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Cell Phones 101

Last Updated on December 28, 2018 by mountainswithmegan

I’m a bit of a social media addict, so I was constantly taking photos and uploading them to Facebook during my thru-hike. Also, my mom liked

Gotta have that cell phone while traveling.
Gotta have that cell phone while traveling.

to regularly receive reassuring text messages from me letting her know I was still alive. While it’s definitely nice to disconnect from the internet and telephone world for an extended period of time, it’s also nice to know that you have cell phone battery in case there’s an emergency.

How do I charge my phone during my thru-hike?

Hikers eventually become masters of scouting for outlets in town. I went to the grocery store in every town, so that was my ideal place to charge up. If you poke around next to the pop machines, there are usually open outlets. Just plug in your phone and hide it under your pack while you shop. If you are with other hikers, you can take turns being the designated pack and cell phone babysitter. Don’t worry about people thinking you’re weird for charging your phone outside of the grocery store. Most locals are using to seeing hikers lurking around.

Most fast food restaurants and coffee shops have outlets available. If you go to a diner, the waitress can usually plug in your phone while you eat. If you stay in a motel or hostel, you will have no problem charging up.

How do I make my battery last between towns?

Set your phone to airplane mode and the battery will last for days. My SmartPhone doubled as my camera, so I kept it in a Ziploc (bad idea, read below) in my hip belt. The battery usually lasts longer on airplane mode than it does when you’re constantly turning it on and off to take photos. Extremely cold temperatures will also make the battery die quickly. Put your phone in your sleeping bag with you on cold nights, and the battery will stretch for longer.

What about backup battery chargers?

Having a backup battery charger is a good way to go. Right now, I have a $15 battery charger that I got at Walgreens. It charges my phone about 1 1/2 times. I can charge it with my normal USB phone charger, and it only weighs a few ounces.

I tried using a solar charger at one point, but it wasn’t very effective. There are usually trees covering the trail, and the East gets lots of cloudy days. Granted, I had one of the smaller, cheaper solar chargers. I’m not sure how effective a large, fancy solar charger would be.

How often is there cell phone service?

Verizon is my cell phone provider, and I had service pretty regularly. A lot of the time, I would hike to the top of a mountain and update my Facebook status. There were plenty of places where I didn’t have cell service, but if I checked my phone regularly I could usually get a few bars at some point during the day. I would guess that I had cell phone service 60% of the time.

A good friend of mine used AT&T and he almost never had service, not even in towns. Verizon works the best along the trail.

Do I need a waterproof case?

Unless you bury your phone deep in a dry bag in your pack, you should probably get a waterproof case. I got caught in a sudden hail storm in Virginia, and even in my Ziploc bag, my phone got wet and never turned back on again. Luckily, my mom likes hearing from me, so she bought me a new phone and sent it to me. Left to my own devices, I would never have been able to purchase a new phone.

It’s worth the $10 investment to buy a waterproof case and protect your phone from the elements. I have a clear case, and I can leave it on while I take photos.

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