I packed my bag and in I put ....(5)

When I started planning this walk I had no idea about complicated all the stuff on gear is. There is a whole universe of innovators out there creating things to meet needs I didn’t even know I had and I think I’m just skimming the surface. One thing I did know was that carrying loads of stuff is not good news and on the treks I’ve done already I learnt how to travel light. What I didn’t know was that cutting things down is almost a “movement”, generates a huge amount of discussion and drives innovation and design for products most walkers and hikers, relying on shops in the high street, will not be aware of.  There are lots of really interesting things to get my teeth into, not just the footwear, but for every item there are light weight choices to be made. Good fun.

The thing which is giving me most grief is all the electronics stuff. I’m going on a long walk, I want to plan it, find my way, record it and ideally communicate as much of it as possible as I do it. I’ve got a number of problems. Firstly some of this stuff is expensive and I don’t like spending money. Secondly it’s complicated particularly the GPS stuff, not just the products but the maps (particularly as I’m planning to travel across six countries). Thirdly I haven’t used some of this stuff before, particularly GPS, and so don’t really know what I’m talking about. Fourthly it could end being heavy particularly if I can’t come up with some solution to keep all this stuff powered up. The electronics stuff is not such good fun.

There is a debate going on out there as to whether the smart phone is the whizzo bang device I talked about in my second bag packing blog – well it could be but it all depends on how precious you are about particular requirements and how willing you are to make do. At the moment, and I’m still working this out (requirements pushing me – meanness holding me back) but it looks like I need lots of devices – acknowledging this is progress of a kind and it looks like I might even have an answer to the recharging dilemma multiple devices present.

Device 1 - GPS

The thing I’m struggling with is the paper maps. Asked the question of Lighthiker and he rightly points out that walking the E4 is not bush whacking – most of it is along high profile and well marked national trails. If I had paper maps than I could use these in conjunction with the GPS on an IPhone for any navigation.

On the other hand if I had a high spec GPS wouldn’t this allow me to do all the route planning in advance and generate the paper maps. Starting with paper maps rather than digital maps you don’t get the same route planning functionality and if you could plot your route and print it via the GPS route planning software aren’t you getting the best of both worlds?

I’m looking at the different GPS devices and the SatMap Active 10 Active 10 looks particularly good. Although it’s the heaviest of all completing devices its new European service is impressive especially what looks like a partnership with the  German and Austrian Alpine Associations (Austrian mapping is proving a nightmare – more of that in my next blog). I’m also trying to understand the offer from Compe-GPS which also appears to have a European mapping service and supports both a standalone product and an Iphone product.

Device 2 - Netbook

The debate on this is whether I go for an iPad or not. Against it is expense, the lack of a keyboard and the fact that the OS system at the moment is not multi-tasking. In favour is its weight and exploding functionality. Had a go with my sister’s iPad and was very impressed and I think the on-screen key board will be fine and by the time I’m ready go it might have the same multi-tasking software Apple use on the latest iPhone.

Device 3 - Camera

I want to take half decent camera. At the moment I have a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 which is getting a bit old and bashed but is still far better than any phone based camera I have come across - it has a zoom lens for one thing. I might treat myself to the latest version, the Panasonic Lumix TZ10  ;which use GPS to geotag photographs – very handy.

Device 4 - Phone

I’m ashamed to say but I have never bought a phone - I have always had one through work. I now need to get one and it’s a bit of an intellectual challenge (seems to be a bit of a theme developing). The key consideration is what am I going to use it for in particular the extent to which I use it for GPS. If I go with a an iPad, than the iPhone probably makes sense in which case I wouldn’t need to take an iPod for music.

Device 5 - GPS Locator

I am interested something like the Spot personal tracker. It could be interesting for people to see if I’m still moving, tracking progress, and indeed has some safety benefits.

So I’m definitely in the nightmare world of lots of different devices all with different power stores and different recharging requirements. Thanks to Chris and Matt Aloise, who left a comment on the blog, I now have a better understanding of both the issues and opportunities associated with the world of power generation, storage and recharging (particularly the fact that some products have an internal recharging capability and some don’t). They also introduced me to a range of products from Me2Solar which I think could provide the solutions.

I think I have two key requirements - firstly to get rid of as many of the specialist recharging devices as possible and secondly to provide some power resiliance for the critical devices. In reality I only have one critical device and that’s the GPS - it’s also - compared to the others - energy hungry. What the Me2Solar range of products does is provide an intermediary store for energy - a larger battery - which can then be used to charge all the other devices (the Arigo); a universal power charger where devices don’t have an internal recharging capability (Pixo C2 plus); and a means of generating power through a light portable solar panel (the Aurora Pro 25).

So progress of a kind although the decision of the key piece of electronic kit, the GPS, is still to be made. What I think I will do is get myself a iPhone and start to understand how far that will take me and, at the same time, get a better understanding of what I can achieve through the Satmap and Comp-GPS mapping services.


  1. John, a big post and lots of thought provoking topics in one hit. Let me concentrate on the iPhone debate. First of all I will say I have one of these and I love it.

    The iPhone will meet several requirements...
    1. It's a phone :)
    2. It's your email
    3. It's a music player
    4. It's a camera (more in a sec)
    5. It's a blogging device
    6. It's an Internet browser
    7. It could replace your SPOT device
    8. Apps for Facebook, Google etc.

    Most of those are obvious. Some may not be.
    Depending on how you want to blog on the trail, the iPhone could be your solution. It has a great little keyboard, although it does need practice to become expert. If you use the iPhone to blog then you'll need to use the iPhone to take some pictures during the day, otherwise you will need to find some other way of getting the photos from your camera (TZ10 good choice btw) into the blog. That means an SD Card reader and an Internet connection in the same device - whatever that may be. If you blog with the iPhone you can insert a picture from the phone very easily. You're right the photos aren't great quality, but they are good enough for a blog page. Also consider Facebook integration from the iPhone - the ability to keep up to date - add videos or photos from the phone to FB and indeed YouTube should you want to.
    In terms of your SPOT tracker so folk back home can see where you're up to - there's an iPhone app for that, it's called InstaMapper and works in the same way. At the moment it needs to be a foreground app on the iPhone and in that format it will eat the battery, but that should change in time, especially if you go for the iPhone 4 with multitasking. It updates your position on a webpage and people log in and can see your location on Google maps. How that will work in reality when you're in the middle of nowhere I don't know, but should be fine for villages etc.

    I can't add much on the GPS side of things as you know. I'm a Memory Map user and I don't think they have european maps. One thing I will say about the iPhone and GPS is in a similar vein to the InstaMapper - GPS apps tend to need to be foreground, with the screen on in most cases and this burns battery rapidly. I would seriously consider a separate GPS and use the iPhone for everything else.

  2. Hi Stuart

    Really helpful stuff. It confirms that I need to get on, buy an Iphone, become proficient and then see what else I need. The trouble is I'm not an Iphone user at the moment (Blackberry Storm), and not a GPS user, so need to get out of the dark on both counts.

  3. Hi John

    Think the iPhone will be brilliant - don't worry about not being proficient. There's a reason why Apple is so good...it's all so intuitive and easy to get your head round in no time at all. You won't miss your Blackberry at all!

  4. Hi John
    Just found your bog - have added you to Google Reader and will get back to you in the next few days.
    All the best

  5. Hi John
    About the GPS, I've made an other choice : A Dacota Garmin. Not for the device itself but for the availability of free maps over OpenStreetMap data and contribution to the project of mapping the European Long Distance Paths.
    German people have created very good free topo maps.

  6. Hi Vincent

    Thanks for the comment, very interesting, in particular I'm afraid I didn't now about the project mapping the European Long Distance Paths so any information on this would be very helpful.

  7. If using GPS alongside paper maps the greatest value of the GPS is in giving you an accurate grid reference for your position. The most basic gps will also enable you to tracback, enabling you to get yourself back on a route you have strayed from.A BIG disadvantage of maps, like the French 1:50,000 is the lack of grid numbers.
    In most cases a cheapo gps will provide these essential functions and also have the advantages of longer battery life and using AA batteries.
    Many smartphone GPS systems only give you your position in Long/Lat which is of no use at all.

    1. Hi Roger - thanks for that. I'm definitely not a GPS expert but what I do in France is download a trail from GR-Info and use then use the Iphone to locate myself against the trail whenever I loose the signs (which in my experience are fairly good in France). Because I'm only using the iPhone when I miss the trail, and I'm not tracking, the battery lasts a whole day without any trouble.

      When I'm planning the trip I use the online version of the IGN map database which gives me an annual license for the whole of France at all scales for about 25 euros. One thing I find really useful about the maps is that as well as marking and number the trails they also give you the location of accommodation of all types.

      Best wishes