High-Tech Trail Gadgets

On the trail and in camp, high-tech gadgets can help make your equine escapades safer, easier, and more fun than ever before.
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Woman riding on a mountain trail with a pack on her saddle.

Take tech with you while on the trail and horse camping? Don’t equestrian adventures mean “unplugging” to get away from today’s ever-present technology? After all, you find the sounds of nature more calming than cellphone alerts.

But wait—you likely carry your cellphone in case something goes awry and use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver to help you find your way. On long rides and overnight trips, you need a portable battery charger to keep these devices up and running. You also need a protective case and holder for each device.

Are you ever caught on the trail after dark? Trail lights can help when your ride runs later than planned. Do you enjoy music, either on the trail or in camp? Durable Bluetooth speakers will deliver the soundtrack to your adventure.

We chatted with trail riders across the country to find out what high-tech gadgets are worth stashing in your saddlebags. We used their input to compile a list of top items to take with you on your riding adventures.

This Garmin GPS receiver comes preloaded with topographical maps.

This Garmin GPS receiver comes preloaded with topographical maps.

Here, we’ll give you the rundown on an array of gadgets grouped into five categories: GPS receivers, portable battery chargers, device holders/cases, trail lights, and Bluetooth speakers. We’ll also tell you about a new tech-packed trailer. 

Find Your Way

GPS receivers can help you navigate and track your rides. Your cellphone apps might give you all the GPS functions you need, but a separate GPS receiver will save your cellphone battery for other vital uses. Here are some recommendations in both categories.

Cellphone apps. For Android devices, check the Google Play store for PinRoute Trail Tracker (pinroute.com). Our trail riders reported that this app works well even when you ride out of cell-tower range. Other recommended GPS receiver apps include Endomondo (endomondo.com), Gaia GPS (gaiagps.com), and Ramblr (ramblr.com); these apps are available for both Android and iPhone. They’re free to download, but some have in-app purchases available.

Tips: Use the same apps as your riding buddies use so that you can sync up, follow each other’s rides, and help each other with the software. Before you’re out of cell-tower range, change your settings so that the GPS receiver is always on. To extend battery life, close all apps except the GPS app you’ll use on your ride.

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Separate GPS receiver. If a separate GPS receiver sounds good to you, our group of trail riders recommended the Garmin series above all others. The newest model, the GPSMAP 66st, comes preloaded with topographic (topo) maps of the United States and Canada ($449.99 at buy.garmin.com).

The 66st uses multiple satellite systems to track your travels. You’ll see topographic detail, such as contours for elevations, plus summits, parks, coastlines, rivers, and lakes. You can also receive real-time weather forecasts, including maps, temperatures, wind speed, and precipitation. You’ll have access to the “Garmin Explore” website (explore.garmin.com) to manage routes. The battery lasts up to 16 hours in GPS mode. Bonus: You won’t pay an annual subscription fee to keep maps updated.

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Well Powered

Pack extra battery power (or a means to create power with solar) to keep your cellphone, GPS receiver, and other devices charged up for day rides and overnight adventures. “Power banks” are pre-charged batteries that you can plug into on the go. Keep your cellphone or GPS power cables with you on your ride; consider picking up an extra cord dedicated to travel.

The Jackery Bar Portable Charger ($16.99 at jackery.com) includes an LED flashlight to help you see the trails at night while also keeping your phone charged. The battery fits in your hand; a few can fit in your saddlebags. You can recharge a late-model cellphone about 1 1/2 times. The company also offers larger power boxes and solar options for longer camping trips.

One solar-powered option that’s small enough to fit in your saddlebag is the Goal Zero Venture 30 ($159.90 with the solar kit at goalzero.com). This weatherproof power bank has multiple plug-ins and attaches to a solar kit to power up when you’re away from an electrical outlet.

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Prime Protection

You’ll be safest when you keep your cellphone and other devices on your body, rather than in your saddlebag, in case you ever become separated from your horse. You also need to keep your devices dry on the trail and in camp. Here are two cellphone products that earned high marks from our stable of trail riders.

The Phone Holder from Cashel Company ($21.99 at cashelcompany.com) is made from water-resistant neoprene. The zippered pocket on the front of the pouch can store your power bank and charging cord or cash and keys. You can keep the holder on your body with the cross-body strap (included).

For extra protection, invest in a Lifeproof FRĒ case ($89.99 for the iPhone Xs and Galaxy S8/S8+ at lifeproof.com), which is designed to keep water, dirt, snow, and debris out of your phone. This case makes your phone submersible for up to six feet—and helps your phone and screen survive drops from the same height.

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Light It Up

Even if you plan your rides so that you’ll be back at the barn or in camp by dark, it’s good to be prepared for low-light riding. Carry some kind of reflective wear or light-up technology with you. You never know when your ride will be longer than expected—and you may need to ride by the road to access the quickest way home. If you’re on a budget, pack a few inexpensive flashing lights in your saddlebags. Search online for “round flashing safety lights.”

To boost your visibility, invest in wearable lights for your horse or yourself. One recommended product is Tail Lights, a series of LED lights that you attach to your horse’s tail with a neoprene tail wrap. The concept of Tail Lights was created after the company owner’s horse was hit by a car during an evening ride.

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If you get home later than usual or need to ride in dusk and darkness, Tail Lights will help drivers see and avoid you. Drivers will see you from the front and back. The lights will also help other riders know where you are on the trail.

Tail Lights are used by mounted patrol units across the country. Patrol riders report that they could see the lights on other patrol horses up to five miles away.

The newest model, the Tail Lights Rider System Gen 3, arrives in summer 2019 with more LED lights and settings than before. The Gen 3 model is also submersible for brief water crossings.

Worried you’ll blind your trail buddies? You can adjust the brightness if you’re riding with others. The battery is rated to last up to 30 hours, depending on the brightness settings. The system boasts a durable case with controls or an option to control via cellphone and Bluetooth. A USB port allows you to recharge anywhere.

A bonus front light attaches to your horse’s breastcollar—or you can detach it and put it on your own body, attach it to your dog, or outfit an accompanying rider. The unit will be available for $345; preorders are accepted now at tail-lights.com.

Add a body light so that drivers can see you, the rider, at night. The rainproof Tracer360 light vest from Nox Gear ($69.95 at noxgear.com) was designed for runners, but works just as well for trail riders. The vest has a 40-hour battery life with three AAA batteries and adjusts to fit over any trail-riding apparel. Choose your preferred mode, flashing or solid. There’s also a model to fit your dog.

Surround Sound

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Bluetooth speakers on the trail might be the most controversial technology. Some riders enjoy riding in silence, while others love to ride to the beat of music. On overnight adventures, music enhances trail-end campfires.

Some trail riders have even reported that young horses seem calmer when listening to music or “white noise” on the speaker rather than being worried about every sound on the trail. You can also use the speaker to play prerecorded riding-lesson audios or to listen to guided meditations to calm you on challenging rides. If this technology is for you, check out the iRock N Ride (IRNR) speaker ($129 at irocknride.myshopify.com), which is designed to fit on your saddle. It has easily accessible “Play” and “Pause” buttons so you can ride to music and mute the sound quickly. The buttons are easy to press even if you’re wearing gloves.

You can play music via Bluetooth from your cellphone or keep the speaker on silent mode in case of emergency. Think of it like the Bluetooth connection in your car—you can talk hands-free through the built-in mic. The IRNR speaker is water resistant, drop resistant and can attach to your wrist (or most anything).

Keep in mind that a Bluetooth speaker can also double as a microphone, so you can call for help hands-free. Plus, if you ride all day and can’t ignore business communication, speakers with mics can help you keep in touch without trying to balance the phone under your chin.

If you choose to use speakers on the trail or in camp, be considerate of other riders, and keep the volume low. For safety, turn off all sound while riding near roads and intersections so you’ll be aware of the sound of cars. 

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High-Tech Trailer

If you’re the trail rider who needs every gadget, check out this new haul from KingStar Trailers. For a sticker price of $64,900, the Trail Lodge Edition with living quarters has space for two horses and a sleeper cab for two riders. It’s loaded with gadgets, including folding corrals that come down on both sides at the push of a button, revealing hay pods with easy tilt-open access. The trailer also features an LED-lit awning and automatic waterers. Inside, you’ll find a kitchenette with a cooktop, microwave, hot-water shower, toilet, heating, and air conditioning. Watch the video at kingstar.net.

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