There’s something to be said for completely unplugging every so often, and even though high-tech gizmos definitely aren’t necessary for getting out and enjoying nature, we here at DT we know from experience that the right assortment of tech gear can make outdoor excursions simpler, safer, and more fun. These days more and more companies are making gear that’s designed to withstand the elements, so we’ve rounded up our favorites and put together this definitive guide to the best summer outdoor gear.
Ever wished you could take your tunes along on a nice, relaxing river float? Well now that waterproof bluetooth speakers are hitting the market with a vengeance, your dreams are now a reality. This badboy is waterproof, dustproof, shockproof, completely buoyant and self-righting, and connects wirelessly to your smartphone in a snap. Their sound isn’t the best we’ve heard from a wireless speaker, but it’s crisp and clear in the midrange, which helps your tunes effectively cut through any ambient nature noise.
Columbia Sportswear Omni-Freeze Zero Shirts ($38 – $45)
How cool is this shirt, huh? Sorry, couldn’t help it. That’s what you get when you make stuff that looks as cool as it makes you feel. Columbia Sportswear has outfitted it’s Omni-Freeze Zero shirts with little blue rings that absorb moisture as you sweat, drawing away heat in the process and leaving you feeling like you’re wearing a little portable air conditioner. And the best part is, the shirts are pretty stylin'; long-sleeve, golf polo, tank top, v-neck- take your pick. You can even get hats, shoes and bandanas with the wearable tech.
BioLite CampStove (129.95)
This badass little biomass stove has won the hearts of techie outdoorsfolk ever since it completed it’s Kickstarter campaign, and we’re still in love with it two years later. It runs on nothing more than twigs and bits of wood, it can boil a pot of water in under 3 minutes, and it uses any waste heat created to power anything that charges via USB. As an added bonus, BioLite now offers a grill attachment.
If you’re thinking “why the hell would anyone need a tablet in the backcountry?” rest assured, that was our initial reaction, too. But then we looked at the features on this thing. Tablets by nature are designed for maximum utility, and Earl is no different. It’s almost got too many features to list here: it runs Android 4.1 and can run apps, has a flexible and durable 6 inch screen, solar panels on the back for charging, Wi-Fi, bluetooth 4.0, NFC, FRS/GMRS/MURS transceivers (two-way radios), GPS, accelerometer, magnetometer, barometer, thermometer, anemometer, AM/FM/SW/LW radios, and a 20+ hour battery life.
Petzl’s headgear already sets the bar high for headlamp manufacturers, but the NAO reactive lighting system takes things to a whole different level. It’s more than just a head mounted lamp – it’s got two different beams and an ambient light sensor that adjusts them in real time to fit what you’re looking at. The beam will get tighter and more focused when you’re looking at something in the distance, and instantly adjust to a dimmer, wider beam when you put a map up to your face. Necessary? Probably not. Cool? Absolutely.
Brunton SolarRoll ($435.00)
Solar power is great to have on the trail, but lugging around a bunch of rigid solar boards is cumbersome, awkward, and often not worth the trouble for the tiny amount of juice you get in return. If you want to maximize your solar charging and minimize weight, look no further than Brunton’s line of Solar Roll products. Housed in a thin layer of incredibly durable fluoropolymer, these solar cells are thin, lightweight and flexible, and can easily be attached to a backpack or tree for maximum exposure.
SteriPen Water Purification System ($119.95)
Purifying water is a must when you’re out in the wilderness, but boiling takes too long, iodine makes it taste nasty, and reverse osmosis pumps are just a pain. If you’re looking to kill of waterborne illnesses in a snap, check out SteriPen – a fast, compact, and lightweight water purification system that uses high-intensity UV light to murder microorganisms in your water. The light kills 99.99 percent of all viruses, bacteria, and parasites in just a few seconds.
Electricity is hard to come by in the backwoods, and when it comes time to power up your gear on the trail, you’ve generally got three options: battery packs, solar chargers, or thermoelectric chargers. PowerPot is one of the latter. This clever little cooking pot feeds off the heat created by your campfire and converts it into usable engergy you can use to juice up any USB-powered device.
Thinking of bringing your laptop along to get some work done on the beach? Planning on blasting your boombox all night at the campsite? When solar and thermoelectric won’t cut it, you’ll need something like the Escape portable power pack to keep your gadgets going. Basically a giant rechargeable battery, this badboy has a maximum capacity of 150Wh, so it’ll keep your devices powered for hours or even days depending on how big they are.
Everyone’s jumping on the wireless bluetooth speaker bandwagon, and we couldn’t be happier about it. This one from Eton is pretty similar to the ECOxBT we listed above – just a tad less durable. We’ll forgive it though, since this rugged little bluetooth speaker does boast one feature that most others dont – the ability to get a charge from the sun. The Rukus features a solar panel that can fully recharge itself with a few hours of sunlight.
NEMO Helio Portable Shower ($99.95)
No matter what type of camper you are, there comes a point at which you should bathe. No, you really should. The problem is, sudsing up in a lake, river or stream comes with all sorts of complications. Perhaps that’s why solar showers are so desirable. Unfortunately, most solar showers are unwieldy, leaky bastard bags of frustration. Not so with the NEMO Helio, though. This foot-pump solar shower comes with a spray wand so the solar heated water inside only sprays when and where you want it. Get one, your tent-mates will thank you.
Handpresso Wild Hybrid ($116.00)
Coffee is definitely a luxury at the campsite, but nothing will put more pep in your step than a tin cup full of java before you hit the trail. For the longest time, this meant packing along a sandwich baggy full of grounds and a couple filters and brewing it like a hobo, but this nifty little gizmo from Handpresso changes all that. Using a pre-pressed coffee packets and a hand pump to get the right water pressure, the Wild Hybrid is undoubtedly the most portable espresso machine we’ve ever encountered.
Nite Ize Reflective Rope ($12)
There’s nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night to pee, finally managing to find the tent zipper just before your bladder explodes, and then tripping on a guyline as you sprint around your tent in the dark. Save yourself from going face first into a pile of pinecones with this super-reflective rope from NiteIze. We’re not sure what it’s woven with, but the stuff is reflective enough to light up and become visible with just a tiny bit of moonlight.
Sony Digital Recording Binoculars ($1999.99)
Face it; nobody is going to believe that you spotted a bay-breasted warbler or a golden-crested bushtit if you only bring your standard binoculars. If you want to make all your birdwatching friends jealous at your next Thursday night bridge game, you’ll need hard evidence of all the rare avian species you’ve spotted. With these digital recording binoculars from Sony, you can capture footage of all the wild and exotic birds you see and finally make that skeptical old bat Flora believe you.
GoPro Hero 3 ($200 – $400)
Planning on doing something insane this summer? Perhaps rafting some gnarly class V’s, slacklining over a canyon, or making the world’s biggest rope swing? Do the world a favor and get yourself a GoPro so you can capture your awesomeness from a first-person point of view. In case you’re not aware, these rugged little cameras are waterproof, dustproof, shockproof, and can shoot in 1080p or 4K. Cue Skrillex music.
Canon Powershot D20 ($350)
When you smartphone just won’t cut it and your DSLR is too big to fit in your pack, look no further than the Canon Powershot D20. Not only does this thing shoot with 12.1 megapixels and 5x optical zoom, it’s also just about as rugged as cameras come. Waterproof up to 33 feet, shockproof up to 5 feet, and freeze proof down to 14 degrees fahrenheit, it’s easily one of the most durable point and shoots on the market.
NeverWet Superhydrophobic Spray ($19.97)
Think you might encounter some precipitation on your trip? Treat your gear with a coat of this superhydrophobic waterproofing spray and you’ll never need to worry about rain ever again. Produced through a partnership between Ross Nanotechnologies and Rust-Oleum, this two-part treatment uses nanotechnology to make just about anything repel water – tents, clothes, backpacks, shoes, or even matches. And the best part? it’s only $20 bucks at Home Depot.