(updated on September 19, 2016)
Let’s be honest: no one needs any fancy gadgets or high-tech toys to explore the backcountry. You’ll survive fine without a cellphone, radio or UV water filter (iodine tablets work OK, they just make H2O taste like crap).
And yet, just about every outdoor adventurer I know is drawn to these gadgets. They may not necessarily be interested in the latest high-tech gear and hiking apps, but even the most dedicated backpacking purists understand that a little innovation is a beautiful thing. Who couldn’t use a smaller, lighter more compact pot?
So go ahead, peruse the latest techno do-dads for camping. Just one word of advice: focus on the devices that deliver the most benefit for the least amount of size and weight. I’ve dug deep to feature some of the best-reviewed gizmos around (and FYI, there are affiliate links in here). So if you need a few ideas, check out the list of cool camping gadgets below.
I can still remember when the first SPOT hit the market. Bridging the gap between PLB and cell phone messenger, the SPOT is a communication tool and backcountry rescue beacon in one.
Generation 3 brings refinement and improvement along with new features like the ability to remotely upload your location every 30min by satellite to a website where friends, family, and fans can watch.
My personal favorite part? It runs on replaceable normal batteries. At 11+ days per two batteries, you can continuously upload your location easily for a month on only a handful of batteries.
But to be honest, it may not be the best companion for international treks. My wife and I used one while trekking in Nepal and the ‘check in’ email function didn’t work out too well. A certain worried sister-in-law didn’t get our messages, which almost had her calling the embassy.
2) Hitcase Pro
This monster of a case turns your iPhone into a hardcore action camera. Waterproof and impact-resistant, the Hitcase Pro is designed to be a budget-friendly alternative to the popular GoPro cameras. No, it’s not the same as buying professional quality camera gear, but this case does add some cool shooting features and a helluva lot more protection to your iPhone.
It features a wide-angle lens and mounting system, so you can secure it to yourself while tackling treacherous terrain. You’re not going to get quite the same video quality as GoPro, but you will have access to perks that no other action cameras can provide — that’s thanks to the iPhone’s app and cellular radio support. Plus, with a price tag of less than $100, it’s a pretty affordable way to protect your smartphone while turning it into an action camera. You can read more about it by clicking here.
In the spirit of capital market competition and a little anarchy, we’ll toss in this alternative case. Having used this case for many years on several iPhones it’s pretty clear the case can hold its own.
A rubber gasket mounts tightly around the glass of the screen providing a waterproof seal while still allowing direct access to the touch screen with no protective layers between your thumb and the device.
No, size certainly isn’t everything. As the world’s smallest 3500 lumen LED flashlight, the Nitecore Tiny Monster has enough juice to blind your hiking partner. Well, at least temporarily. This little brute also has eight different brightness levels so you can conserve batteries while it’s crafted from waterproof aircraft aluminum alloy. Powerful stuff.
Gotta love hand-crank devices. Simple, dependable and able to get you outta a jam with just a bit of effort. The handy Eton FRX3 is a radio/flashlight/charger in one. Just one minute of cranking provides 21 minutes of light. Not too shabby. It also comes with a solar panel, so you can give your wrist a break when the sun is shining.
It can also get all 7 NOAA weather channels and standard AM/FM channels, plus it’s an alarm clock. To top it off, this multi-tool gadget can also charge your USB devices (just don’t rely on it to power your smartphone 24/7). At $50 a pop, the Eton FRX3 Hand Turbine Radio is a pretty decent deal.
This nifty little gadget will recharge your other nifty little gadgets using the latent energy in burning twigs.
Receiving heavy criticism from experienced backpackers as too heavy to justify its use and requiring lots of down time to charge (4+ hours of burning to charge an Android phone).
If you’re going lightweight this isn’t your toy. If you’re going for the wow factor, this is definitely your toy.
It’s always great to have a big-ass 20-litre pot nearby when you’re in the woods. But there’s no freakin’ way you’re gonna haul that sucker through the wilderness. A potential solution: The Kitchen Sink – a collapsible unit that holds up to 20 litres of water and then folds down to a pouch that fits in the palm of your hand. Weighs just 180 grams (for the 20-litre one).
Portable solar power has been on the market for years. Once speculative and unreliable, the GoalZero line of portable solar power is now time tested and refined.
One of many options in portable solar power, we chose this model due to its popularity and proven results with tons of avid fans. By and away the biggest drawback of solar power for backpacking is the need to find direct sunlight so don’t expect this panel to charge while walking in the shade of trees. You’ll have to take a several hour break in direct sunlight with the panel laid out flat to achieve results.
This isn’t exactly the newest product on the market – I’ve had my SteriPEN for about five years now. But it makes the list because it’s such a simple and efficient device. Pop the pen into a bottle of sketchy water and ultraviolet light kills 99.99% of viruses and bacteria. It also comes with a handy prefilter for the silky stuff.
Tiny and light-weight, it’s great for wilderness backpacking but I also used it while traveling in South America. And with an estimated lifespan of 8,000 uses, the SteriPEN Water Purifier is a pretty solid deal at $65.
Anker has yet to let me down with their products. Innovation, quality, and exceptional reliability across their entire lineup of products is admirable. This portable battery pack accompanies me on backpacking trips where I have use of my cell phone for maps or communication. It’s also pull double duty around the house or car. I carried this charger on the Appalachian Trail for several weeks and it easily got me enough use out of my iPhone 5 to last a week between charges.
By Dustin Walker