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Batteries Required: PCT Hikers’ Favorite Apps, Gadgets Off-Grid

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The ‘Packing It Out’ crew has hiked 2,000 miles so far this summer, cleaning the Pacific Crest Trail along the way. During it all, they stayed in touch: writing stories and submitting photos from the wilds. This is how.

packing it out lookout

With 2,000 miles under our belts, it is time to reveal the tools we use to share our clean-up efforts with everyone on the internet. We upload photos, write articles, and keep our budgets balanced with only a few tools carried on our backs.

The word “iPhone” provides insight into what we use while on the trail, but that answer alone doesn’t cut it. Throughout the rest of this article, I break down our electronics kit and explain in detail how we use these tools to stay organized and share our story during this thru-hike.

Article written by Seth Orme, a ‘Packing It Out’ founder.


The main two pieces of hardware we carry to accomplish everything are our smartphones and a camera. Other hardware includes a small battery pack, a phone charging cable, two additional mini USB cables, and a wall outlet adapter with three USB ports.

During this thru-hike, I used the iPhone 5. It’s crazy to think everything we’ve written this year was typed on a smartphone, other than maybe one article. I’m literally typing this whole piece with my thumbs.

We break every rule we learned in typing class, and with a weight of just 5 ounces, it’s easy to see why we opt for these clever devices as our primary computing tool. They get the job done and are the best weight option.

iPhone 5

Most of the pictures seen this year in our 11 articles were either shot with Paul’s Samsung Galaxy S6 or my Sony RX100 Mark I. Both are compact tools that take impressive photos for their size. The RX100 is equipped with a large sensor and a Zeiss lens, which makes this camera one of the best around for its compact size.

sony camera for backpackingThis particular Sony RX100 was gifted to me by a fellow thru-hiker at the beginning of the PCT. It survived an Appalachian Trail thru-hike last year and has performed well in my care so far. Over 4,000 miles of backpacking with the camera leaves a few buttons out of commission, but it still captures my subject.

Most of our charging opportunities are in the form of a two-plug wall outlet at the local restaurant or hotel. The three USB ports help us stay efficient with our time while not hogging the only available outlet.

I carry a little RAVPower 3350mAh battery stick to keep important gear like our Steripen and camera charged. I rarely use it, but times like this when I’m finishing an article before a town stop earn the little battery stick a home in my pack.

hiking apps gadgets
Steripen makes surface water drinkable


We all use apps every day on our phones and while some end up being more of a time-vortex, others are extremely useful. Other than standard apps like Google Chrome, Facebook and Email apps, we depend on Snapseed, Google Drive, Tiny Scanner, and One Note.


Our go-to photo app is Snapseed. Made by Google, it allows users to do everything from basic picture adjustments to complex photo editing. We primary use it for cropping and minor changes to brightness and contrast. The app itself is pretty easy to handle and helps the whole picture editing process go smoothly. From this app, our photos move into our Google Drive app.

Google Drive

The Google Drive app is our primary database. We store pretty much everything on this cloud. It works incredibly well for a traveling lifestyle where a computer isn’t handy. All of our maps, pictures and paperwork are available for the rest of the crew to access. Google Drive makes this easy.

You can make files available offline; so if you check the water report while in the field, it’s not an issue of having service or not. The Drive is a sweet app that saves us from confusion and spending excessive time on our phones.

The last two apps, Tiny Scanner and the One Note, prove to be excellent organizational aids. If you haven’t noticed yet, I like to keep things organized. This is mainly because I want to spend the least amount of time possible on my device.

Tiny Scanner

I use the Tiny Scanner app to scan all of my receipts and any important documents I need to track, like copies of my license and passport. Everything scanned is automatically converted to a PDF file that can then be added to your Drive folder or stored right on your phone.

I know this seems a bit over-organized, but digging through receipts or scouring through old emails for information that was supposed to be remembered gets old quick. You want to hike, not dig through your phone.

One Note

Lastly, the One Note improves on the iPhone’s standard note-taking app. It works as my journal, article draft board, blog post drafting station, and idea storehouse. It has an effective to-do list option as well. This app isn’t super fancy, but seen from the apps discussed above, simplicity wins us over just about every time.

More Organization = More Trail Time

Organization is key to spending less time glued to the phone and more time enjoying the trail. We try not to use our phones in the woods, which is also why we opt for real maps and not navigational apps. Personally, it can be a little off-putting when I’m hiking along the trail and see someone in the middle of the trail with their head down looking at their phone.

In closing, I hope this article gives a little insight into how Packing It Out gets information from the trail to you and why we cherish certain apps. I would say this article helps cut down pack weight but our advocating of hard maps might just raise pack weight too.

One last thing I would recommend is taking a moment to massage your thumbs after a thirty-minute phone typing session. See you all in Washington soon!

pacific crest trail sign

–Follow the crew on our ‘Packing It Out’ page. To date, the group has hiked 2,000 miles from the U.S./Mexico border to Cascade Locks, Oregon. Connect with Paul and Seth on InstagramTwitter, and their blog.

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