Van life, social hammocking, $500 coolers, and battery packs and charging cables everywhere? The outdoors - or, at least, outdoor gear and the people that venture into it - is changing. New Atlas stopped by last week's Outdoor Retailer Summer Market to peek in on the latest changes and see the new gadgets and innovations that will be making their way to campgrounds and hiking trails in the coming year. As always, we found plenty of interesting developments.
This year we were only able to stop by OR for a day – unfortunate since we knew the show would be brimming with technology and weirdness like battery-powered boiling and coffee-in-a-pipe. We hit the ground running, though, and found some gems, some diamonds in the rough and maybe even some dirty, dirty coal.
High-end coolers still red hot
It used to be you'd go to the local department store or supermarket, sometimes the morning of your camping trip or picnic, and buy a cheap, basic cooler, maybe even a foam disposable. Nowadays the market is going crazy for high-end, bear-proof coolers with week+ ice retention claims. To stand out in this saturating market, some companies are building multipurpose workhorses, resulting in oddball creations stocked full of superfluous gadgetry (the Coolest, anyone?) but also some solid designs that do what a cooler does, only better.
Amidst the OR sea of burly, rotomolded tubs and buckets from names old and new, we found one design that really stood out as a cooler built not only tough, but smart. The Rovr Rollr features the rugged rotomolded construction popular in the upper echelons of the cooler world and adds some features that seem like they will prove genuinely handy at camp, starting with 8-in pneumatic all-terrain tires. We've used other wheeled coolers before and always found plastic wheels insufficient on rough, uneven ground. We only got to roll the Rollr 80 around smooth floor, but we'd expect those airy tires to be better up to the task of crawling over dirt, rock and roots than plastic wheels. We also preferred the two-person drop-down handle with bicycle-style grip over the telescoping handles on other coolers.
The Rollr comes standard with other accessories, like a collapsible cargo box to hold other gear steady while rolling to camp, an attachable cutting board and cupholders. A bike hookup is available to turn the Rovr into a proper food and beverage trailer. Rovr advertises up to 10 days of ice retention and includes an internal dry bin to keep select items cold, but not soaking in melting ice. At $450, the 80-quart (76-L) Rollr dives much, much deeper into your wallet than those supermarket coolers, but at least that money goes toward more than just unnecessary "bear resistance" (Rovr advertises that, too, if you're wondering) and fluff like Bluetooth speakers. Rovr will launch a crowdfunding campaign for a 60-quart (57-L) model in the coming weeks.
Another cooling option, more common in RVing and overlanding than basic car camping, is the electric refrigerator/freezer. Dometic launched its latest, the CFX-100W, at Outdoor Retailer. The new compressor fridge/freezer cools its 88 liters (23.2 US gal) of space with user's choice of 12-, 24- or 110-V power and includes built-in Wi-Fi for managing temperature from afar through the accompanying app. It also has an interior LED light and USB charging port. It will launch in the Northern Hemisphere fall for $1,100.
Fire also still burning hot
Starting a fire may be one of man's oldest discoveries, but Outdoor Retailer proves time and time again that man is always improving upon the ancient craft. In the past, we've seen fire-starting products like Ready Fuel and Insta-Fire. This time around, we happened upon two interesting alternatives, the first of which lets you pull-start a fire as if you were firing up a lawnmower. The simply named Pull Start Fire is a small fire-starting brick that you set up in the middle of a pile of logs before pulling the string and setting it all ablaze. So long as you use relatively small, dry logs, you don't even need tinder or kindling – the Pull Start pack will burn for up to 30 minutes and get the logs flaming on its own. A three-pack costs just under $15.
Our photo of the Pull Start Fire packages can't do the concept justice, so watch one in action in the clip below.
Another interesting fire-starting tool, FireCord from Live Fire Gear, puts a spin on what's become a staple of survival kits and wearables – 550 paracord. Paracord is lauded for its ability to help in everything from rigging up an emergency shelter to replacing broken boot laces. Live Fire Gear adds another use, and you've undoubtedly already guessed it: lighting fire. A contrast-colored strand inside the outer casing is specially prepared to work as tinder, helping turn a spark into a full blaze. The cord comes in various lengths and can be packaged with additional fire-starting equipment, such as a ferro rod and striker. The Ring O Fire kit pictured below costs $23.99.
Staying wired up
More traditional outdoorsy folks still get outside to unplug from modern society, but younger campers and outdoor users increasingly view staying connected as an integral part of the social outdoor experience – what good is that sweeping view if you can't share it with an Instagram selfie of your smiling mug? The myCharge AdventureUltra helps the new generation keep its phones, tablets and laptops powered up wherever it roams. The small, lightweight powerhouse offers 13,400 mAh of storage capacity and a 110-V AC socket along with the usual USB ports. It can recharge a small laptop or power a 32-in LED TV for up to three hours, making it a nice portable option for the tent or tailgate. It retails for $130.
Check out our Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2017 gallery to see all the other gadgets and gear we scoped out at this year's event – everything from far-roaming off-road expedition camper vans, to high-flying drones, to deep-diving underwater propulsion devices.