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Desert island tech: What you need when you're off the grid

Some of us like to go off the grid periodically to get away from things, while others find themselves forced off the grid as a result of flooding, fire, or some other misfortune. No matter what the reason, I find having the right tech can help stay in touch with the world at your own terms when things are going well, and allow you to summon help and remain in touch with family members during emergencies. (Updated August 2019)

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Topic: Hardware
Multitool
1 of 12 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Multitool

Why lug a toolbox around with you when you can have a toolbox that fits in your pocket or on a belt?

I'd never suggest that a multitool can take over the job of a proper toolkit, but a proper toolkit is only any good to you if you have it with you.

There are countless multitools on the market, ranging wildly in terms or price, quality, and features. Since I live by the adage of "buy cheap, by twice" I prefer to pay a little more and get a quality item. This is why I always carry a Leatherman tool with me. The company offers over 30 to choose from. I like my multitool to have a pair of solid pliers, decent screwdrivers, and a pair of scissors.

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2 of 12 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

LED flashlight

Having the ability to throw some light on a situation always makes it seem better. And when you're constantly diving under desks or delving inside PCs, having a flashlight that fits into your pocket is very handy. I prefer to go with an LED flashlight these days because they last much longer than incandescent bulbs and the batteries last a lot longer too.

There are plenty of LED flashlights to choose from, starting at the high end like Surefire, going all the way down to a cheapo plastic thing you can pick up at a gas station for a dollar.

I've been using an EagleTac D25A for a few years and it seems to tick all the boxes for me. It has variable output, it's small enough to fit into my pocket, it's powered by a single AA battery, and it's tough enough survive daily use. Another good option is the Nitecore TIP, which is rechargeable using a microUSB cable and cheap enough for you to be able to grab a few.

Peli Storm Case
3 of 12 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Peli Storm Case

Simply the best protective cases available.

I became sold on them after a friend of mine filled one with Jelly Beans and then let a bear try to get inside it. Apart from a few awesome bite and claw marks, the case survived and the bear didn't get his prize.

I've had a Storm Case filled with delicate camera gear survive a massive car accident. It had to be cut free from the wreak because it had taken a direct hit from another vehicle and the door panel had crumpled around it. I was convinced the contents were a gonner but it and all the stuff inside was intact. The case is still fully serviceable and still in regular use.

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4 of 12 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Rugged smartphone case

If you think you're going to be relying on your smartphone when you're in the great outdoors, it makes sense to protect it from knocks, drops, and ducks into water.

I've been using cases from Otterbox, Rhinoshield, and UAG for years now, and find that they offer good protection without adding too much bulk.

Solar charger
5 of 12 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Solar charger

If you live in sunny climes then a solar charger is a great way to keep devices topped up. If I can use one of these in the UK then unless you're living down a hole you should be able to make use of one!

I have a PowerTraveller Extreme pack (which comes with a battery pack) and a Cheotech 24W solar panel kit. Both are awesome pieces of kit that have served me well over the years.

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6 of 12 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

3G/LTE dongle

Information is power

While your main access to the web might be down, you might be able to connect using the 3G/LTE network using a dongle or hotspot device. It might not be good enough for you to stream your favourite movied from Netflix, but it can allow you to get access to news, weather and other information.

You can pick these up either from phone stores or online. Personally, I think it's best to get an unlocked on so you can pick and choose the provider you go with based on price and service in your area.

Emergency AM/FM radio
7 of 12 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Emergency AM/FM radio

A radio might seem old-school, but there are times when it can be a lifesaver.

There are lots to choose from, but the American Red Cross FRX3+ ticks all the boxes - It's robust, receives AM/FM & weather band alerts, features multiple power options (batteries, rechargeable batteries, solar, and a hand crank), features a flashlight, and can be used to charge a smartphone.

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8 of 12 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Portable power pack

It's easy to forget how much we rely on mains power to keep out devices running. But what do you do when the lights go out?

This is where a portable power pack can come in useful. This can be used to keep your cellphone and other gadgets charged up.

I'm a big fan of the Anker external battery packs because they are super reliable and haven't let me down. You can get these in a range of capacities. Smaller ones offer more portable, larger ones offer more charging capacity

Two-way radios
9 of 12 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Two-way radios

Want a way to stay in touch without having to rely on the cellular network then you want some two-way radios.

In my experience the cheap consumer radios are junk and barely work when you can see the other person, but if you invest in something a little more professional then you'll have a bit of kit that you can rely on when the going gets tough.

Motorola units get my vote every time, as they are durable, well made, and have a good transmit range.

Generator
10 of 12 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Generator

If your power needs go beyond what a solar charger can offer then you need to think bigger. If you have the space then a gasoline generator is one idea, but you have to run this sort of thing outdoors because they are smelly and a fire hazard (I've seen one of these erupt into a giant fireball, and that's the sort of thing that can put a crimp in your day).

A safer and more flexible alternative is a 12V inverter that you can run from your car battery. One of the best inverters out there is the Cobra CPI 2590 which can push out a whopping 2500W and is kitted out with a raft of safety features.

Waterproof bags
11 of 12 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Waterproof bags

If you live somewhere that's prone to flooding then having a waterproof bag for your gear might be a good idea. If bad weather is on the way, pop your precious gear inside a dry bag for safety.

I've used Ortlieb dry bags to keep delicate electronics dry in some of the worst weather conditions and they've never failed me.

Skills
12 of 12 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Skills

There's no point having all this kit if you don't know how to use it.

I've seen people superglue their hand to their face, smash themselves in the teeth with a hammer while trying to put up storm shutters, struggle for over an hour trying to start a gasoline generator that didn't have any gas in it, turn an expensive tent into a fireball by attempting to fill a gasoline stove  that was already lit, slice their hand open with a screwdriver, and settle down to read the instructions for some essential bit of kit as a storm approaches. Add stress and fear into the mix and you have the potential for a lot of chaos.

Don't be one of those people! Learn to you're your kit in in comfort, when the lights are on and you have a favorite beverage close to hand. That way, using your kit will become second nature and you won't have to learn how to use it when you're cold, in the dark, or the floodwaters are rising.

Don't, whatever you do, just pack this stuff into a box or store it in the garage until the day you need it!

Use it! Practice your skills!

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