Next, I’ll mention the core electronics conducive to a better quality of thru-hike and how to keep them dry.
Your phone will likely serve as your central command on trail.
Mine was my:
- Weather & Radar Resource
- Guidebook Resource
- News Resource
- Music player
- Google Sheets Spreadsheets Resource
- And, of course, a thing that calls and texts people. That is, when we had service.
If our phones had ever broken simultaneously, we would have been completely screwed.
(Also, if possible, update your phone to its newest version before leaving so you can get the best battery life available, which will help you go longer between charges.)
That said, staying connected to the outside world is a choice.
If you’re not bringing a phone, I recommend having the guidebooks and GPS device mentioned below for safety reasons.
Headlamps are the ideal way to see around camp in the evenings and early mornings.
You’ll want to make sure the one you choose has a red light, so you can socialize without blinding your neighbor, and it is at least 300 lumens for adequate illumination.
I chose this Nitecore headlamp:
The value of these headlamps is unreal. This brand makes some of the lightest and cheapest options available!
They charge by USB instead of being powered via batteries. So you have to monitor their charge, but; they have a feature that makes that very easy.
They can last up to 16 hours on the lowest setting, but I used the mid (8 hours) or high (5 hours) settings more often.
Therefore, purchase one that uses batteries if you plan on consistently night hiking. They will be able to light up the trail for a more extended period.
Unless you’re hiking super old school, without many electronics, you’ll need a power bank to juice up your devices between trail towns and hostels.
When shopping for power banks, consider the brand, recharging time (both for rebooting other devices and the power bank itself), and how many devices you will need to charge.
Also, evaluate how much mAh is provided for the device’s weight (the ideal ratio would be a high mAh but light in weight).
Anker has an excellent reputation with thru-hikers in the power bank realm. They also stand by their products with an 18-month warranty.
Two of these 20000mAh 525 Power Bank Portable Chargers from Anker worked well for us.
Anker Portable Charger 20000mAh 525 Power Bank
The 20000mAh 525 Power Bank boasts it can charge an iPhone 12 five times before dying, which is comparable to our experience with our iPhone 13 Pro Max devices.
In 30 minutes, this power bank will get your phone back to 50%.
Despite being power users of our phones on trail (listening to music while hiking and reading/planning via digital guidebooks in the evenings), they would often not be dead at the end of each day. So we could stretch those five charges out.
We needed enough energy to charge two phones, two headlamps, and a pair of wireless headphones as often as needed between stops.
I dabbled with a few other options with different mAh’s but found this device to be the sweet spot for our amount of devices.
You can go higher than this in mAh, but we could count on two hands the number of times we ran out of juice with these before getting to the next town, resupply, or hostel, and it was usually the same day.
And then, the power bank itself charges back up in 7 hours with an 18W charger, using a UBC-C to C cable.
It also has an LED indicator that lets you know when you’re getting close to needing a power outlet for a recharge.
Wall Chargers and Cords
In addition to the power bank above, you’ll need wall chargers and cords to complete the charging process for all of your devices.
Between the two of us, we used the following:
Anker 2-Port USB-C Wall Charger
This was generally used to boot the battery banks back up. Charging the banks back up with USB-C is necessary to get that fast ~7-hour turnaround time.
(The power bank above comes with a wall charger and cord. We consolidated to a 2-port charger since there were two of us.)
Anker 40W 4-Port USB-A Wall Charger
This was generally used for recharging everything else at hostels or hotels.
The shortest cord you can find for each electronic item you bring.
Having a setup providing a port for each item you’re hiking with lets you charge everything at the same time overnight.
It’s not fun having to waste daylight hours sitting by an outlet, waiting, when you could be hiking. That happened a few times as we picked up the pace, and it greatly bothered me.
Waterproof Sack/Dry Bag
It’s ideal to have a lightweight dry bag that is tear resistant and waterproof to keep your electronics dry and protected.
This bag is not to be confused with the stuff sacks above, which are only water resistant.
Any basic dry bag will work as long as it meets that criterion.
We used this one from Coghlan’s. It worked great; no complaints! All our electronics stayed dry through the duration of the trail.
Coghlans 10L Lightweight Dry Bag
Navigation & GPS: A.T. Maps, Guidebooks, and Wayfinding
Having some form of navigation to guide yourself along the trail is vital for making the most of the experience and staying safe.
Paper vs. Digital Guidebooks
You can hike the trail with digital, paper, or both as guidebook options. It is a personal preference.
Only you can decide whether you’ll get your information from a phone or paper sources.
You can use this chart below to decide whether you’d prefer to go analog or digital.
|Pro||The pro of a paper guidebook is that there is no battery to die, leaving you guideless.||Digital weighs nothing extra. You more than likely are already hiking with a phone.|
|Con||The guidebook is extra weight if carried in paper format, although you could use it as a fire starter along the way, making it weigh less daily. Some people also opt to ship themselves the loose-leaf book in chunks to lighten the load. Paper can also get ruined in wet conditions, so make sure it’s wrapped in a baggie if you bring a paper guide along.||You can’t jot quick notes in the margins of a digital guide. Also, when your battery juice is gone, you have no guide until you reconnect to power.|
The Most Popular Guidebooks
You can figure out everything you need to know between the AWOL Guide & Farout.
I do recommend having both, though. They are each helpful in different ways that I’ll mention below.
The A.T. Guide, or the AWOL Guide, is the most popular guidebook used on the Appalachian Trail.
Pros: As a visual planner, I loved the maps this guidebook provided of each upcoming trail town. It helped me understand how accessible each town’s amenities would be.
It also has excellent detail on places to stay and grocery stores. This was especially helpful when Farout would have more commentary than necessary information and when we would have no signal.
Cons: I found the AWOL guides water advice to be poor. I would not advise anyone to count on it. Farout wins regarding water resource data merely because it can crowdsource up-to-date information from hikers on the trail.
I originally purchased the paper, unbound version of the AWOL guidebook here, figuring I would have it mailed to me in chunks along the way.
However, I quickly realized I was making all my notes in my notes app, not on paper. Therefore, the digital AWOL guide would be just as good.
I primarily used the digital version of this guidebook to plan resupplies, nightly stops, and find views along the way.
Farout is the most popular guide app used on the Appalachian Trail.
The AWOL Guide will become outdated quickly. Farout is an invaluable resource for up-to-date information.
This app will be your most promising resource for any information with a fast turnover on the AT (such as whether water sources are running and shuttle drivers are still operating).
Farout also has a feature I loved that doesn’t seem to be used by many hikers yet, the ability to “check in.”
Every morning I could “check in” – digitally recording the point we were starting our hike for the day.
For safety reasons, this Farout feature spoke to me because I decided who could see the check ins along the way.
Since we did not have the Garmin mentioned above, it provided a private way to share our progress with friends and family instead of putting our location on social media daily.
Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers’ Companion
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy publishes the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association’s guidebook, known as the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers’ Companion.
For a $20 (a $10 increase starting on 3/1/23) 1-year membership to the ALDHA, which is “An off-trail family of hikers, dreamers, and friends of the trail, working to preserve, protect, and promote the long-distance hiking experience.” you can download the PDF version of this book to your phone for free.
I had this downloaded to my phone. I never opened it once.
However, I did feel happy about contributing to the ALDHA.
ATC Data Book
I do not believe the ATC Data Book guidebook is available in digital form, so I did not purchase it because I was already tapped out on weight.
That said, I know it’s another favorite for hike planning and worth looking into if you’re a fan of paperback planning over digital options.
GPS units are a helpful safety tool when hiking through areas lacking cellular coverage.
A GPS device such as the Garmin InReach Mini 2 can be used to stay in touch with your family and let them know where you are, as well as send out an SOS if you are ever in danger, all via a separate satellite subscription.
AT thru-hikers find them most helpful in the northern states where cell signal is sporadic.
We did not have one, but many people on trail do.
With a GPS unit, you are buying an additional piece of mind and taking an extra step toward protecting your safety on trail.
We decided to save money we would have spent on this device and instead use it elsewhere.
However, I would have had one of these gadgets if I had been embarking on my thru-hike as a solo hiker.
PAGE ONE: Shelter
PAGE TWO: Sleep System
PAGE THREE: Backpack
PAGE FOUR: Clothing
PAGE FIVE: Footwear
PAGE SIX: Food & Cooking Gear, Water Treatment System
PAGE SEVEN: Other Gear
PAGE EIGHT: Electronics, Navigation & GPS
PAGE NINE: Essential Hygiene Items, Less Important Hygiene Items, Bug Management, Personal Luxury Items, FAQs