Camping is often seen as an opportunity to leave your tech at home, but that’s not always the best idea. There’s a lot of tech out there that can improve your enjoyment of the great outdoors, not to mention keep you safe.
A Well-Protected Smartphone
Even if you want to spend some time off-grid, away from social media and constant work emails, it’s still a good idea to pack your smartphone. Whether you’re traveling by car, hanging out at a campsite, or walking up a mountain; your iPhone or Android smartphone can be invaluable in an emergency.
The best way to be prepared for any eventuality is to ensure that your smartphone is protected from the elements. Investing in a rugged, waterproof case like the Lifeproof FRE for iPhone provides water and drop protection that far exceeds your manufacturer’s “naked” rating.
Lifeproof haven’t kept up with Android trends so if you don’t have an iPhone you’ll have to look elsewhere. You can pick up something like the Ghostek NAUTICAL for the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S22 (or Plus and Ultra models) instead.
Ghostek NAUTICAL for Galaxy S22
If you’re going to be around water, for example on a canoe or kayaking camping adventure, a floating waterproof case like the CaliCase Universal Waterproof Floating Case might be a better choice. It attaches to a lanyard which can be worn around your neck and will ensure your device floats in case you drop it in deep water. There are two layers of clear PVC for additional protection and most devices up to 6.1″ in height will fit.
Smart Watch or Fitness Tracker
If you’re going on a camping trip where you’ll be covering some ground, hiking, and engaging in other physical activity then a smartwatch or fitness tracker can have some real advantages.
A good smartwatch like the Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 will track your activity and overall steps, record GPS information including route, and provide at-a-glance information about weather, UV index, and more. You can often avoid taking your smartphone out of your pocket altogether simply by raising your wrist. Apple Watch fall detection could even save your life, provided you turn it on before you go.
Apple Watch Series 7
iPhone users should stick with the Apple Watch, but Android users have a few more options including Samsung’s Galaxy range. There’s also the Garmin Venu 2 and Fitbit Versa 3 for those who want more fitness-oriented features. Be aware that smartwatches may add to your smartphone’s battery drain due to the need to be paired with a device, and they’ll need to be charged every day or so too.
Fitness trackers are a good alternative to a smartwatch, and they’re cheaper to boot. Trackers focus on tracking your activity rather than providing you with information in the way a smartwatch does, which means they also enjoy better battery life. While fitness trackers have improved across the board over the years, Fitbit is still king.
Fitbit Charge 5
The Fitbit Charge 5 takes the crown as our top-recommended fitness tracker, and even manages to incorporate GPS tracking. The Garmin Vivosmart 4 is another solid choice with great battery life, though it lacks GPS tracking.
A Solar, Turbine, or Hand-Crank Charger
Solar chargers are everywhere, with the price of photovoltaic panels dropping as the technology becomes more widespread. You can use portable solar chargers like the BigBlue 3 28w or FlexSolar 40w to charger your smartphones, wearables, tablets, GPS devices, and power banks for as long as the weather is on your side.
FlexSolar 40w Solar Charger
Solar chargers don’t need to be used in a static location, and many backpackers will drape them over their packs on the move. Using a solar panel to charge a USB power bank is a good way to “stock up” on charge for days when the weather is dull or rainy.
If you’re camping by a water source and would rather not rely on solar, consider a turbine charger like the WaterLily Turbine Charger. By placing the turbine in the water, you can harness the water’s current to charge a power bank or your devices directly. You can also transform WaterLily into WindLily, a portable wind-powered turbine.
If you’d rather convert people power into battery power, a hand crank charger might be just what you’re looking for. Beware that many small hand-crank chargers don’t produce enough charge to be particularly useful outside of powering a low-power LED bulb. You’ll need to spend more money on a bigger and heavier charger to avoid disappointment.
Powerhouse 60w Hand Crank
Look at something like the Powerhouse 60w Fast Charger. Reviews suggest that for around 5 minutes of cranking, you should get about 10% charge on an iPhone. The downside is in the sheer size and weight, which clocks in at 9 lb (just over 4KG). This makes hand-crank chargers better suited to keeping in the car, on a bike, or for trips where you’ve got enough allowance in your pack for that much weight.
Check out some other ways to keep your gadgets charged while camping.
A Battery Pack
Many chargers do not include battery packs, which means they only work for as long as your device is connected and the charging conditions are met. If you want to maximize your charging potential while off-grid, invest in a portable battery pack and keep it topped up.
Best Rugged Portable Charger
The Techsmarter 20000mAh USB-C PD Power Bank gets our recommendation for its rugged and waterproof design, large capacity, and ability to deliver 18w fast charging. If you want something smaller and lighter that’s a little less rugged, the Anker PowerCore 10000mAh is a good option.
Lights for When the Sun Goes Down
For lighting up a tent, hand-cranked lights are good since they provide a modest amount of light for the time you spend cranking, and you don’t have to worry about batteries or charging. Some even support charging via USB, which means you can load up on power when you’re able.
Something like a basic 3000mAh Camping Lantern should do the trick, with three options for power: a solar panel, a USB-compatible battery, and a hand crank. You can charge in the day by leaving the light outside (30 minutes of sunlight should yield around 30 minutes of light), by hand by turning the crank (10 minutes of cranking should net you around 20 minutes of light), or by plugging into a 5V/2A USB connection (two hours for a full charge).
Tent lights are useful, but they aren’t the only light source you should invest in. A good head torch provides a much brighter beam of light while freeing up both of your hands. This is ideal when rooting around your tent at night, going through bags, or preparing food in the dark.
PETZL makes some of the best head torches for any budget. The PETZL Tikka is a great entry-level light that hits 300 lumens of brightness, takes disposable AAA batteries, and features a red light for preserving night vision. If you want to spend a little more grab the PETZL ACTIK CORE which can reach 450 lumens and comes with a rechargeable battery pack.
An Action Camera
Your smartphone probably has a good camera on it, but an action camera may serve you better. These devices shoot video and stills in remarkably good quality, with a range of features on the latest models including excellent video stabilization, wireless data transfer, and voice-activated shooting.
GoPro still makes the best action cameras, and though they aren’t cheap the quality won’t let you down. You can grab the latest GoPro HERO10 v2 Black for less than half the price of an iPhone, or save some money by opting for an older model like the GoPro HERO8 Black which still delivers an impressive suite of features.
GoPro HERO10 Black
Thanks to the aforementioned voice activation, you can mount a GoPro just about anywhere and use it to grab stills and video of whatever you get up to. Grab a chest strap or mount it to your bag and record your on-foot adventures, stick it to your mountain bike or kayak for a new perspective, or simply walk around with it handheld.
They’re lightweight and hardy, sport a waterproof chassis (or optional housing), and they’ll save your smartphone battery. You can expand on them with the GoPro Media Mod for the HERO10 and HERO9 Black which includes a better microphone and cold-shoe mounts in a weather-resistant housing.
Unlike most modern smartphones, the GoPro system uses removable batteries and microSD cards which makes shooting even more convenient.
A Satellite Communicator
If you’re going way off-grid, a smartphone might not be enough. If you’re concerned about cellular reception, something like the ZOLEO Satellite Communicator might be worth investing in.
ZOLEO Satellite Communicator
This subscription-based gadget uses a network of satellites to make sure you’re always able to stay in touch. You can use two-way messaging, send SMS and email, get your GPS coordinates, and access information about weather by linking the ZOLEO to your smartphone. Get over 200 hours of battery life on a single charge and depend on the rugged IP68 rating in all weather and conditions.
The downside is that in addition to spending a few hundred dollars on the unit you’ll also need to take out a $20, $35, or $50 monthly subscription. The ZOLEO isn’t the only communicator of its kind, with the Garmin inReach Mini 2 providing most of these features in a single unit (complete with screen) for an even higher asking price.
Enjoy Your Trip
If you’re headed for the great outdoors, consider taking a Thermacell device which helps kill mosquitos by creating a zone of protection around you. ReviewGeek has also rounded-up some of the best camp stoves, emergency and camping lanterns, and sleeping bags.
If you’re looking for places to hike then check out some of the best iOS and Android apps for finding trails.