Over the years, I’ve tried countless different notepads and ultralight miniature space pen combos for keeping notes about what I experience each day when I’m on the trail. Each evening before I go to sleep, I try to write a few pages of thoughts about what happened when, what I was feeling during the day, cool animals or new plants I saw, landscape descriptions, notes about gear performance and technique, and so on. These little details help me add color to my trip reports.
But keeping a written notebook has not worked for me. First off, I never get much written before I fall asleep at night. After about 3 pages, I’m dead to the world. Then there’s humidity: the notebooks get damp and then soaked and then congeal into a solid lump if it rains. And finally, there’s the fact that I can’t write legibly anymore. I’ve been typing on a computer keyboard for over 30 years and my penmanship has suffered. I can do it if I really want to, but cursive and even printing are hard for me to do in any sustained way.
Instead, I’ve decided to go digital and picked up a refurbished Sony ICDP620 Digital Voice Recorder for about $40 to bring on my trips. It only weighs 2.3 oz, including 2 AAA batteries. My old pen and notebook combos weighed 2.0 oz ,or a bit less if I ripped out some of the extra pages to save weight.
I’ve discussed this move with other long distance hikers I know and some of them have even tried it with good results. They use their digital voice recorder to record details during the day, interview their hiking partners, and record notes to themselves about the people they meet on the trail. It’s funny how rich those impromptu conversations can be when you hike up to someone in the middle of nowhere. They take on new meaning when you haven’t talked to anyone all day.
If you’re interested in getting a digital voice recorder there are a couple of thing you should be aware of when you are evaluating different models. Some have the ability to generate high quality, podcast-ready mp3s, while others only pump out a proprietary sound file format. This wasn’t important for me but would be useful to know about if you want to post stuff on the web. Podcast capable units however, tend to be very expensive, so I went with a refurbished unit.
The DVR I purchased comes with enough on-board memory to hold 260 hours of recording, it has a built in mike as well as jacks for headphone and an external microphone. I don’t expect to be using those, but they’re nice to have.
The other must-have feature for me was a USB connector so I could transfer sound files to my computer for long term storage and back them up using the online backup service I use to backup all of my photos and itunes music. I’ve had two computers die on me since I started writing sectionhiker and I’ll never lose irreplaceable digital photos or content again.
Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.
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