Communicating with friends, loved ones, your support person, and trail angels is a necessity for nearly all thru-hikers. There are many ways for thru-hikers to communicate with “the rest of the world”. We’ll look at cell phones, satellite phones, calling cards, and SPOT messengers. They each have their pros and cons, and what’s right for you really depends on your communication needs.
Cell phone coverage on the Pacific Crest Trail varies according to your service provider and the type of cell phone used. According to the USFS, thru-hikers have cell phone coverage roughly 70% of the time.
To see learn where along the PCT you’re likely to have cell phone coverage, choose the appropriate cell phone report from the following list:
You may also look into cell phone battery rechargers that operate on AA batteries. That way you can recharge your cell phone on the trail. To that end, there are also solar powered recharges available, though they are heavier, more expensive, and are slow to charge when it’s overcast.
If for some reason you need to have phone coverage more than 70% of the time on the PCT, you always have the option of bringing a satellite phone. Satellite phones are heavier than cell phones, and their service cost is substantially higher ($1.60 per minute is not uncommon). Carrying a satellite phone is a rare choice for a thru-hiker.
Calling home from payphones – whether using coins or calling collect – can get very expensive very quickly. Using a good calling card can reduce that expense substantially. Many hikers don’t carry any sort of communication device on the trail. Instead, they opt to just wait until they get to town and call from a payphone using a calling card. Calling cards charge you in two ways: a connection fee, and a per-minute fee. If you plan on making only a few, long duration calls, then you’ll want a calling card that has a low per-minute fee (ie: $0.02 cents per minute). These cards generally have a higher connection fee ($0.95 per call, for example). If you plan to make many shorter calls, you’ll want a lower connection fee, and can tolerate a higher per-minute fee.
SPOT Messengers are one-way communication devices. The messages you send are predetermined – you cannot change them while on the trail. The messages are sent via satellite and they include your latitude\longitude info. Since the the communication is simplex (one-way), and the messages are small, the cost is very low (about $100 per year for unlimited messages). If all you want to do is let your loved ones know where you are and that you are safe, then a SPOT Messenger is the way to go. If you don’t already know what a SPOT Messenger is click here to learn about it. Carrying a SPOT Messenger also allows you to dispatch Search and Rescue to your GPS location in the case of an emergency. That can bring you and your loved ones piece of mind.
Has the information above changed? Know something other hikers should know? Leave a comment below.