Gear Review: Cameras, Solar Panel, Apps, and Phones
Our Pacific Crest Trail gear review continues. This time we’ll talk about our electronic gadgets, many of which helped us update this blog while hiking.
Smartphone = Apple iPhone 4S 4.8 oz. Our phones were the most versatile items we carried on our thru hike. They enabled us to check our location, view the latest water, fire, weather, and trail condition reports, take notes, update this blog from the trail, learn about our surroundings, and talk with friends and family.
We protected our phones from knocks with Incipio cases. On rainy days, we operated them through waterproof Aloksaks. Because we were careful with them, our phones were none the worse for wear after 2600 miles, and we will definitely be carrying them on the Appalachian Trail.
Apps = Here are the apps we used most frequently on the PCT:
- Topo Maps. Before the hike, we used this app to download every USGS quad the PCT passed through. We also imported all of Half Mile’s PCT waypoints into the app. On the trail, we opened the app to view our exact position, the trail’s path marked in half mile increments, the next water source, and the surrounding terrain. The combination of Half Mile’s highly accurate data with the Topo Maps app was awesome. There’s a reason Anna received the name North Star — she always knew where we were! To learn more about the app, read our blog post about maps.
- PCTHYOH. This free app features PCT water reports, local weather forecasts, fire reports, useful phone numbers, and more. It downloads the latest information on command, and caches everything so it’s viewable without a cell phone signal. We used it frequently, and had the pleasure of meeting its creator in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows. Well done, Ruffwork!
- WordPress. We uploaded blog posts with this app. It is decent, but has some rough edges, and the offline mode is lacking.
- Notes. We used this built-in iPhone app to jot down all kinds of information. No need for pen and paper.
- AutoStitch. When a standard photograph was too narrow, we used this app to combine multiple iPhone images into a panorama. AutoStitch takes time to stitch images, but the resulting photo is higher quality than other panorama apps can produce.
- GPS Tracker. When we had a cell signal, we updated the Tracking page on the blog with this app. It was a simple way for people to follow our progress, including some kids who learned a lot about geography by watching our dot move along the trail. Note: We will re-enable the Tracking page when we start hiking the AT in March.
- iBird PRO. This is best nature guide app we’ve used. Not only are there photographs, maps, and a good search feature, the app includes recordings of bird calls.
- MyNature Tree Guide. The interface is poor, making it slow and sometimes impossible to identify trees. This app is better than nothing, but we hope someone creates a better option.
- MyNature Tracks. This app helps identify tracks and scat, but the search function is cumbersome. Recently the author added better pictures, a big improvement.
- CAWildflower. A nicely color-coded guide to California wildflowers. We used it to learn the names of many flowers along the PCT.
Headlamp = Petzl e+LITE headlamp 1.0 oz. This tiny LED headlamp provided plenty of light for use in camp. It was reliable and we only replaced the batteries once on our 5.5 month trip. A beefier headlamp would be best for night hiking, but for our purposes the e+LITE was perfect.
North Star’s camera = Canon S90 7.0 oz. The S90 (now improved and called the Canon S110) is a pocket size camera which provides outstanding image quality and a solid zoom range. About one third of the images on this blog came from the Canon S90. North Star carried the camera in her waterproof hip belt pocket for easy access. We used an AirStash to transfer images from the camera to an iPhone for blogging. We were impressed not just by the image quality and small size of the S90, but also by its durability. It survived our thru hike without issue.
Shutterbug’s camera = Canon 5D Mark III with 24-105L lens 3.6 pounds. This camera has a large sensor with very low noise, high dynamic range, and superb image quality. The 5D features a full complement of manual controls and is weather sealed against dust and rain. The lens is also weather sealed, and it’s image-stabilized, creating sharp images in low light without a tripod. Shutterbug carried the camera in a Think Tank Digital Holster 20 on his backpack’s hip belt, giving him easy access. As with the Canon S90, we we used the AirStash to transfer images from the 5D to our iPhones. For Shutterbug the 5D and 24-105L lens were worth their weight, delivering beautiful images suitable not just for the blog, but also for our PCT photo book and to make very large prints.
Solar Panel = Suntactics sCharger-5 solar panel 8 oz. We used this 5-watt panel all the way from Mexico to Canada, with great results. In bright sun, it could fully charge one of our iPhones in 2 hours, and it’s lighter than other comparable panels. We drilled holes in the corners so we could attach it to our packs and charge as we walked. To charge North Star’s camera battery, we connected the panel to a Universal Battery Charger Adapter. The sCharger-5 was one of our favorite pieces of gear on the thru hike because it was simple, reliable, and provided endless renewable energy.