Weight comparison -Book versus Phones

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Which is heavier - a printed book or a mobile phone

A frequent argument for using phones only for bushwalking is that they are lighter than carrying the guide book. I suspect that those advocating phones as being lightest have not actually got out the scales and weighed the various options. The reality is that if you are trying to save weight, there is a much lighter option than carrying a phone. You might carry a phone for other reasons but its NOT the lightest option when used just for track notes and navigation.. We have been experimenting on multi-week walks with electronic devices for several years and have some experience of how well some options work. We have always carried a backup just in case the device did not perform as promised!
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Lets do this with a real example.
Take our Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) book - total book 431 gm (heavier than a phone only). If you really want to go light then cut out the pages and only carry the track note pages - about 320gm for the entire 50 day walk. (per page less than 3.5gm). A Samsung S7 phone with protective case - 203gm (too fragile without a case as we have found out). For 2-day trips, this is an easy comparison - see below. Cutting out just the pages you need - most 2 day trips would only need 4 double pages but I have taken a 6 sheet section and that is by far the lightest!

For multi-week trips, its not as simple as many assume. The phone only option gets heavier than just for a weekend as extras need to be carried as the battery in the phone will only last a few days. For us, we found you need to recharge the phone fully every 2 to 3 days (if you navigate with it, it needs to be on most of the day, we turn it off once we get to camp). For 15 to 20 weeks on the AAWT (Thredbo through to Mt Hotham) a 20,000mA Powerpack will charge the phone 7 times, and was just enough - heavy at 354gm (more than the phone). You might get by with a 10,000mA Powerbank by not having the phone on very often but its lower weight of around 200gm is irrelevant anyway as you will see when you compare it to using only cut pages. Weight is phone 203 plus battery 354 = 506gm
An alternative for recharging is to use a solar panel, we tried this on a 3 week walk in Bhutan. With no trees and good views of sky most of the day, on average, we got around 1/3 of charge needed for a phone each sunny day with a 4 piece panel the size of a pack. This was hanging off the pack and means you cant use the phone when connected. Most add a small battery pack to store the charge - at 100gm plus even more weight! Also, as you keep changing direction as you walk the solar panel is rarely at the optimum angle to the sun hence why the charge collected was nowhere near what the manufacturer specified. It was also not very convenient and was readily snagged, overall annoying and I would not do it again! On a rainy or cloudy day we got almost no charge. On the AAWT, with trees I would expect the solar panel output to be on average between 30 and 50% less, in good weather borderline for keeping the phone topped upy. The solar panel worked a bit better on a sunny rest day at base camp at 5000m but thats not what you do daily on a long walk! Overall, due to some cloud and rain the solar panel was not enough and we had to resort to our backup Powerpack which we carried just in case. Weight of panel with cord 354gm. Yes Powermonkey etc are smaller and lighter but we have tried those and they simply do not generate enough current for phones with larger screens. You could take a smaller lighter phone like our old Huwai at 135gm which needs less power but then the screen is also tiny and navigation with it is poor (no GPS!). Also even the old Huawai phone is still nowehere near as light as cutting out just the pages you need. The table below sums up the above notes. Weight is phone 203gm plus solar panel 354 = 557gm
 
Trip Length Full book Book pages Phone
Weekend - 2 days 431gm Assume 6 double pages = 20gm 203gm
15 to 20 days
Thredbo to Mt Hotham
431gm Entire book notes - 350gm
Section only 33 sheets - 115 gm
506gm or 557gm

Looking at the above table makes it very clear that pages cut from a book is in ALL cases much lighter than just using a mobile phone.Yes for a 2 day trip carrying a phone is lighter than carrying the complete book but then as you only need a few pages why not just cut out and take those pages only. If you are really trying to save weight thats the way to go. Even if you decide to photograph the book pages with your phone (you depend on the phone so much that you cant leave it behind!), the cut out pages are SO light that it is worthwhile carrying even if just used as a backup. By the way you are allowed to photograph the pages to place onto your phone, thats allowed, but you are not allowed to distribute those images to others.

Do you need a backup - well I know of several cases with phones going dead after being dropped onto a rock or into a stream! An example is one walker walked the AAWT from Canberra to the Black River (just north of the Baw Baws), he tripped, fell over and damaged his phone (he fell on top of it). He now had no information and was unable to complete the last 5 days of walking, he wisely reversed the route to the last road and then walked/hitched out. If he had a backup he could have finished all of the AAWT.

Tablets are about the same or heavier than phones and also need backup power so, while we dont have one at present, I would expect the same result. The same goes for iphones and IPads. Note that for a multi-week walk, just taking the complete book without cutting out the pages is still lighter than any phone option. Readers should now see why I have been advocating that if you want to save weight, cut out and carry just the pages you need. We sometimes do that on long trips where weight is a concern..

Conclusion

To save weight - cut out the note pages from a guide book, its MUCH lighter than any other option. Also if you do take an electronic copy of your walk TAKE A BACKUP, all electronic devices will sometimes fail.
 
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 Last updated : October 23rd  2018