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Appalachian Trail Cell Phone Guide

Powermonkey Extreme charging an Android Phone in camp
Powermonkey Extreme battery charging an Android Phone in camp

Cell phones have become a ubiquitous sight in the Appalachian Trail and for good reason. Cell phone service is pretty good along most of the trail, provided your phone is on the Verizon Network or serviced by a discount network like StraightTalk. (StraightTalk is much less expensive than Verizon but has the identical coverage.) If your cell phone service provider is AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint, you’ll have much poorer to non-existent service. Switch. Now.

Multi-Function Device

In addition to running an Appalachian Trail app, like Guthook’s Guide to the Appalachian Trail, your phone can help you shave weight off your gear list by serving multiple functions, including:

  • phone
  • GPS
  • camera
  • music and movie player
  • email reader
  • web browser
  • book reader
  • weather “radio”
  • voice recorder
  • trail journal

While none of those are strictly necessary to hike the Appalachian Trail, they sure make it a lot more enjoyable and take up a lot less space than bringing individual items to serve those different purposes.

Cell phones can also be useful for contacting shuttle drivers, coordinating rides, reserving motel rooms and hostel space in town when you’re still on the trail, or god forbid in an emergency when you need help.

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 built-in Wall Plug and micro-usb (apple lightning model also available.) This quick charging battery can charge two devices at the same time.

Recharging Technologies

Keeping your phone charged isn’t that hard either, although you do need to be smart about it by putting it into airplane mode when not in use and shutting down apps that use a lot of power to stay synched with the cloud. But forget solar power. There are to many trees on the AT and too many rainy days to count on sunlight to recharge your batteries.

The best way to keep your phone charged is to carry a rechargeable battery with you to top off the battery when it gets low. I like batteries that have a wall plug and USB or Lightning jack built into the unit, so I don’t have to bring along device specific chargers. It’s important to get a fast charging battery, because you don’t want to spend half the day in a Starbucks waiting for your battery to charge up when you could be hiking.

Mail Drop
Mail Drop

Bounce Box Batteries

I own a couple of rechargeable batteries and I send fully charged ones to myself in resupply mail drops that I pick up along my route. You can do the same thing if have a bounce box, recharging batteries in town, and then sending them on ahead so you can switch out a dead battery. Anker makes really good fast-charging batteries too, which you’ll want for short town stays before you hit the trail again.

What’s your experience been with cell phones on the Appalachian Trail?

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  1. The battery I use is an Anker Astro E7 26800mAh battery. The downside is that it weighs over a pound. On the plus side, it can keep my Samsung Galaxy S5 charged and operational for a week straight. I generally am running the Backpacker/Trimble GPS app to track mileage, mapping and other stats. Use it for a camera, reading at night with the Kindle app, texting, phone calls, notebook (rarely), and an mp3 player. All of which suck a lot of juice out of the phone.

  2. Just a quick note — if Verizon service works well on the trail, Sprint service will work similarly well (if you have Sprint post-paid).

    Just make sure that domestic roaming is enabled on your Sprint phone, and you’ll automatically roam on Verizon’s 3G network if there’s no Sprint coverage available.

  3. Sending yourself a full battery pack is a smart idea. That’s definitely something I’ll have to try when I’m out on my next hike! Thanks for sharing.

  4. I will put in a plug for Life Proof cases. Waterproof and very rugged. I have dropped my phone on rocks, in streams and on pavement without any breakage. (I am notoriously rough on phones.) The waterproof promise is real too, I even use it when kayaking in salt water. Lastly their customer service is great. I had the door that covers the charging port break off. Put in a support request, filled out a short for and they shipped me a new case within 24 hours.

  5. One question about bump boxes w/ a battery: have you checked postal regulations about sending lithium ion batteries (the types modern phones use) in the mail. I think that they may be a restricted material as they are both explosive and highly flammable.

    • perfectly legal

      Domestic — Secondary Lithium-ion (rechargeable) Cells and Batteries:

      Installed in equipment, packed with equipment, or mailed without equipment (individual batteries):
      The lithium content must not exceed 20 Wh (Watt-hour rating) per cell.
      The total aggregate lithium content must not exceed 100 Wh per battery.
      The mailpiece must not contain more than three batteries.


  6. Battery weight is pretty linear – no easy way out

  7. As you pointed out – solar is next to useless. For a 5 watt panel to put out the full 5 watts is has to be aimed directly at the sun at solar noon. Bouncing along on the back of your pack it is probably putting out close to nil.

    • We had a guy bring one of the big panels (maybe 10″ square?) to Philmont 6-7 years ago. I looked at it, I looked at the trees, I looked at him, I said “That ain’t gonna work.” He carried it all day on top of his pack, phone plugged in. No perceptible charge was acquired over the whole 12 days…

  8. Leave your phone in airplane mode unless you want to call – much battery is consumed while the phone searches for signal.

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