On my first trip out to the AT trailhead in Monson, I noticed a marked drop-off of cell coverage in the area. Given that Maine has always been a U.S. Cellular stronghold and I’m an AT&T subscriber, that didn’t surprise me. But it did get me thinking: Which carrier has the best shot of delivering service over the length of the entire Appalachian Trail?
A curious hiker sure can’t ask the carriers themselves. Branding slogans and coverage map hyperbole being what they are, I decided my best bet was to trample the backpacking forums and blogs for my answer.
The majority believe that Verizon delivers the best coverage over the length of the AT, though no carrier can deliver reception bars everywhere on the trail. That means that, once I’ve graduated beyond day hikes out there, I’ll need to reconsider my choice of carrier. I’m not under contract, so the jump would be as easy as doing it, I guess. But that means surrendering my trusty Galaxy Note 4 (that whole GSM to CDMA incompatibility thing), which I’m even less excited about given the current rash of fires the newest version of the venerable Note is causing.
I have no desire to turn Great Smoky Mountains National Park, well…smoky.
I could always get a second cheap pay-as-you-go cell locked to Verizon’s network to use while hiking. Or invest in a device like a satellite communicator, which delivers better coverage in remote areas. But they can be expensive to buy and, like a cell phone, require some form of subscription plan.
If there’s any good news, it’s that my backwoods hiking has been pretty tame so far. With winter coming, getting a device with better coverage isn’t really urgent, as I have no desire to tackle the Hundred Mile Wilderness when there’s four feet of snow gracing (gracing?) the ground. But it is something I need to consider for spring, when I begin doing overnights and weekends solo…