Before Jean Taggart left home to conquer the 800-mile Arizona Trail last year, she made a detailed spreadsheet to organize her resupply provisions. To update friends and family on her progress, she bought a Garmin inReach Mini, which is a GPS and satellite messenger. She poured over hiker blogs and absorbed detailed information about each section of the trail on the Arizona Trail Association’s website—which also connected her with “trail angels” who could help her cache water on exceptionally dry sections of the route.
Taggart watched hikers’ YouTube vlogs that detailed nearly every step of the experience, helping her to visualize the unfamiliar trail. And she bought the Guthook Guides’ Arizona Trail app, which loaded her smartphone with detailed trail information, accessible even when she didn’t have cell coverage. She downloaded numerous podcasts and e-books to keep herself entertained during lonely stretches of trail. And she bought a high-powered Anker battery pack to keep her phone juiced up for the days-long stretches between trail towns.
There’s no doubt that technology has changed the way we hike, as it has all aspects of modern living. In the hiking world, tech perhaps has the most dramatic influence when it comes to long-distance undertakings—those that require weeks or months to complete. Tech has allowed hikers to upgrade to extremely lightweight gear, dramatically reducing pack weight. It’s enabled hikers to enter the wilderness armed with better route-navigation tools than ever before. And it’s potentially empowered people less experienced than Taggart to strike out on new adventures, armed with more information than ever before.
“Technology wasn’t why I decided to get into long-distance hiking,” Taggart says. “But for so many others, technology helps it become a possibility. It opens a door because there’s so much information out there.”
The results have been mixed. But for the most part, hikers—especially solo travelers like Taggart—say they feel safer and more prepared, and thus enjoy their experiences more. They say they’re more likely to travel alone in the wilderness, that they don’t feel they take additional risks just because they carry tools like a PLB. While these studies didn’t look at long-distance trails specifically, the results are likely applicable.