Joe Rosberg is hiking the Colorado Trail, but he wrote this piece on the technology that he decided to take with him. What would you take into the wilderness on a solo journey into the backcountry?


As you read this, I’m somewhere between Denver and Durango on the Colorado Trail (Google Earth Colorado Trail). As I explained in a previous blog piece, I’m attempting to hike its entire 500-mile length, and whether or not I was going to take along any technology was a big consideration. On one hand, I wanted to leave the modern world behind. On the other hand, however, it might mean the difference between success and failure –and in the worst-case scenario, a major failure that could even be life threatening.

In planning for such a backpacking trip, keeping bulk and weight to a minimum is a huge consideration. Ounces really do count; they add up to pounds very quickly. For that reason alone, it would be easy to decide to leave behind all modern pieces of technology. But I decided to take a few things with me. Here’s what was packed into my backpack and why I decided to take it.

1.       A satellite personal tracker unit called Spot: Not many people could manage to take the time necessary to attempt a 500-mile hike, and as such, I’m forced to break the first rule of back-country hiking — I’m going by myself. As an experienced hiker and camper, I realize that’s not the best thing to do, but in this case, I really have no choice — other than not going myself, of course. This Spot unit is a neat little device. Through a system of 24 satellites, a customizable support service and Web interface, and Google Maps, I can keep up to ten (10) people informed via e-mail as to my precise whereabouts any time of day or night. I can request help from a list of predefined people, which I’m using to coordinate resupply points. And, in the case of emergency, there’s a 911 function that will alert rescue personnel as to my exact location. If I can’t go with someone else, this is certainly the next-best option. It’s a 7-ounce unit that will not only give peace of mind and coordination, but it could actually be a lifesaver.
2.        The GARMIN eTrex HC GPS Personal Navigator: Getting lost in the mountains or the backcountry is always a huge concern. And although the Colorado Trail is fairly well marked, any number of factors could cause a person to get off track. Whereas the Spot unit lets other people know where I am, it does nothing to let me know where I am. Although I’ll have maps and a compass (one of the hiking ten essentials), and my orienteering skills are probably good enough to get me back on track, I decided to take this unit anyway. It’s preprogrammed with literally every road in the United States, and it accepted an upload of the topographical maps and 500 GPS way points specifically created for the Colorado Trail. At only 4.4 ounces and about the size of a small cell phone, it’s something that could save me a lot of time and a lot of miles should I find myself off the trail.
3.       My cell phone: It would be so nice to leave the cell phone behind, don’t you think? And I’m one who often does just that. I’m taking it, however, only to coordinate with people who will be resupplying me along the way. Along with the Spot unit, it will make the where and when of coordination a little easier. Otherwise, however, it will be turned off. At only 3.4 ounces, it’s something that might save a lot of time, trouble, and miles, not only for me, but for those who are coordinating with me for resupply. And the 2.4-ounce battery-powered recharger will make sure I have the power when it’s needed. (Of course, getting cell coverage in some of those places might be questionable, at best.)
4.       A digital camera: I was going to leave this behind, but on such a trip, I just have to have some pictures to share and relive the experience, don’t you think? But with weight and bulk a consideration, I couldn’t possibly think about taking the top-of-the-line digital camera I already had, so I purchased one specifically for this trip. I wanted one that was small and lightweight and ran on AA batteries. The 5.2 ounce (with batteries) Canon PowerShot A480 seemed to fit the bill. It has only 3.3x zoom capacity, but with a 4GB memory card and a couple of extra lithium batteries, I’ll be able to record my experience with about 700 photographs.

It’s said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so I don’t think my 22.4 ounces of technology is too much. Ensuring safety and coordination and having something to share and remember is well worth the extra weight. What do you think? What kind of technology would you take on such a trip?