Trail Entertainment… old school style.

I wrote a month or so back about converting DVDs to phone size for in-tent entertainment on cold winter nights. When you’re spending 12 or 13 hours in a tent, you need something to do besides look at the ceiling.

Someone on one of the facebook groups mentioned weather radios the other day. The question was something like, “What do you guys use for a weather app?”

My typical smart-ass response was: “I look up”. Of course, I try to follow smartass responses with actual information, so I said, “I generally don’t worry about the weather, because there’s not much you can do to change it. If it rains, put on the raincoat. If it’s cold, put on more stuff.”

That’s really about all you can do. For weekenders you generally know what the weather will do, because you checked it before you left home. You have already determined if there is a chance for snow or thunderstorms or hot weather. If you’re really good, you’ll check the weather around each shelter for the night you’re supposed to be there, and you can kind of figure out based on elevation what you will be facing.

But for the long distance hiker, it get more difficult. 20 days from now, there’s no way to know if there will be severe thunderstorms. The Weather Channel App is great if you’re in cell service range, but you also have to know about where you are in relation to the closest town that the app will show you.

Another response to the same thread was, “I carry a small radio”. That made sense to me. They make little FM radios that fit in the palm of your hand and are slightly larger than the AAA battery that goes in them. I have read that cell phones have FM receivers built in, but some companies won’t turn them on. Apple doesn’t have one or won’t turn it on… a pity, because listening to FM on your phone would be nice in a pinch if you needed local news.

I also remembered reading a thru-hiker’s story. He had a little shortwave morse code transmitter he made himself. His goal was to talk to someone over it, from every state he walked through. At night he would toss a little weighted bag over a limb, with his antenna, and try to talk to people.

Shortwave is pretty cool. Where else (okay, the internet) can you listen to people from around the world. Shortwave was the international news before there was cable, before their was even TV. I’ve even used it to talk to people over seas using only 8 watts of power, back when I had a converted CB radio. It’s a fun medium but can require a lot of fiddling. It’s nowhere near just picking up a phone and hitting “play”, or even scanning a few seconds to find your favorite FM station. The shortwave band is between the AM dial and somewhere around 26mhz (your car radio ranges from 88-108mhz. If you could turn your car radio down to between 2 and 15… thats the range of most international shortwave stuff). I listened to Radio Croatia the other night. Now, it’s bad AM radio, so yeah, that’s what it’s like listening to. Music comes across pretty poorly, and voice sometimes isnt much better, but it can be interesting.

So, I happened to find this online:


It weighs 6 ounces, has shortwave, AM, FM, and scans the weather band. It runs off 2 AA batteries OR your USB phone battery pack. Pretty cool for in-hammock entertainment or just weather stuff.

The only problem these little radios suffer from is bad antennas. The antenna length should be around 1/4 of the meter band you’re listening to. Something to do with the speed of light vs. the frequency of the signal… but if you’re listening to a station around 7mhz, that’s the 40 Meter band. at 1/4 that, your antenna should be 10 meters, or 30 FEET long for best reception (actually, a 40 meter antenna would be perfect, but no way anyone is putting up one of those).

In my old listening days, I would just stretch a long wire out of the window and clip an alligator clip onto the end of the built-in antenna. That still works today, if you cared to haul around a little loop of wire and turn your tent into the biggest lightning rod in the woods. But of course, the weather channels should tell you all that, if you can’t be bothered to look up. Interestingly, Winter is the best time for shortwave listening. Something to do with the atmosphere and the position of the sun affecting it. I don’t remember it all, but it’s kind of nice that the time you’re huddled in the tent the longest makes for the best time for in-tent entertainment via the oldest form of electronic voice communication.


Author: theosus1

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