Happy campers: Essential tech tools
When packing for a camping trip, it’s easy to default to the same old low-tech gear that has long stood the test of time. But hey, this is the 21st century, and it’s time to replace those old standbys––like that minuscule stove and clunky water filter––with some sleek, sophisticated tech equipment. In an age where we use technology to board a plane, order dinner, or pay for a cab, it should come as no surprise that there are more and more devices available for outdoor adventurers. Check out our collection of must-have gear, and get some high-tech goodies for your campground that will make even camping purists envious.
Steak on the flame: Perfect your art
There’s nothing quite like the smoky taste of a slab of meat cooked under the stars. With someone like me donning the chef’s hat, however, the main event regularly goes from "rare" to "really charbroiled." You can avoid my mistakes by allowing iGrill to come to the rescue. This $80 doodad is a dual-probe meat thermometer that uses Bluetooth technology to alert you when your dinner reaches the desired done-ness. The iGrill app runs on Android and iOS, and you can shoot the breeze with neighboring campers while your meat’s cooking––as long as you don’t wander further than 200 feet away. An alternative is the $80 wireless thermometer Redi-Chek Dual Probe Remote by Maverick Industries.
Double-whammy: cook and charge
Kids may whine about some aspects of camping, but I haven’t met a kid yet who dislikes gathering firewood. The $129 BioLite CampStove uses a pile of those carefully gathered twigs to boil water, heat soup, or toast marshmallows. It doesn’t end there either: The BioLite converts the heat from the fire into usable energy, so you can recharge your phone and other gizmos. The BioLite contains a power module that accommodates a thermoelectric generator for turning the heat into electricity, so you don’t have to schlep fuel along with everything else on your camping trip.
Purify H20 right at the source
Drinking water from a creek can be refreshing...until you start to think about what could be swimming in it. So to avoid potential waterborne afflictions, take the $70 SteriPEN Classic Purifier with Pre-Filter for a spin. Looking a bit like a supersize thermometer, it runs on four AA lithium batteries. To disinfect your pint of creek water in a jiffy, you dip the SteriPEN in your container, switch it on, whisk it around, and let the ultraviolet rays make mincemeat of lurking viruses, bacteria, and other undesirables. According to its maker, the SteriPEN Classic allows you to sterilize 200 half-liters of water with one set of batteries.
Document the great outdoors
It’s 6:45 a.m. on the first morning of your camping weekend, and your fingers are twitching to post some pix of your fireside breakfast scene on Facebook, but the rugged terrain is not cut out for propping up smartphones. Use the $30 Joby GripTight GorillaPod Stand —a tripod that will hold its own on uneven surfaces and has bendable limbs that can wrap around branches and tent poles, for example. The mount adjusts to fit the size of your phone, and rubber grip pads secure your phone, whether you position it upright or horizontally. Joby also offers a slew of other tripods and accessories for folks who use stand-alone cameras.
GPS on your wrist
When you're out in the wilds, it's fairly likely that your phone’s GPS will not work. That can be a problem if you want to hike all day in new territory with poorly marked trails––and foul weather. The $200 Garmin Foretrex 401 is a waterproof watch sporting a high-sensitivity GPS receiver that improves reception in deep canyons and dense forests. Need to retrace your steps? The Foretrex 401 keeps tabs on your routes and waypoints. The company claims that the Foretrex 401, which runs on two AAA batteries, can provide you up to 17 hours of juice. The Foretrex 301, which costs $50 less, resembles its sibling but lacks the 401‘s electronic compass and barometric altimeter for accurate elevation readings.
Light the way
In the dead of night, in the middle of nowhere, the stars and moonlight (if any) are sometimes not bright enough to let you see where you’re going. Head-mounted flashlight nerds will love the $30 Petzl Tikka 2. It delivers three lighting modes––maximum strength, economic, and strobe––and you can tilt the lamp to direct light where you need it. And at less than 3 ounces, the Tikka 2 will feel light on your head. The company promises up to 120 hours of low-level light, or up to 90 hours on the high setting. The Tikka 2 uses three AAA alkaline batteries, and will handle lithium as well.
Charge as you go
I freely admit that I’m not a die-hard camper. Personally, I'm happy to unwind and soak up the natural landscape with my phone and iPod tucked away in one of my tent’s storage pouches until needed—especially because it’s such a pain when their batteries run dry and I’m out in the middle of nowhere on a lengthy trip. The portable $99 Amp Solar Charger keeps the charging show on the road: Leave the charger in the sun for four to five hours, and––bingo––your phone is fully charged. This 2-watt solar panel setup supports a range of gadgets: most iPhone and iPod models; some BlackBerry, Nokia, Samsung, and Motorola phones; Garmin and TomTom GPS units; tablets; and more. At 6.5 by 5.5 inches (and 1.5 inches deep), the Amp Solar Charger is small enough to toss into your backpack without batting an eye.
Music around the embers
You’re planning a campsite party for the last night, but your buddy forgot his guitar, and your vision of a sing-a-long––in between mouthfuls of s’mores and tequila––has gone by the wayside. Instead of having an enlightened conversation or simply enjoying the symphony of nocturnal creatures for one more night, rock out fellow campers with your tunes via Bluetooth on the outdoor-friendly $200 Jambox by Jawbone. The brick-shaped speaker won’t take up much room in your backpack, as it measures roughly 6 inches by 2 inches and only weighs about a pound and a half. You don’t need a stand, so you can plop this puppy on the ground or a nearby picnic table, thanks to its rubber top and bottom surfaces. Another contender in this portable speaker category is the family of SoundMatters foxL ($150 and up).