Bring a Computer?

I am playing with ideas and I think I could reduce a workable desktop into a cubic foot of space. I’d have low power, batteries, and solar recharging. I am curious about the project.

The big question in my mind is Why? I certainly prefer writing on a word processor but a notebook seems like better technology for a trip. Still, maybe I’m not seeing all the reasons?

Does anyone read sensors or do anything with a computer on their trips? I’m not talking about a GPS, phone or emergency radio. I’m talking about a tablet or laptop or ???

I’m very curious if anyone has brought a computer along, perhaps for viewing pictures etc…

Hmmm No


I travel into wilderness areas to pretend for a short while that the world is a different place. I bring at least one smart phone, but typically this is for GPS/maps that augment the paper versions. If there’s service, I may also get updated wind/weather. I typically limit my communication to safety updates.

As for a laptop, I can’t say I’ve ever had the urge. Most are delicate and power hungry. You really need a good reason to lug even the smallest one along. There are certainly scientific and military reasons.

If writing is your thing then why not just use an extremely portable and energy efficient smart phone to record audio that you can transcribe later?

Or, paper and pencil…

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Best to unplug unless you are writing a book or articles to publish. Keep a journal if you like with paper and pencil.
In wild country a phone is often of little use. A sat phone or other device can be helpful. I had a medical emergency once in Oregon and there were no helicopters available. It took all day to get to a hospital.

If you’re looking to do something with sensors, you don’t need a full computer. You could use a Rasberry Pi or a phone with bluetooth to gather sensor data…

When I kayak, I do gather a fair amount of data…all biometric and GPS…via the Garmin watch on my wrist. Occasionally I’ll gather scenic data via my phone or GoPro. :slight_smile:

Though we (or at least, “I”) still refer to them as phones, they’re more accurately pocket computers. The “phone” capability is perhaps 5% or less of the usefulness. Therefore they are still quite useful when not connected to the wireless network.

I often carry two now. There’s my old/outdated Kyocera Brigadier that’s incredibly waterproof that lives in my PFD. I use that one for occasional GPS checks and maybe some pictures if the mood strikes and it’s right there.

The other one is my “real” phone and lives protected inside a drybag in a hatch. For not-so-remote areas there are plenty of opportunities to connect if one desires and for the reasons already mentioned.

For absolute emergencies I carry a PLB. If I were going on a longer adventure far, far away I’d consider a satellite phone or at least a two-way satellite text communicator (eg. Spot).

If networks are sparse or non-existent, turn on “Airplane Mode” to save your battery. Otherwise the cellular transmitter is using a lot of power for nothing.

But I only mentioned it as a viable alternative to a full computer. I really doubt the OP was looking for a debate on how useful smart phones can be in the “wilderness”.


Never brought a computer or laptop. At most I might bring a tablet, but usually not.

No debate.

Just curious.

Right off the bat, I have to admit that I, personally, am something of a Luddite with regards to electronics of any sort while paddling. I don’t own a cell phone, GPS, or carry anything beyond a weather alert radio. Well, I guess I did bring a walkie talkie once, thinking it might have some safety value, but found it unnecessary and didn’t repeat the practice.
We’ve been doing gatherings in the Ozarks for quite a while now and those aren’t typical river (or BWCA or coastal kayaking type) trips. Its gotten to be a lot like a paddler’s family reunion. We “take over” a portion of a public campground in the off season and each day run shuttles to various sections of river. Its almost the only really practical way to organize for a group of twenty plus canoes and tents - can you really count on finding a sand/gravel bar every night that’s large enough for such a group on most rivers?
For nine years I used to lead a true Pnet (OK, Pcom) river trip on the Wisconsin, but that is an exceptional river with regards to large sandbars and nobody brought a computer on those trips. Its too likely to get seriously rained on or get sand in expensive equipment.
But at the Ozark campground gatherings, or perhaps other base camping setting, its a different story…

One year boyscout (once a regular poster and still lurking about, I suspect) brought his lap top and collected the photos of all the participants, did some editing, compiled them into a slide show, put them to music, and burned copies for all the folks who participated. Bob Seger’s Against the Wind it was - well suited for that trip and a bunch of ageing paddlers (c’mon fess up, you’re ageing too…)
That was a worthy endeavor IMHO. Kudos to boyscout on that…

But unless you have a project like that in mind and a place where you can do it without risking equipment damage, I advise against bringing a computer on the water. I’d suggest taking notes on paper and putting them on a computer when you get back. Just my 2 cents…

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I worry about people that cannot unplug from their devices. I rarely go anywhere with people that use them on trips. I don’t mind if they bring them along for emergencies if they are out of sight.

I had a friend that I took fishing. Being a modern guy, he spent the first hour and half taking pictures with his phone, taking video, narrating it, and launching it all out to his friends. He never said a word to me. That was his last trip on my fishing boat.


Take a computer on a river trip?

Surely you jest…

In the mid 1980’s I attended the 21 day Outdoor Educator course at the
National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, Wyoming. I spent 21 days in the the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming; humping 70 to 80 pound backpack, and had a ball. Part of my “personal” gear was a ball point pen and a small notebook. Found that notebook recently, and it provided me will all I, or anybody “who cared” would need to know about that course, and my personal experiences.
Didn’t need to carry a computer then; don’t want to carry one now.

On the other hand; if a person chooses to increase their gear load with gadgetry, I say “go for it”!
Just don’t ask me to carry any of it. :wink:

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I choose not to take any computer-like devices on my trips other than GPS, Spot, VHF and EPIRB. My cell phone is turned off and stored under-deck in a waterproof box with my wallet, car keys and passport. My wife and friends can see where I am by the Spot and I send a generic message that “I’m OK” once ashore but communication with anyone other than shipping traffic doesn’t happen.

I never use my iPhone camera for taking trip photos. Only a couple of modest small point and shoot cameras (one is waterproof). I don’t know how images come out until I am home and download them onto my PC. Sometimes I am really disappointed.

I write a lot and create reports of all significant trips for posting online and for publishing. I use small 5" x 7" wire bound notebooks and ballpoint pen. Old school, I suppose, and I accept that I am simply not compatible with having any sort of computer / battery charging system or communication expectations with home when on the water.


Nature trips, whether on water or not, is when I try to disconnect from everything. I will carry my phone on all trips for emergencies and for photo ops. I also do wildlife photography, so on a trip with that I will bring camera gear. If it’s a day trip, that includes a few extra batteries, only the lenses I feel I will use, and lenses cleaning wipes (although I usually have a few of those for my glasses I wear). If I’m on a multiple day trip I will bring more stuff just to keep charged and clear memory cards if I need be. But again, for a basic trip on the water or shore for a day or more I will just have my phone and a battery pack for my phone if it’s a long trip.

I view the point of going out as disconnecting from society

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3mterswell has eluded to the importance of electronic devices in an emergency in wild country, and the fact that their use requires some discipline.

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I had a theory that if I could take my work on trips, I’d be able to afford more time away from home because I’d continue making a living during trips. I experimented with that for about a year and finally gave it up. First was the danger of theft of the computer if I left it in my car, heat damage in the car, or damage or loss from a mishap on the water. Second, I could rarely find reliable wi-fi in small remote towns, which I need for my work. I would have to leave my campsite and make long trips into town in search of wi-fi. Often I would find myself working outside a library in the dark to pick up wi-fi. Not fun. Third, I REALLY resented the time devoted to work and wi-fi hunting. Trip logistics are already time consuming each day; adding work to that pares the fun part of the day down to a few hours. Finally, my clients weren’t happy because I wasn’t able to stay in touch with them several times a day as they expected and without wi-fi I couldn’t guarantee deadlines. Missed deadline=lost client.

For trips of more than a few days I now take a spare 11" laptop that has little data of value on it and I use it mainly for weather reports, occasional emails, and maybe research onthe local area. It’s a cheap laptop that wouldn’t be disastrous if I lost it. I just tell people I’m going to be out of touch and that’s that. The purpose of a trip is to disconnect from work and come back refreshed with renewed energy for work. If you don’t disconnect, you don’t return to work with the same enthusiasm.

There is so much here, which confuses me.

  1. You (bosahv) think that you will be able to do something, but you can’t see a reason for doing it.
    Ok - wouldn’t the easiest solution then be: Do not do it?

  2. You will be able to cut the size down to a cubic foot.
    What? I am not used to cutting the size of something down to 1 cubic foot for a trip. If it is that huge, I either don’t bring it, or I try to cut the size down to something smaller than a cubic foot.

  3. In a world with tablets and laptops, how can it take 1 cubic foot of space to cover one’s computational needs on a paddling trip?

Should you take a computer on a paddling trip? The mere fact that you can ask this question suggests that you are from a different planet than me… No offence, but isn’t the point to live in nature, live in the moment, get away from it all? If you ‘need’ to come up with an excuse for bringing a computer along, you don’t need a computer, you need addiction counselling for your computer dependency.


I did during a 2004, 6-month paddle across the USA. I wanted to bring people aboard so to speak instead of being all about “me”, and wanted to share with people, schools etc. I updated every few days along with photos and compared my journals with the Lewis & Clark Journals that I was following the route of etc. It was 2004, so the technolgy was new and a challenge having very little cell coverage…in fact I used a satillite phone to update the website at the time. I had over 10,000 people follow the journey. Don’t think Id do it again, its too easy with a cell phone now to do that.

Bringing electronic devices brings your culture with you. Same life with different scenery. Most of my serious adventures were before cell phones. A lot of them were in places were there is still no phone service. An emergency device like a sat phone is a great idea.

I only travel with people that either don’t use electronic devices or use discretion and discipline when using them.


You could use it for grubhub