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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?


    • I am so far enthused by 6 ounce solar charger ($20). Phone went from 70 pct charge to nearly 90 pct in half an hour on porch. In practice I suppose it will be inconvient at best.

      • Hi Harold,
        What solar charger are you using. sounds really good. I bought the 4Patriot one and it doesn’t charge well at all by the sun/daylight and when I fully charged it in the AC wall outlet it only was able to charge my phone once. grrr. Suggestions? tx Bill

      • I would not use a solar charger on the AT. Too many shade trees and clouds. A charger like the ones recommended by SectionHiker works better. I have used a solar charger in higher mountains, above tree line, with good results.

  1. Great article. Thx.

  2. IMO Everyone should leave their phones at home. You are missing out on the connection to nature. You are not detaching from the world. Ear buds suck while in the backcountry or on trail. Listen to the birds sing, and the wind whistling through the trees. Tune out the pod music, and tune into the music in your soul. It’s grotesque to arrive at a serene camping spot on the AT and hear people bleating like dumb sheep into their phones, tents lit up with unnatural light, pings going off waking up fellow hikers. Leave your phones at home, and experience the freedom from technology that a backcountry trip can provide. Thru-hikers survived for decades without phones on the trail. Today’s hikers are robbing themselves of a truly human experience, leaving the trappings of the modern world behind. Try it, I believe you will prefer it. Then you’ll become one of the annoyed (when you encounter tech on the Trail).

    • I agree but being a female lone hiker , so many friends and family feel safer that I have a phone for emergencies …like injury plus I am visually challenged …I’m not keen on having technology but safety is important nice to take a few pictures along the way… only take on light device …no camera I’m still bringing a journal to write and draw in …years ago I hiked the high Sierra for 4 months and I still have that journal with drawings poetry of my own as well as hikers I met on the trail …I have no photos but do wish I did…there were a few beautiful ones other people I met took but I’ve lost contact with…my personal memories are so cherished…especially the poetry brings back flashes of places in my head!

      • I agree with both of you. I hiked about 700 miles of the AT in 2000, and there was no way a hiker would carry a cell phone then – mostly because they were huge and heavy. If I started a hike today, it would almost seem foolish not to take one. Just my camera back then weighed much more than my current smart phone. Plus, as Sharel mentioned, there’s the safety factor. One thing is for certain though – the airplane mode would get plenty of use.

  3. Rachael From Florida

    Hey everyone :)
    I loved the article too! Unfortunately I have AT&T and live in Fl so I have no idea what GA mountains do to ATT cell phone service. I am new to back packing and I am planning a 30 hike on the AT in north GA. Can anyone confirm what the ATT coverage might be like in that area?

    Thank you in advance. Rachael

  4. I have hiked some of the PCT, Hunting in the wilderness with backpacks and carrying deer out 20 miles. I have NEVER brought a phone with me even though I have owned one since the mid 90’s. Believe it or not I have brought disposable film cameras with panorama capability. Some of my best photo memories are from those. I never worried about losing or damaging them either.
    I am considering the full AT for my 70th year. 2400 grueling miles of beauty and memories. Not sure if I will actually do it, but I am sure considering. I would bring my cell this time for pictures and to upload diaries at each stop with full services available. Not sure if I might bring a vary small tablet like device or get a larger phone device to type…or maybe a small keyboard that will attach to phone? just starting to think this through…..weight is everything.

  5. This article is from 2015… is there an updated version?

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