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Technology and nature are rather conflicting areas of interest, but the lines between the two are blurring as technology advances into outdoor gear. First there was GPS, then waterproof cases for cameras, and soon after, waterproof cameras themselves. Now, we have a wide array of rugged tech gear from Bluetooth speakers to portable water purifying systems, and even compact solar solutions in order keep all of that technology powered while you’re out in the wilderness.

You might think, “The whole point of going into the middle of nowhere is get away from technology, isn’t it?” Absolutely! By all means, leave your laptop behind. However, packing several books in an e-reader, find your way with a GPS device, taking photos and recording video of the incredible sights, and filtering water are very helpful. Plus, you need a way to keep all of those devices powered.

Anything By Goal Zero

2 Goal Zero

Goal Zero is a company focused on powering your gadgets and gear with solar energy. They have a wide array of products from power packs to solar panels (or complete solar kits which include both) and an assortment of accessories from lighting to speakers. All of these options range from compact to mid-size to large and heavy-duty. Below are a couple items that I recommend based on practicality, cost and features.

Switch 8 Solar Kit ($89.95)

2.1 GZ Switch 8

This solar kit is all about lightweight and compatibility. It includes the Nomad 7 solar panel and Switch 8 power pack, which can also be recharged via USB and is great for charging smaller-scale electronics such as smartphones, MP3 players, point-and-shoot cameras, GPS devices, etc.


At only 1 pound, it’s perfect for those who don’t want to be weighed down, and don’t need the charging power for larger electronics.

Sherpa 50 Solar Kit With Inverter ($399.95)

2.2 Sherpa 50

For those who do need a larger, but still very portable power supply (you know, in case of an apocalypse Survive An Apocalypse: Setting Up A Complete Emergency Survival Kit Survive An Apocalypse: Setting Up A Complete Emergency Survival Kit The apocalypse will need to be documented with Facebook updates and Twitter hashtags for future generations to fully enjoy - so how are you planning to do that with no power or Internet connectivity? Read More ), the Sherpa 50 Solar Kit is an excellent option. The included solar panel is the Nomad 13, and takes between 5-10 hours to fill up the Sherpa 50 recharger. That, in turn, can recharge a smartphone 7 times, recharge a tablet twice, or a laptop once.

Earl — The Backcountry Survival Tablet ($299)

3 Earl Tablet

You probably never thought of a tablet as something that could be used in the rugged wilderness, but Earl is exactly that. As defined on the website, Earl is “a revolutionary tablet engineered for the most extreme outdoor situations.”

Earl is a truly impressive device. Along with being rugged, waterproof and durable against the the harsh conditions of nature, it has the latest in GPS technology, an E-ink screen, radio communication and a weather sensor. And it comes with Android 4.1, making it capable of using apps and websites for finding those remote trails 10 Sites For Budget Travel & Backpacking Trips Across The World 10 Sites For Budget Travel & Backpacking Trips Across The World Backpackers are an adventurous breed. They are also awfully budget conscious too. It comes with the territory I guess, because the taste of adventure cannot be experienced from the luxurious couches and air-conditioned coaches. If... Read More and accessing resources for staying safe in the outdoors 4 Web Sources To Help Keep You Safe Outdoors 4 Web Sources To Help Keep You Safe Outdoors The outdoors can be a scary place (and this may be why many of you are cooped up inside reading MakeUseOf!). However, it can be pretty cool when you think about it. With gigantic mountains,... Read More .

3.1 Earl Collage

What about keeping it charged? The E-ink screen certainly helps with that, allowing it to have up to 20 hours of battery life. In addition, there is a solar panel on the back, and it can be charged via USB.

Its warranty is also impressive:

We want to set a standard behind the quality of our design. If Earl breaks, send it back and we’ll send you a replacement at no charge.

Earl is still in the pre-ordering stage, but will be available in the U.S. in January 2014. European and Australian, New Zealand units will be available early 2014.

For more information take a look at the features and questions portions of the website — you’ll be amazed.

Tough Bluetooth Speakers

This is an area that is becoming a popular niche in the market. Previously, Matt Smith covered seven awesome rugged speakers 7 Rugged Bluetooth Speakers To Bring On Your Next Outdoor Adventure 7 Rugged Bluetooth Speakers To Bring On Your Next Outdoor Adventure Most Bluetooth speakers are designed to sit on a night stand rather than a fallen tree. There are, however, some portable Bluetooth speakers that can meet the challenge of the great outdoors. Read More , one being the UE Boom, which Yaara reviewed Ultimate Ears Boom Review and Giveaway Ultimate Ears Boom Review and Giveaway The $200 Logitech UE Boom, the older, better and larger sibling to the UE Mobile Boombox. Read More . There are four speakers that didn’t make Matt’s list, which I feel are excellent options, especially while exploring the outdoors. Keep in mind, I haven’t used them personally, but I based my decision off portability, acclaimed durability and sound performance. These four are what I came up with, which all can be recharged via USB.

BOOM Movement Swimmer ($59)

4 Swimmer Collage (resized)

Finding an affordable, portable, wireless, waterproof and rugged speaker with a long battery life that can be attached to a wide array of things is difficult. That’s what makes the BOOM Swimmer so unique. This Bluetooth speaker can be wrapped around objects or suctioned to surfaces, submerged completely into water for up to 30 minutes, lasts up to 16 hours and is resistant to dirt and drops. The power, volume and Bluetooth pairing buttons are easily accessible on the outside of the speaker.

>Grace Digital ECOXGEAR ECOROX ($109.95)


If you looked at Matt’s article on rugged Bluetooth speakers, you might remember seeing “Grace Digital ECOXGEAR”, but that was actually the ECOXBT model, a larger speaker compared to the ECOROX. The ECOROX can withstand full submersion into the water, and floats too. It has a rugged design, can be mounted with a quarter-inch camera screw post, all while operating for 10 hours.

It has 6 watt stereo speakers with a top mounted bass radiator. Power, Bluetooth pairing, volume buttons and speakerphone answer controls are located on the top of the speaker.

Two More To Consider

I group these together because, although they’re incredible speakers, they’re not waterproof, but rather water resistant, which typically means that they can be used in the rain or snow, just not submersed.

The first is the Outdoor Technology Buckshot which is selling at $49.95 on eBay.

6 Buckshot

And the second is the Boombotix Boombot REX, $115.98 on eBay. Pricing actually depends on the color chosen.

7 Boombot Rex Collage (resized)

Rugged Waterproof Cameras

Having a rugged camera is quite nice when you’re out in nature – how else are you going to show everyone else what you experienced? Sure, smartphone cameras are getting better Are Smartphones the Future of Photography? [You Told Us] Are Smartphones the Future of Photography? [You Told Us] Smartphones are rapidly condemning a multitude of single-purpose devices to a slow descent into pointlessness. Over 50 percent of U.S. consumers now own a smartphone, and their popularity is booming in other parts of the... Read More and there are even tough waterproof cases The 5 Toughest iPhone Cases Money Can Buy The 5 Toughest iPhone Cases Money Can Buy Apple’s latest iPhone is surprisingly robust given its light weight but it’s only designed to survive minor drops in a friendly environment. Serious falls, dirt and water aren’t a factor, and that’s a problem if... Read More for them, but under harsh conditions, you may not want to take the chance of putting your phone at risk, or perhaps you just want to leave it at home. Whatever your reason is there are excellent rugged and waterproof cameras. You might want to check out Mihir’s article for a complete list of the best rugged cameras The 5 Best Rugged Cameras That Can Take A Beating The 5 Best Rugged Cameras That Can Take A Beating When you want to capture life around you, you don't want to be thinking about whether it's raining, what will happen if you lose your grip on the camera or any such disasters. Read More available in the market right now, but I’ll just highlight a couple of my favourites.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS5D ($280)

8 Lumix

This is the perfect camera for any adventurer. In addition to its impressive technical specs, it’s also waterproof down to 43 feet, shockproof from 6.6 feet and freeze-proof to 14°F (-10°C). It also includes a GPS, compass, altimeter (altitude) and barometer (atmospheric pressure), which it uses to attach the information to the photos at the time they were taken.

GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition ($385 on eBay)

9 GoPro

Every backpacker, hiker, trail runner, fisherman, hunter, cyclist and any other kind of outdoorsman needs a GoPro. Why? Because you always hear about the extreme sports Extreme Sports Revealed With Amazing GoPro Videos Extreme Sports Revealed With Amazing GoPro Videos GoPro cameras are designed to be worn or held while doing adventurous activities. They're tough and waterproof, meaning they can survive along with you (hopefully) whether you're jumping out of a plane, diving in the... Read More they do while out in nature, yet how often do they have actual footage of what happened? The GoPro is made to be mounted and forgotten about, allowing them to go about their outdoor adventures without thinking about filming.

The Hero3+ Black Edition is the latest, most advanced of the GoPro models, with built in WiFi and a WiFi remote, while being encased in waterproof housing and having 30% longer battery life than it’s predecessor.

Cooking Paraphernalia That Charge Electronics

Wait, you can charge electronics while cooking in a forest? Precisely. Awesome, right?

BioLite Wood Burning Campstove ($189)

10 Biolite

It’s always nice to have a backup form of energy for charging your phone in case of an emergency 5 Ways To Charge Your Phone In An Emergency 5 Ways To Charge Your Phone In An Emergency Smartphones can be important tools in an emergency. Besides providing the chance to call for help, a phone can act as a flashlight, compass and GPS. But all of a phone’s functions rely on the... Read More , and that’s exactly what the BioLite Campstove can provide. It’s far from just a method of charging your devices — you can cook dinner 10 Best Websites To Find Awesome Camping Recipes & Outdoor Cooking Tips 10 Best Websites To Find Awesome Camping Recipes & Outdoor Cooking Tips Summer is almost upon the northern hemisphere, and official camping season is just around the corner. An important and integral part of any camping trip, be it car camping, backpacking or just a day camp... Read More  as well. Unlike most portable stoves, you don’t need to carry any fuel. Below is a video that explains how the BioLite Campstove works.

Powerpractical PowerPot V ($149)

11 PowerPot

Did you know that when boiling cold water, energy is generated? And until now, there hasn’t been a way to harness and use that energy — what a waste! With the PowerPot, you can not only cook with it, but also charge your devices via USB. The PowerPot can be used over an open flame, on a propane stove, or any other heat source such as a wood burning stove in your home. Below is a video that demonstrates how it works.

The PowerPot V started on Kickstarter and now Powerpractical is at it again with the PowerPot X, which puts out 10 watts of power instead of 5.

Self-Sufficient Lighting

Light is a valuable resource when in the wild. So it only makes sense to provide your loved adventurers with a light they can rely on. And what better kind than a light that can be charged by light?

Goal Zero Lighthouse 250 Lantern ($80)

12 Lighthouse 250 collage

The Lighthouse 250 Lantern is a clear choice for any outdoorsman. In addition to being able to be connected to a solar panel or power pack for charging, it also as a hand crank, should your power supply run low. It can supply light for 48 hours with one bulb on a low power setting. Other run times vary upon use, which are on the Goal Zero product page. The lantern can also charge electronic devices via USB.

The downside to this lantern is that it isn’t super compact at 1.1 pounds (498 grams) and 4.5 x 5 x 6.6 inches (11.5 x 12.7 x 16.5 cm).

Remember how the first section of this article was “Anything by Goal Zero”? That includes any of their lighting accessories — the Lighthouse 250 Lantern isn’t the only option. Take a look!

MPOWERD Luci Light ($20)

13 Luci Light

This solar lantern is compact, bright, waterproof and provides 6-12 hours of light in a single charge. The total dimensions of the lantern are 5 inches (12.7 cm) in diameter and 4 inches (10.16 cm) high, collapsing to just 1 inch (2.54 cm).

MPOWERD works in disaster-struck When Disaster Strikes: Putting Together A Basic Emergency Toolkit When Disaster Strikes: Putting Together A Basic Emergency Toolkit Read More areas globally to help provide a low cost and durable emergency light source to survivors.

LuminAID Solar Light ($18)

14 LuminAID collage (resized)

Another excellent option for solar lighting is the LuminAID, a solar-powered, inflatable light that contains two brightness settings, lasts 8-16 hours and recharges in 6-7 hours. It can float when inflated and is waterproof up to 3 feet (1 meter). What’s most impressive is how compact it can be when it’s not in use. Refer to the video for more info.

An Awesome Rechargeable Headlamp: Petzl NAO Headlamp ($155)

15 Petzl NAO

A headlamp frees up your hands, but often times they can be a pain as they are often not rechargeable, and the light can’t be easily adjusted. The NAO by Petzl solves all of those problems. It uses an adaptive lighting technology that senses the depth in front of you and adjusts the light accordingly. This improves the burn time, while keeping your hands free to focus on more important tasks. The headlamp is water resistant (cannot be submerged) and can withstand extreme temperatures from -22°F (-30°C) to 122°F (50°C).

Portable Water Purifying Systems

Although light and power are important, there’s one that trumps them both — the need for clean water. One of the best ways to go about this is with UV, and there are two companies, Camelbak and SteriPEN, that have created extremely efficient devices to do so, both which eliminate over 99.9% of bacteria, viruses and protozoa.

Camelbak All Clear Purifier Bottle ($72)

16 All Clear collage

The All Clear bottle is an all-in-one solution with the UV blub integrated directly into the lid. It works with tap or clear natural water into potable drinking water in just 60 seconds. The light is rechargeable via USB, so there’s no need to worry about carrying batteries with you, and delivers over 80 cycle treatments on a single charge.

For more information, refer to the FAQ, “how it works” and pages and watch the video below.

Two more videos worth checking out: All Clear Technology and All Clear Testing.

SteriPEN Ultra ($79.97)

17 SteriPEN Ultra collage

Upon visiting the SteriPEN website, you might find yourself wondering what the best water purification system is for an outdoorsman. I know I wondered this. I searched for something something small, but just as effective, and also was rechargeable. After assessing all the different products, I settled on the Ultra. It may not be the smallest, but it is definitely travel-friendly, especially due to it being rechargeable via USB.

In as little as 45 seconds, the water can be safe to drink. It also doesn’t limit you to a certain size of water bottle and can be used on any container.

Any Other Gift Ideas?

This list is definitely not all that’s available for that techy outdoorsman in your life. If there is something that you have or have given someone that should have made the list, we want to hear about it!

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  1. Shade
    December 18, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    As a heads up, there's more current information on the Earl tablet here:

    I'm one of the folks that preordered one back during the funding stage, so I've been keeping up with the changes as development has gone along. They're going to be shipping with Android 4.4 now, ditched the kickstand for the solar panel, and changed from IR to capacitive touch sensitivity. My guess is that they haven't updated the home page to reflect the changes yet. I'm really looking forward to when they ship.

    • Aaron C
      December 19, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      Oh! Thanks for the correction. I saw and looked at the update page, but assumed that all the major changes (such as the ones you mentioned) would be changed on the home page. That's what I get for assuming!

      So I'm curious, do they explain how these changes improve the tablet? For example, one of the advantages with an IR screen is that it can be used with any glove. Does Capacitive touch sensitivity change that?

      Thanks again for the info, and feel free to share any feedback once you get one :-)

    • Aaron C
      December 19, 2013 at 2:47 pm

      Update: In response to my own comment: They found a capacitive technology that works with gloves up to 5mm thick:

      "We have decided to utilize a touch system recently developed by Cypress Semiconductor. Cypress is the world leader in capacitive touch. Their latest generation of sensors are a perfect match for Earl. TrueTouch® capacitive systems can sense gloves up to 5mm thick allowing your hands to stay warm while using your Earl tablet in the coldest climates."
      September 9th, 2013 --

    • Shade
      December 19, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      The reason they went with capacitive is it's more accurate and they discovered a new type that works with gloves (the reason they initially planned IR. Ditching the kickstand was done to cut down on weight and make for one less thing to break. I'll be happy to put in my thoughts on the device once I get to put it through its paces. :D

  2. dragonmouth
    December 18, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    And how much for a pack mule to carry all these gadgets?

  3. ReadandShare
    December 18, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    In other words, how to venture outdoors without betraying your indoor self even a little bit. :)

    • Aaron C
      December 18, 2013 at 7:02 pm

      Each of these gadgets sole purpose is to make the outdoors MORE enjoyable. Having a GPS, even on my PHONE has saved me numerous times when out exploring new trail. Point-and-shoot and video cameras help you capture what you experienced, and enable you to share it with others. Lights… well those are pretty important (at least for those who don’t have cat-like eyes). And filtered water… Well, I don’t like Giardia.

      And how are you going to keep that GPS, camera, light and UV bulb powered? That’s where the solar panels and cooking paraphernalia come in!
      The ONLY thing that teeters on the line would be Bluetooth speakers. And I realized later that I forgot to add in my thoughts that, personally, I enjoy the sounds of nature far above any music. However, there’s something nice about some “background” tunes when you’re bombing down some singletrack on a mountain. So that’s why I included those.

      Not trying to attack or oppose your point at all! It’s certainly valid. Just thought I’d shed a little light on how technology IS quite helpful and has helped me many times.

  4. Shawn Rosvold
    December 18, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    The Waka Waka light comes in two versions, one of which has a USB connector for charging devices. Even after you've charged your phone, there's still enough juice left to run the LED lights for many hours. Added bonus? You're helping people who need our help when you buy one.

    • Aaron C
      December 18, 2013 at 2:27 pm

      Hey that's awesome! Thanks for sharing about this, Shawn. Despite searching for and finding similar products, I didn't know about this one. I like it!

      Thanks for your comment!