The best camping gadgets, gifts and gear innovations of 2017
When the coolest water toys of 2017 tire you out, you'll be glad to know technology has your back once again when you step back ashore. The latest, greatest camping tools and gadgets use technology and design innovation toward enhancing every aspect of cooking, sleeping and relaxing under the open sky. And whether you're writing your own holiday wish list and checking it twice or shopping for someone else, each one could make the perfect gift for anyone from the van-living millennial, to the nature-loving backpacker, to the outdoorsy family types.
This year, BioLite took its cooking technology extra large with a fan-assisted FirePit for use in backyards and the greater outdoors. The FirePit's main innovation is that it cuts down on smoke, because while a little savory fire smell is nice, smoke can quickly become a camper's worst enemy when a shift in the wind turns a relaxing sit into a teary eyed coughing fit.
Unlike your average campfire pit, BioLite's FirePit uses a set of battery-powered air jets to pump oxygen into the natural wood fire, making the burn far more efficient and less smoky. You can control the intensity of those jets at the FirePit itself or via a Bluetooth app. So you still get to enjoy the sight, sound, smell and warmth of a real wood fire, only without the aggressive smoke.
The FirePit's 10,400-mAh battery removes for charging and can also charge mobile devices. A removable hibachi grate and wood/charcoal capability let the FirePit work easily as a grill. All in all it looks like a smart, versatile addition to any campsite.
BioLite launched the US$200 FirePit on Kickstarter in September and is now offering it for pre-order on its website. This one won't ship in time for the holidays, but it will catch the tail end of Northern Hemisphere summer camping season with an estimated August 2018 ship date.
Rovr Rollr coolers
We quickly tire of writing its e-free name, but we don't tire of singing the Rovr Rollr cooler's praises. "Multifunctional cooler," usually means an awkward, over-engineered icebox loaded with features that you really don't need (Bluetooth speakers, gadget charging, air conditioning, etc.), but Rovr makes it a more acceptable term. Because the Colorado company focuses on features that help the cooler perform necessary, not peripheral, camping tasks. It keeps food and drinks cold for days on end, rolls said food and drinks, along with other gear, to camp on terrain-chewing pneumatic tires, and works as a food/drink prep station.
The 85-quart (80-L) Rovr Rollr was one of our favorite highlights from this year's Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, and a few days later Rovr launched the 60-quart (57-L) model with successful Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns. The latter model isn't available to purchase directly through Rovr's online store just yet, but the 85-quart version is available for $449, or $499 when paired with the bike hitch.
Not an all-new gadget, but new to the US and one of the most useful, dual-purpose camping tools we saw all year, Kariba's stove-shower brings a little South African bush ingenuity to your local campground. The compact unit relies on a dual-fuel single- or dual-burner base to cook and heat water for the included shower, making it the perfect multifunctional companion for extended car camping trips or compact camper vans lacking indoor bathrooms or outdoor showers.
Kariba's 2-in-1 kits include a bucket that works as a carry case in transit and holds water for the shower at camp. With the 12 V pump, the system draws water in, pushes it through a heat exchanger and sends it cascading out the shower head. When shower time gives way to cooking time, simply swap the heat exchanger for the cooking grate and get to work.
Kariba systems are available in the US through Equipt Expedition Outfitters, the single-burner Nomad for $520 and the dual-burner Ranger for $655.
Fusion StereoActive speaker
The market for rugged, outdoor-ready Bluetooth speakers has become rather flooded, but the Fusion StereoActive speaker stands out in the crowd as a versatile solution for everything from van camping, to group tent camping, to active sporting pursuits with a side of music. The StereoActive speaker came to our attention on the Tvan MK5 trailer, where it provides a light but robust audio solution for off-road trailer campers, easily removing to carry music meters or miles away from the trailer itself. More than just Bluetooth, the IPX7 StereoActive also includes a USB input, AM/FM radio and weather band radio (North America). Its lithium-ion battery supports up to 20 hours of playback.
Outside of camping trailers or vans, the StereoActive can use its puck mounts to secure to stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, hot tubs and virtually anywhere you might want some music. The available ActiveSafe can mount below and work as a base, providing a secure, IPX7 space for important belongings like keys, cash and smartphones. Both the speaker and ActiveSafe float so they'll be easier to retrieve should they get knocked in the drink.
The StereoActive speaker can be found for between $250 and $300, and the ActiveSafe retails around $100.
Cauldryn Fyre Mobile water bottle/boiler
One of the coolest gadgets from Outdoor Retailer 2017, the Cauldryn Fyre Mobile lets you do away with the camp stove, offering you the ability to heat and even boil water right in the bottle. The 16-oz (473-ml) cooker heats liquids with a battery-powered heating element, so there's no need for gas canisters or external heat. It can also bring water up to boiling point, allowing you to purify it in an emergency.
Four other modes let you heat contents up to between 125° and 205° F (52° and 96° C), providing just the right temperature for the beverage or food you're preparing. The mug's vacuum insulation keeps beverages warm or cold on its own, or you can use the battery to keep contents at the precise temperature you want for the entire day. So this handy gadget is part stove, part water purifier and part versatile hot/cold drinking vessel – not a bad addition to your camp cooking kit.
The Fyre Mobile retails for $130 on Cauldryn's online store.
Klymit Armored V sleeping pad
Nothing can ruin a good night of sleep in the wild like a flat, airless inflatable sleeping pad. Sure, some will start snoring the minute they hit the ground, sleeping pad or not, but if you're a light-sleeping tosser-and-turner, the lack of a sleeping pad can mean the difference between a happy tomorrow in the great outdoors and a day of exhausted misery.
Klymit, which has expanded way beyond its inflatable clothing roots into all kinds of inflatable camping gear, helps prevent those restless nights with the all-new Armored V sleeping pad, introduced just this month. The latest addition to its expansive pad lineup, the Armored V borrows a cue from Mother Nature and uses hundreds of thousands of tough scales on its bottom to prevent puncture, rips and abrasion.
The 2.4-lb (1.1-kg) pad is tough enough to hold up to the unpredictable outdoors but supple enough to roll up for compact carry and storage. Assuming it works in preventing the midnight-surprise flattened bed, this $200 pad will fast earn its place in any camping kit.
Power Practical Sparkr flashlight and lighter
Flashlight multitools have become a staple in the camping market, but much like multifunctional coolers, they can quickly weigh you down with unnecessary features and expense. Power Practical's Sparkr keeps it simple and focused, combining two types of light quite necessary for outdoor living.
One end features a 400-lumen flashlight and the other a windproof electric plasma lighter for sparking tinder into glorious fire. In a cool twist, the safety cap that covers the lighter doubles as a lantern globe for diffusing the three-setting flashlight's output, rounding out a solid list of functions for the compact, 6.4-oz (181-g) handheld. The rechargeable 3,350-mAh 18650 battery provides enough juice for up to 12 hours of flashlight time or hundreds of lighter fire-ups.
Power Practical offers the aluminum-handled Sparkr for $60.
Cafflano Kompresso espresso maker
Beanscorp's Cafflano Klassic pour-over and Kompact immersion-press portable coffee systems have won numerous awards over the years, including outdoor-specific awards from the ISPO and OutDoor Friedrichschafen shows. This year, Beanscorp introduced a go-anywhere brewing solution for espresso lovers, and the 7.1-oz (200-g) Kompresso becomes the lightest portable coffee maker in its line-up.
When it comes to making espresso, Beanscorp opts out of basic pneumatic compression, relying instead on a piston-based hydraulic process that it says applies a much steadier pressure of 9 bars throughout the extraction process. The Kompresso's hardware measures 6.7 x 3.9-in (17 x 10-cm package), traveling small and light, and the easy-clean design is sure to be appreciated at camp.
Beanscorp held a successful Kickstarter for the Kompresso back in June, and it's now available on Amazon for $119.99.
Vssl Supplies Suunto Edition survival light
We've always liked the look of VSSL Supplies' survival tubes, but it wasn't until a recent partnership with Suunto that we really said, "Wow!" The typical compasses thrown into survival kits and multi-tools are entirely underwhelming, but the experts at Suunto cap the end of this new VSSL offering with their KB-14 mechanical compass.
That precision navigation piece serves as the cherry atop this particular VSSL, which includes a 200-lumen LED flashlight at the other end. Between those functional end caps, the waterproof aluminum handle serves as a cache for survival supplies contained in neatly labeled tins, provisions like water purification tablets, waterproof matches, fire starters and first aid supplies.
The VSSL Suunto Edition is available for $143, and those that already own a VSSL can get the standalone Suunto KB-14 cap for $60.
Dometic CFX 100W fridge-freezer
A cooler is the ticket for most camping trips, but if you plan to venture off the grid for weeks or months on end, overland-style, you'll want something that doesn't rely on melting ice to keep your food and drinks cold. Dometic is one of several name brands in the 12 V fridge-freezer market, and the CFX 100W is one of its most impressive offerings to date.
It becomes the largest model in the CFX range, offering a full 88 liters of cold storage. To illustrate, that's enough for 146 cans – just over six cases of beer. The model's heavy-duty stainless steel hinges and reinforced corners are made to survive all types of dusty adventure. Wi-Fi capabilities let you monitor and adjust settings from the familiar, go-anywhere comfort of your smartphone.
Since it requires a 12- or 24-volt DC or a 110 V power supply, the CFX 100W isn't for those that camp vehicle- and power-free, but it will work out for van lifers, overlanders and other vehicle-based adventurers, the type of folks who maybe won't balk at dropping $1,100.