The thought of a ‘holiday’ in the UK’s wet summer is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine. Leaving behind home comforts and forgoing phone signal and Netflix might not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but we tested out some camping gadgets and nifty bits of cool camping tech which did a pretty good job of persuading us to get outdoors this summer.
TomTom Go Camper
If you’re not sold on the tent, or if you prefer a more stable roof over your head, you might opt for a motorhome. Perfect for trips in wetter weather (so, at the peak of the UK’s summer holidays) or for those who over-pack (you’d be amazed at how much stuff you can take when you trade your 1.1L car for a home on wheels).
But one thing we’ve learned – and there’s a story to go with it, but I’ll save that for another time – is that a trip in the motorhome requires a lot more planning than a spontaneous weekend in the tent.
Here’s where the TomTom Go Camper comes in. Never again will I be scrambling for the dimensions while approaching a bridge, or meticulously plotting every sight-seeing stop-off to make sure there aren’t any height restrictions. Simply put in the vehicle’s information, weight and even maximum speed to get a customised route – not just in the UK, but in over 40 different countries.
Even once you’ve set off, the Go Camper is still looking out for you. On our journey we were advised of heavy traffic after the upcoming junction. Turn off now and take the alternative route, we were told. Of course, we didn’t listen – and added a good twenty minutes onto our journey.
The extra time did give me – a passenger, I promise – a chance to fiddle with the other features; connecting the TomTom to my smartphone and taking a look at the suggested ‘Points of Interest’. But fear not, even the lonesome traveller can make the most of the software using the voice-activated controls. If you don’t mind politely addressing the Go Camper with “Hello, TomTom” first, that is. – Amy Barrett
What would a camping trip be without a little bit of burning wood? Good for keeping you warm, granted, but what if you’re find yourself deep in the forest with the dreaded “1%” on your phone and an overwhelming urge to find out who Arsenal have signed on deadline day?
The Biolite Campstove 2 is a nifty little wood burner that through some scientific wizardry (a thermoelectric generator harnessing the Seebeck effect to be precise) actually generates enough power to charge your phone. Very handy, and as a bonus it’ll also keep you relatively warm, with some added peripherals enabling you to boil a kettle and cook your dinner.
These gadgets might also come in handy on any camping trip:
It says it is smokeless, but I was definitely able to send a few smoke signals to the neighbours, but this might have been the soggy sticks I had to resort to using. And use a lot of them I did – it was like having a ravenous pet in tow, demanding more and more sticks to keep it burning.
That said though, I became quite attached to this little multi-functional camping gadget – it even comes with a USB torch for a spot of night time cooking. – Alexander McNamara
Long gone are the days of pouring UHT milk in your morning coffee and drinking lukewarm wine with your dinner. Now, campsites offer an electric hook-up for your camping fridge – but what if you’re going wild camping, or out for an adventure on a stand-up paddle board? You still deserve a nice, cold beverage, right? Enter the Red Original cool bag.
The YKK Aqua Seal zip (the same one used in other watersports equipment, like dry suits) keeps water from getting in OR out, thus avoiding any soggy messes in the corner of your tent (although it nearly kept me from the cold drink I deserved after putting up the Cinch!, so do make sure you use the supplied lubricant before locking away your beverages).
The bag was surprisingly lightweight, even after it was filled to the brim with drinks, snacks and a hefty amount of ice – and it does need a lot of ice, we found. There are two sizes available: the 18L medium which is said to carry 28 cans, or the 30L large, carrying up to 54 cans. The medium offered plenty of space for a two-person weekend away.
The thick insulation is non-absorbent and even after the ice had melted, the outside of the bag stayed completely dry. The external ‘armour’ is made from structural laminate, intended to “sustain vigorous repetitive use” and I’m confident it would do. – AB
If you’re only away for a night or two, or are going somewhere that won’t look kindly on you foraging for biomass, a portable barbecue is all you need. Sure, you can buy a cheap, throwaway one, but we all know that single-use has multiple impacts on the Earth.
So, if you’re going to be investing in a sturdy, practical portable, you’ll want to look for one that is easy to use and clean. It helps if it’s attractive, too, which the suitcase certainly is.
Able to fit four hearty sausages or a couple of Quorn burgers, the BBQ suitcase is suited to couples or small families. It’s easy to remove the grill and coal tray to clean, and looks pretty swish being carried from car to campsite. The only issue I found was that it was on the heavy side. – AM
There’s always someone who insists on bringing an acoustic guitar to noodle away on while you’re trying to chill and rustle up some sausages. Don’t be the person that lets this happen.
In fact, you can beat them at their own game by cranking up this beastly little bluetooth speaker by Marshall, the rock guitarist’s favourite amp manufacturer, all the way up to 11. Ok, you can only actually go up to 10, but it’s still shockingly loud for a speaker that’s not even 20cm tall.
It’s reassuringly weighty, although at 1.38kg still plenty light enough to bring along to the campsite, and packs two 5W speakers and a 10W subwoofer, with amp-like knobs for tweaking the bass and treble.
It’s water resistant in case it inevitably rains, quick charges in 20 minutes for six hours’ playback, and can switch between two different Bluetooth sources.
There are larger models on offer, but we reckon this is the best Bluetooth speaker for taking camping, or just chilling out in the garden. It’s just a shame you can’t plug an electric guitar into it to really stick it to any wannabe Ed Sheerans. – AM
Festival prices are notoriously high, and it can sometimes feel a little hypocritical to refuse a plastic straw and yet have a new takeaway coffee cup every time I buy a drink. Luckily, there are plenty of sustainable, reusable flasks on the market.
At first glance, the Nanovessel might seem like every other flask out there (despite its classic, stainless steel look), and functions in pretty much the same way, keeping beverages hot/cold for 3-4 hours. It’s smaller than some, about the size of a small drink from Costa.
But the Nanovessel’s appeal is hidden away inside the screw top. Open it up, and you’ll see a metal mesh filter, designed to keep coffee connoisseurs and tea-leaf-lovers happy. Scoop a generous portion of the drink of your choice onto the filter and pour over hot water to have a barista-style beverage in minutes.
If you’re espresso enthusiast, it’s worth also investing in the accompanying Nanopresso, which allows you to pump loose coffee or even use coffee pods. – AB
They destroyed our children’s imagination, single handedly wiped out the joy of reading books and turned our kids into a generation that seem to prefer virtual over real. But we must be thankful to the mobile phone for one thing – the location app. Yes, it’s unlikely they are ever far from their bedroom, but when you’re out in the wilderness, knowing roughly where your teenager is, is one less thing to worry about.
Without having to fork out for a phone, the XPLORA 3S watch is a clever way to chip your child without a trip to the vets. It looks cool (a bit like an Apple Watch), and our resident eight year old was able to make calls to a list of specific people, send messages to her camping pals, take pictures of pretty much anything she could see, and accept calls from her mum. As a parent, you get to set the watch up from your phone – add numbers, set alarms and location – with the idea being that you are very much in control of the phone/messaging element.
You’ll be amazed how quickly it becomes a part your child’s life and how many times they can call you to ask when dinner is ready! – AM
Until now, I didn’t think I’d ever call a power bank ‘attractive’. They’re just portable batteries, right? Ones we keep tucked away in our bags in case of an emergency, like a flash mob that needs to be live-streamed to Facebook. But the QiStone2 has to come with a few adjectives: sleek, sophisticated, and, amazingly, wireless.
But what if my phone can’t be charged wirelessly? I hear you ask. And that’s a good question. The QiStone2 has a USB Type-C port for traditional wired charging, but creators of the power bank, Fonesalesman, also sell wireless receivers to make your old iPhone (5 series and newer) compatible.
With an 8,000 mAh capacity, the QiStone2 offers around three full charges for the standard iPhone. Though it’s worth bearing in mind that wireless charging is not as effective as wired, so it might be worth taking a cable along for the ride. – AB
If you’re on a strict camping budget, something that ticks off a few of the basics in one swoop is worth the backpack space.
The Lava Brightsounds 2 puts a lamp, speaker and charger into one tidy package and is surprisingly good for it. The 5W speaker was able to blast out my terrible taste in music, much to the dismay of other campers no doubt, but also listen to an audiobook with crystal clarity. As I was streaming music from my smartphone, the USB charging port certainly came in handy, though it did run down the Brightsounds battery.
Being able to carry the light was unbelievably useful, especially on the first night, as we set up the tent in the quickly approaching darkness. One full charge of the Lithium-Ion battery lasted all weekend, though if you’re going to be charging a device, playing tunes and illuminating your tent all at once, you can expect it to run out considerably sooner. – AB
Amy is the Editorial Assistant at BBC Science Focus and looks after all things books, culture and media. She is also a regular interviewer on the Science Focus Podcast. Her interests range from natural history and wildlife, to women in STEM and accessibility tech.