The Motorola Moto Z Play might be the best phone for backpacking. The battery life is a beast, and quick charging means more time on trail and less in town.
I have spent a substantial amount of time looking for and optimizing phones for backpacking. Over the many years I’ve spent backpacking, I have used iPhones and a variety of Androids including a Samsung Galaxy, Motorola Moto X and X2, the Moto Z Play, and the Moto Z4.
I have to say that the Moto Z Play (v1) has been a fantastic thru-hiking phone, although at the time of this writing I am currently using a Moto Z4
Why the Moto z play?
- The camera is not bad
- The phone supports micro SD cards
- The battery life is terrific
- Turbopower (QC 3.0)
- They’re fairly cheap these days
- Moto Turbopower pack mod
Weighing in at 6.5oz with a case, the z play has a 3500mAh battery. I’ve had no problem rocking this battery with pretty decent use in airplane mode for 5 days without charging. In normal life, it usually goes 1.5 to 2 days when charged to 100% with 6-12 hours of screen use
For thru-hiking the PCT, I optimized my charging setup so that I would never need to worry about battery juice, and so I could be in and out of town in as little as 30 minutes.
- Moto Z play
- Incipio Moto z case (only case that works and kinda sucks)
- Moto Turbopower pack (3500 mAh)
- Iclever boost cube+
- 2x 6-inch USB-C cables
Total weight (13 oz):
- Phone and case (6.6 oz)
- Battery pack (3.4 oz)
- Charging (3 oz)
The total weight comes in under a lb, and includes redundancy/versatility. The setup can do 8 days pretty solid with no problems doing regular topo checking and never turning off the phone. Typically, you just need to charge the power pack, which being propriety for your device means no one is likely to steal it.
The power pack supports charging speeds of 30 watts through Motorola’s proprietary turbopower standard, but does not support QC3.0 — this was my biggest disappointment. As such, the charger will deliver only 10 watts to the power pack and 15 watts to the phone, which isn’t bad.
The iclever charger is the lightest charger I found with 2 QC3.0 ports that supports simultaneous QC3.0 charging true to spec. I spent 4 weeks testing over 20 different chargers, and this one, unfortunately, was the best available.
The 6-in USB cords will work with the phone, as the Moto power pack + phone will add enough tension to let you dangle the phone when the pack is attached and both pack and phone are plugged in.
The Turbopower Pack
I think the Turbopower Pack is a nice complement to the phone as it allows for efficient charging with minimal capacity loss, is relatively light, and supports faster wall-outlet charging speeds compared to battery packs with similar capacity. I’ve come to value the Power Pack as a reliable backcountry staple. Additionally, when you sleep with the phone, the Powerpack will come along with it, preventing further degradation of stored capacity that could occur due to low outdoor temperatures.
While I personally value the Turbopower Pack, it appears that Motorola as a company does not, and it is now fairly difficult to find this Motorola Mod. As such, you may substantially overpay for the power pack, or be forced to buy a used power pack with compromised capacity. If you do go this phone route, do not buy a used power pack, as these things do end up failing due to fairly heavy cycle use.
My Z Play Experience on the PCT
During the course of the PCT, I would typically just charge the power pack from 0 to 60% or 80% during a town resupply every few days, and the main phone would always hang out around 80% charge. If I got a meal or spent longer than 45 minutes in town, the power pack would be at 100%. I never had any problems with battery life, and the dual QC3.0 charging ports meant I could typically hijack other charging outlets and charge other people’s phones faster than they were charging them before taking off.
As my phone is always in my pocket, not having to dig through for a battery pack was also useful and a great feature.
The Motorola Z4
It took 2 years of heavy back country use and burning man for the “splash proof” coating to degrade on my original Z Play. At that point, the phone was no longer very water resistant. The proximity sensor, gyroscope, and compass chip on the phone failed after one rather rainy backpacking trip.
Given my success with the Z Play, I decided to see if the Motorola Z4 would be an adequate replacement. I decided to try a Z4 as it could still make use of the Turbopower Pack. The overall take away for the Z4: the battery life is still pretty great, and the camera is a lot better.
The battery life on the Z4 is generally a bit worse than what I was getting with the Z Play. I think the phone’s upper range is around 10 days of backpacking when used with the Turbopower Pack. With the Z Play, the upper limit for me was around 12 days. My phone usage on trips is primarily reserved for extensive topographic mapping while in airplane mode, and looking up things while in town (no music or other entertainment on trail). For my personal use case, I would not want to push this phone with the Power Pack beyond 8 days without charging. 5 day trips I’m very confident in the arrangement, and would have little reason for concern.