Ian Taylor / age fotostock
Whether you like camping in an RV or prefer a tent, there are some things that no campsite should be without. Each year, the gear just gets better and better, with bells and whistles ranging from solar panels to intelligent lighting. Here are five products to cross off your checklist before hitting the road for your next trip to the great outdoors.
1. Goal Zero Yeti 1250 Solar Generator
The Goal Zero Yeti 1250 is a solar-powered version of a gas-powered backup generator. "It's our first product [about which] we can say you can truly take your wall outlet with you," says Norm Krantz, Goal Zero's vice president of product development. "Anything you can plug into a wall, you can run off of a Yeti — even a drill or a blender." The Utah-based Goal Zero first hit the mass market in 2010 and the Yeti 1250 represents a major jump in wattage: The previous high was 400 watts; the 1,100-pound, breadbox-size Yeti delivers a full 1,500 watts. It features USB, AC, DC and other ports, and charges in about 20 hours via sun, a little less time if you plug it into the wall. It's available as part of a kit, with a cart and two solar panels, for $2,000. The standalone unit costs $1,500. Goal Zero also makes a variety of smaller portable solar systems ($130 to $550) if you don't need to run a drill and a blender but do need to charge a smartphone or a laptop once in a while.
2. Kelty Basecamp Kitchen
"Camping can be messy," says Kelty spokesman Scott Kaier. "Getting organized can be a nightmare." But Kelty's award-winning Basecamp Kitchen gets everything in the right place for a new and improved open-air culinary experience. "What it's really all about is campsite convenience," says Kaier. To this end, the Basecamp Kitchen ($159.95) includes all sorts of handy features: a wind-shielded shelf for camp stoves of all shapes and sizes, an aluminum countertop, a paper-towel holder and a zip-up fabric pantry made of ripstop polyester. It's also compatible with Kelty's modular Binto storage system, featuring color-coded polyester bins designed to fit into the Basecamp Kitchen's pantry. When you're ready to hit the road, it all folds down to a very manageable 8" x 32" and fits snugly into its own carrying case.
3. Petzl NAO Headlamp
Dubbed "reactive lighting," Petzl's NAO ($175) is undoubtedly the most advanced headlamp yet to hit the market. A smart light sensor measures reflected light and adjusts the beam accordingly. If you're reading or tying a knot, the beam gets wide and dims; if you're looking at something from a distance, it narrows and intensifies. The NAO features a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, high-power LEDs and a lockable on/off switch. "All of this technology is pretty much invisible," says John Evans, Petzl USA's marketing director. "It's pretty similar to a hybrid car that shuts down at a stoplight without you knowing it." Evans says that this translates to batteries lasting 50 percent to 800 percent longer than they would with traditional headlamps.
4. Thermacell Mosquito-Repellent Appliances and Lanterns
"Part of the goal of camping is to be outdoors and enjoy it," says Allegra Lowitt, Thermacell's vice president of marketing. "Obviously that doesn't happen when those uninvited guests show up." The company's EPA-approved, U.S. Army-tested solution against mosquitoes, black flies and other bugs: appliances and lanterns that create a 15' x 15' "zone of protection." A butane cartridge heats a repellent pad and releases allethrin, a naturally occurring mosquito repellent. The Thermacell Camper's Starter Kit ($39.99) includes a mosquito-repellent appliance, three mats and one cartridge (good for about 12 hours). The company's dual-function Mosquito Repellent Outdoor Lantern ($31.99), which has the same butane/allethrin technology as well as eight LEDs, won Field & Stream's Best of the Best award.
5. Trek Light Gear Double Hammock
The best camping hammock to put on your camping checklist has got to be Trek Light Gear's 6'6" x 10' Double Hammock ($74.95), which weighs in at a mere pound but holds up to 400 pounds. It's made of durable parachute nylon that dries fast and resists mildew, and it tucks neatly into a small pouch. Trek Light also makes a variety of hanging kits ($11.95 to $20.95), so you can string the hammock between two trees or other appropriate stationary objects. "Each and every day, there's more medical study supporting sleeping in a hammock," says Trek Light founder Seth Haber. "The Double Hammock is the best for sleeping — it's smooth, it's comfortable, it's breathable."