My family and I get in a few camping trips each year, and for the past few years, I’ve been posting roundups of gear that was particularly useful during the season. (Here’s last year’s version if you’re interested.) We don’t do hardcore, carry-everything-on-your-back kind of stuff. It’s car camping in Canadian provincial parks, with electricity, easy access to water, and a trailer with air-conditioning kind of camping. We go on hikes and spend as much time as possible in the great outdoors, but it’s just so much more civilized to have some of the comforts of home to retreat to when the weather goes south… Which is a roundabout way of saying you’re more likely to find a nice portable gas grill on my lists than a water purification system.
Anyway, here are a few products that really proved their worth this year.
Otterbox Trooper 20 Soft Cooler
This is a very cool soft cooler from Otterbox, the company you probably know better for making smartphone cases. It’s rugged, ultra-durable, customizable with accessories (it comes with a bottle opener), comfortable to carry, and keeps 20 cans of your favorite beverage cold for up to three days. I used it for hauling liquid refreshments between our site and a friend’s when we switched off on campfire duty, and for keeping drinks cold at the beach. The price is steep at $249.99, but this is a cooler that’s aimed at the Yeti cooler crowd rather than the Colemans I’m used to.
I believe I mentioned this one a few years back, but it still stands out. As mentioned, we do a lot of hiking and the Watch does a great job of keeping track of distance covered. It’s water resistant, so rain isn’t a worry. Its flashlight mode has just enough light to step outdoors late at night if nature calls, without attracting a swarm of bugs.
It also lets me sneak glances at notifications—like alerts from the camera covering the front porch when couriers were doing drop-offs—without being so obvious as pulling out my iPhone. I also used it nonstop for checking local weather conditions, which seemed to be changing hourly. It does tell time as well.
Hydaway Collapsible Bottles
I brought a few Hydaway collapsible bottles along and they proved popular. As the name suggests, the BPA-free bottles collapse for easy storage in a backpack (or cooler pocket). They do have lids with a flip-up straw to prevent leaks if you take them on a hike, but I primarily used them in place of cups on the campsite. The large one holds 21 oz and made for a colorful alternative to the traditional red party cup. And if you note a beverage theme to this camping trip, I’ll point out that we have three teenagers, including twin boys. I’ve earned a few drinks around the campfire at night to decompress…
Coleman Point Loma All Day Dome Shelter
I reviewed this one a few years back and it continues to be indispensable. It provides shelter from both rain and blazing sun, with room for six or more chairs and a table to fit comfortably—we’ve had eight people huddled under there sheltering from rain for hours at a time. The Coleman Point Loma is tall enough that I can walk inside with headroom to spare, although I do have to duck to get in (I’m just a tad over six feet), and the openings are big enough that bugs fly out instead of getting trapped inside.
I can set it up myself in 15 to 20 minutes and while it isn’t exactly light (around 40 pounds), it packs up into a carrying case that fits easily into the back of the SUV.
ENO DoubleNest Hammock
I reviewed this hammock about five years ago. I’ve had it in the trailer ever since, but forgot about it. We pulled it out again this trip and it got a lot of use. It packs up into an incredibly compact package (a self-contained compression sack)—which is probably why I missed seeing it on so many camping trips—but sets up in five minutes and can hold 400 pounds. All you need is two decent-sized trees.
The trees are not damaged in any way, and gently swaying in the summer breeze is one incredibly relaxing way to enjoy reading a book on the edge of a forest. The only thing it needs is a drink holder, but with one of the Hydaway bottles (with its lid on), hydration is taken care of. The ENO hammock will not be forgotten for next year.
UE Megaboom Bluetooth Speaker
Finally, I can’t go two hours without listening to music, so I always have a Bluetooth speaker handy when camping. The UE Megaboom (reviewed here by Ken) has become my go-to camping speaker over the past few years. It sounds fantastic and has great bass punch—even when used outdoors, where many speakers sound thin and weak without walls to bounce sound off. It has an extended 100-foot Bluetooth range and 20-hour battery life. Flip it upside down and you can hang it from a tree or shelter room using the integrated D-ring. It’s also rugged and waterproof, and compact enough to slip in a backpack.
The Megaboom does campsite duty, comes to the beach and washes up like new when we get home.
Disclosure: Some companies provided samples for evaluation, but had no input into this post.