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 technology out there that can improve your enjoyment of the great outdoors, not to mention your safety.
A well protected smartphone
Even if you want to spend some time off the grid, away from social media and constant work emails, it’s still a good idea to pack your smartphone. Whether you’re driving, hanging out at a campsite, or heading 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 make sure your smartphone is protected from the elements. Investing in a rugged, waterproof case like the Lifeproof FRE for iPhone offers water and drop protection that far exceeds your manufacturer’s “bare” rating.
Lifeproof hasn’t kept up with Android trends. So if you don’t have an iPhone, you’ll have to look elsewhere. You can get something like the Ghostek NAUTICAL for 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 near water, say on a canoe or kayak camping adventure, a floating waterproof case like the CaliCase Universal Waterproof Floating Case might be a better choice. It attaches to a lanyard that can be worn around the neck and ensures your device floats in case you drop it in deep water. There are two layers of clear PVC for added protection and fits most devices up to 6.1 inches in height.
Smartwatch or fitness tracker
If you’re going on a camping trip where you do some backtracking, hiking, and other physical activities, a smartwatch or fitness tracker can have some real benefits.
A good smartwatch like the Apple Watch or the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 tracks your activity and total steps, records GPS information including the route, and provides at-a-glance information about the weather, UV index, and more. You can often avoid taking your smartphone out of your pocket entirely by simply raising your wrist. Apple Watch’s fall detection could even save your life, provided you turn it on before you leave.
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 Garmin Venu 2 and Fitbit Versa 3 for those who want more fitness-focused features. Note that smartwatches can increase your smartphone’s battery consumption since they need to be paired with a device, and they also need to be charged about every day.
Fitness trackers are a good alternative to a smartwatch, and they’re cheaper too. Trackers focus on tracking your activity rather than giving you info like a smartwatch, meaning they enjoy longer battery life too. While fitness trackers have improved across the board over the years, Fitbit still reigns supreme.
The Fitbit Charge 5 takes the crown as our most recommended fitness tracker and even manages to integrate GPS tracking. The Garmin Vivosmart 4 is another solid choice with great battery life, although it lacks GPS tracking.
A solar, turbine or hand crank charger
Solar chargers are everywhere, and the price of photovoltaic panels is falling as the technology becomes more widespread. You can use portable solar chargers like the BigBlue 3 28w or FlexSolar 40w to charge your smartphones, wearables, tablets, GPS devices and power banks as long as the weather is on your side.
FlexSolar 40W solar charger
Solar chargers don’t have to be used in a static location, and many backpackers drape them over their packs on the go. Using a solar panel to charge a USB power bank is a good way to “stock up” on charge capacity for days of cloudy or rainy weather.
If you’re camping near a water source and prefer not to 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’s current to directly charge a power bank or your devices. You can also turn WaterLily into WindLily, a portable wind-powered turbine.
If you’d rather convert human power into battery power, a hand crank charger might be just what you’re looking for. Note that many small, hand-cranked 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.
Powerhouse 60w hand crank
Check out something like the Powerhouse 60w Fast Charger. Reviews suggest that you should get about 10% charge on an iPhone for about 5 minutes of cranking. The downside is its sheer size and weight, which sits at 9lb (just over 4kg). This makes hand crank chargers better suited for car storage, bike storage or for trips where you have enough room for that much weight in your backpack.
Check out some other ways to keep your devices charged while camping.
A battery pack
Many chargers don’t come with rechargeable 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 charging potential off the grid, invest in a portable battery and keep it charged at all times.
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
To light up a tent, hand cranked lights are good as they provide a modest amount of light for the time you spend cranking and you don’t have to worry about batteries or recharging. Some even support USB charging, meaning you can charge with electricity if you’re able.
Something like a basic 3000mAh camping lantern should do the trick, with three options for powering it: a solar panel, a USB-compatible battery, and a hand crank. You can charge during the day by leaving the light out (30 minutes of sunlight should give you about 30 minutes of light), by hand by turning the crank (10 minutes of cranking should give you about 20 minutes of light), or by plugging in a 5V/2A USB charger connection (two hours for a full charge).
Tent lamps are useful, but they’re not the only light source you should invest in. A good headlamp will provide a much brighter beam of light while keeping both hands free. This is ideal for rummaging around your tent at night, rummaging through bags, or preparing food in the dark.
PETZL makes some of the best headlamps for any budget. The PETZL Tikka is a great entry-level light that boasts a brightness of 300 lumens, uses disposable AAA batteries, and has a red light to maintain night vision. If you want to spend a little more, reach for 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, but an action camera can serve you better. These devices capture remarkably good quality video and stills, with a range of features on the latest models including excellent video stabilisation, wireless data transfer and voice-activated recording.
GoPro still makes the best action cameras, and while they don’t come 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 going with an older model like the GoPro HERO8 Black that still offers an impressive array of features.
GoPro HERO10 Black
Thanks to the voice activation mentioned above, you can mount a GoPro almost anywhere and use it to capture still images and video of whatever you do. Grab a chest strap or clip it to your bag and record your adventures on foot, clip it to your mountain bike or kayak for a new perspective, or just walk around with your hand.
They are light and robust, have a waterproof chassis (or optional housing) and save your smartphone’s battery. You can expand them with the GoPro Media Mod for the 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 photography even more convenient.
A satellite communicator
If you are far from the grid, a smartphone may not be enough. If you’re worried about cellular coverage, it might be worth investing in something like the ZOLEO Satellite Communicator.
ZOLEO satellite communicator
This subscription-based gadget uses a network of satellites to ensure you can always stay in touch. You can use two-way messaging, send SMS and email, get your GPS coordinates and access weather information by connecting the ZOLEO to your smartphone. Get over 200 hours of battery life on a single charge and count on a robust IP68 rating in all weather and conditions.
The downside is that not only do you have to spend a few hundred dollars on the device, you also have to take out a monthly subscription of $20, $35, or $50. The ZOLEO isn’t the only communicator of its kind, as the Garmin inReach Mini 2 packs most of these features into a single device (complete with screen) at an even higher price point.
Enjoy your journey
When venturing out into the great outdoors, be sure to pack a Thermacell device, which helps kill mosquitoes by creating a protective zone around you. ReviewGeek has also rounded up some of the best camping stoves, emergency and camping lanterns, and sleeping bags.
If you’re looking for places to hike, check out some of the best iOS and Android trail finder apps.