I spent last weekend backpacking with a group of friends through the San Gabriel mountains located in Angles National Forest. The three-day expedition across a portion of the gorgeous Pacific Crest trail was going to be magnificent. It was to be a peaceful weekend without the busy city life, work, worries, and without technology . . . well, almost.
My HTC EVO 4G and EVO 3D came along with me on this trip. Since they have long since replaced my need for a separate digital camera, they were destined to come with me. I was also curious to see how they held up in extreme weather conditions.
A couple of days prior to the trip, I began to wonder how else I could make use of my phones while on the trail. Surely the camera wasn't the only feature that would be useful this weekend. Being an experienced outdoors man, I knew that wireless coverage was not something I could count on. But even without Sprint's awesome 4G service, there had to be more device features or apps that I could use while backpacking. So with a little pre-planning and foresight, I found a couple of ways to make better use of my EVOs.
Below are a few apps/features that I was able to enjoy on my EVO 4G and EVO 3D during a rugged outdoor weekend.
Adobe Reader (free)
A topographical map was marked up and distributed via email in PDF format prior to the trip. Even though I took a hard copy with me, I saved a digital copy on my phone's SD card in case my map got lost or somehow ruined. Even though the need for this app never arose, it was nice to know I had a backup copy just in case.
Google Maps (free)
Google Maps uses data – correct, but even without wireless coverage it was still useful during my trip. The Labs feature includes some great tools, like Pre-Cache Map Area, which allowed me to download a 10-square mile map area to my phone's SD card, and Measure, which will displaye accurate distances on the map after you tap two or more points. Both of these features, paired with my phone's GPS, allowed me to see where I was on the map and know how far I was from the next overnight location.
I wish I could have figured out a way to download satellite imagery too, but even without it, Maps proved to be indispensable. You can download more than one pre-cached area; just make sure to do it while in you have data access.
GPS Status & Toolbar (free)
I had originally installed this app after reading about its usefulness on G&E.
It provides tons of data, but the two most crucial ones to me were compass bearings and elevation readings.
Nothing beats a standard compass. However GPS Status was useful for double-checking orientation. I had been debating on purchasing a new wristwatch with altimeter prior to the camp for $50-70 bucks. I decided to not make that purchase and was pleasantly surprised when I later found that GPS Status provided me with that same data for free.
Flashlight (free from HTC)
Pre-installed on the EVO 4G and available for download on the EVO 3D via the HTC Hub app, the Flashlight app from HTC is simply awesome! No bells or whistles; it does solely what I needed it to – turn my phone's LED lights into a powerful flashlight. It can also double as an SOS signal. If my normal flashlight wasn't nearby, my EVO was standing by. Of course I used this sparingly since it tends to gobble up battery life.
Google Sky Map (free)
Being out in the forest, away from city light pollution was going to provide a great opportunity to star gaze. I'm not a huge astronomy buff, but I do enjoy looking at the stars and trying to identify some of the more popular constellations. Google Sky Map easily allowed me to identify stars, constellations, and even planets by simply pointing my phone to the sky. No data access required.
Lapse It (free)
Another app I learned about at G&E is Lapse It. During a portion of a downhill hike, I used it to create a short time-lapse video (see below). It's easy to use and quickly creates videos, and it turned out to be a fun little tidbit to share with people.
When I recorded this video, I was hiking in wet and snowy conditions while wearing a heavy backpack and trying to not fall or drop my phone. Please excuse how bumpy and blurry it is.
I didn't actually use Google+ while backpacking, but shortly after I returned it came in handy by automatically uploading all my photos to my Google+ account. A few weeks ago, something terrible happened on my EVO 3D – my SD card was completely formatted. Wiped clean without my asking it to do so! I freaked because I had several photos that I did not have backup copies for. I don't know how it happened, but I wanted to ensure that I never lost my photos like that again, so I enabled instant upload on Google+ to backup any photos I take.
Shortly after I got home, my pics where automatically uploaded and ready to be shared. This app just gives me a little more peace of mind.
Last but not least is the camera, the primary reason I decided to take my phones on the trip in the first place. I captured some vivid and crisp photos with my EVO 4G and because of the outdoor setting of trees and rocks at different distances, I got some great 3D photos with my EVO 3D.
Another useful feature of the camera software is the ability to Geo-tag photos. Now I can look back and see on Google Maps where the photo was taken. Below are some sample photos from my trip.
While on the backpacking trip, I kept both phones in Airplane Mode to increase battery life. Only GPS was enabled to allow several of the apps listed above to function. I carried a couple of spare batteries with, but never had to change them.
I also did not use any protective cases on either phone.
Both the HTC EVO 4G and 3D held up great during the trip. We got doused with all sorts of weather: wind, rain, snow, and hail. The trip didn't phase either phone.
While it's not Mount Everest conditions, it's still more than an EVO might usually be exposed to. You got to hand it to HTC; they make some tough hardware. I've dropped my HTC EVO 4G several times and it's never cracked or stopped working.
This backpacking trip ended up being a great camping experience for me. I look forward to doing something similar again in the future and maybe find more ways to use an EVO 4G or EVO 3D where no carrier coverage exists. If you have other ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments below.