Backcountry Electronics Revisited – 5 years later

Guess what, 5 years later I am on another generation of backcountry tech devices.   Back then, I was carrying a Spot Connect satellite communicator, a Samsung Galaxy III smart phone and a Garmin Oregon 400 handheld GPS.  I still carry the same 3 functions, but now it’s a new Garmin InReach Mini, a Galaxy 7, and an Oregon 600.  And, no surprise, they are better. The GPS and smartphone were replaced as they died or aged.  The new Garmin satellite communicator just out performed the competition.

Garmin InReach Mini

The InReach Mini gives me two way SMS communication, which is the new standard for backcountry satellite devices.  Emergency notification with location (“calling in the cavalry”)  was the first popular backcountry satellite application and still remains an important, if hopefully infrequently used, function. Now having been on the receiving end of one of these contacts, I can say that it is useful, but still leaves lots of room for confusion.  Being able to confirm and detail the nature of the emergency and have two way communication with responders makes life better and safer for all concerned.  Expanding that two way capability to ordinary messaging offers a new level of utility.  Both current SPOT and Garmin InReach devices do this.  For higher annual subscription costs, you can also add connection to social media and location tracking.  But I am quite happy with a basic level plan.  Compared to the SPOT X communicator, the InReach Mini is a hands down winner and when my annual SPOT contract was up, I switched. Continue reading

GPS trials

Garmin or Android

Oregon 400i – Samsung Galaxy SIII – Oregon 600

A lot our adventures leave developed trails and follow informal boot paths, or sometimes no paths at all. Our terrain is frequently heavily wooded or high relief, so that visual navigation is restricted. We use our GPS’s a lot.

I have always used a handheld Garmin unit.  But lot of my friends have switched to GPS applications on their smart phones.   I wondered if I was missing something.    So this spring I put the smart phone GPS app approach to some real world testing. Continue reading

Route finding

RoutefindingAs readers will have noticed, it has been a while since I made my last post.  There are several reasons.  I finished most of the topics I originally outlined to cover lighter weight backpacking.  I haven’t had any recent suggestions of additional items to include.  And I have been out peakbagging, as suggested by my last post, Fast and Light.

A lot of trips I am doing now have some element of off-trail travel.  Sometimes it goes better than others. On these trips I will have a destination, typically a peak, a topo map of the area with the suggested off-trail route superimposed on it, and the same suggested route loaded on my GPS with its topo background map.  That’s quite a lot of information.  But still I am impressed by the number of route finding decisions I make continuously trying to get from here to there.

I know generally where I want to go, following a compass or GPS heading.  I now have to find a way to get there, which may involve several steps of decreasing scale, right down to the level of where my foot goes next.  In our big timber, 50 yards is a good range over which to survey the next piece of route. But within that distance there may several obstacles to avoid, such as a fallen 4-6 ft. log, a rock nose or gully.  Even closer in, you need to avoid holes, slippery sticks or stands of dense small trees.  At the same time taking care not to wander off your general track. This requires a lot of concentration.  Chatting with a hiking partner often leads off track quickly.

Some recent trips provide examples of route finding challenges. Continue reading

Fast and light

P1070977Well, maybe not that fast. But once you have slashed the weight of your multi-day gear, you can carry less for day trips as well.  With both Washington’s Cascades and Olympics in day trip range, I have many wilderness outings available.  But it is wilderness and in a day you can get just as far away from trail head as you might on a short backpack.  The 10 Essentials still apply.

Last summer one of the authors of a new epub “Guide to 100 peaks at Mount Rainer National Park (not including the big one)” introduced me the wonderful world of all the other places in the park.  While some of these 100 peaks are well known favorites, many don’t get visited often.  The guide takes you to parts of the park that lie in between the popular entrances.  Some of the peaks are hikes.  A few are technical climbs, but most are what get called “alpine scrambles”, like Barrier Peak shown in the photo.  The route may be a boot track or simply cross country.  Early season, there may be snow, and sometimes rock scrambling happens.  A 3,000 ft. elevation gain is typical, so lightweight gear is good.  I have gotten seriously hooked on these peaks.  Barrier was number 41 for me.

Continue reading

Backcountry electronics

Garmin OregonBackcountry electronics might seem like a contradiction.  After all, don’t we go to the woods to get away from all that stuff?  Still the power and productivity electronics provide us today can be persuasive.

In the backcountry,  I supplement my navigation with GPS and I use satellite connection for emergency and routine location reporting. Continue reading