There are lots of devices that will help you make your camping or backpacking experience safer, more entertaining, and more hi-tech without adding a lot of weight to your experience.
We begin with a major upgrade of a device that’s been around for a couple of years, the inReach Explorer +. It was developed by Delorme, which has since been acquired by Garmin.
This is the most functional satellite communicator we have tested. Garmin took the best parts of the previous generation Delorme inReach Explorer and added their top-notch handheld GPS interface. The result is a well designed and intuitive two-way satellite communicator that allows you to send and receive text messages or emails from your friends and family anywhere in the world. The satellite communication runs on the trusted Iridium network and ensures that you’ll be able to call for help from the most remote hikes and boating trips. The communicator integrates seamlessly with the GPS which comes with all the features you’d expect from a handheld Garmin GPS including pre-loaded Topo maps. The inReach Explorer+ is the first satellite tracker we’ve seen with rechargeable battery which means as long as it’s sunny out we can charge the unit from a portable solar panel without having to lug rounds of Lithium AA batteries or worry about running out of juice. The Explorer+ is impact, dust and water resistant. Battery life reportedly gives up to an impressive 100 hours in tracking mode and 30 days in power-save mode. From short solo hikes to long overseas trips, the Garmin inReach Explorer+ is an obvious choice. The device is $450. You will need an annual or monthly subscription service to use the messaging and 24/7 GEOS rescue capabilities as well as the weather services. Garmin offers an extensive range of airtime plans beginning with an $11.95 a month safety subscription with an annual contract, running to $79.95 for the extreme outdoorsman or sailor. There are monthly programs as well. We admit that both the device and the airtime can be a little on the pricey side, but what price for a device that can save your life?
Spot Gen 3 Satellite Tracker – This is a significantly less expensive satellite tracking solution, though with less functionality. The Spot Gen 3 will send tracking messages to your friends, allow you to send pre-programmed check-in messages, and request emergency help. The system is not interactive. It uses the Globalstar Satellite network and has resulted in more than 5,000 rescues worldwide. With the SOS function, the GEN 3 can alert 9-1-1 services in the U.S. and comparable services in Europe. It also communicates with the same GEOS rescue center as the inReach. Spot recommends using non-rechargeable AAA Lithium batteries, though you can also use NIMH rechargeables. The device can also be powered by USB connection, but that will not recharge the batteries while they are in use, so you cannot attach a solar panel for continuous power. The device costs $150, though through the end of the summer, the Gen 3 is being offered at 50% off or $75 along with substantial discounts on monthly service plans.
Coast Polysteel 600R Rechargeable Flashlight – A reliable flashlight is an absolute essential on any camping trip. The Polysteel 600R LED Flashlight is the first in the Polysteel line to add rechargeable capabilities to the mix. The flashlight is equipped with a Dual Power system that enables the light to run on either custom rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack or standard alkaline batteries. The rechargeable battery pack also features a charging port that allows for the external charging of devices that standard USB inserts. The Polysteel 600R is waterproof, drop proof, crush proof and features Coast’s Pure Beam Optics System with twist focus to make the light ultra durable and versatile. Price is $100.
Coast HX5 Focusing Pocket Light – You might also want the convenience of a small flashlight that can slip in your pocket or clip to a pack. The Coast HX5 can be powered by standard alkaline AA, but also with rechargeable NiMH or rechargeable Lithium 14500’s as well (NiMH & Lithium not included). With the Lithium 14500 cells, the lumen output jumps nearly three times as bright as with the alkaline battery. Also unique to the HX5 Flashlight is a two-way clip that makes it easy to clip in either direction on your pockets or even the bill of your hat. Using the Pure Beam Focusing System with Slide Focus, this light can easily transition from flood to spot modes with one hand. Price is $25.
Communicating when you’re out on the trail can be a major problem. Satellite phones are bulky and expensive. Walkie Talkies can be bulky and have range limits. Cell phone service is often non-existent. goTenna has created several products that will allow you to communicate off-grid, some with no monthly cost, by pairing with your Android or iOS smartphone to allow you to text or even share offline maps. The original goTenna is a stick like device that you can clip on your belt or pack. The company
claims it offers 20%-30% more range than standard FRS or GMRS walkie talkies, at a small fraction of the size and weight. The original goTenna costs $124 for a two pack. For a subscription fee of $10/year, you can use the features of goTenna Plus which includes enhanced mapping capability. goTenna now has a new device that can create a mesh network, so you can dramatically expand the reach for a whole group on the trail. Price for goTenna Mesh is $179 for a two pack.
Survival Medical BackCountry First Aid Kit– There’s a good chance that you’ve been carrying around a first aid kit for years. But there’s an even better chance that when you go to open it you’ll find many of the products inside have degraded over time. Survival Medical packages its kits in a sealed pouch, so everything is still usable when you need it. The BackCountry XL Kit contains just about everything you’ll need to take care of an emergency on the trail. The kit includes:
Large Butterfly Bandages
Medium Adhesive Bandages
Large Adhesive Bandages
4″ Elastic Wrap
2″ Elastic Wrap
2″ Cohesive Bandage
.9g Packet Triple Antibiotic Ointment
Burn Gel 3.5g
4″ Non-Woven Sponge
Oval Eye Pad
3″ Non-Woven Sponge
3″ Non-Adherent Pad
4″ Non-Adherent Pad
2″ Paper Tape
Wound Closure Strips
Bite and Sting Wipes
Povidone Iodine Prep Pads
Alcohol Prep Pads
Emergency Mylar Blanket
Pair Nitrile Gloves
Price is $41.99.
Thermacell Backpacker Mosquito Repellent When you are out on the trail, are you bugged by mosquitoes? This clever device sets up a protection area of 15′ by 15′, covering your campsite. It uses the same camping gas canisters that backpackers and campers have in their bag already, the compact and lightweight Backpacker Repeller is an essential piece of gear. It weighs only 4 ounces, and one 4 ounce gas canister will keep it running for up to 90 hours. It can use either butane or propane. It has an integrated piezo starter and comes in a water-resistant pouch. Price is $39.99.
Knives and Tools
Whether it’s a matter of repairing gear or having the right knife, tools are a very personal decision. Campers are concerned about weight, functionality, reliability, and ease of use. We’ve found some tools and some knives that may be a good fit for you.
SOG Sync II Multi-Tool – What sets this multi-tool apart is that it converts to a belt buckle, so it’s always just within reach. It includes 11 different tools:
5-Flat Screwdriver (Medium)
6-Flat Screwdriver (Small)
11-Wire Cutter (Soft)
Price is $80.
Gerber Center Drive Multi-Tool – One problem with many standard multi-tools is that if you want to use them to drive bits or screwdrivers, when you open them up the drivers are off-axis, making them awkward to use. The Gerber Center Drive Multi-Tool is designed so that when you open it, the drivers are centered, making them easy to use. The innovative center-axis driver opens to align like a real screw driver, yielding maximum torque and rotation. No productivity is sacrificed with the addition of a 30% longer outboard blade and one-thumb opening sliding jaws. Full size, real tools – the multi-tool just got a reality check. Tools include:
Spring-loaded needle nose pliers w/ x-channel rail system
Rotatable carbide wire cutters
One-thumb opening system
3.25″ 420HC Fine edge blade
Magnetic 3.25″ Center-axis bit driver
Extra bit holder (flathead bit included)
Pry bar & nail puller
Fine & coarse sided file
Price is $119.
Coast BX316 Lockback Knife – The BX316 knife features a tough, rubberized handle with notching on top of the blade for excellent grip and control of the knife. With a hole in the blade for ambidextrous opening and a 2-position pocket clip, this knife is quickly adaptable to your carry style. Add a back lock for safety and ease, and you have a great work folder to carry. It features a 3 3/4″ blade and Coast’s lockback safety system. Price is $23.
Coast FDX302 – Frame Lock Knife – If you’re looking for a slightly smaller blade, in this case 3.0″, the FDX302 is one of the first knives of its kind to use a Double Lock System with a Frame Lock. Utilizing this unique lock combination, anyone can work with confidence knowing that the added safety prevents the knife from accidentally closing. With a stainless steel handle to go along with a stainless steel blade, this knife carries less bulk yet is strong enough for any task. All in all, the FDX302 is a stylish, and extra-safe, mid-size knife for everyday carry. Price is $23.00
Gerber U.S. Assist S30V Assisted Opening KnifeThis assisted-opening knife offers Gerber’s smoothest, most consistent deployment to date. Including B.O.S.S. Tech™, it features a ball-bearing system to reduce friction & provide stable performance for the long haul. Among its features:
Lock Type: Plunge-lock w/ cross-bolt safety (locks blade open or closed)
GoPro Hero 5 Session Action Camera– If you are interested in recording your adventures on the trail, this GoPro waterproof camera is an easy way to capture it. It’s tiny but still captures 4K video. It’s designed to take a beating under almost all conditions and it has voice control. It’s not a full-featured camera because it doesn’t have a viewfinder or built-in support for an external microphone. But if you want an action camera that’s easy-to-use, this may be just the one. Price is just under $300.