Hiking in the 21st century… Gizmo’s in my rucksack.

I started hiking in 1978 with a club from school. Most of my initial personal kit was ex-army in those early years. Canvas backpack with no frame which improved to a canvas sack with external frame, Canvas tent with lots of poles, guide ropes and enough metal pegs to stake out a small field. My watch had luminous numbers and hands, and you had to wind it up daily. Navigation was done using pencil, magnetic compass (with an integrated ruler) and paper map, and obligatory plastic bag. (Or by lining up your watch hour hand to the sun and calculating north…) )Since then we’ve seen the research and development of almost every thing. Clothes, footwear, tents, torches, sleeping bags, GPS, Internet, mobile phones etc. In fact, about the only thing that hasn’t changed very much is the traditional flat compass- and the manufacturers would probably tell me how much it’s been improved. It just has that distinctive “classic” look.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been noticing a lot of debate about using mobile phones instead of traditional paper map and compass. So here’s a question for everybody… At what stage does technology become part of your regular, basic kit rather than just a fancy gizmo?

Shall we go for walk together? Let’s assume that all things are equal. Our map reading skills are similar, fitness and endurability are equal, hiking/ tramping skills and camping ability are also equal. The trail/ route is whatever you choose, and this is a friendly walk just to compare notes. Let’s begin by chatting about some new electronic gizmo’s that I’ve brought along. We’ll discuss my rucksack, clothes and footwear etc another day….

My new watch is digital. I can’t search for North (or South) using its hands anymore, but it does have its own compass,  an altimeter, barometer, sunrise/sunset time for most of the world, storm warning, thermometer and several other settings which I have to admit I haven’t figured out yet. Oh, and it has the day and date. Personally, I think it’s way better than my old analogue watch of the 1980’s. So far its walked with me for over 1500kms and I’ve only had to change the battery once. (And I think it’s lighter to wear as well…)

And I’ve brought my mobile phone as well. It’s named after a fruit of some sort, and is a recent model. Again, I haven’t quite managed to figure out all the functions but it works great as a phone. It’s certainly much easier than having to go to the telephone box in the village square and put coins in the meter box. (Persons with a birthday later than 2000 may have to do an internet search about telephone box!) My fruit also has a compass function and I’ve purchased a complete set of topography maps for New Zealand that appear to have all the same features as the paper maps when I compared them. Oh, and it also acts as a GPS unit as well, usually showing me my location to within an accuracy of +/- 5 metres, or +/- 10 metres. Again, I’ve checked this and its accurate even when I’ve had no cell/ mobile phone network coverage for a couple of days. It’s spooky, but again, hard to argue with it when its pulsating on the very spot that my map says I should be at. I don’t know how it does it, but it does it very well. And to be honest, the map apps are the main reason I bought a new piece of fruit before starting the Te Araroa trail.  The alternative robotic options didn’t do a top map with the same accuracy- we know because we tested my previous robot against Sharlene’s fruit. I stress purchased because I purchased my apps knowing they had the full range of topo information and “GPS” function. I don’t know what some “free” versions have, or rather don’t have.

In case we get delayed and it starts to get dark, I’ve decided to bring along my LED headlamp. It runs on 4xAA batteries and has 320 lumens, a spotlight range of 100 metres that will last up to 75 hours, or on the alternative dual dimmer, 250 hours. That’s a long time on such small batteries in my opinion. It’s designed to operate in iconic polar condtions and only weighs 300 grammes, including batteries. Certainly much better than my old bicycle torch that used 2xD batteries, was square and very heavy and certainly ran the risk of losing power before the evening finished, and always before pocket money day.

And how do I keep my fruit and torch charged? Well, let me introduce my solar charger. I simply unfold it and clip it securely onto the back of my rucksack, and let it charge up as I tramp along with you. Ah, “What does it charge?” I hear you ask. 4xAA batteries, and it also has a separate USB port for my piece of fruit if required. Even has a little LED torch built into it. Oh, and it also can charge 4x AAA batteries as well. Very handy for charging Sharlene’s headlamp batteries… It also charges her fruit as well.

Oh, and about this SLR camera that I’ve hanging round my neck… Did I mention that this also runs on 4x AA batteries, rather than the standard “brick” type battery. I was delighted to find out about the battery conversion, as I really liked this camera and was worried about how I was going to keep it charged during my multi-day trips. After all, sometimes we are walking for 8, 9, 10 days at a stretch between power sockets.

Oh, and, please, remind me later to show you my e-reader. Sharlene recommended this model in particular after researching about being able to post PDF’s on it, meaning we can also download our maps and route notes from the computer straight to the e-reader. And it also carries lots of useful books, with a reading light integrated into it. Lasts for weeks between socket charges. And should it get low on charge, I just use the solar charger..

Oop, sorry about that. Nearly tripped up over my own feet. Might have twisted my ankle if I wasn’t careful. Good thing that I brought along my Personal Locator Beacon. If I pull this string here, and press this red button, it somehow sets off an alarm at the search and rescue centre. Quite handy really, works even when my mobile phone has no signal. Certainly much better than the flares I used to carry. Apparently it bounces off satellites and things. Of course, I’ve filled in the registration form with contact details so they know who to check with before they come and get me.

But enough about me…  I know that I’m fairly comfortable with them, so much so that they are now standard in my kit. I’ve walked over 1500kms so far this year using them, and about to walk another 1500kms through South Island on the Te Araroa trail. I trust both my life, and Sharlene’s, when I use them. We’ve even used them at night to help us escape from bush fires, navigating through forest and over hills.

What do you think about my gizmo’s? Passing fad, too risky, or something to be considered for the future? Are the recent incidents that have been so widely reported the fault of the technology, or the operator, or is it a sign we need to go back to basics in some areas? We look forward to your thoughts…

Gizmos in my rucksack... My basic electroninc kit for tramping around New Zealand.
Gizmos in my rucksack… My basic electronic kit for tramping around New Zealand.
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