Home / Inner Journey / How to Blog on the Appalachian Trail: Apps, Devices, Battery Charger, and Internet Connectivity

How to Blog on the Appalachian Trail: Apps, Devices, Battery Charger, and Internet Connectivity

Appalachian Trail Blogging Kit
Appalachian Trail Blogging Kit

I’ve always had mixed feeling about carrying communication technology when I’m hiking because the a big part of day hiking and backpacking for me has always been to take a break from my day-to-day life. While I’ve always taken a lot of photos and notes when I hike, I really miss writing when I go on long hikes. There’s something about reflecting on my experiences and organizing my thoughts to tell a story that resonates deeply with my soul.

So on my Appalachian Trail section hike this April, I’ve decided to bring a small electronic writing kit with me to write a weekly blog post for publication on SectionHiker. This is an experiment for me but I was inspired by the posts my friend Erin Saver published on her blog, Walking with Wired, last year, and I thought I’d dip my toe into the mobile blogging scene to see if it enhances my long trail hiking experience. There’s no way to know something unless you try it.

Blogging App: WordPress

The SectionHiker.com blog has been running on WordPress blogging sofware since 2008 and while I do most of my writing in WordPress online with a web browser, there is also a WordPress App for Apple and Android that I use to write offline when I don’t have any access to the Internet. This means  I can still stay offline during my hike if I choose, and I only need an Internet connection for a few minutes to publish a new blog post.

WordPress App on an Apple iPod Touch
WordPress App on an Apple iPod Touch

Blogging Device: iPod Touch

I’ll be using an iPod Touch on the Appalachian Trail to take photos that I want to include in my blog posts as well as using it to run the WordPress App. I could also use an iPhone, but I’m too cheap to buy one or pay for a premium cell phone plan. I could also use an Android phone, but it doesn’t have a photo app that I need to preprocess images before I incorporate them into blog posts.

Photo preprocessing is a necessary evil for blogging, but I think I’ve found the easiest way to do it. Let me explain: Digital photos taken with a camera or cell phone are oversized for display on a web page and take to long to download unless they’re resized first. When I preprocess photos for display on my web site, I shrink them down using special app that smushes their digital size 100-200 times so they download very quickly without diminishing their clarity to the human eye. This is automated when I write at home, but it’s a separate step I need to perform manually using an app called Reduce when I write offline on my iPod Touch.

There’s a second issue with photos that bloggers need to address if they use a regular digital camera, which is how to make pictures taken with a digital camera accessible in their blog authoring software. I know Erin’s struggled with this issue too. One way is to use a special digital card, like the EyeFi or the [email protected], which sets up a WiFi network between your camera and another digital device so you can transfer your photos from one to the other. These wifi-enabled digital cards uses a lot of power though and can drain your digital camera battery very quickly. It’s a workable solution if you’re willing to carry an extra battery charger for your camera and sit in town waiting for batteries to top up. My approach is simpler. I’m just going to take photos that I want to publish online in blog posts with my Touch. That eliminates the transfer issue entirely and is miserly with battery power.

The iWerks Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard fold down to the size of two small AT maps
The iWerks Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard fold down to the size of two small AT maps

Blogging Keyboard: iWerks Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard

I type real fast, but I’m slow at pecking out words and editing on a touch screen. So I’ll be bringing a 6.9 ounce iWerks Universal Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard with me. The iWerks keyboard includes a protective plastic case which doubles as a device holder. It connects to Apple and Android bluetooth enabled devices and is USB rechargeable, with a battery life of 44 hours with a 30 day standby reserve.

The keyboard is about the size of two AT maps, so it’s easy to pack. There’s no mouse or anything and the Touch isn’t a real computer, so I still have to do some operations by hand using my fingers, but the keyboard will speed up typing.

RavPower 9000mAh Battery with Wall Plug and Built in micro-usb. Shown with 6 inch USB to Apple lightning cable output
RavPower 9000mAh Battery with Wall Plug and Built in micro-usb. Shown with 6 inch USB to Apple lightning cable output

Battery w/ Recharger: RavPower 9000mAh

I’ve upgraded my battery charger from an 6000 mAh Anker to the 9000 mAh RavPower, which has a built-in wall plug and micro-USB connector so I don’t have to carry extra recharging cords. It charges really fast and has a second regular USB outlet, which I will use to recharge my Touch, using a short 6″ USB to Lightning cable.

Wifi Mobile Hotspot
Wifi Mobile Hotspot

Internet: WiFi Mobile Hotspot

I have a WiFi Mobile Hotspot from Smart Talk that I use to blog remotely using a laptop and share with my wife when we’re travelling and we want to connect multiple devices to the Internet. It’s not fancy, but it works and helps me keep my data transfer costs under control. It holds a 3 hour charge and is also rechargeable via micro-USB. I’ll only use it when I want to publish a new post to the Internet, but it means that I don’t have to rely on WiFi hot spots in small towns along the Appalachian Trail when I want to publish a blog post.

Added Weight?

Here are the weight breakdowns of these components. All together they weigh 22.4 oz, but only add an extra 14.8 ounces to my pack beyond what I intended to take previously. That’s significant, but it won’t affect the success of my hike.

If I was doing a full thru-hike, I’d probably consolidate the WiFi Hotspot and iPod Touch into an iPhone, but I’m not willing to do that for a 3 week section hike.

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13 comments

  1. If you go and find a used iPhone 4s or 5 you can then get a straight talk BYOP kit and then you can lose the MiFi Device and with the iPhone 5 you could dictate your blog post using Siri and lose the keyboard as well.

  2. I understand you have an Android phone, and you are using a combination of iPod touch and Wi-Fi hotspot instead, just so you can use that Reduce software to get a lower quality/size photo uploads to your blog.
    I used Blogaway for blogging on Blogger (blog blog blog blog blog), and while it’s not the most recommended platform or mobile app, it does have an option to upload lower size photos directly from the app. I’m also quite sure there are other Android apps that can be used instead of the iOS Reduce app. This way, you can just carry one phone, instead of these two devices. You can also use your Android phone as a hotspot for your laptop.

    Regarding a digital camera – many newer camera models come with built in Wi-Fi support. After switching to such a camera midway through my hike, I had a much easier time selecting photos from it, on my phone, and posting them directly to my blog. If you are looking for a new camera, I think this is a good feature to look for.

    • Of course, I just now noticed the final 2 lines of your post. :-)
      Anyway, if you already have an Android phone, and the only thing that’s missing is that Reduce app, I would still recommend checking for good alternatives.

  3. Personally I prefer the “Paul Theroux” approach to recording my observations during a long hike or mountaineering expedition. On rest breaks I make quick notes in a small notepad and each evening I add context and expand those notes in a daily activity log. I leave the electronics at home.

  4. Will the Hot Spot provide coverage anywhere along the trail?

  5. Usually I charge up my battery pack before a trip then recharge the battery pack with the Goal Zero solar panels. So far the only problem I have encountered is when I try to charge up my Blackberry as the phone must be left on or it doesn’t recharge. Kind of counter intuitive. I am happy with the construction of the solar panels and I have certainly tested out how well it works in really cold temps.

  6. You shouldn’t really need to change the size of your photos before uploading them. WordPress can resize them to the correct size on the fly, ideally also considering what device the user is viewing the website on. There are various plugins that can do that, let me know if you need any help.
    The downside of not resizing them on your smart”phone” is a longer upload. The upside is obviously less work, but also future proofing. Perhaps in 5 years you will want to increase the size of images on the blog—then it’s handy to have the originals on the server.

    Also, there are SD card adapters for iOS devices for quick image importing.

    But, as they say, use whatever works for you!

    • Phil,

      I know your comment is from last year, but I am very interested in knowing what plug-in works for you to resize your images. Does this only work on the desktop version of WordPress or can it work while using the WordPress app? The SD adapters also sounds very interesting!

  7. Only one person mentioned it and that is Solar Panels. They’ve been around now for a number of years but I hear very little about any one actually using them on the Trail to recharge their Electronic toys….So what’s up with them? Worth the effort or Money??

    • Solar panels are basically useless on the AT, just not enough sun in the green tunnel. From what I have read, solar panels work great if you have a base camp where you can leave it set up for the day where it gets lots of direct sun, not so much if you are hiking with one strapped to your pack.

  8. Thanks. I’m not yet actually hungering for specifics, but have been wondering about things like tiny, portable keyboards. I’ll file this post for future reference.

    Meanwhile, here are two sources for all kinds of gadgets…

    * Cool Tools: http://kk.org/cooltools/

    “a web site which recommends the best/cheapest tools available. Tools are defined broadly as anything that can be useful. This includes hand tools, machines, books, software, gadgets, websites, maps, and even ideas. All reviews are positive raves written by real users. We don’t bother with negative reviews because our intent is to only offer the best.”

    * RV Mobile Internet Resource Center: http://www.rvmobileinternet.com/

    “We depend on mobile internet, and are pleased to share our research and experience so you can save time & money and get out there exploring what drives you!”

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