Summer is here, and that means the return of camping and road trips! The thing I missed the most during lockdown was not being able to get into the outdoors for extended periods of time and just chill.
Well, this year, I had the opportunity to go to Scotland for two months, so I jumped on the chance. At the time of writing, I've got a few weeks left before I leave Scotland behind me, but I still have a number of trips -- both short and long -- planned for the summer and early autumn.
While it's perfectly possible to venture into the outdoors with a bedroll and a haversack containing some food and water -- I've done this a few times during my trip -- technology can also enhance the experience and make it more enjoyable, doubly so for kids and those who aren't so used to being outdoors.
And, if you're reading this, chances are you're someone who finds tech fun!
This is my opportunity to talk about some of the kit I took with me, why I took it with me, and how it performed.
I was more than a little concerned about going off-grid in Scotland, a place more known for its rain than blazing sunshine.
However, the Jackery Explorer 1000 along with the twin 100W solar panels have been superb. I've been able to use the panels to keep the Jackery charged up, and the Jackery has been able to keep my laptop, power banks, phone, and drones charged too.
This kit, while pricey, has performed flawlessly in far-from-ideal weather conditions.$1,500 at Amazon
A great way to keep insects at bay! It's quiet, doesn't stink, takes the same gas cylinders that my cookset does, and, most importantly, works!
Far more effective and less hassle than mosquito coils, this is a must where there are biting or annoying insects. While it hasn't done away with the need for skin-applied repellents (in Scotland I've found picaridin-based repellents to be the best), it offers a way to clear tents, cook areas, and chill spots of flying nasties!$33 at Amazon
A nice rechargeable lantern that offers a choice of low light or bright light (along with a red warning light on the top), this has been perfect alongside my Jackery Solar Generator setup.
There is a crank-handle on the top for charging, but I think that's something I'd leave for an emergency, or if I needed something to amuse children!
A robust lantern that's capable of putting up with the rigors of camp life, it lasts for weeks between recharges --though I've been using the low setting.$70 at Amazon
Not really tech, but the Trangia is a great cookset for one to four people. The Swedes know how to put together good outdoor gear!
Everything is robust, lightweight, and you can use a gas burner or alcohol stove (I have both, and use the alcohol burner as a backup or when backpacking).
The kettle is particularly good, and it's a bit that I've used a lot!$126 at Amazon
Bottom line, this is how I stop myself from losing things like keys and wallets when outdoors. Yes, I use them a lot, and for me they are an essential part of my outdoor kit.$70 at Amazon
I'd initially felt that this headlamp was a bit fragile, but after weeks of use, it has proven itself capable of withstanding long-term periods of wear. It's so light I sometimes forget that it's on my head.
The battery can be recharged using a microUSB cable, and the lighting options -- wide beam white, narrow beam white, and red -- offer flexibility whether you are walking or doing camp chores.$70 at Amazon
Not an essential, but this little tripod has been great for taking iPhone photos and videos on my trip.
It's lightweight yet strong, and comes with an integral smartphone holder that's big enough to hold my iPhone 11 Pro Max in landscape, even with a case on.$23 at Amazon
There are lots of different Swiss Army Knives out there, but if you are looking for a starter knife, I recommend the Fieldmaster.
This model has all the features you'll need, none that you won't, and it's small enough to carry in a pocket or bag -- because if you leave it at home, it's not going to be any good to you!$35 at Amazon
These have been great for lighting up camp in the evening. Far from an essential, they're nice for personalizing your camp area, or offering some gentle illumination so people don't trip over guylines.
The battery seems to be good for four full nights of illumination (I know, because I left them on at the low setting many nights!), and the built-in solar panel keeps them recharged.
These are fully waterproof, and I've had them out for weeks in rain, gales, and the baking sun, and they still look and work like new.$40 at Amazon
If you have a USB-C laptop and what to keep it charged up in the car, this is a must. I initially had concerns that this could get hot while in use, but it's turned out to be a great way to keep a laptop like my MacBook Pro charged while driving.
It also has a USB-A output for smaller devices, and can power both simultaneously.$36 at Amazon
Dry bags are the perfect solution to keeping your precious gear dry.
I prefer a dry bag with a window on the side, so I can see what's inside without having to open it, and I have several in a range of sizes, ranging from holding small items to things like laptops. One I'd recommend is the Sea to Summit Dry Sack.$23 at Amazon
Far from an essential, but I've had so much fun with my DJI Mavic Air 2. It's so easy to fly, takes great photos and video, and is packed with safety measures to help prevent you flying it into a tree or letting the battery go flat and allowing it to drop into the sea.
I've also been testing the new DJI Air 2S, which features a superior camera system that would satisfy even professional videographers.$1,070 at Amazon
Here's a video I shot with the Mavic Air 2 of Talisker Bay, on the Isle of Skye.
What's on the list and why?
This is all equipment that I've been testing for the weeks and months in the run up to my off-grid trip, and then have been relying on daily while on my trip. Forget unboxing and 5-minute reviews, because everything listed here has been an integral part of my day-to-day life for the past few weeks.
If anything failed, my gadgets could run out of power, or I could go hungry or be sitting in the dark.
Which is the best camping gear for you?
What works for me may very well not work for you. Your needs may be different to mine, especially if you are hiking more, or only going out for a weekend.
Also remember: if you are car camping, you have a portable charger on wheels, so you might not need hardcore stuff like solar power stations!
Start small, and see what your needs and interests are.
Remember, if you have shelter, food, water, and something to sleep under, your basics are covered.
Everything else is luxury!
Do solar panels need really bright sunshine?
No, I found that the twin 100W Jackery panels could deliver 50-70W on overcast days, and 130W in clear, high-latitude Scottish skies. They are the best portable solar panels I've used. I only wish that they were waterproof (although they survived exposure to light rain on many occasions).
Can water or rain be a problem for camping gear?
It rained quite a bit, but I made sure that everything that didn't like water was stored in dry bags.
Is there other camping gear worth considering?
I could go on and on about the kit I took with me.
I really could.
Things from the amazing Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm inflatable mat that was so warm and comfortable, the Helikon-Tex satchel that was perfect for all my tech bits, the Morakniv Kansbol knife that was just perfect both out in the field and for camp chores, to the superbly atmospheric (and, on a cold evening, warm!) Dietz oil lamp.
Oh, and this was the trip where I absolutely fell in love with the versatility of the Quad-Lock phone case/holder system. It's by far the best system I've used, and the suction car mount was rock solid.
Are there any other essentials you should know?
A good, reliable weather service, and maps, both digital and paper.