Electronics in the Outdoors

Like most people, one reason I enjoy time in the outdoors is getting away from the hustle and bustle of my daily life. I'm addicted to social media as much as anyone else but occasionally I just want an afternoon in the sun where I can hike, bike, swim or just relax without the phone buzzing with the latest update. I recently backpacked through the Sierra Nevada Mountains for 14 days and I carried an ipad and a cell phone on the entire journey. This article is about my experience with electronics in the outdoors.

A few years ago when cell phones were becoming a necessity for daily life, I remember talking to a group of hikers on the trail to Quandry Peak, a Colorado Fourteener. We were chatting as hikers sometime do on the trail when suddenly their phone rang. I was shocked. What could possibly be so important that you'd actually answer a call at over 13,000 feet in elevation, I wondered.

Electronics in the backcountry Texting from the John Muir Trail


Shortly after that, I decided to carry my cell phone in case of an emergency. While you usually don't have reception in the trees, I've found that I can get a signal from most peaks in Colorado.

One day I climbed to the top of an isolated 13,800' peak. I was hiking alone that day so I decided I would call my wife to let her know I made it to the top. I was feeling really great about my accomplishment. I had pushed through a difficult section of very steep terrain and was rewarded with a clear blue sky and a few minutes of time alone on this peak with amazing views of the surrounding mountains.

I dialed my wife to share this experience with her. I said, "I'm at the summit and it's just beautiful up here. What are you doing?"

"I'm vacuuming." she said.

(sound of crickets)

I had no idea what to say. We were in two different worlds at the moment. I couldn't explain the beauty or great feelings I was experiencing and I didn't even want to think about cleaning the house. So I politely let her know I was okay and gave her an estimation of the time I should be home then I hung up. I've never called anyone from a peak since.

This summer, I Thru-Hiked over 200 miles on the John Muir Trail as part of Sierra Trading Post's #JMT2013 project. Since part of this project was to capture this adventure and share it on the Sierra Social Hub, I carried an ipad and my iphone along with another point and shoot camera. The phone and camera were no-brainers but the ipad added some unneeded weight to my pack.

electronics in the outdoors my ipad on Selden Pass


The reason I carried the ipad is that we had a data plan that we believed would allow us to send messages back to the Sierra Trading Post headquarters. It also allowed us to send photos from the DSLR camera (that Chris was carrying for videos). Unfortunately, once we started covering some miles on the John Muir Trail we realized that even from the high mountain passes we couldn't get any service.

I was torn between sadness that I couldn't send texts, photos and information to my family or Sierra Trading Post and happiness that I was so far from the 'real world' that communication wasn't even an option.

I loved the isolation and the peace and quiet but there is something special about sharing those experiences with others. We felt it on the trail. After we reached family by satellite phone we felt better about our trip. Andrew Skurka refers to it as second level fun. You know, first level is actually fun while you are doing it and second level fun is tough but after it's over and you are telling stories about it, then it's fun. For me, 200 miles of backpacking qualifies as second level fun.

Electronics in the outdoors Chris shooting video from the John Muir Trail with a DSLR camera and a tripod


So I'm torn. Is it a good idea to bring electronics into the outdoors? I think it is if you're trying to capture quality photos and videos. Satellite phones and transceivers are also a great idea for safety but overall, I think the backcountry is best left as a electronic free zone.

What do you think about electronics in the outdoors? Do you carry electronic devices on your outdoor adventures? Does it improve or detract from the experience? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think.

Andy Hawbaker
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Andy Hawbaker
Andy is a hiker, backpacker, snowboarder and outdoor fanatic. When he isn't exploring the Rocky Mountains, burning marshmallows or scratching his dog behind the ear, he shares his experiences here on the Sierra Trading Post Blog.
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