The vast inventory at a REI Sale can be overwhelming. I’ve done a bunch of research to help you select the best lightweight gear at the sale.
Bikepacking the GAP Trail and C&O Trail from Pittsburgh to Washington DC is a superb mix of natural beauty, wooded trails, quaint towns, & American history. It’s the perfect introductory trip for those new to bikepacking. But it’s just as suitable and rewarding trip for accomplished riders. Virtually all of the trail is away from traffic on flat, wide, non-technical dirt trails (double track) that do not require great riding skills.
A hiking backpack is the single most important piece of gear that any backpacker will own. There is no reason to settle for a heavy, old-school pack. This buyer’s guide highlights the very best backpacking backpacks of 2019, both Lightweight and Ultralight.
Buy wisely and be safe! This post has the best Satellite Messenger – SOS devices that will get help when needed and reassure family and loved ones that you are OK when everything is hunky dory. And yes, there are HUGE differences between devices.
This gear is smarter, lighter and more thoroughly tested than your typical buyer’s guide. Enjoy our picks of the best light and practical gear in our Smart and Light Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers.
One hammock can do it all—and well! The Chameleon, works in all conditions from hot, bug infested jungles to bitter cold winters of the Northeastern US. In the following “Review of Dutchware Chameleon Hammock,” I discuss what makes it possibly the best multi-season hammock. The review concludes with a Comparison of the Chameleon Hammock to its nearest Competitors.
Over the past few months my wife and I tested a near-production model of the new Dutchware Chameleon Hammock (currently on Kickstarter) in a wide range of environmental conditions: from the hot buggy, disease infested tropical jungles of South america to camping in the snow at 15° F in the Mid-Atlantic winter.
Why we (and possibly you might) prefer hammock camping
For those of you unfamiliar with hammock camping, know that it is our preferred method of camping in areas like the Appalachian Trail. See more on “Why hammocks are best for the East Coast and other wooded areas.” And more on this in our 9 Pound Lightweight Backpacking Gear List.
|Clothing in Pack (not usually worn)||2.4||Rain jacket, warm jacket, gloves, etc.|
|Backpack and Gear Packaging||1.9||Backpack, stuff sacks|
|Sleeping Gear & Tent/Shelter (conventional tent)||2.8||best in high Western Mountains & treeless areas|
|Sleeping Gear & Shelter – (hammock)||2.8||best in East Coast and other wooded areas e.g. AT|
|…||Click here to see the complete 9 pound Gear list|
What’s Good About the Dutchware Chameleon Hammock
- The modularity/versatility of the hammock. The Dutchware Chameleon Hammock works in almost all environmental conditions by easily mixing and matching components. All without a weight or functional penalty.
- New (patent pending), 2-way separating zipper that opens in the middle on both sides in any location. This innovative zipper is the key to the Chameleon’s modularity and versatility.
- Low wait times (less than a week?) for a custom made hammock to your spec. with your choice of fabric weights, colors, widths, covers, parts etc.
Oh, and it is very light. My version of this hammock is a smidge over a pound (17.5 oz) including suspension!
The Details: Review of Dutchware Chameleon Hammock
17.5 oz (500 g) Hammock body in Hexon 1.0 fabric, bug net cover, and my personal 2.5 oz Kevlar suspension
22.5 oz (640 g) same but with included Dutchware Beetle Buckle Suspension (7.5 oz with two carabiners)
24.0 oz (680 g) same hammock but with solid top cover in Hexon 1.0 fabric
(Bug net cover is 4.0 oz. Solid top cover in Hexon 1.0 fabric is 4.7 oz.)
1) Modularity and Versatility
The Chameleon has three separate and interchangeable parts
- Main hammock body (huge choice of fabrics!)
- Interchangeable top covers; a mesh cover for hot buggy weather and a vented solid cover for colder weather. And unlike other hammocks, you do not have to pick a right-hand or left-hand lay! Just flip your top cover and you instantly change the lay direction
- New buckle suspension system with an optional spreader bar for hanging hammocks side-by-side from the same tree.
Mix and Match Component to Meet your Needs
To adapt in different environmental conditions, all of these parts can be purchased individually, or in any combination. If you purchase additional components later, they will fit perfectly with your current components. Even if you buy a wider hammock body it will still mate with your original top covers!
- Dutchware might also be called “House o’ Outdoor Fabrics,” for their huge selection of colors and weights — all high quality fabrics. Almost all of these fabrics can be selected in any combination for both the body and the solid top cover of your Chameleon.
- You can buy a Chameleon with a netting top cover in the spring. And in the fall purchase a vented solid cover for the colder weather of late fall and winter.
- In my case, I have one bright orange solid cover for fun when camping with my wife, and another camo cover for stealth camping by myself (it mates to my camo hammock body).
- Finally, you can use the hammock without a top cover, my favorite option for most spring and fall camping in the Mid Atlantic!
Solid Top Covers are Great in Cold Weather!
- The solid top cover retains heat and BLOCKS WIND, essentially turning the hammock into a winter bivy sack with a face vent. This retains your body heat in a sheltered envelope formed by the hammock body and top cover combination.
- The top cuts down on convective (wind driven) heat loss. But the mesh vent, located where you breathe out humid air, also vents excess moisture that might condense inside the hammock and get your down quilt wet. Finally the top cover is itself breathable, also reducing condensation in cold weather.
- A solid cover also means that in below freezing conditions I rarely, if ever setup my tarp. This saves the time and hassle of setting up and taking down a tarp. And possibly more important for someone with cold hands, it is one less chore to do that requires the dexterity of ungloved hands. (It only takes a few minutes working ungloved at 20° F to wreck some major hurt on my hands!)
2) New 2-way, toothed, separating zipper (patent pending) designed by DutchWare
This zipper is two directional. You can both rotate it 180 deg and flip it 180 degrees and it still works. This is a big deal! Overall, my favorite parts of this new and unique 2-way separating zipper are:
- I can get out of whatever side of the hammock I want. It opens on both sides (and at the same time) and in any position along either side.
- I can slide my hands down either side of the hammock at night to check-on/adjust my under-quilt.
- Chameleon toothed zippers mate perfectly with other zippers, e.g. other Chameleon components. [*Coiled zippers (used for almost all backpacking zippers) do not pair well, even with identical zippers.]
- Finally, this zipper allows me to flip the top cover to change the lay of the hammock. This is nice when my wife and are hammock camping side by side and want to coordinate lays.
*Virtually all zippers on backpacking gear are coil zippers. If you try and mate coil zippers, for example, to zip together two identical sleeping bags, they won’t mesh well. As you zip, you’ll get a bit of warping and strangeness. This is because the coiled zippers come in matched pairs, and were never intended to be mated with other zippers, even if they are exactly the same type.
It often seems like you have to pick your poison with backpacking gear.
- You can custom order the exact gear you want from a cottage manufacturer but then wait 4-8 weeks for it to be made and delivered.
- You can pick an off the shelf item (usually some compromise/deviation from your ideal choice) and get it in around a week.
With the Chameleon you can have both custom gear and quick delivery. This is assuming that Dutchware continues to deliver Chameleon Hammocks with similar speed as its Netless and Half-Wit Hammocks. [In early February, I talked with Dutchware and they estimate that once in production they should be able to finish and ship a Chameleon in less than a week.]
4) Comparison of the Chameleon Hammock to its nearest Competitors
There are other manufactures of similar hammocks. Some of these hammocks also have an interchangeable mesh and solid covers. But before I start comparing I want to be very clear that all the hammocks below are great hammocks with established performance and dependability. You would not go wrong buying from any of the three companies below.
I own and like hammocks from all three companies. I know Brandon Waddy of Warbonnet and Tom Hennessy. They both produce excellent hammocks that have widespread use and great reputations. And Tom is rightfully considered the man responsible for modern asymmetrical backpacking hammocks as we know them (and has the patents to prove it).
|Hennessy Hammocks||Hammock includes rainfly. Available off the shelf from retailers like REI.|
|No solid top cover option. Integrated bug net cover only opens on one side. Bug net not removeable. No color choice.|
|Warbonnet Blackbird XLC||Solid top cover option. Integrated “storage shelf” on one side, and “extended footbox” on the other. 1 week wait.|
|Single zipper only opens in only one location. RH lay only. Limited color choices.|
|Dream Hammock Sparrow||Zipper opens on both sides of the hammock (but only in center). Solid top cover option. Many fabrics and colors.|
|4 week or longer delivery time.|
The main difference between the Dutchware Chameleon and these hammocks
None of the other hammocks offer a 2-way, separating, toothed zipper that both rotates and flips 180 degrees, mates perfectly with other zippers and opens anywhere on both sides. This is what allows fully interchangeable components, allows you to open the zipper on both sides in any location, and to change from Right Hand to Left Hand lay in the field, in just a few minutes. The Dream hammock Sparrow comes closest to the Chameleon with a coil zipper system that opens on both sides of the hammock, but only in the middle. Actually it has four zippers (two on each side that meet in the middle).
Forget synthetics! Down rocks. A lightweight down jacket is the most weight and cost effective way to stay warm. Lightweight down jackets are less expensive than synthetics,* they weigh less, but most importantly they are so much warmer! It is true that down jackets may be one of the most expensive items in your kit. BUT, if you want to stay warm and happy, nothing else comes close.
|Nov 21 2017: Just added a down jacket that blow the hubcaps off of previous ultralight contenders! It’s the puffiest most insane Michelin Man look of ultralight down jackets. The GooseFeet Gear – 1/2 zip Custom Jacket: At only 9 oz, and with 61% down, this jacket trounces former top warmth-to-weight efficient ultralight down jackets like the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer.|
See jacket comparison table below for full spec’s. And to see many other high value off-the-shelf down jackets and pants that will save you $ and keep you warm!
Debunking a Few Myths About Down Jackets
- Don’t believe the dire warnings about getting down wet—it’s hard to do. In over 40 years of backpacking all over the world in all conditions, I have yet to get my down so wet that it didn’t do a good job of keeping me warm. New water resistant shell fabrics and water resistant down only improve your odds.
- And make no mistake, a wet synthetic jacket is no joy! Keeping your jacket (down or synthetic) dry in the first place, is a better strategy. (See more on this below)
- *Down is the better long term value for staying warm. The only advantage to synthetics is the price. From there it’s downhill. I find synthetics usually lose loft after less than a season of use. This makes them a poor long term value. A good down jacket can easily last you 5 to 10 years.
Go for Down – Skip the extra shirts, pants, and base-layers
If you really want to be warm, Lightweight Down Jackets are where it’s at. That is, your money and gear weight is better spent investing in a warmer down jacket—or even down pants, down hat and down booties. All are far warmer per ounce than extra shirts, pants, and base-layers. You’ll be warmer, pack lighter and save money in the long run.
What’s in this Guide
I own, or have extensively field tested the vast majority of the jackets (and pants) below.
- Down Jackets
- Down Pants and Down Booties
- Note1: All garments below use Ethically Sourced Down (or something very close to it)
- Note 2: We only include garments where the manufacturer provides oz. of down fill. Unfortunately, some major mfrs have stopped providing oz of down fill even upon request—essentially stating “trust us, it’s warm enough.” We are from Missouri…
Lightweight Down Jackets in this Guide
Note: MyTrail Co. is going out of business — great deals while stock lasts!
* NOTE: “down volume in liters” is a rough approximation of jacket warmth. See more on this below.
The table above gives you a lot of ways to look at down jackets and their specifications since different aspects are important to different people. E.g. someone may be interested in getting the best value down jacket, while another is looking to get an ultra warm jacket for a cold trip.
- What’s the lightest?
- * What’s the warmest? Use “down volume in liters” as a measure of warmth. While “down volume in liters” is the most significant factor, there are other factors that contribute to warmth. A such, down volume is only a crude approximation/starting point for warmth. [Down volume in liters = 0z-down x fill-power-of the-down x 0.016 liter/in3]
- What’s the warmest for its weight? Take a look at “% down” and “down vol. to weight”
- What’s a good value? Take a look at “price,” when compared to “down volume in liters.” And finally, look at “down vol. to price,” which is a crude approximation of the warmth per dollar.
- How durable is it? All of these jackets are fine for use around camp and for rest stops. But note that jackets with 10D or below “shell fabric” should be treated with extreme care. These might not be good candidates for bushwhacking.
Introducing the Lightweight Down Jackets
|new GooseFeet Gear – Custom Down Jacket – $330 (as shown)|
The new warmth to weight king. At 61% down for its weight, the GooseFeet Gear Jacket trounces former top warmth-to-weight efficient ultralight down jackets like the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer or Montbell Mirage. Pictured is a custom 1/2 zip jacket made for me by Ben at Goose Feet Gear. Weight is 9 oz with 5.5 oz of 950 fill power down. It has a deep kangaroo pocket that is great for warming hands and has shopping basket size room for storing stuff in camp.
This is custom work so expect 6 weeks or so wait time. The upside is you get exactly the size and features you want! Note: that I purchased this jacket with my own funds and receive no commissions from sales.
|new MyTrail 850 Fill Hyperlight Hooded Jacket – $249|
Going out of business great deals while stock lasts!
At 44% down for its weight, it’s second only to the GooseFeet Gear Jacket for warmth to weight. The MyTrail HL Hooded is one of the best values in a super warm, fully featured UL down jacket. At 10.5 oz it’s light for its warmth with a generous 4.6 oz of 850-fill-power down. But best of all, it costs significantly less than jackets of similar warmth and you can get it on the shelf.
Pedigree: This jacket was designed by Demetri Coupounas (Coup) founder/owner of GoLite, creator of the legendary GoLite Bitterroot down jacket, likely the best, high performance UL down jackets of its time. And until the closing of GoLite it was the best value on the market! And while the MyTrail 850 Fill Hyperlight is short of the amazing loft of the Bitterroot, it’s still a super warm and light jacket.
|Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket – $290|
This is Feathered Friends’ lightest weight down jacket, but don’t let that fool you. Though this clocks in at only 10.6 oz, it has 3.7 oz of 900+ fill goose down. That’s more than 30% more down fill than the popular, but more expensive Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer. More down fill means more warmth! With a hood, and sinchable waist, this jacket can tighten down to keep all your precious heat in if things get cooler than expected, but the jacket is light enough to take with you on any 3-season outing. There are Men’s and Women’s versions, and as with all Feathered Friends’ goods, it’s made in Seattle, USA.
|Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Hooded – $350|
Mountain Hardwear touts the 7.7 oz Ghost Whisperer as “the world’s lightest full-featured down jacket.” For 1.2 oz more than the Montbell EX Light Down Anorak you get a full front zipper and pockets. MH uses a unique “Whisperer 7D x 10D Ripstop” fabric that is light, tough, down proof, and fairly water resistant. Oh, and the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer has won a ton of awards.
|new My Trail Co – Men’s 800 Fill Ultralight Hooded Down Jacketd Down Jacket – $149|
Going out of business great deals while stock lasts!
New this year or possibly an improved version of the the “Down Light Hooded Jacket.” Either way it’s filled with a generous 5.1 oz of 800 fill power down (up 1.5 oz!) but at 12. 5 oz, weighs less. At 40% down for its weight the this jacket is close on the heels of its more expensive brother the 850 Fill Hyperlight Hooded Jacket. Best of all, like other MyTrail products it costs significantly less than jackets of similar warmth.
|Montbell EX Light Down Anorak – $269|
At only 6 oz, this is about as light and as WARM as it gets! The Ex Light Down Anorak is 2 oz lighter than the highly regarded and more expensive Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer. It achieves this low weight in part by not using a full zipper. Instead, you get a hood and a kangaroo pouch pocket! These great pockets let you really keep your hands warm by putting them in the same space against your abdomen. Truly lightweight warmth, this is a perfect puffy layer to bring on high alpine adventures like the South Sierra High Route, or Wind River High Route. The only downside is that there isn’t a Women’s version yet.
|Montbell Mirage Parka – $379|
Weighing less than 14 oz, this is the lightest fully-baffled (a warmer but more expensive construction method) jacket we know of. Montbell has pulled this feat off by using 900-fill down and a very thin 7-denier ballistic nylon shell. Down accounts for over 40% of the garment weight—an incredible feat of design engineering! If you like to bushwhack through dense evergreens, this might not be durable enough for you, but for most backpackers, this will allow pushing shoulder season or even through winters in much of the country (although you may need more in the deep north, see the Helios below). Unfortunately, this jacket doesn’t come in a Women’s version.
|Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Down Jacket – $340|
If you need ultra warmth, this is the jacket for you! The Helios jacket is insane puffy and warm with 3x the down (warmth) of the lightest jackets here.
The Helios packs 2 oz. of high-fill down over the Mirage, and uses a more durable outer fabric. (It also weighs 4 oz more.) It’s made in the USA, and is purpose built with mountaineering in mind, so you know it’s warm! Feathered Friends is known for their high quality down and weight-conscious products.
| REI Co-Op Down Jacket – $99|
If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a down jacket, REI has you covered. Their Co-Op Down Jacket weighs in at only 10.2 oz (in a non-hooded version). And while the jacket sets no records for warmth to weight ratios with 650 fill power down, it likely has enough warmth for most 3-season purposes. It comes in Men’s, Women’s, and children’s cuts. If you have an extra $20 to spend, we recommend the hooded version, because all jackets are substantially warmer with one!
Tip – Keeping your Lightweight Down Jacket Dry
The best way to keep your gear dry is not to get it wet in the first place. This means keeping the gear in your pack dry (especially your down sleeping bag, and down jacket).
- Pack contents dry: A trash compactor bag inside your pack is lighter and works considerably better than a pack rain-cover. Inside that, put your down bag and down jacket in their own waterproof or highly-water-resistant stuff sacks or more expensive but drier Cuben Fiber stuff sacks. I like a stuff sack of around 6-9L for my down jacket and 20L or larger one for my down sleeping bag/quilt.
- Waterproof backpack: Even better but a lot more expensive, get a Cuben fiber backpack, with a roll top closure and sealed seams along with stowing your sleeping bag/quilt and down jacket in Cuben Fiber stuff sacks. This is a great way to keep your gear truly dry and is less complicated and time consuming than pack rain-covers or liners.
|Montbell Superior Down Parka – $209|
8.5 oz, 2.5 oz 800+ fill power downAt under 9 ounces this is another great value in an ultralight, fully featured jacket. As Montbell says, “Prized by budget conscious backcountry enthusiasts around the world, the Superior Down Series is “what you need” when a versatile warm layer is critical, minimal weight is paramount, and space in your pack is at a premium.” While not the warmest jacket in the group, it should be more than sufficient for 3-season use.
|Patagonia UL Down Jacket or Hoody – $349 at REI|
This jacket has been a staple of the ultralight crowd for years. My wife and I both own one. It’s not the cheapest jacket but it’s light, and uses a generous 3.5 oz of 800-fill-power traceable down. It comes in Men’s and Women’s, as well as hooded versions for a little more money. The hooded version is hands-down our favorite!
| ||Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket – $230 at REI|
At $100 less than their UL jacket, this is a great warm layer for backpacking or any outdoor activity, really. It’s reasonably light (2.8 oz, non-hooded), and uses 800-fill-power traceable down. It comes in Men’s and Women’s, as well as hooded versions, for a little more money. Of course, there are adorable kids versions as well! Patagonia’s quality, warranty, and customer service are legendary, ensuring you’ll keep this jacket for a long, long time.
|Western Mountaineering Men’s Flash Jacket – $375|
Western Mountaineering has been making some of the finest and lightest down products since forever. And they are legendary for their immaculate construction and their long term durability. This jacket has been a staple of the ultralight crowd for years! Made in the USA.
|Western Mountaineering Men’s Flash XR Jacket – $375|
This is a warmer version (3.5 oz of down) of the Flash Jacket with a highly water-resistant shell. This jacket was my choice for a climbing trip to the Andes in Peru. I summited a couple of 20,000+ foot peaks in this jacket. And yes, that’s a steep price tag but it’s made in the USA.
Lightweight Down Pants and Down Booties
|Feathered Friends Helios Down Pants – $240|
13 oz, 4.4 oz 850+ fill power downThese pants are the real deal. Made with Feathered Friends’ legendary high quality down, these pants offer 4.4 oz of fluffy down, and weigh in at 13 oz. These pants are great for backpacking, but are meant for even more serious high mountain endeavors and offer full-length zips so you can put them on and off over crampons… or, if you’re just too lazy to take off your boots.
|Montbell Superior Down Pants – $169|
8.4 oz, 1.9 oz 800+ fill power downThese are one of the best values in insulated pants on the market. They are warmer and more windproof than fleece pants. As Montbell says, “Prized by budget conscious backcountry enthusiasts around the world, the Superior Down Series is “what you need” when a versatile warm layer is critical, minimal weight is paramount, and space in your pack is at a premium.”
|Western Mountaineering Flash Pants – $250|
6.5 oz, 2.0 oz 850+ fill power downThese are probably the lightest insulated pants on the market. Weighing only 6.5 oz, these are packed with 850-fill down and are built with Western Mountaineering’s standard-setting quality. Don’t get cold, and cranky in camp. Put on your Flash Pants and hang out – enjoy the outdoors, deep into the fourth season.
| ||Feathered Friends Down Booties – $99|
9.3 oz, 4.0 oz 800+ fill power downThese booties are the industry standard. With waterproof removable shells, you can take these with you as camp shoes, then remove the shells keeping the warm down socks on to keep your toes warm all night! These are a toasty-toe delight that will help keep you comfortable deeper into the shoulder seasons and make winter camping much more manageable!
This post contains affilate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I do not receive compensation from the companies whose products are listed. For product reviews: unless otherwise noted, products are purchased with my own funds. I am never under an obligation to write a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.
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
- On Trail – Best Lightweight Backpacking Electronics Gear (this article)
- Best SOS/Tracking/Satellite Communication devices and their use
- 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.
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.
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:
Note: all blue text in the table below is a link to more detail for the item.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- See “Always Bring a Backup Battery!” box (above) for some specific battery recommendations.
Tips for Selecting Cabling and Wall Chargers
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
SOS/Tracking Devices and Sat Phones
Let me preface this by saying that in the last 5 years I used 2-way Satellite Com devices to:
- 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.
- 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.
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 (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.]
The Best Cheap 25 cent Backpacking Gear is a Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag. These bags are a perfect size and have a ton of uses. I’ve used them to protect my iPhone and other expensive equipment packrafting in Alaska, rafting down the Grand Canyon in winter, and trekking in Patagonia and the rain forests of New Zealand. Surprisingly, they are virtually unknown and you won’t find them on grocery store shelves. But you can purchase Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag here.
Pint Ziploc Freezer Bags are nearly as effective as ALOKSAKs, but far less expensive. At $0.25 each, it’s easy to carry a few spares and replace between trips as necessary. The thick plastic and double zip work well to keep water and dust out while preventing minor scratches. Unless you plan on having your gear submerged for long periods*, they are lighter, and easier to get gear in and out of, and less expensive than fancy waterproof bags or cases that weigh and cost far more. (*Note: If you really need submersible protection; i.e. your phone will be completely under water for some time, then you will need to get a fully submersible rated bag for your phone.)
Many uses for the Best Cheap 25 cent Backpacking Gear
Here are some my uses for $0.25 Pint Ziploc Freezer Bags but there are a ton more. Tell me your uses in the comments!
- Protect my iPhone: see more detail on how I do this below
- Keep the fiddle factor down: Putting like-gear in Pint Ziploc Freezer Bags organizes “gear-chaos.” Quickly finding gear saves time and sanity. E.g. all my first aid kit fits in one baggie. My cables and electronics, spare batteries go in another. My camera stuff, spare SD cards, batteries, bubble level go in another.
- Snacks: One day of snack food goes in one baggie (Pint or Quart size, depending) and is put in the side pocket of my pack for quick access.
- Meals: A Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag is perfect for individual meals. Just re-hydrate in the bag and eat out of the bag. When done, zip it shut and your KP is done. (I use Quart size when Alison and I share meals.)
- Perfect for storing cheese and dried meats like salami, or a potentially leaking bottle of olive oil.
- Protect other electronics and optics, including small cameras, binoculars etc. My Sony RX100 Camera is a bit on the delicate side. I put it in a Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag if it is wet or very dusty (e.g. a windy day in the deserts of S. Utah). I usually leave the bag unzipped and folded over unless conditions are bad.
- My standard travel electronics kit (when trekking worldwide) and even on extended trips in the US—spare charging battery, cables, wall-chargers, outlet adapters all fit neatly in one baggie.
- Map & documents case. I generally don’t use heavy and bulky waterproof mapsets. I normally print my own custom maps and a time and mileage tables on non-waterproof paper. When arranged properly in a Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag or even a quart size, I can keep these in my right hip pants pocket for rapid reference—even in the rain.
- Waterproof TP and hand sanitizer bag. Allows you to keep this easily accessible in an external pocket, even in wet conditions.
How I use the Pint Freezer Ziplock bag to protect my iPhone
I carry my iPhone in my left hip pants pocket about 95% of the time. Here’s how I keep it protected but quickly usable. First, I use a simple and Light Protective Case with a Screen Protector. Then I put my iPhone in a Pint Freezer Ziplock bag with the phone display on the clear/non-printed side and then fold the extra over so that the display is easily readable and fully touch functional (except fingerprint recognition of the home button). I put the phone in my pocket with the phone display facing against my leg so that it is protected from getting damaged if I bump into something. [Note: make sure that you fold extra bag away from the face of the phone. This prevents the bag from getting hazed by the ziplock closure rubbing against the display side of the bag.] In normal use, I usually don’t zip the bag shut since I am just interested in is protecting the phone from perspiration from my leg and dust. Folding the bag over does just fine for this. The additional benefit of folding and not sealing the bag is that I can quickly extract my phone from the bag to take a photo. Only in heavy rain or when I think I might get a brief dunking, like crossing a stream will I actually zip the bag shut.
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