John R Dockendorf on How Technology Can Improve Your Safety During Outdoor Trips

John R Dockendorf on How Technology Can Improve Your Safety During Outdoor Trips

Exploring the great outdoors is all about roughing it and unplugging from devices and your day-to-day stressors. Outdoor adventure is also a great way to reconnect with nature, and purpose, recharge your mental batteries, and engage in thoughtful and uninterrupted conversations with friends. Additionally, being tech-free outdoors is good for your creativity, as a University of Utah study demonstrated that  Backpackers scored 50 percent better on a creativity test after spending just four days in nature disconnected from electronic devices.

“I am still old school and I love leaving all my technology behind,” says outdoor recreational expert John Dockendorf.  “My outdoor trips used to include a bunch of topo maps in a worn Ziplock and a compass, but times have changed! Now with so much good tech, you really are remiss, even negligent if you go into the outdoors without tech to support your safety, These days, with overworked search and rescue teams and the risk that you may have to pay thousands of dollars for your rescue, it would be negligent not to have the appropriate tech that can help you stay safe. The last thing you want to be is the subject of a national news story! The good thing is that most of the technology can remain turned off, available on an as needed basis so the technology doesn’t have to interfere with the sanctity of a tech free venture into the outdoors.

John brings over 30 years of experience helping grow small hospitality, outdoor recreation, and travel businesses. As principal of Dockendorf Consulting, he’s had the opportunity to try out all sorts of camping gear. He’s also experienced various safety products – and what items they wish they would have had when problems occurred.

Dockendorf stresses that you shouldn’t rely on technology to keep you safe and only enter the outdoors with proven experience, having researched the areas you will be traveling in, having obtained a good weather forecast and with a compatible and physically fit group with a good group and communication dynamic   .  Outdoor education is about building safety into the participant, improving judgment, building a safety mindset, and making people aware of risks and potential consequences so they can make safe and appropriate decisions

Tech can help with mapping, emergency communication, and solar charging While cell service is spreading to more and more remote locations, its best to assume that an area where you might need assistance does not have cell coverage.

Mapping Applications

Getting lost in the woods has changed – it used to be that you didn’t get lost, you only were “bewildered”… though you might remain bewildered for a day or two!  And if you were seriously bewildered, you just headed downhill, followed a spring to a stream, a stream to a brook, a brook to a creek and soon you would find civilization and a phone – pack a little extra food and you will be fine!  Now some people are prone to dial in a helicopter just because they got a few hundred yards off the trail or worse decided they were tired and couldn’t hike anymore and “deserved” a helicopter pickup. Sure, these folks are outliers, but more and more our outdoor are getting loved to death, and there are too many rescues that could have been prevented.

Popular hiking apps such as AllTrails, FarOut, Gaia, and OnX Backcountry have made it increasingly simple to find, plan, and track our hikes with our cell phones. All of these Apps are free but typically, you will have to pay an annual subscription of fee of around $30 to have the ability to download hikes and a corresponding map to your phone, so you have information available when you don’t have service While all are good, says Dockendorf, I recommend All Trails –it’s accurate, comprehensive and easy to use.

If you are a hunter, check out onX Hunt or GOHunt – these are good at defining boundaries between public and private lands so you can be sure not to trespass.

Handheld Satellite Communication Devices

If you have an emergency in a place without cell service, you will need an iridium satellite-based device to be able to communicate.  Dockendorf recommends the Garmin inReach, a tiny handheld device that provides two-way text communication, so that not only can you let people know if you need help (or to simply let them know that you are fine), The device costs about $300 with a $15 monthly iridium subscription fee).

The device works on line of sight with satellites so connections can be spotty in heavily forested areas. There are two versions available: The Messenger has simple messaging and SOS capabilities, but the GPS MAP66 contains mapping and navigation for an additional $100. also comes equipped with tools like navigation and a digital compass. Most backcountry explorers love this device for its messaging services, as it provides peace of mind for worried parents or partners left at home.

Solar chargers

These are useful for ensuring electronics don’t run out of power, especially at critical times. You  won’t be able to find an outlet for miles so a solar charger can make sure your cell phone and satellite communication device stay charged. This can also be useful to keep a charge on a digital camera! Three great backpacking solar charges are Big Blue 3 (which is bulky but comes in at less than $100) – The X-Dragon 20W, which lists for $65 and the Sun Jack 25W which lists for about $120 are solid and lightweight backcountry chargers as well.


Sure,  if you are lost launching a drone may give you a photo feed to help you look at and evaluate terrain without having to climb a tree but drones are illegal on most public lands and you are doing a disservice to other hikers trying to escape the noise of civilization.  Few people want to be photographed by someone else’s drone, so please leave your drone behind when entering the backcountry! Your mapping software should be able to help you figure out where you are and what lies ahead!

Overall, John R. Dockendorf has found that technology can improve the safety of the outdoor experience, but from a purrist standpoint, should only be used sparingly so as not to impact the many benefits a tech–free backcountry experience can provide.