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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Apple iPod Touch – 3.1 oz.
- Zero Lemon USB to Lightning (6″) recharging cable – 0.2 oz.
- iWerks Bluetooth keyboard and device stand – 6.9 oz.
- RavPower 9000 mAh battery with wall plug and micro-USB connector – 8.6 oz.
- Straight Talk WiFi HotSpot – 3.6 oz.
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.