Best Lightweight Backpacking Electronics Gear

Best Lightweight Backpacking Electronics Gear

This best lightweight backpacking electronics gear is supremely functional, but is also light, low-cost, practical, and durable. It is the gear I take backpacking. This post has many Tips on How to Effectively Use this Gear.

This is part 1 of a 3 part series

  1. On Trail – Best Lightweight Backpacking Electronics Gear (this article)
  2. Best SOS/Tracking/Satellite Communication devices and their use
  3. Off Trail – Best Lightweight Electronics for before/after your trip—town, hotel, airports, plane etc.
    and options for a light “Mobile Office” as well as electronics for International Trips (coming soon)
    See section below for a quick summary of Travel Electronics For Use in Hotels and Airports Etc.
Best Lightweight Backpacking Electronics Gear

This is the gear that I take backpacking. Clockwise from bottom left: iPhone 6 Plus with light protective case, DeLorme inReach SE, Apple headphones, Amazon Lightning cable, *Sony a6000 camera with spare battery, and backup USB Battery.

*Note: I cover cameras like the Sony a6000/a6300 in a my post, Best Lightweight Backpacking Cameras.

On Trail – Best Lightweight Backpacking Electronics Gear

Here is a summary of the key components of the best lightweight backpacking electronics gear list.  A detailed table with all the components and weights is further down in this article.

  • $0* Smartphone – 7 oz with case (*cost is zero since I already own a smartphone)
    A large screen smartphone is the premiere, lightweight,  multi-functional device. It’s easily the best mapping GPS and navigational tool. A large screen smartphone (iPhone 6 Plus or Samsung Galaxy s6/s7) running an app like Gaia GPS is superior to conventional GPS units in almost every way. I get around 7 days normal trail use out of my iPhone 6 Plus before recharging. See: How to use your Smartphone as the Best Backpacking GPS.
    As a multi-functional tool, my iPhone has electronic maps (more functionality & covering far more area than paper ones), electronic trail guides, waypoints & mileage tables, field guides for birds and plants (e.g. Sibley Birds). It’s also a decent camera and video recorder, trail note journal, e-book reader, audio book and music player for relaxing and getting to sleep at night.
  • ~$20 USB battery – 5 to 6.5 oz (see below for options)
    Forget solar chargers, take a high-capacity USB battery to recharge your electronics mid-trip. (Note: For most trips of one week or less, a USB battery is lighter, less expensive and less fuss and bother than a solar panel.)
  • (optional) $150-$280 +service, SOS/tracking device – 5 to 7 oz
    Take a SOS/tracking device like a 6.9 oz DeLorme inReach or the 4.8 oz SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger. (I use inReach on most trips.) I will discuss SOS/tracking devices and their use in more detail in a future article.
Best Lightweight Backpacking Electronics Gear

Yes, a Smartphone is the best backpacking GPS out there! Pictured is the iPhone version of backpacking electronics. The USB battery on the right will recharge the iPhone 6 Plus two times. (The wall charger and micro-USB cable [top center] are only needed if you’ll have access to electricity mid-trip)

Always Bring a Backup Battery!

It’s critical safety precaution to make sure your electronics are always available for use. My three favorite lightweight and high capacity USB backup batteries are:

  1. Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh USB Battery (pictured right)- With two built in cables (lightening & micro-USB) it will charge just about any backcountry electronics. It has a faster charging rate than the EasyAcc below but has slightly less overall capacity.
  2. EasyAcc 6000mAh USB Battery This has slightly more capacity (tested) than the Jackery battery but has a slower charging rate & only a built micro-USB cable (altho you can attach your own lightening cable to charge an iPhone). It can charge a large phone like a Galaxy S7 about 1.4x and a smaller phone like an iPhone 7 2.3x.
  3. Anker PowerCore 10000 (only 6.4 oz) this is the lightest option f you need to recharge your electronics a lot.  It can charge a large phone like a Galaxy S7 ~2.5x and a smaller phone like an iPhone 7 ~3.5x. Its limitation is that it only has one USB port for a cable.
  4. And of course for a SPOT messenger and many headlamps a spare set of lithium AAA batteries.

Gear List Table – Best Lightweight Backpacking Electronics

Note: all blue text in the table below is a link to more detail for the item.


Best Lightweight Backpacking Electronics Gear

The Samsung Galaxy s6/s7 version of backpacking electronics. The USB battery on the left will recharge a Galaxy s6/s7 two times. For most trips, all you need is the battery and your Galaxy Phone—no extra cables needed! (The wall charger and micro-USB cable [top center] are needed when you’ll have electricity mid-trip.)

Tips for Selecting a Battery

Quick Review: If you take an iPhone 6, or iPhone 6 Plus and replicate the gear in my kit including the USB backp battery, you should get around 7 days of on-trail use. This assumes “smart use” of the gear, i.e. use it but don’t over-use it. See article on iPhone battery conservation.

  1. How long can your electronics go without charging? Pre-trip, you’ll need to do a bit of testing to see how long each one of your backpacking electronics will last with your normal use on trail. E.g I know I get about 6-10 days normal use from my iPhone 6 Plus. That’s daily “smart use” of the GPS, reading electronic maps and trip info/guides, etc. along with some listening to Audiobooks at night. See article on battery conservation for using an iPhone on-trail.
  2. Find out how many mAh it takes to charge each of your devices—Smartphone, inReach, Kindle, etc. E.g. an iPhone 6s Plus or Samsung s6 takes approx. 2,750 mAh (milli-Amp-hours), a Delorme inReach 2,450 mAh, and a Kindle Paperwhite 1,420 mAh.
  3. Select a proper capacity (mAh) battery. Using the information from 1 and 2 above, calculate how much mAh of battery capacity you’ll need for your trip. For example, the EasyAcc USB Battery (5,500 mAh, tested capacity) will charge an iPhone 6s about three times, an iPhone 6s Plus or Samsung Galaxy s6 about twice, and a DeLorme inReach about twice. For me, it has enough capacity to keep my entire lightweight backpacking electronics gear going for about a week. (My iPhone 6 Plus might/or might not need a partial charge, and my inReach may need a full charge mid-trip if I run it in tracking mode while I hike. That will still leave me some battery to spare.)
  4. See “Always Bring a Backup Battery!” box (above) for some specific battery recommendations.
Best Lightweight Backpacking Electronics Gear

Recharging opportunity for the Pacific Crest and John Muir trails at Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite: Want to see just how many people actually take electronics in the backcountry? Check out any recharging station along a major trail. Clustered around every available outlet will be a rats nest of tangled wires, phones, USB batteries, and cameras. Next to that will be a bunch of trail-gritty backpackers eating ice cream and drinking coffee, beer or cokes waiting for their electronics to charge.

Tips for Selecting Cabling and Wall Chargers

  1. Figure out your cabling needs
    No apple products – you may get by with just the micro-USB cable already attached to the many USB batteries. (Note: a longer, 3ft u-USB cable may be more convenient. e.g. you can use your electronics more easily while they charge.)
    Yes Apple products – you’ll need a USB to Lightning cable like this AmazonBasics Lightning Cable.
  2. If you will have opportunity to recharge mid-trip, you’ll need a USB wall charger  and a cable to connect to battery/electronics. For most USB batteries you’ll need a micro-USB cable to recharge it (either the usually short one provided with it, or preferably a more useful 3ft u-USB cable).
  3. If recharging opportunities are frequent (e.g. hut to hut trips), you may be able to get by with a smaller capacity battery. With frequent enough access to electricity a Generic 1.5 USB wall charger and cable will recharge your electronics.

Why is this the Best Lightweight Backpacking Electronics Gear?

Large Screen Smartphone

  • For starters, a Smartphone running GAIA GPS just works. It’s better and less expensive than traditional backpacking GPS units like a Garmin.
  • My friends and I have taken iPhones (as a mapping GPS) on numerous pack-rafting trips in Alaska, winter rafting down the Grand Canyon, technical Canyoneering in Utah, climbing in the Wind Rivers and the Sierras, long hikes in the U.S.A, Turkey, Australia, Europe, and a canoe trip down the length of the Mighty Mississippi River. In almost every way a smartphone running GAIA GPS is superior to traditional mapping GPS units such as the Garmin.
  • iPhones can operate 7 to 10 days of “normal trail use” before needing a recharge.
  • As a multi-functional tool, a smartphone also has electronic maps, electronic trail guides, waypoints & mileage tables, field guides for birds and plants (e.g. Sibley Birds). It’s also a decent camera and video recorder, trail note journal, e-book reader, audio book and music player for relaxing and getting to sleep at night.
  • Finally, a large screen Smartphone like the iPhone 6 Plus or Samsung Galaxy s6/s7 are more useful than smaller screens. You can see a lot more of your GPS map, guide book pages, etc., making it easier to use and far more practical than a smaller phone screens or smaller tradtional GPS unit screens like a Garmin.

A LIGHT CHARGING KIT: Pictured from left to right: micro-USB cable for both charging micro-USB devices and your USB backup battery; 1 amp Apple USB wall charger; Apple Lightning cable, a lime green USB Backup battery (not a current model tho), and underneath a Pint Ziplock Freezer Bag to stow everything.

SOS/Tracking Devices and Sat Phones

Best Lightweight Backpacking Electronics Gear

Satellite Com Devices: For most trips, the DeLorme inReach is easily the best value. From left to right: Iridium 9555 SatPhone, DeLorme inReach, Iridium GO! and lower right SPOT Gen3. All of these devices have 2-way com with the exception of the SPOT.

Let me preface this by saying that in the last 5 years I used 2-way Satellite Com devices to:

  1. Initiate an urgent and immediate evacuation (less than 2 hours) via helicopter for a life-threatening medical situation. I was in satellite communication with park personnel to assess the situation, and provide first responder care.  During the course of our communications, the Park made the decision for the medical evacuation via helicopter.
  2. Receive medical instruction on how to lance a horribly abscessed tooth via the gum with a pocket knife (from an Emergency Medicine Doctor and a Dentist)

So my personal take on this issue is that stuff can and will happen. I cannot begin to predict what will happen, where it will happen, or to whom it will happen. Who would expect that a healthy trip member would start having a heart attack or a horribly abscessed tooth in the middle of a 10 day trip? What I do know is that my carrying one of these devices potentially saved at least one life and one tooth and as such, I will continue to carry one.

I realize tracking devices and sat phones can be a contentious topic.  As such, I am not suggesting to know what is best for others. I leave it up to each backpacker to make their own decisions.


See also: “Best SOS, Tracking, and Emergency Communications Devices for Backpacking

Travel Electronics For Use in Hotels and Airports Etc.

Key items are a $2 extension cord that when combined with a cheap 2-prog travel adapter gives you 3 US style outlets. I find that the Anker 2 port (2 amp each) charger is fast and dependable. And in truth, the QIBOX charger is not as good as a 2 amp US charger with the cheap 2 prong travel adapter.

Key items are a $2 extension cord that when combined with a cheap 2-prog travel adapter (Ceptics USA to Europe Asia Plug Adapter) gives you 3 US style outlets. I find that the Anker 2 port (2.4 amp each) charger is fast and dependable. And in truth, the QIBOX charger is not as good as a 2 amp US charger with the cheap 2 prong travel adapter. [On the far left is batter charger for my Sony a6000 camera and two camera batteries.]

18 replies
  1. Mike
    Mike says:

    Do you know of any gps trackers/abc sensors that work alongside the maps on your phone? As in, something you can set the pings to for increased battery life. That way you use your phone for navigation as needed while recording a route. It wouldn’t need a screen like a watch as it will use your phone’s screen. thanks

  2. Terry Carlino
    Terry Carlino says:

    What do you think of the Guthook app? I know it has few maps and covers fewer trails than Gaia, but I’ve seen a lot of good reviews of it. I’m looking for something to use on my AT Virginia long section hike.

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Terry and apologies for the late reply. I’ve been guiding Alaska’s Brooks Range for the last two weeks and will soon head back in to Alaskan mountains for another two weeks. Yes, we own and have used Guthook on the AT in Virginia. It’s a great app and I would recommend it. I would also have GAIA in case you intend to hike some side trails, and for it’s extended capabilities, like on-the-fly route planning on your phone. But Guthook alone should do you just fine if you stick the AT. Wishin you a great hike. Warmest, -alan & alison

  3. Carlos
    Carlos says:

    Hi! Great articles and info, thanks for sharing!! One question… Have you try any Solar Power Rechargeable Battery? I see many options in amazon and I was a bit surprise you make no mention of them. I’m wondering if you had a bad experience. I appreciate your feedback!

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Carlos, that’s a fair question. The very short answer is that they are 1) not weight efficient. That is, for trips up to at least 2 weeks carrying the battery capacity is likely lighter. 2) They are a lot of fuss and bother to keep oriented properly while you hike. And since you can’t directly use the energy to efficiently charge things like phones, you end up sending the solar power to a battery anyway. The best use for these solar chargers is where you are out for a long time AND weight is not an issue AND you can leave them out all day in intense sun in the right orientation. E.g. you are spending months in the field, in hut in a remote, off-grid village without a generator and need to charge things like a tablet and flashlights etc. Hope this helps, -alan

  4. Pierre dumont
    Pierre dumont says:

    Hi there , Just wanted to thank you for the info.

    Used Gaia on a wicked 5 day hike in zero visibility Newfoundland Labrador.

    All good.

  5. Matthew Herron
    Matthew Herron says:

    For Samsung users, extra batteries are more weight efficient than USB batteries. Batteries for my Galaxy S5 mini hold 2100 mAh and weigh 1.25 oz. Three of those (which is what I have) give more capacity than the EasyAcc 6000mAh USB Battery and weigh 5.4-3.75=1.65 oz. less. Plus there’s no need to carry a cable. I haven’t looked it up, but my guess is that the mAh/weight ratio will be even better for bigger phones with bigger batteries (since the surface area:volume ratio will be lower).

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      The EasyAcc 6000mAh USB Battery has a cable. But point taken, replaceable phone batteries are likely more weight efficient. -a

      • Matthew Herron
        Matthew Herron says:

        Ah, I didn’t realize the cable was included. Of course, the EasyAcc will have the upper hand if you take other electronics beyond a smartphone…my Samsung batteries aren’t going to charge my waterproof camera.

  6. Alex
    Alex says:

    Very helpful. It may be worth mentioning to get the fastest charging USB wall charger such as a 21W vs something like a 10W.

    I learned this the hard way while waiting excruciatingly long times at Toulumne, Reds Meadows and Muir Ranch on the JMT. Sometimes going up in weight by 0.4 ounces is more than acceptable when weighed against function.

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Thanks Alex. Yeah there are some 24 watt chargers like this. Each USB port can provide up to 2.4 Amps of power, so over double the charge rate of the standard Apple ones. The only thing to keep in mind is that some devices limit the rate that they charge at regardless of what the USB power adapter can provide–so it’s possible that they would charge at 1 Amp or less regardless that the USB charger is capable of 2.4 Amps. Best, -alan

  7. Jerry Larkin
    Jerry Larkin says:

    I just checked REI for the DeLorme inReach SE – Guess what? No longer available, But Wait….

    They now have the Garmin inReach SE for $400.00. Well they did redesign the case…

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Sorry for the late posting of your comment. I am just back in the US after two weeks in remote areas of country and with absolutely no internet whatsoever. Yes there is a new inReach. I will respond with more info on this soon. All the best, -alan

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Yup, new models are out. Essentially a Garmin GPS with inReach Satellite functionality. Price went up too. I am going to try and demo one soon. Best, -a

  8. Brad
    Brad says:

    Do you have a weight on the Ankar Astro battery? Amazon says 4.6oz but they also list the Easyacc battery at 3.5oz to your measured 5.4.

    I used my phone as a GPS on the WRR high route this year and it was really nice. It’s the first time I had bothered to take a GPS in the backcountry. I am debating about bringing a iPhone to use as my GPS and camera next summer to Alaska and know I would have to recharge.

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Brad,
      Here are the weights I just measured for the units I have in hand. Anker Astro 6700mAh: Unit only 135g 4.8ox, USB cable 14g 0.5oz, combined 150g 5.3oz. EasyAcc unit with included USB cable 151g 5.3oz. The advantage to the EasyAcc is a slightly higher tested (vs. claimed) capacity. Best, -alan


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