Best Tech Gear for the Great Outdoors

Modern technology advances mean that the gear you use today in outdoor activities is very different from what it was just a decade ago. What tech gear is truly best to have, of course, depends on the activity you will be doing, as well as the time and place of your expedition. Hiking in Montana in winter, for example, is very different from hiking in Hawaii in summer. Still, there are some universal items you are likely to need in most backcountry situations.

A Word About Your Smartphone

If just the thought of going somewhere without your smartphone makes you feel like you'd be missing a limb, don't worry. Your smartphone can accompany you in your journey -- though if you do take it with you, acquire a good-quality, sturdy case for it that's designed to protect it from outdoor damage.

"Smartphones can enhance your experience and provide a measure of safety in several ways," says Gregory Miller, president of the American Hiking Society. "Technology in the outdoors serves us in four important ways—connectivity with others, navigation, safety and knowledge about our surroundings." When used properly, a smartphone can replace or supplement some gear you should already bring, such as a flashlight, map, compass and camera, as well as add an extra layer of enjoyment to your adventures through various apps that help you identify plants and animals or tell you more about the area you're in.

"You should never rely solely on technology, though, as that can foster a false sense of security and can actually put you at risk,” cautions Miller. If the map app on your smartphone is the only way you have of knowing where you are while out on a hike, for example, you could be in serious trouble if the battery dies or you lose the device.

Technology can also be dangerous if it disconnects you from your surroundings, says Miller. "If you're listening to music, how will you hear if a mountain bike is coming up on you? Or perhaps potential assailants or wildlife nearby that might pose a threat? Just as you should not drive with headphones on, the same goes for taking a hike."

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

If you're on a day's outing relatively close to civilization, your smartphone's map and compass apps will serve you just fine, although, Miller says, you "should know how to use a compass and [paper] map—and bring those along." If you plan to be away from home for several days, though, it's more likely that your journey will take you somewhere out of reach of cell phone towers. In that case, you'll need a standalone satellite communicator to use in emergencies.

Consider getting a standalone GPS device to help you find your way, as well. Although smartphones can pinpoint your location even away from cell phone towers, provided you've downloaded the maps to the device beforehand, a standalone GPS device can do the same thing much faster and has a better battery life. These devices may be expensive but your safety is worth it. If price is a concern and you don't plan to use them frequently, look into renting them instead.

Let There Be Light

Even if you plan to be back before nightfall, you should always have a flashlight with you. If you're on a day's trip and your smartphone has a camera LED, you can use a flashlight app in a pinch. Otherwise, get a standalone flashlight, lantern or a headlamp. Combination light sources that can work in various ways, such as a lantern that can convert into a flashlight, provide versatile solutions in a single device. If you plan to be away for several days and battery life is a concern, get something that recharges during the day through solar panels.

Making Memories

Capturing your adventures shouldn't be a chore. Again, for a day's outing, your smartphone will likely suffice. For longer adventures, get a compact digital camera and, if you want video as well as snapshots, a camcorder designed for outdoor use. If you already own a camera or camcorder, invest in a protective case; even small particles of dirt and sand can cause irreparable damage. A small foldable tripod could also be a worthwhile investment, especially if the legs can wrap around or be strapped to various objects, such as tree branches or rocks—it'll help you shoot better pictures and video, without accidental motion blur.

Recharge Your Batteries

If your outing lasts more than a day, you'll likely need some way of recharging your smartphone and other devices that you rely on for safety and comfort. Select from a wide variety of portable chargers, from hand-cranked and solar-powered ones to devices that rely on fuel cells or even combination chargers and portable stoves that rely on the heat you generate while you cook. When you select a charger, consider how and when you'll use it, as well as other factors such as how much space it'll take up in your pack and how heavy it is.

Raining on Your Parade

All the technology in the world won't do you any good if it gets wet and malfunctions. Exactly how much waterproofing you'll need depends on where you will be and what you will be doing. In rainy or damp environments, you can pretty much expect your gear to get wet, but even if you're in a mostly dry area and the forecast predicts sunny weather throughout, you should ensure that any gear you might need to use at a moment's notice is either waterproof or has a waterproof case. There is a difference between waterproof cases that simply protect your devices from water drops or sprays, and fully submersible cases that will keep them safe even if they get dunked in water and stay there for several minutes. If you're simply going hiking and expect to get caught in the rain, for example, the former type of case will be enough; if you're going kayaking, on the other hand, the latter type of case is a good investment.

Photo Credits: Describe the Fauna/Demand Media

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