The car (and motorcycle) camping gear I’ve been using and loving this summer

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The summer of 2022 was – thankfully – filled with travel and camping after the covid clouds, and I got to try out some fun and unusual tech bits while exploring the Pacific Northwest. My personal gear is definitely old school, including a ’90s pop-up camper that politely compliments fellow campers by saying, “Oh, what a neat vintage trailer.” OK, I’ve had it for a while and the technical quotient is… low. Very low. I also travel and camp quite a bit by motorbike, and I’ve had a lot of riding time in the last six months, so a lot of the gear had to serve both large and very, very small camping areas. There’s a lot of new, innovative, interesting, and fun new gear that could make up for my lack of a $200,000 overland van, so here’s a rundown of the parts that took this year’s campouts to the next level.

Oru Lake Plus Foldable Kayak, $699

It’s a kayak, made of cardboard. While that sounds a bit like a “screen door on a submarine” joke, rest assured it is not a joke and that the folks at Oru make usable and absolutely ingenious kayaks that are really fun to paddle in – then quickly fold origami-style to the size of a suitcase for transport. We had the $699 Lake+ model, their smallest and cheapest with a few extras, and everyone who tried it were skeptical at first — then raved about it. I even put our big dog in it and paddled around, pushing the load to over 300lbs.

Not a drop of water leaked in. Warning: The Oru Lake Plus is best used… on a lake, but they make plenty of other models for bigger water. Verdict: Nerd-cool rating of 10, and much more fun paddling around the lake than expected.

Sea To Summit Alto TR1 Tent ($449) and Ether Light XT Insulated Mat ($179)

This small (packed up) tent and sleeping pad combo got a lot of use from my family. My son took it on a white water rafting trip in Northern California and used it again on a camping trip with friends. I also took them on two motorcycle trips. Packed up, the tent is super small at 18 by 4 inches, light at just over two pounds, and it’s easy to set up. The Ether sleeping pad packs even smaller. It’s a snug fit for this 6-1 camper, but I’ll fit, and the gossamer fabric keeps bugs at bay while giving you unrestricted vision.

A rainfly attaches quickly and the materials, down to the titanium pins, are top quality. The Ether Light XT insulation mat was just big enough for me and unexpectedly comfortable – and it stays inflated. Not cheap, but this is definitely top quality lightweight gear that is reliable and most importantly comfortable. I was sad when I returned it, but it’s at the top of my list to replace the tent.

Biolite AlpenGlow 500 Lantern ($79)

BioLite makes a ton of cool gear that often incorporates a bit of science and fun into the usual clever design, and the AlpenGlow 500 LED lantern is a great example. Sure, it’s rainproof, dimmable, soft and illuminates a tent or large open space, but it also charges a phone and has plenty of fun modes, from softly pulsing colors to candle mode to a mesmerizing “fireworks” display. The light is always soft and even thanks to the soft frosted shell. A small hanging hook on the bottom increases versatility and the top-mounted on/off button makes operation easy. It was always fun to shake it and see what it does, and we never ran out of battery despite hours of use. Like most BioLite gear, it got a lot of “that’s cool” comments from other campers. There is also a smaller version, the 250, which is great for motorcycle or motorcycle camping.

Midland MPXW500 ‘Ammo Can’ Base Station, $599, MXT550 GMRS/FRS Radio, $399, MXPW01 40-Watt Solar Panel $149

In much of the northwest hinterland, cell phone reception is… sketchy. Or simply not there. If you faced a certain direction on the lakeshore where we camped, you could get a single cell phone service, but walk 20 meters into the woods and you had nothing. With a group of (well-prepared) teenagers roaming the wilderness of the Cascade Range, it’s important to keep in touch (especially for the sanity of the adults). Midland initially sent me the MTX550 50-watt GMRS base station for review, but then added an unusual new product, the $599 Ammo Can Base Station, which uses a true waterproof 5.56-caliber ammunition box to hold a large battery and a Midland MTX500 transceiver ($399, sold separately).

The ammo case has been re-equipped with a large battery and enough buttons, switches and readouts to thoroughly entertain this old-school Midland CB radio geek and check in for hours. With a folding solar panel for charging the built-in battery plus an optional high-gain antenna magnetized to the top of my truck, we had no trouble keeping in touch with our teenage explorers as they were (probably) miles away across the lake. misbehaved while using Midland’s GXT1000 GMRS walkie-talkies. Oh, do you want us to stop asking if you’re okay? We read you loud and clear. Get back to camp before sunset, please.

Juiced Bikes RipRacer eBike: $1,299

Juiced Bikes recently sent me the BMX style RipRacer for review and it was hugely popular with teens and adults alike. With 4-inch-wide 20-inch balloon tires, a beefy rear hub motor, and a big battery, the accessible RipRacer was the go-to messenger and fun machine when camping on an alpine Oregon lake, with a winding, scenic 12-inch mile paved bike path around the coastline. Made the RipRacer a lot loops around the lake, but overall it’s just great fun to ride, with a twist throttle like the minibikes of yesteryear, but no throttle or gears (it has just that one). The fat tires roll over just about everything and the bright LED headlight casts a bright beam far, far down the trail at night (I tested it many times). Hydraulic disc brakes bring everything to a halt, and while it has no suspension, everyone who rode it had too much fun to care about. Read my review here.

SylvanSport Privy Bivy: $129

The Privy Bivy from SylvanSport is one of those I-never-knew-I-needed products that seem a little ridiculous until you use it, and then you never want to travel without it again. It’s basically a small outhouse in a tent. We have put our camper toilet in it and life in the camper has improved immediately. The Privy is essentially waterproof and has a screened, zip-open window that maintains privacy. And that seemed to be the Privy’s biggest draw: it was much more private than the RV or hiding behind a tree, and much more pleasant than the campsite toilets.

GoSun ‘Chill’ Electric Cooler, $699

A cooler that can freeze things without a single bit of ice? That’s the idea behind GoSun’s electric ‘Chill’ cooler, which can run on air conditioning or 12 volts. The Chill contains a large portable battery with a 12-volt outlet, but it could only run the cooler for about three hours. Otherwise, plugged into a more powerful power source (including a Yeti battery pack), the Chill worked as advertised, keeping our hot dogs and frozen PB frozen while camping. Large wheels and a luggage-type handle make it easy to roll around, and the electrical cords can be stored in roomy pockets. And you can always put ice in it like a regular cooler. It’s also great for keeping food and drinks cold, just sitting on your porch at a party, no ice needed.

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