Camping is often seen as an opportunity to leave the technology at home, but this is not always the best idea. There are plenty of technologies that can enhance your enjoyment of the outdoors, not to mention keep you safe.
Well protected smartphone
Even if you want to spend some time offline, 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 going up a mountain; your iPhone or Android smartphone can be invaluable in an emergency.
The best way to be prepared for any situation is to make sure your smartphone is protected from the elements. Investing in a durable waterproof case like the Lifeproof FRE for iPhone provides water and drop protection that far exceeds your manufacturer’s “naked” rating.
Lifeproof doesn’t keep up with Android trends, so if you don’t have an iPhone, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Instead, you can pick up something like the Ghostek NAUTICAL for the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S22 (or the Plus and Ultra models).
Ghostek NAUTICAL for Galaxy S22
If you’re going to be near the water, such as canoeing or kayaking while camping, a floating waterproof case like the CaliCase Universal Waterproof Floating Case may be a better choice. It attaches to a lanyard that can be worn around the neck and ensures that your device will float if you drop it in deep water. There are two layers of clear PVC for added protection and most devices up to 6.1″ tall will fit.
Smart watch or Fitness Tracker
If you’re going on a trip where you’ll be off-roading, hiking, and doing other physical activity, then a smart watch or fitness tracker can have real benefits.
A good smartwatch like the Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 will track your activity and total steps, record GPS information including your route, and provide at-a-glance information on weather, UV index, and more. You can often avoid pulling your smartphone out of your pocket by simply lifting your wrist. Apple Watch’s drop detection could even save your life if you turn it on before you leave.
Apple Watch Series 7
iPhone users should stick with the Apple Watch, but Android users have several other options, including the Samsung Galaxy line. There’s also the Garmin Venu 2 and Fitbit Versa 3 for those who want more fitness features. Be aware that smartwatches can increase the drain on your smartphone’s battery due to the need to pair with the device, and will also need to be charged roughly every day.
Fitness trackers are a good alternative to smartwatches and are cheaper to run. Trackers focus on tracking your activity rather than giving you information like a smartwatch, which means they also have better battery life. While fitness trackers have generally improved over the years, the Fitbit is still king.
Fitbit Charge 5
The Fitbit Charge 5 takes the crown as our top recommended fitness tracker and can even incorporate GPS tracking. The Garmin Vivosmart 4 is another solid option with great battery life, though it lacks GPS tracking.
Solar, turbine or manual charger
Solar chargers are everywhere, with the price of PV panels falling as the technology becomes more widespread. You can use portable solar chargers like the BigBlue 3 28w or the FlexSolar 40w to charge smartphones, wearables, tablets, GPS devices and power banks as long as the weather allows.
FlexSolar 40W solar charger
Solar chargers don’t need to be used in a static location, and many backpackers toss them over their backpacks on the go. Using a solar panel to charge a USB power bank is a good way to “stock up” on days when the weather is bad or rainy.
If you’re camping near a water source and would rather not rely on solar power, consider a turbine charger like the WaterLily Turbine Charger. By placing the turbine in the water, you can use the water flow to directly charge the power bank or your devices. You can also transform WaterLily into WindLily, a portable wind turbine.
If you’d rather convert people’s energy into battery power, a handheld charger might be just what you’re looking for. Keep in mind that many small handheld chargers don’t produce enough charge to be particularly useful outside of powering a low-power LED bulb. You’ll have to spend more money on a bigger and heavier charger to avoid disappointment.
Hand crank Powerhouse 60W
Check out something like the Powerhouse 60w Fast Charger. Reviews suggest that you should charge your iPhone to 10% in about 5 minutes of startup. The downside is the sheer size and weight, which comes in at 9lb (just over 4kg). This makes hand chargers more suitable for storing in the car, on the bike or on trips where you have enough space in your backpack for such a large weight.
Check out some other ways to keep your gadgets charged while camping.
Many chargers don’t contain batteries, meaning they only work as long as your device is plugged in and the charging conditions are met. If you want to maximize your off-grid charging potential, invest in a portable battery and keep it charged.
The best rugged portable charger
The Techsmarter 20000mAh USB-C PD Power Bank earns our recommendation for its durable and waterproof design, large capacity and ability to provide 18w fast charging. If you want something smaller and lighter that is a little less durable, the Anker PowerCore 10000mAh is a good choice.
Lights for When the Sun Goes Down
Hand bent lights are good for tent lighting because they provide a modest amount of light for the time you spend clicking and you don’t have to worry about batteries or charging. Some even support USB charging, which means you can recharge when possible.
Something like a basic 3000mAh Camping Lantern should do, with three power options: solar panel, USB compatible battery and hand crank. During the day, you can charge by leaving the light outside (30 minutes of sunlight should give about 30 minutes of light), by turning the crank by hand (10 minutes of turning should give you about 20 minutes of light), or by plugging into a 5V/2A USB connection (two hours on a full charge).
Tent lights are useful, but they are not the only light source you should invest in. A good headlamp provides a much brighter beam of light while freeing up both of your hands. This is ideal when you’re digging around your tent at night, going through your bags or preparing food in the dark.
PETZL makes some of the best flashlights for every budget. The PETZL Tikka is a great basic light that reaches 300 lumens, uses disposable AAA batteries and has a red light to preserve night vision. If you want to spend a little more, get the PETZL ACTIK CORE, which can reach 450 lumens and comes with a rechargeable battery.
Your smartphone probably has a good camera, but an action camera might serve you better. These devices shoot video and photos in remarkably good quality with a range of features of the latest models, including excellent video stabilization, wireless data transfer and voice-activated capture.
GoPro still makes the best action cameras, and while they aren’t cheap, the quality won’t let you down. You can get 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 offers an impressive feature set.
GoPro HERO10 Black
Thanks to the aforementioned voice activation, you can mount the GoPro almost anywhere and use it to capture photos and video of anything you can think of. Grab your chest strap or attach it to your bag to record your hiking adventures, stick it to your mountain bike or kayak for a new perspective, or simply walk with it in hand.
They are light and durable, have a waterproof chassis (or optional case) and save your smartphone’s battery. You can expand these with the GoPro Media Mod for HERO10 and HERO9 Black, which includes a better microphone and cold shoe mounts in a weatherproof housing.
Unlike most modern smartphones, the GoPro system uses removable batteries and microSD cards, making filming even more convenient.
If you’re going off-grid, a smartphone may not be enough. If you’re worried about cell reception, something like the ZOLEO Satellite Communicator might be worth the investment.
ZOLEO satellite communicator
This subscription-based gadget uses a network of satellites to ensure you’ll always be able to stay in touch. You can use two-way messaging, send SMS and emails, get GPS coordinates and access weather information by connecting ZOLEO to your smartphone. Get more than 200 hours of battery life on a single charge and rely on IP68 resistance in all weathers and conditions.
The downside is that in addition to spending several hundred dollars per unit, you’ll also have to sign up for 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 the trip
If you’re heading out into the outdoors, consider using a Thermacell device that helps kill mosquitoes by creating a protective zone around you. ReviewGeek has also rounded up some of the best camp stoves, emergency and camping lights, and sleeping bags.
If you’re looking for places to hike, check out some of the best trail-finding apps for iOS and Android.