With the summer holidays just around the corner, many families and travellers will be gearing up for a possible camping outing in the next few months, with plans to immerse themselves in the great outdoors both in the UK and overseas.
While camping used to be viewed as ‘roughing it’, with cooking capabilities limited and the main entertainment being watching Dad struggle to put the tent up, significant technological advances have made camping a much more luxurious holiday experience.
In this article we look at some handy gadgets every camper should consider. Some of them may be too pricey to appeal to the casual camping enthusiast, but others are reasonable enough to be worth investing in.
A warning beforehand however: new tech doesn’t mean that old methods should be abandoned. The BBC recently reported that experts were urging walkers and campers to use traditional maps as well as GPS systems, instead of solely relying on the technology. After all, technology can go wrong or let you down, and you don’t want to be up a moor without a map when that happens!
Among the most popular items on this list is the Helio pressure shower. This product, by camping equipment company NEMO, is a multipurpose water pump that is useful for washing a dog, the dishes, camping gear, or of course, washing a person.
The product weighs less than a litre of water and can keep up a steady and pressured shower of water for around 5-7 minutes. The water in the tank can even be warmed after filling if the Helio is left out in the sun, and the foot pump only needs occasional presses in order to ensure a smooth experience.
It comes in a simple grey or dark blue and is designed to be easily reusable, so long as only clean water is used. This means that while it is healthier and easier than washing in the nearby river, you do of course need to supply your own clean water as river water would be also be unhealthy for the product itself!
How do people feel about the Helio? Almost any retailer that stocks the product has met with glowing reviews from sellers and buyers alike, and the long-lasting product can be bought for around £100.
On the more expensive side of the camping spectrum is the latest in tent tech. German camping company Heimplanet has been rolling out its new series of inflatable tents in the last few years, and they appear to have made a serious impression on tent fans.
The first and most popular of the bunch (which happens to be in the middle price range at around £420) is simply named ‘The Cave’. By enabling you to skip the common hassles of setting up a tent’s poles and sheets, The Cave, and Heimplanet’s other inflatable tents, are designed to be inflated easily by just one person in a matter of minutes.
After the first assembly on purchase, the tent can be easily deflated, stored and pumped up again in the future without any need for assembly. The entire tent is propped up by pumped air and is durable, stable and weatherproof.
Heimplanet’s tents being so easy to set up after the initial assembly make them a solid purchase for those who camp often or shift their camping position on a day-to-day basis. For smaller groups, the 1-2 person Fistral tent is cheaper. On the other hand, truly dedicated campers enduring harsher weather conditions may want to consider Heimplanet’s huge Maverick tent, which costs a few thousand pounds.
Eton’s ‘Scorpion’ is the Swiss army knife of camping technology. It works as a flashlight, a phone charger, a weather radio and even a bottle opener. And you get all that for around £50.
The radio picks up various weather band stations, making it ideal for campers on the move, and has AUX-input compatibility so buyers can put their own music on it. The Scorpion uses daylight to charge as well as a hand crank to give it an extra boost when solar power is limited. While some models of the Scorpion can be more easily damaged by wear and tear or water, there are more durable gadgets offering similar features.
The popular Duronic Radio is sturdy and uses daylight to charge, but works purely as a radio. The JARBO Multifunctional Radio is another popular sturdy item that has multiple charging options and also works as a flashlight/gadget charger. With an increasing number of multipurpose chargers, flashlights and radios available at varying prices, there’s bound to be something to suit any avid camper.
The aptly named CampStove from BioLite claims to create easy, free energy from wood. This handy multipurpose gadget sells at between £110-125. Cooking meals and boiling water are its main functions, with boiling water with the CampStove taking around 5 minutes.
The CampStove also works as a charger thanks to its USB port, as the heat generated by the wood fire creates electricity. This makes it useful for charging phones, flashlights and the other electric tools campers are often reliant on. It can charge a device for around 20 minutes, making it ideal for giving phones an emergency boost.
While the CampStove most efficiently burns wood pellets, it can of course be powered entirely with twigs, pinecones and other pieces of wood you find around you during your camping trip.
The CampStove is a well-received product overall, making it something that campers headed towards wooded areas will definitely find useful.
Another of the more popular items on this list is a relatively affordable line up of sand-resistant mats from CGear, ranging from £40 to £60. These anti-sand mats are designed for beaches, making use of CGear’s patented ‘Dual Layer’ or multi-weave technologies by letting sand pass through one side of the rug but preventing sand from coming up through the other side.
While designed for beaches, these mats and rugs are also ideal for dirt and will even avoid damage from spilled drinks and tough mud, leaving the top surface relatively dry and clean to sit on. The mat is simple to wash with a hose, but should not be washed in a machine. It comes in a variety of styles and colours, meaning that campers have multiple options to consider.
‘Meet Earl’ is a tablet designed specifically for travel, outdoor living and survival. Primarily working as a complex GPS, Meet Earl runs on the Android operating system and comes equipped with weather programs and a radio. Its walkie-talkie-like relay system allows for text or voice communication for up to 20 miles and even allows users to send weather updates, location information, or signal for help.
It is widely compatible with Android apps and supports various e-reader formats, making it double as a kindle for books and guides. Its touchscreen works with gloves and can be programmed to have hard buttons, making it useful even in the rain, and the screen displays in e-ink helping it save power. It’s largely waterproof and damage proof, and works at high altitudes. As for its charge – it’s said to last up to 20 hours and can fully charge with 5 hours of direct solar power.
While the product is not yet released, and subsequently has very little consumer feedback, it is expected to be released in the US in late 2016 before being rolled out in other regions. For offering what it does at around $300, Meet Earl is one to watch for those looking to upgrade their camping tech experience.
In recent years, outdoor company REI have been rolling out a series of easily inflatable beds with the goal of making those moving-around camping trips a lot more convenient with quicker, easier methods of inflation.
While it does wear down with use, the Camp Bed 3.5 Self-Inflating pad simply inflates itself while rolled out, allowing for painless and tire-free bed setup at the end of a tiring day.
REI also offers a large variety of inflatable beds, many of which include modern and experimental ideas. The Therm-A-Rest Speedvalve range, for example, is intended to be light and easy to inflate with just your breath, but has mixed reviews due to deflation during sleeping. For those looking for the ideal easy-inflatable bed, REI’s selection might be well worth a look.
Sometimes your camping trips get a little more adventurous, and in order to safely go further off the beaten path, extra preparation is needed. For those happy to spend more money to make those bouts of exploration safer, there are a handful of tools and gadgets available.
SnowLizard offers a wide selection of waterproof and damage proof cases for iPhones that come in a variety of shapes and prices. While the large number of phones using Android are harder to find ‘extreme-condition’ cases for, more popular models like the Samsung Galaxy have options worth exploring. Some Android products are even specifically built for durability (like the aforementioned ‘Meet Earl’). Certain cases even have solar panels that can charge your phone slightly while out and about, making it an area well worth looking into for phone-attached campers.
Heading deeper into gadget territory, an increasing amount of companies are selling expensive, kitted out watches. For example, the Casio ProTrek series are high tech (and often pricey) watches designed to be durable, water resistant, (not necessarily waterproof) and to help with navigation. There are also multifunctional watches and devices at a range of prices that include GPS functions, such as those by Garmin.
Lastly, in the upper spectrum of techy camping gear are the cameras that record in extremely high quality, geared at those who want to take in the sights and preserve them. Among the most impressive are Sony’s digital binoculars. These binoculars not only allow up to 25x zoom, but also record in high quality like a video camera. This futuristic pair of binoculars goes for around £1,500 though, so are probably only for the most dedicated.
Forsaking all the latest tech in favour of enjoying a good old fashioned classic camping experience will always appeal more to some people.
But for those who want to upgrade their camping experience, it seems like this field of technology is only going to continue becoming more competitive and exciting in the coming years.
Thanks to experimental bits and bobs, as well as the recent popularity of crowdfunding platforms, we can expect to see an increase in camping innovations that will ultimately drive the industry forward.
Some bit of tech may not always work first try, and experts do suggest bringing along old fashioned maps as well as GPS for exploration trips. However, this list is proof that many of these ideas have yielded popular and truly useful results that can only continue to enhance the camping experience.
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