Some people go camping to unplug and get away from the grid. Most of us just like the pretty outdoors and enjoy unplugging to a degree, but we don’t want to get too extreme. We still want to take photos with a smartphone and play a game of 2048 as we take a fifteen minute break on a hike, or watch some movies at night. Also, that LED flash on the iPhone or Android phone works great as a small flashlight in the tent or for a late night walk to take care of personal business.
Along with a trio of devices, smartphone, tablet and laptop, we could use some other gadgets to keep the power going, cook some food and enjoy some entertainment. So we’ve put together this list of great gadgets to take on a camping trip. This isn’t a list for the hardcore outdoors person, but is a list for the rest of us who like the idea of camping, but don’t want to unplug entirely.
Gerber Gear Steady Tool Multi-tool and Tripod for Smartphones
Campers will likely need a good mult-tool with a knife, bottle and can opener and pliers. How about a tripod for their smartphone to take pictures, watch some videos or chat with friends on FaceTime or Skype? The Gerber Gear Steady Tool ($64 direct or $39 from Amazon) can do all of that. It comes with the traditional kinds of tools one finds on a decent multi-tool.
It includes 12 functions:
- Camera/cell phone mount (threaded plus suction cup)
- Fine edge blade,
- Serrated blade
- Micro flat
- Square, cross and medium flat screwdrivers
- Bottle opening
- Needlenose pliers
- Wire cutters
- Foldout plastic tripod legs
All of these, except the suction cup for mounting a smartphone and the foldout tripod legs, come in stainless steel.
Temper expectations because it is a Gerber Gear knife, which means it’s a budget product. However, for basic use it works well and we enjoyed using to take some steady shots.
Bracketron Xolar3000 Solar Battery and Charger for USB
Camping often means staying away from an electrical outlet for long periods of time, but thanks to the sun and the Bracketron Xolar3000 ($49.99) campers who love their gadgets will never be far from some extra power. This thing doesn’t do much, but it does charge up via USB or solar power and then provides a user enough power to
This solar-powered USB charger can charge up a phone, MP3 player or tablet thanks to three power modes: 5v/1amp for smaller devices, 5V/2amp for tablets and 9V/1amp for larger devices like a portable DVD player, or even a USB powered notebook like the HP Chromebook 11.
The solar charger charges in about 9 hours of direct sunlight, but I charged it up with a USB cable and then kept the internal battery at full by leaving it in the sunlight in my car and taking it only when needed. It worked great.
One weakness comes from the mini-USB charger to top off the battery instead of a micro-USB like 98% of all other gadgets these days. LED indicators on the end closest to the charging ports show which power mode the Xolar3000 charger runs in, and the other LEDs show the amount of power left in the battery.
Pyle Audio Rocket Torch Bluetooth Water Resistant Speaker
The Pyle Audio Rocket Torch PWPBT30 ($97.99 retail, but on sale for much less) Bluetooth water-resistant speaker and flashlight makes a great personal audio device for the outdoors enthusiast. We offer suggestions for speakers to play music or movie audio for a group of people below, but this one will work great in a tent at night or for a few people at a picnic table. The included hook lets users connect it to their jeans belt loop or hang it in the tent at night.
The speaker only weighs a pound, so it is easy to carry around while hiking through the woods or just hanging around the campsite. It also brings extra functionality in the form of a flashlight, an FM radio, a mini-SD card slot and an auxiliary input for plugging in other audio devices without Bluetooth. The water resistance keeps it safe when using it near water.
Pyle promises an effective Bluetooth connection up to 32 feet and battery life that lasts all day on a single charge. It charges via USB. The flashlight is LED-based which takes up less electricity and won’t burn out for hundreds of hours.
The bright colors make it easy to see in a backpack. Other than bright red, orange and green, users can get more subdued blue or black Rocket Torches.
Braven BRV-X Rugged Outdoor Bluetooth Speaker
Campers should consider the Braven BRV-X ($199.99) for a group of campers. We took a look at it this year at CES 2014, where it won our award for best accessory. It fits in this list of camping gear perfectly. The Pyle Audio Rocket Torch works great for one person or a few people in a tent, but the Braven BRV-X speakers will pump enough volume for a handful of campers around the campfire or out on a boat on the lake.
We love Braven speakers because they sound great and come with batteries that last forever. They’re easy to use and they last forever. The BRV-X is a rugged Bluetooth speaker for taking outdoors.
The BRV-X speaker won’t break easily because of its shock resistant rubber exterior. The speaker can handle a little rain thanks to water resistance. Don’t leave it submerged in water because it’s not waterproof. Some rain or splashing near the lake won’t cause any problems. You could even drop it in water and still run if you get it out quickly.
People can use the speaker as a Bluetooth speakerphone as well. Tap a button to answer a call and the included mic will pick up your voice as you skin those fish or start the campfire.
We like the USB ports on the back that let it charge other gadgets. An auxiliary in port will let users play audio from a device without Bluetooth.
Despite the $200 price tag, these speakers will make a great companion on a camping trip.
ION Audio Tailgater Active Battery Powered Bluetooth Speaker System
The speakers mentioned earlier work for small or medium-sized camping environments, but what if there’s a family reunion with a few hundred on hand and people want to share audio for all of them at once? The ION Audio Tailgater Active will be a battery-powered Bluetooth speaker system that includes a huge battery which lasts forever (up to 50 hours depending on usage and how much gets plugged into it). It will connect to any smartphone or tablet that includes Bluetooth for audio. The company promises a range of up to 100 feet. An included mic will let users communicate with others as they would a Bluetooth headset, just like the Braven speaker does.
I use future tense since it won’t ship till the summer for $250, a pretty high price. But compare that to a mobile sound system and it’s actually not a bad price.
The Tailgater Active will include two AC ports on board for charging up other gadgets and electrical devices, making it a great option for powering more than just small gadgets or a bunch of gadgets via a USB/AC adapter with more than a couple of USB ports.
The speakers pump 50-watts of sound to fill a camping area. They sound pretty good, too. The included AM/FM radio means the user won’t need to worry about not knowing if bad weather threatens their campsite. The radio has 6 station presents and durable controls.
The Tailgater Active should hold up to the rigors of outdoor use with dust covers for the power outlets, rubberized controls and corner bumpers to keep it from getting dented or scratching other things.
ION will sell them in three colors eventually: Black, Camo and Blue. They plan to ship the Camo model first when they finally come out sometime this summer. Check the ION Audio website where they’ll publish links to where buyers can get one.
I used the older ION Audio Block Rocker and loved it. It’s available now but isn’t as durable and ready for outdoor use in the elements. Mine uses the old 30-pin hookup for older model iPhones and iPods, so I wouldn’t recommend it. Wait for the Tailgater Active. It will sound just as good and the battery will last as long.
The PowerPot Charges USB Gadgets While Cooking
People need a good camping pot to boil water in, but how about harnessing the power of the heat to also charge up some gadgets? The PowerPot ($149) will do both. How can a pot charge a device? It uses something called thermoelectric power. Here’s an explanation from a company-made video:
Their website explains the system as follows:
The PowerPot converts a temperature difference into electricity without any moving parts using thermoelectric technology. To achieve this temperature difference, simply add water to the PowerPot and set it on a fire. The larger the temperature difference, the more power is generated. Even at a boil water is always colder than fire!
The PowerPot comes with two pots, one for boiling water, or other liquid, that plugs into the charging cord. The other will cook solid foods over heat, like frying an egg or some bacon.
Charging a phone for 20 minutes will give users 120 minutes of talk time, according to the diagram below from the company’s website.
LifeProof Cases for Phones and Tablets
LifeProof did such a great job of protecting phones and tablets from water, dust and drops that their competitor, Otterbox, bought LifeProof.
We love LifeProof’s new LifeProof Nuud ($89.99) case for the iPhone 5s because it protects the phone from drops and water. Users can submerge the phone under water and it won’t get wet, even though the term Nuud comes from the fact that the case leaves the phone’s screen uncovered. Most rugged waterproof cases include a plastic screen cover that’s annoying and reduces the screen’s touch sensitivity. LifeProof puts a pressure gasket around the glass so that the screen stays uncovered. Glass is already waterproof so the phone stays safe and users don’t need to worry about the terrible plastic cover.
The other benefit of the Nuud for the iPhone 5s comes from the way they make the phone’s Touch ID system still work. That’s a deal breaker for most iPhone 5s users. Cases can’t make the Touch ID inactive.
People who want a screen protector can still get the Fre, a case with the cover. We’re not fans of the case, but some people worry about scratching their glass screen.
ASUS S1 LED Pocket Projector
We can’t imagine people wanting to watch a movie at the campground, but for those who do, grab this battery powered ASUS S1 LED Pocket Projector and hook up an iPhone with a Lightning to HDMI port, or an Android phone that uses HDMI output.
The projector will throw a 41″ display onto a screen at a distance of three feet, or one meter. Pull it back to 6-8 feet for a larger display of up to 100 inches, but it will need to be very dark with only 200 lumens brightness.
The resolution is only 854-by-480, but the images look decent. Remember that throwing it at an outdoor screen, or white sheet hanging on a wall, or camper, will keep it from showing crisp video no matter what the resolution.
The included battery will last through one movie, or use the ION Audio Tailgater Active (mentioned earlier) to plug it in for longer times. The included speaker will work for a few people in a small area, but the stereo output will let users plug into speakers.
What will people use to watch the movies played with the ASUS S1 LED Projector? Some campgrounds will have buildings that someone could hang a white sheet off, but another option is an inflatable screen. At church we do outdoor movies with one we bought from WalMart for about $150.
It blows up with an included inflating motor and fans. It is sturdy, durable and stays up pretty well thanks to cables that the user drives into the ground like tent stakes.