The Ultimate Guide to Camping Gadgets

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Camping can be an incredibly liberating experience. You can spend a few days away from the constant buzz of technology—phone calls, emails, notifications—and immerse yourself in the great outdoors.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't bring any gadgets along with you. From solar chargers to specialty smartwatches, there's plenty of technology out there that can make your camping trip easier, safer, and more enjoyable.

Your camping gadget setup can be as simple as downloading a few smartphone apps or as complex as grabbing a generator and GPS mesh system. There’s a lot to get into, but Optimum has you covered with our Ultimate Guide.

Prepare the gadgets you already have

Before you head out and buy anything, remember that you've already got a pretty powerful camping gadget, your phone. Obviously, this will be significantly more useful if you're camping in an area with good reception or data access. If that's the case, you'll have GPS access and the ability to pull up information like maps and weather forecasts. If you can use those resources there's no reason not to.

Our phone can still be very useful even if you don't have reception. You've just gotta make sure you prepare before heading out. The best way to do this is to just pretend you're about to board a flight without WiFi. If you want to listen to music, make sure to download MP3s. If you want to read, download an e-book or two. You can save movies and TV shows as well if you've got the space.

Camping phone apps

You can further prep your phone by downloading some camping apps. There are a ton of options, many that are still functional even without cell reception. There's an app for almost any camping activity you can think of, but here are a few general recommendations.

Campsite info

For figuring out where to camp (or what to do once you get to a campsite), load up a campsite database app. The app is perfect for Federal campgrounds, while apps like Campedium and The Dyrt cover everything in between.

Trails and maps

AllTrails Pro is the gold standard if you're going somewhere without reception. It allows you to download trail routes and access GPS whether you've got cell service or not.

Nighttime apps

An app for stargazing is a must-have, especially if your trip takes you to a dark-sky preserve. The aptly named Night Sky is a great option. It includes nightly reports on what's visible, as well as directions to viewing spots with the least light pollution. As it's only available on iOS, check out Sky Map for an Android alternative.

Chargers and generators

To get the most out of your phone or any other gadgets you're bringing, you'll need some power to keep them charged and ready to go. If you're going on a short trip, you might be able to get away with just bringing a power bank. You'll probably want one with a capacity of at least 10,000mAh, and even then you're going to start running out of power after a few days.

For anything longer, it's worth looking into more specialized gadgets. Naturally, what to bring will depend on how serious your campsite is. If you're just bringing along your phone or a portable GPS device, grab a solar charger. They're similar to the power banks mentioned above, except you can keep a solar charger charged up during the day. Goal Zero has some excellent examples but always check beforehand to figure out which one will work best for you.

For anything more serious you'll need a generator. Portable generators will keep all of your electronics running, but they're heavy and tend to cost a thousand dollars or more. Plus, they're loud and need to be topped with fuel regularly. That said, they're the more reliable option for running your powerful electronic devices.

Overall, what kind of power you bring depends on the length of your trip. Some combination of power banks and solar chargers will work for most adventures, but generators are a necessity for heavy-duty camping or RVing.

GPS and navigation devices

Even if the point of your camping trip is to go off the grid, you’ll want some way to figure out where you are, as well as the ability to contact the outside world in case of emergency.

As far as figuring out your location goes, bring along some kind of portable GPS device. GPS tech stalwarts Garmin make a whole host of handheld devices that offer GPS mapping and communication. There are also several outdoor smartwatches available. These offer GPS connectivity, topographical maps, and other features. They lack the large touchscreen of hardcore GPS handhelds but come in a very convenient package.

For emergency communications, a GPS mesh system like the goTenna is excellent. The device pairs to your phone and allows you to access GPS and text messages without cell, data, or satellite service. It's the kind of thing you'll be very happy not to need to use, but they can quite literally be lifesavers.


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