to the next town I had bounced my laptop too. (every 200 miles or so). I took all my photos in raw (highest quality) and video at full 1080p resolution.

You really can get away with just using your camera phone if you want some quick snapshots. I wanted to take a lot of higher quality photos and video which is the reason I brought point and shoot camera.

It took about 90 minutes to charge a camera battery. When I was in town sleeping near a power outlet, I would set my alarm every two hours. I'd wake up, change the batteries, set my alarm, then go back ot sleep. I would wake up in the morning with all my batteries charged and barely even remembering what happened.



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Battery charger and 3-4 camera batteries.

GoPro Hero HD Camera
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I used this just to take underwater video and nothing more. Some people used them as their main camera, but I didn't since I had my iPhone and the Canon G15.

Zipshot Tripod
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This was another luxury item. I don't know of too many people that also carried a tripod. This thing was great to have an I was able to take a lot of photos I would not have been able to take otherwise. If you are not into photography I would not bother taking one.

iPod
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1996: Tapes I carried on the trail back then. I need to dig up the tape player I had, but it is the same one you see here on humanclock.com ("our storage device").
Before I left I made a 128kbps copies of my music collection. Granted it took three computers four days to accomplish, but it was nice to listen to a lot of albums I bought 15 years ago and had never gotten around to listening.

Since the file sizes were drastically reduced I was able to get everything onto the laptop and not have it take up too much space. When I had the laptop I would change the music on the ipod.

I started out with a Sansa Clip+ music player and four 32gb microSD cards. This player was ok, but I didn't like the interface and it was really terrible with a full 32gb card. I used the Rockbox Firmware hack which was a great improvement. The player would lock up from time to time and eventually stopped working under this firmware. My wife ended up giving me an iPod for my birthday. I used this from Truckee up to Canada...it was great. When I had my laptop I would change the music on the iPod to whatever I was feeling.

Podcasts were great to listen to on the trail, I learned a few new things. I'm a big fan of the Best Show on WFMU and Marc Maron's WTF podcast. Some people are against having any sort of music/etc on the trail since it breaks the hippy vibe of the outdoors. For me it just enhanced it. In 1996 when I had no music/audio, one of the things I struggled with the most was the eventual mind numbing numbness that would overtake my head. Listening to someone being interviewed on a podcast was a great way to keep my brain active and get me thinking about things.

I did go through about four or five sets of earbud headphones, thus I always was carrying at least one extra pair with me.
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1996: Tapes I carried on the trail.
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32gig iPod with posh pink case
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Headphones, don't buy the super cheap ones since they sound terrible. Don't spend more than $20 on them either because they are going to get broken.

Headlamp
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AAA battery powered headlamp
I am filing this under "tech" only because it takes batteries. I had a hard time finding a USB rechargeable headlamp, so I had to stick with my trusty AAA battery powered one. Having a headlamp is a must. A supply of fresh batteries is a must if you are going to be night hiking through the desert. There are also times where you might not be able to find a place to camp and have to hike into the dark a bit...so you will want a headlamp. You can also use the headlamp to light things up you are trying to take photos of at night.

Acer Netbook Computer
(carried in bounce box)
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Note: Spiritualized is the name of a great British band. Their leader, J. Spaceman used to be in a band called the Spacemen 3.
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Laptop copying files to the hard drive.
I bounced a netbook computer up the trail to trail towns every 200 miles or so. I needed a laptop for several reasons. I took a lot of photos and video so I needed a way of transferring them off my memory cards. In addition to the blog and pctplanner.com, I also have two popular websites: humanclock.com and humancalendar.com. Sometimes I need to do work on the site and I need a laptop to do it.

If you want to just take a few snapshots, a smartphone is all you need. If you are only taking one or two photos a day, one of those "cloud" services would be sufficient enough to back up your phone. Easy, done, no worries, etc.

If you want to take a lot of photos (like I did), things get incredibly more complicated because:
  • There are basically no computers in trail towns where you can transfer your memory cards off to some other medium (or send them home via the Internet)
  • Cell access is slow to non existent on the trail
  • Wifi is slow.

I had upgraded the laptop to 8gigs of memory and a 1tb hard drive. The larger hard drive enabled me to hold my entire music collection (converted to 128kbps), which made it easy to transfer music to my iPod. I used Linux for most of my day-to-day work, so I had the computer setup as a dual boot Windows 7 / Linux Lubuntu. (note: I grew to hate Lubuntu due to its buggy GUI, since then I've discovered Linux Mint and am loving it with open arms...ewww).

One thing some people would do would be to mail their full memory cards to someone at home. The person at home would transfer the photos, clear the memory cards, then mail the cards to a future resupply location. I didn't want to do this since it meant more work for my wife and having to buy another four 32gig memory cards.

For the actual packaging of the laptop, I just put it in a bubble wrap mailer, crammed it into the bounce box, frantically taped things up, and mailed it off at 4:59pm before the Post Office closed. The laptop survived the whole trip. I bounced my laptop to the following locations: Idyllwild, Big Bear City, Agua Dulce/The Sauffley's, Kennedy Meadows, Independence, Tuolumne Meadows, Truckee, Dunsmuir, Bend, Cascade Locks, and Baring/The Dinsmore's.

External Storage
I carried with me on the trail a backup hard drive which contained a clone of my operating systems and a copy of all the photos on my hard drive. When I would get to town I would copy off all the photos from my memory card. From that I would copy all the new photos over to the backup drive in my pack. Once the photos were duplicated across the laptop and the backup drive, I would put a piece of masking tape on the cards indicating they could be erased.

I am not comfortable at all with having my only copies of photos going through the mail, hence I was probably one of the only people carrying a hard drive on the trail. If my bounce box were to go missing, I would still have a copy of every photo and video with me in my backpack. I also carried a USB key that had various server related things on it that I needed. (password file and SSH keys)
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Maps / Navigation
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Guthook's PCT App: Elevation Profile
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Guthook's PCT App: This was also good for just locating flat spots for possible camping. I camped off the trail a lot.
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Halfmile's App: The Last Mile!
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A compass!
I carried double sided printed copies of Halfmile's maps. I split them up and mailed them across their appropriate resupply boxes. It is a good idea to have paper maps. There were a few times where I completely ran out of battery power and had no way of getting more (due to multiple days of cloudy weather). I know more than one hiker who dropped their phone into a river and lost all their maps. The paper maps were also kind of nice just to give myself a bigger picture of what was around me rather than just the "trail trail trail" forward.

Halfmile's PCT Trail notes are pretty essential too. They are good for knowing what is coming up the trail, where water is, and resupply information.

I had a variety of apps on my iPhone:
  • Halfmile's PCT app: This one pretty much every hiker had who had a smartphone. It is good for quickly figuring out where your destination will be over the next day or two. It also lists water sources.
  • Guthook's PCT apps: These were good to have also. It is more or less the same as the Halfmile app, but in visual form. There were a couple times where I mindlessly took the wrong trail and something didn't seem right. Taking my phone out of airplane mode and seeing a blue dot in the middle of nowhere was good to know, but also made a lot of foul language come out of my mouth.
  • PCTHYOH: This made it easy to download the PDFs of Halfmile's maps and trail notes. I was previously downloading them and using iBooks but PCTHYOH was a bit easier.
  • Prompt: This is an SSH app. I need this to administer my webservers and make any fixes to client websites that might pop up (fortunately none did).
  • Wordpress: This app worked ok. I used it for updated the blog entries but not the photos. See the bloggin' page for more info.
  • Misc apps for password management, banking, etc.

Two pounds of cardboard, masking tape, and cardboard
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This was for humanclock.com.


Disclaimer: all calculations and data are believed to be correct but are not guaranteed.
Please double check the calculations and trail/resupply data before starting a hike.