Technology is making its way into the wilderness and a new product, Earl, is competing for space. Tablets, notebooks, GPS units, satellite locators, and cell phones are all landing in packs. According to a survey of 122 people who thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2013, conducted by Distancehiking.com, 67% reported carrying a cell phone with an active data plan and 21% reported carrying a SPOT satellite locator. Technology hasn’t completely eclipsed the old ways of doing things, however. 76% carried paper maps and 48% carried a manual compass. Only 5% reported carrying a tablet and none carried a laptop.
Earl, by Sqigle, Inc. is hoping to change the technology balance. Recently featured in Outside Magazine and currently retailing for $299, Earl is marketed by Sqigle as “a revolutionary tablet engineered for the most extreme of outdoor situations.” It features an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, thermometer, baromoeter, GPS capabilities, a two-way radio, world radio frequency capabilities, compatibility with Android apps, and even a multi-platform eReader in case you want to decelerate and take in a chapter or two.
Perhaps most interesting for long distance trail travel enthusiasts is that Earl comes loaded with 100k base maps of North America. Pay an extra $50 bucks and you can have both 100k and 24k maps. Earl can be integrated with everytrail.com to access thousands of routes. It claims to be water/dust/mud/shock-proof.
It seems like the perfect gadget, so we’ll soon start seeing Earl in the hand of every hiker, right? Possibly, but I’ve got my doubts; especially about Earl catching on amongst long distance hikers. The prime reason is that the device only operates reliably down to 32 degrees F (0 degrees C). This is a big knock against a device that markets itself as being built for survival. Though I never like to predict what thru-hikers will do, my guess is that there will be some initial interest and then lots of complaints about the battery and operation in cold weather. Smartphones can at least be kept warm in a pocket and perhaps this is why tablets aren’t yet very popular amongst thru hikers, but smartphones are.
Until battery technology and cold weather performance improves, tablets are going to be a hard sell for long distance hikers who typically experience a wide range of temperatures. Earl has a snazzy marketing page and some very useful features, but its temperature limits mean that it’s only going to be useful for travel in warm climates.