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Navigation and Technology on the CDT

When I first started looking into hiking the CDT my first concern was being able to navigate the trail. I had heard that the trail hasn't been 100% completed and at parts there just isn't a define trail to follow. After doing more research I felt better about being able to make it from Mexico to Canada however it will take a little more effort of following the path.


So when I hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) I didn't plan much or know what I was doing. I just read that I would be following white blaze marks from Georgia to Maine. For the most part that was true and never looked at a map at all. The only thing I had with me was the data book that told me distances between the water sources, campsites and towns. You would think walking that far with no navigation tools I would get lost but the fact is I never did. There was one spot when I came to a road crossing I went left where I should have gone right because I thought I saw what looked like a white blaze but I turned around pretty quickly.

AT Data Book from my 2004 AT Thru-Hike
You can see the white blazes on the trees and rocks

Then fast forward to 2016, when I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) I knew I would need to step up my navigation game as the trail would not be marked like the AT. I knew that being able to read a map would be a very useful skill however technology in backpacking had come a long way since 2004.


In 2004 there was no such thing as a smart phone and cell phones weren't really a thing at least on trail. If you wanted to get in contact with something you had to wait until you got to a town then use a payphone and if you were lucky there was a library with internet connection. When I did my blog for the AT I actually wrote my daily journal entries on paper then when I went into town to resupply I would mail that set of journal entries home which then someone would type up to email to my AT newsletter list.


So by 2016 technology made backpacking a lot easier to navigate and communicate.


Like I said I needed to be able to read map but only as backup as with the invention of smart phones I had my own personal navigation device that could tell me where I was at all times and if I was on or off trail. Not to mention I was able to communicate back home much easier. There were times I had cell service on trail and wouldn't have to wait until town to use a payphone. Also I was able to post my daily journal straight to my blog and no middle man having to do that. Each night I would type up daily adventure and when I would get to town or if I had reception at camp I would just upload everything for people to read.


To help with the navigate part I used an app called Halfmile, developed by a trail angel. He designed and maintained the app for free until this past year. Along with the app there where paper maps that matched up. One could get away with just having the app which many people do however if you smart phone runs out of power and breaks then you could be in trouble so any time I go out hiking I make sure I carry paper maps.

The different screens of the Halfmile app, I mainly used the middle one
Halfmile paper maps

The app was very helpful and never had any issues and could have gotten away without needing the paper maps as I never had any phone issues. However, the paper maps were very useful in the Sierras where the trail was covered in snow so being able to read a map was nice. I will say I would have gone lost several times without the app just because you would come across lots of different side trails and sometimes they were not marked very well, not like the AT.


Now with the CDT I will have more of a challenge when it comes to navigate mainly for the fact the trail is used less than the AT & PCT so the define path just isn't the same, same with trail markings. But technology has helped with that with lots of different apps to use. Right now the most popular is Guthooks, which is what I'll be using. Its a lot like Halfmile's but has a lot of more functions like you can see real time updates from hikers making comments on trail conditions and water sources just to name a few.

Guthook app

Just like the PCT I will carry paper maps with me that are similar to the Halfmile ones, but doesn't have as much detail and info but will work just the same if my phone stops working.

The last part of my navigation tools will be a Garmin InReach which is basically a satellite phone that will track my location and allow my to send out basic text messages anywhere. It also has a SOS function so if I'm out in the middle of no where and no one

Garmin InReach

is around and I get hurt to where I can't hike out I can hit a button that will alert search and rescue my exact location to where they can find me. Hopefully I will never have to use that function but its nice to know I'll have that. The other nice function of this device is that it will send a ping every 20 minutes so people back home can actually follow my path and see how far I go every day in real time. I will still try to keep my blog as update to date as possible but that just depends of when I will have cell coverage.



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