Gizmag's favorite camping innovations of 2015
Camping provides a wonderful way of escaping everyday life and its ringing, buzzing and blinking gadgets. That doesn't mean campers need to go completely old school, though. Much of the camping gear and gadgetry we saw throughout 2015 uses smart design and tech for the betterment of campers everywhere. We've already looked at the big stuff – motorhomes and caravans – so here it's all about smaller, simpler car camping gear.
The Austrian-designed Camp Champ is an example of the type of product you'd build if money, both in terms of what you put into it and what you planned to sell it for, was no object. And when you're selling to an overland market full of folks that spare no expense on their travel and camping hardware – the insane (and insanely expensive) vehicles from Overland Expo serve as evidence – maybe you don't have to worry so much about price.
The Camp Champ takes the idea of a camping chuck box to a rather gorgeous extreme. The boat-grade plywood box is covered with elegant sapele wood veneers, reinforced at the corners with galvanized steel and edges with aluminum, protected with a thermoplastic base and finished in a weatherproof coating. It looks nice enough to put in your living room but tough enough to survive rough, bumpy on/off-road adventures. The included array of cooking and food prep equipment folds and tucks neatly into the main body to cut bouncing and rattling during bumpy drives.
Entirely unnecessary for a successful camping trip, but sure to be the highlight of every trip on which it is present, the Hydro Hammock combines two of the most relaxing things you can do outside. The overbuilt hammock holds 50 gallons (189 l) of water and keeps temperature just right with an available propane heating system. If you don't like the idea of dangling from the trees in a big, soft-bodied tub of water, you can also dig a hole and have an "in-ground" hot tub experience.
A hot tub hammock should sell itself, but if you're still having trouble identifying its campsite value, imagine stringing it up at camp in the morning, taking a long, arduous hike during the day, then coming back for a relaxing soak as the sun fades away behind the mountains. Not a bad way to finish off a long day of outdoor fun.Buy now on Amazon.
Princeton Tec Helix Bluetooth Lantern
Princeton Tec stuffs its Helix Bluetooth Lantern full of user-friendly features, making it one of the most versatile lanterns we've seen. The collapsible combination of fold-out legs and accordion-style globe let you pack it small to save space in the car or backpack. The 250-lumen lantern can stand straight up on its legs, point in different directions by readjusting those legs and hang from the integrated grooves. The globe removes to turn lantern into spotlight.
The Helix Bluetooth also has a few smart features. Its integrated Bluetooth puts light control on your smartphone, so you can turn it on and off from a distance. The included USB port lets you charge that smartphone and other gadgets from the lantern's batteries. All in all, the Helix Bluetooth seems like a valuable tool for any camping kit.Buy now on Amazon.
Camper-in-a-box systems let you efficiently turn your car cabin into a cozy place to sleep, prepare meals and wash up, all without the expense or work of more permanent conversions and dedicated camping vehicles. Over the years, we've seen a number of these systems sprout up.
The Qubiq system provides more flexibility than other camper-in-a-box systems, using modules that can be mixed, matched and/or left at home. The three primary modules offer cooking, washing and food-chilling capabilities out of the trunk of a compatible van or high-roof wagon. They also support a folding mattress on top. The mattress platform doubles as a table, and alternative modules like a pet kennel can be purchased and swapped in.
Mollusc Nano tent
An interesting twist (or flip) on the ubiquitous dome tent, the Mollusc Nano features unique side hubs that allow its exoskeleton frame to retract back. The tent quickly switches between three different positions: fully enclosed sleeper, partially open sun shelter and fully open barrier wall. A retracting dome isn't a necessary feature for a tent, but there's something compelling about waking up, flipping the tent open and letting the fresh air in while watching the sun rise over the treetops from inside a sleeping bag.
Of course, that vision isn't anywhere near compelling enough to inspire us to spend even half the £1,750 (US$2,610) Kickstarter price that Mollusc slapped on the three-person, 55-lb (25-kg) Nano earlier this year. But to the company's credit, it also offered DIY plans, providing a more affordable means of getting a flip-up tent all your own. As with the Camp Champ, we appreciate the design, even if we can't fathom spending the money.
Oomph coffee brewer
A good cup of coffee enjoyed in the unbounded scenery of the open outdoors is one of the true pleasures of camping. The Oomph portable coffeemaker looks absolutely perfect for the task of making that camp cup. A super-fast press brewer built into an insulated mug, the Oomph brews a 13-oz (384 ml) cup of coffee and saves dishes by doubling as your drinking cup. Whether you plan to sit at camp and enjoy the sunrise or get moving onto a hike or canoe trip, you have a quick, all-in-one solution for making and sipping your morning joe.
The Oomph is still live on Kickstarter, where it's being advertised at pledge levels of £37+/$55+ (the £30 level is sold out). The campaign has moved within $5,000 of its $39,329 goal, with more than two weeks to go.
Jetboil Genesis Base Camp
Known for its lightweight, all-in-one backpacking cooking solutions, Jetboil turned some attention to base/car camping this year. The Genesis Base Camp includes a folding two-burner propane stove, 5-liter pot and non-stick frying pan in a neat, nesting package. The stove folds in half and stores inside the pot; the frying pan sits on top like a lid; and that whole package slides into the accompanying case for compact storage and easy transport. Compare that to how much space a typical two-burner box stove and camping pot and pan take up, and you can quickly see the advantage of Jetboil's design.
The multi-award-winning Genesis series will hit the market in late January 2016.
Sea to Summit Comfort Plus sleeping pad
The new Sea to Summit Comfort Plus sleeping pad, which has won several awards including an OutDoor Industry Award and ISPO Gold Award, boasts independently-inflated upper and lower layers meant to increase comfort and safeguard against failure. You can adjust each layer to get just the right feel – for instance, fully inflating the lower layer to guard against hard, uneven ground while keeping the upper layer soft to provide a comfier night's sleep. The dual-layer design also protects against leaks and punctures. If one layer deflates, you still have a second layer between you and the ground.
The pad's hundreds of independent "Air Sprung Cells" conform to your body, giving support and comfort more like your mattress at home. The Comfort Plus is available in insulated and non-insulated models and tapered and rectangular designs.Buy now on Amazon.
Ultimate Ears Boom 2 Bluetooth speaker
Need some music at camp? Ultimate Ears combines high-end Bluetooth audio with outdoor-ready construction in the new Boom 2. Like the original Boom, the UE Boom 2 holds a place on a number of "best Bluetooth speaker" lists thanks to its convincing audio. Its tough, IPX7 waterproof design makes it perfect for camping and other potentially wet, dirty outdoor activities.
Boom 2 features like the 100-ft (30-m) wireless range, 15-hour battery life and onboard track control deliver enjoyable music play wherever you happen to be. Just be careful with the volume, the Boom 2 is designed to be 25 percent louder than its predecessor, a fact that your campground neighbors might not be all too happy about.Buy now on Amazon.
Tentsile Flite tree tent
Since 2012, Tentsile has been teasing our imaginations with beautiful photos of tents suspended in tree canopies, on bluff edges and over glistening water. In those few years, we've watched the company's offerings move from cool but expensive outdoor novelties closer and closer to affordable ground tent alternatives, from the $675 Stingray, to the $595 Vista, to the $495 Connect.
With the Flite, we think Tentsile might have done it: developed a cool, breezy tree tent that's affordable enough for the average camper to think seriously about buying. The tent pulls two adults and their gear up off the cold, bumpy ground for a night or more of suspended slumber. It's designed to be set up in 10 minutes and used in all four seasons. The $350 price tag isn't cheap, but it's not bad at all compared to many four-season, two-person ground tents, making it a workable buy for those that like the idea of camping among the swaying branches and rustling leaves.