Have you seen my solar charger?

The White Mountains//New Hampshire//Photo by Micah “ManCub” Goldberg//Text by Anne Baker, marketing assistant

There’s a debate out there that might generate more heat than the age-old question of “App-uh-ley-chun” versus “App-uh-lach-uhn,” and that’s the issue of technology and the Appalachian Trail. As hikers, how do we use things like mobile devices without diminishing the A.T. experience for ourselves and others?

Benton MacKaye, the A.T.’s visionary, originally proposed that the Trail would be a series of work, study and farming camps along the Appalachian Mountains. He wanted those camps to be a refuge from city life, which he felt was quickly encroaching on society. His dream didn’t quite work out that way, but the idea is still present: get away from it all, and learn something.

We can be apprehensive of combining technology and outdoor experiences, and with good reason. Maybe we are afraid it will make us lazy. Less prepared. More reliant on a glowing screen than our intuition. Able to occupy a comment box on Facebook but not a seat around a campfire. And, perhaps we’re also afraid it will make us care more about the photo we post to Instagram than what it means to look at the view itself (“What did the sky look like that day? Let me consult #ISummitedKatahdinAndItWasAwesome because I was too caught up in sharing my experience instead of observing it.”)

There’s not an app out there that will prepare us for everything we will encounter while we’re out on the A.T. But technology is here, and it’s silly to pretend it doesn’t exist. The dilemma, then, lies in its use: how can technology enhance the A.T. experience and not detract from it?

Let us know your thoughts in a comment below.

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8 Comments

  1. Technology is here to stay, so its really just a matter of maintaining balance – like all things in life. If you are out hiking and trying to enjoy nature, but are not focused on it because you are too wrapped up in your technology – then you are missing a wonderful opportunity. However, if you use technology to enhance the experience, to help you gather your thoughts and impressions (instead of a paper journal), and to share your experience with others – without distracting from the experience itself, that is a good thing.

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  2. When actually moving on the trail turn off the phone. While hiker A may be into walking and tweeting, B thru Z are not. Be respectful of others. Real simple.
    Besides hiking the trail and tweeting/talking can be very dangerous.

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  3. During my thru-hike I was surprised to see the number of hikers who constantly had ear buds squeezed into their heads throughout the day/night. I’m a big believer in HYOH so if that is your thing, enjoy. I do believe those folks are missing out on the incredible symphony of sound that can be heard in the woods. From the quiet subtlety of a song bird in the distance to the crashing of a tree branch on the forest floor during a wind storm, there are so many unique sounds to experience while out in the woods. Of course, if you are blasting music in your ears, you might also miss the snorting mama bear just on the other side of that rock outcropping…

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    1. There are two kinds of AT hikers. Those in the ” It ain’t about the miles, it’s all about the smiles ” camp and those in the ” It ain’t about the smiles, it’s all about the miles ” camp. Some hikers like me are out there because I’m a nature lover and want to hear all of the sounds around me. Some are out there to see what they are made of and if they are tough enough to live in the woods for days on end. They hike from dawn to dusk with their eyes glued to the ground rarely stopping to enjoy the scenery; so they listen to music as a distraction. I fear people have forgotten why the AT was created in the first place. “A footpath for those who seek fellowship with the wilderness”. Now it has become a race track for people only interested in getting from one end to the other as fast as possible.

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  4. Having communications can be a lifesaver (even if not all sections have service). Maybe a flip-phone or something like that would be a good compromise. If you really have to talk to someone, you can, but otherwise, you can’t do much with it.

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  5. I guess for me this new digital technology is about having a way to be in touch with my spouse when I’m out hiking for several days (pay phones being fewer and farther between), just to say I’m still alive and to ask how things are at home. But the phone also serves as my camera, whether I post immediately to Instagram or not. And it’s where I take notes about things I see, or think of while I’m walking. And it can hold reading material, like a birding guide. In short, that one piece of electronic gear takes the place of several other items in my pack. And of course I agree with other commenters about politeness and discretion so as to keep from intruding on other people’s communing with the wild.

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  6. I see more people carrying those orange “SPOT” satellite messenger devices on the AT; especially older hikers. Last year I met an older thru-hiker on the AT in Georgia who carries one. He fell and broke his shoulder on the AT the year before and credited this device for saving his life. Yes, experience and good judgment on the trail are essential, but we can all have misfortune and it is good to have technology on the trail just in case.

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