Plug into the great digital-friendly outdoors

New York TimesJune 15, 2014 

Time was when people took to the forest for the weekend with dreams of solitude.

But as a new generation heads outdoors, camping has become anything but a private affair. Why just sit when you could be strapping on a helmet camera to record your adventure hike and upload it later to share with friends?

About 43 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds use smartphones in their outdoor adventures and 40 percent use iPods, according to a 2013 study by the Outdoor Foundation, a nonprofit creation of the Outdoor Industry Association.

Beyond the smartphone, they want camping devices that can do more than one thing – a cookstove or LED lantern that can charge your phone, or a portable shower that can also be used for watering plants at home, said Michele Orr, general merchandising manager for the sports retailer REI. Or a water bottle that doubles as a water purifier so campers can drink from mountain streams without fear of contaminated water.

Catering to that youthful, eco-minded customer, the founders of the Brooklyn-based BioLite wanted to make a compact, lightweight stove that fits in a backpack and doesn’t require a heavy, flammable fuel source like gas, kerosene or propane.

What they came up with was the BioLite CampStove. It is about 8 inches high on its foldable feet, weighs just over 2 pounds and burns twigs found along the trail, as well as pine cones or other forms of biomass. Heat produced by the wood fire in the combustion chamber produces electricity through an attached thermoelectric generator. The generator also sends power to a USB port, which allows you to charge your phone or other small devices.

At $130, it is not the cheapest camp stove on the market. But Erica Rosen, BioLite’s director of marketing, said its successful introduction last camping season has helped fund BioLite’s plan to produce much larger stoves using the same technology for cooking in the developing world.

The company also plans a larger stove for group camping and tailgating – the BioLite BaseCamp stove – for shipping in September. It will cost $299 and have enough charging capacity to power tablet computers.

Now about that water bottle/purifier: The CamelBak All Clear looks like a regular water bottle, but the All Clear, which sells for $99, can also turn water from lakes and streams into safe drinking water in just 60 seconds.

Smaller than water filtration pumps and faster than iodine tablets, the All Clear does its work with an ultraviolet light that’s built into a separate screw-on top. Press a button and the light goes on with a digital timer. Turn the bottle upside down every 10 seconds to agitate and within a minute, it’s done.

The company says the light kills 99.99 percent of viruses, protozoa and bacteria. For $15 more, you can buy a pre-filter to screen out grit, though a piece of cloth might work as well. The UV light bulb lasts 10,000 cycles and is powered by a lithium-ion battery that is rechargeable through any USB port.

The Goal Zero Lighthouse 250 LED Lantern not only illuminates, but can also be used to power your USB devices. The lantern, which sells for around $80, can be used to recharge an e-book once or a smartphone twice.

When the lantern’s battery runs down – which should take 48 hours on low power or 2 1 / 2hours on high – it can be recharged with a hand crank or a solar panel that is sold separately.

Speaking of solar, Bushnell offers an array of flexible solar-powered rechargers with prices ranging from $59 to $299.

The PowerSync line features a collection of small solar cells on a pad that folds into its own carrying case, a lithium-ion battery and two USB ports for multiple devices.

The design of the 1-year-old product line allows the charger to keep working without bright sun and even if some cells get damaged, said Mike Capps, a company spokesman.

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