Electronics and the Wilderness

I read an article today on Time.com. The article basically talks about an uptick in backcountry travelers who get into trouble due to a lack of basic equipment, instead relying on their electronics for everything from maps to flashlights.

This article struck a chord with me. I’ve rescued a woman while hiking from the north rim of the Grand Canyon. She had her sneakers fall apart about 2000 ft down in the canyon, and she had one small bottle of water and no food, and serious blisters. I shared my food and water, and purified more water for her using the chemical purification I carried.

I got stuck near Feather Falls in California a couple years ago, after dark, with no headlamp or flashlight. I had marked the trailhead on my GPS, and used the GPS to navigate back in the dark (the GPS pointed me towards both the trailhead, and the bread crumb track of the trail I had walked out, and I intercepted that trail in about 20 minutes). If I had been equipped with a flashlight, I wouldn’t have missed the trail to begin with.

So I don’t always hike with a rope. But I usually have a map and compass, flashlight, water, GPS, something to start a fire, and small medkit. I also usually carry five or so food bars, which is a couple meals. My cellphone also acts as a flashlight ( 🙂 ). But I also have enough miles in the outdoors that I an not terribly worried about getting lost.

An interesting counterpoint. An issue of Backpacker magazine a couple months ago recommended that backcountry travelers ditch the maps and the external GPS, and use a tablet, which was touted as being able to hold not only the map of the area you were hiking, but every map of the planet, and reading matter for those nights in camp. One part of the rationale was that a paperback book weighed a bit more than most tablets, and the tablet could hold a lot more. Of course, for an overnight or couple of day trek, that might work out, and even then, one of my hike buddies has already used a solar recharger on the trail in Yosemite. I’d be a bit worried about keeping water out of a tablet, also.

So I think that for anything more than a dayhike, you ought to carry a paper map. On my last backpacking trip a couple weeks ago, I had a GPS loaded with the topo map and track of the area I was hiking in Arkansas, but I also had a compass, as did Ian, and three paper maps.

So this electronics geek, and backwoods geek, likes low-tech for the ultimate fallback.

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