Cell phones have become a ubiquitous sight in the Appalachian Trail and for good reason. Cell phone service is pretty good along most of the trail, provided your phone is on the Verizon Network or serviced by a discount network like StraightTalk. (StraightTalk is much less expensive than Verizon but has the identical coverage.) If your cell phone service provider is AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint, you’ll have much poorer to non-existent service. Switch. Now.
In addition to running an Appalachian Trail app, like Guthook’s Guide to the Appalachian Trail, your phone can help you shave weight off your gear list by serving multiple functions, including:
- music and movie player
- email reader
- web browser
- book reader
- weather “radio”
- voice recorder
- trail journal
While none of those are strictly necessary to hike the Appalachian Trail, they sure make it a lot more enjoyable and take up a lot less space than bringing individual items to serve those different purposes.
Cell phones can also be useful for contacting shuttle drivers, coordinating rides, reserving motel rooms and hostel space in town when you’re still on the trail, or god forbid in an emergency when you need help.
Keeping your phone charged isn’t that hard either, although you do need to be smart about it by putting it into airplane mode when not in use and shutting down apps that use a lot of power to stay synched with the cloud. But forget solar power. There are to many trees on the AT and too many rainy days to count on sunlight to recharge your batteries.
The best way to keep your phone charged is to carry a rechargeable battery with you to top off the battery when it gets low. I like batteries that have a wall plug and USB or Lightning jack built into the unit, so I don’t have to bring along device specific chargers. It’s important to get a fast charging battery, because you don’t want to spend half the day in a Starbucks waiting for your battery to charge up when you could be hiking.
Bounce Box Batteries
I own a couple of rechargeable batteries and I send fully charged ones to myself in resupply mail drops that I pick up along my route. You can do the same thing if have a bounce box, recharging batteries in town, and then sending them on ahead so you can switch out a dead battery. Anker makes really good fast-charging batteries too, which you’ll want for short town stays before you hit the trail again.