Always on the lookout for an opportunity to shave a little weight from my pack, or just refine a system, without compromising either safety or effectiveness, I recently had a glance at one of the heavier aspects of my gear- the electronics. 2020 has seen a few major changes to what I will be carrying on longer backpacking trips.
Possibly the largest change made by Three Points of the Compass in 2020 was away from my old reliable ‘rugged’ mobile phone- a 215g dual sim RugGear RG730. This can take a hell of a battering but the camera wasn’t really cutting it for me. So I recently changed out to an IP68 187g Samsung Galaxy S20+ encapsulated in an Olixar protective case, the two together totalling 227g. This offered no weight saving as regards my phone but I have gained one of the best Android cameras available. This means that I no longer have to carry either my 252g Olympus Tough TG-4 camera (which also requires a 48g proprietary charge lead) or 298g Sony RX100M5.
I used to pack along a handy little 47g Pedco Ultrapod for use with my camera. This is lightweight, has a rotating ball head and the velcro strap enables it to be fixed to thinner trees, fence posts etc. It is the sort of piece of gear that immediately won me over as soon as I saw it. Extremely practical and lightweight, I have been including one in my gear for years. Then I realised that I hardly…. ever…. used…. it.
As a standalone tripod it is fine, but as regards velcro clamping it to something either I couldn’t be bothered, or more often there wasn’t a branch or post handy for the shot I wanted. Or even when wrapped around a branch when there was one, I couldn’t quite get the angle I wanted to with the rotating head. So I stopped carrying it and looked for a lighter option. Mostly I went back to simply resting the camera on tree stumps, walls, rocks or my beanie. That is all well and good for a rectangular base camera but doesn’t work so well when only carrying a phone for taking photos, so it was back to the search for a lightweight and small tripod. For this I have dug out my mini Joby tripod which is combined with a Joby GripTight phone clamp. Obviously a very low profile so not great in tall grass or vegetation and not fantastically lightweight at 44g either but I haven’t come up with a better and lighter solution yet. I have been tempted to rustle up a folding support out of correx but while that would be fantastically lightweight I am not convinced that it would be a particularly secure way of holding a phone. You may notice that the screw on the mini-tripod is pretty torn up now, purely my fault for using a wrong size coin for tightening the wide slot in the soft metal screw.
Having made the change, if only on some hikes, to relying on just my phone for photography and no longer taking a dedicated compact digital camera, I have also included a bluetooth remote shutter. This is a simple little plastic affair made in China that costs less than a fiver and weighs just 10g. It only works ten paces away but that is enough for most of what I require. This is powered by a CR2032 button battery that will last the duration of a hike. The phone has a slot for a second micro SD card so I include a spare SanDisk 128GB Extreme Pro micro SD card in my electronics pouch should I need to swap out the one in the phone.
Over the past few years Three Points of the Compass has mostly used the excellent Anker PowerCore II 10000mAh external battery/portable charger on longer hikes. This has also accompanied me on overseas trips when unsure of charge facilities en route. I would guess that I will continue to use it on family holidays for the foreseeable future. However, it has sustained a small crack in its case recently and I also wanted to look at changing to the faster USB-C port. I have been trying to make the switch to a more integrated electronics system in recent years and moving away from AA and AAA batteries. So it was first a question of mAh capacity.
How much power do I require? Less than most it would appear. Three Points of the Compass doesn’t vlog, I watch few films in a tent and listen to little music on trail, I don’t use an electronic GPS nor do I carry a PLB/satellite messenger. I might have a digital version of a trail guide with me but actually prefer a hard copy despite the weight penalty. Sometimes I may pack along some ear buds, particularly if expecting to be in a shared room for a night, in a bothy, hostel or bunkhouse, and not wishing to disturb others. That said, buds are not used much at all. When included with my trail electronics, these are my 20g Treblab XR500 bluetooth ear buds. These require charging after about eight hours of use. So on a weeks hike, probably never requiring a charge. These have a micro USB port.
Finally, I doubt I will ever be carrying a drone or anything else requiring frequent re-charging with me. Therefore at present a 10000mAh power bank continues to be sufficient to my needs. For now, my recharging necessities are fairly small- these are my phone, buds, headlamp and thumb sized LED. I may also need to charge my power bank when possible.
My 10000mAh Anker PowerCore II Slim that used to take up residence in my electronics pouch weighs 208.5g sans charge lead and measures 137mm x 66mm x 15mm. I have replaced this with the Nitecore NB10000. This has the same capacity (actual- 6400mAh), it weighs 150.6g and measures 122mm × 59mm × 11mm. Knowing mAh doesn’t necessarily provide much indication on efficiency of a powerbank. The NB10000 is 34450 mWh which, after taking power transfer loss in to account, translates as a very reasonable 230 mWh/gram. This is amongst the best power delivery/gram return currently available. No doubt further developments will improve on this further. When purchased, it came with a 15g 0.5m long USB-A / USB-C charge lead, however I prefer a tougher and longer lead which is handier in B&Bs, hostels, bunkhouses and snatched charges in cafes and pubs while on trail. So have swapped this out for my preferred charge lead- one of the 0.9m long, double-braided, aramid armoured PowerLines from Anker, this weighs 34.2g. This has USB-C to USB-3.0 so will support fast charging. Should the lead get damaged that will be game over for re-charge capability so I always include a spare shortie lead. This little Anker non-armoured PowerLine also gives the opportunity for through charging.
For many years I have used a 50.4g folding Mu Tablet plug with single port that provides a 5v 2.4 Amp outlet. However the Samsung phone supports ‘super fast charging’, so I now include the 63g Samsung 25W adapter to enable me to quickly plug in the phone if opportunity arises to top up its 4500mAh battery.
Not all backpacking electronic peripherals have made the switch to the more robust USB-C connector yet, so I have also included a tiny little 1.8g USB-C female to micro USB adaptor from Glubee. This enables me to charge my headtorch, mini torch and camera if taken. It may be that I need to change the other way instead, so a second mini adapter converts micro USB female to USB-C.
The Olight H1R Nova is an absolutely stunning headtorch and it remains my headtorch of choice for winter hiking, however I have decided it is overkill for the great majority of my hiking. The headband especially is a heavy addition and the light requires a proprietory charge lead.
I now carry the popular Nitecore NU25 with a home made head strap on longer hikes. This headtorch also has a red LED that the Olight lacks. I have the yellow bodied light so that it is more easily found if dropped.
I don’t really know what is going on recently with my gear choices but I have also swapped out to yet another Nitecore product. They do seem to release products that appeal to me. For many years I have carried the efficient, minuscule and feature packed Photon Freedom Micro button light. Actually I have carried two, one white LED, plus a red LED for more discreet use when wild camping and in packed bothies etc. However my headtorch now has a red LED that is easily accessible without scrolling through white LEDs, and I have additionally made the switch where I can to rechargeable electronics, so do not wish to pack along spare button batteries for the Photons. I now include a rechargeable Nitecore Tube v2 as a backup light. I have used one of the quick release clips from a Photon to attach this to the zip pull of the little 11g dyneema packing cube in which the majority of my on-trail electronics are kept. The Tube by itself weighs less than two Photons and a single spare 2032 button battery.
I also continue to include a tiny little 3g USB LED light in my electronics kit. This warm light can either plug into my powerbank or any USB port. For example many YHA hostels include a USB port beside each bed so this makes an ideal light for reading. Mine is adjustable in lumens so I can turn it right down if required.
This is my basic electronics kit for three season hiking. About the only tweak I would make to it for the majority of my longer hikes is whether I leave the ear buds at home and a swap out of the NU25 to the Olight H1R Nova head torch for winter hiking. This conglomeration of stuff is less than some and more than others will carry I am sure, but meets my needs perfectly adequately. Electronics and associated gear, such as phone clamp and tripod, add up considerably and form a large chunk of a backpackers base weight. Everything in the 2020 header image above totals up to 621 grams.
My trail electonics continue to evolve as what I feel are better or more suited products are released on to the market. When I contacted Nitecore to ask if my Samsung 25W quick charge plug adapter was OK to charge their power brick (I was told yes) they informed me that a larger capacity version (probably 20 000mAh) ) of the carbon fibre NB10000 will be arriving soon so I may consider swapping out to that depending on its specs.
This has been part of short series looking at the small pouches of gear carried by Three Points of the Compass when backpacking. Previously, I looked at my hydration, hygiene, ditty bag and First Aid Kit. My final blog on the subject will look at my ‘day bag’.