The Car (And Motorcycle) Camping Gear I Used And Loved This Summer

The summer of 2022 was filled – thankfully – with travel and campouts following the covid overcast, and I got to try out some fun and unusual tech bits while exploring the Pacific Northwest. My personal gear is decidedly old school, including a 1990’s pop-up camping trailer that fellow campers politely compliment by saying “Oh, what a neat vintage trailer.” OK, I’ve had it for a while and it’s tech quotient is… low. Very low. I also travel and camp a fair bit by motorcycle, and I got in a lot of ride time over the past six months, so a lot of the gear had to serve campouts both large and very, very small. There’s a lot of new, innovative, interesting and fun new gear that can offset my lack of a $200,000 overlanding van, so here’s a rundown of the bits that have taken this year’s campouts to the next level.

Oru Lake Plus Folding Kayak, $699

It’s a kayak, made out of cardboard. While that sounds a bit like a “screen door on a submarine” joke, be assured it’s not a joke and that the folks over at Oru create usable and absolutely ingenious kayaks that are actually fun to paddle around in – and then quickly fold up origami-style to the size of a suitcase for transport. We had the $699 Lake + model, their smallest and least expensive with a couple of extras, and everyone who tried it was initially skeptical – and then raved about it. I even put our large dog in it and paddled around, pushing the load to over 300 pounds.

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

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

This tiny (when packed up) tent and sleeping pad combo got a lot of use from my family. My son took it on a white water rafting outing in northern California, and used it again on a camping trip with friends. I took them on two motorcycle outings as well. 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 down even smaller. It’s a cozy fit for this 6-1 camper, but I do fit, and the gossamer-like fabric keeps bugs at bay while allowing unrestricted vision.

A rainfly attaches quickly, and the materials, right down to the titanium stakes, are top quality. The Ether Light XT Insulated Mat was just big enough for me and unexpectedly comfortable – and it stays inflated. Not cheap, but this is definitely high-performance, top-tier lightweight gear that is reliable and above all, comfortable. I was sad when I returned it, but it’s top of my list come tent replacement time.

Biolite AlpenGlow 500 Lantern ($79)

BioLite makes a bunch of cool gear that often has a bit of science and fun baked in to the usual smart design, and the AlpenGlow 500 LED lantern is a great example. Sure, it’s rainproof, dimmable, squishy and lights up a tent or large open space, but it also charges a phone and has numerous fun modes, from gently 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 hanger hook on the bottom increases versatility and the top-mounted power button makes operation easy. It was always fun to shake it and see what it does, and we never ran the battery out despite hours of use. Like most BioLite gear, it got a lot of “that’s cool” comments from other campers. There’s also a smaller version called the 250 that’s great for moto or bike camping.

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

In much of the Northwest’s hinterlands, cell phone reception is… sketchy. Or just plain nonexistent. If you were facing a certain direction on the lake shore where we camped, you might get a single nit of cell phone service, but walk 20 yards into the woods and you had nothing. With a pack of (well-prepared) teens off traversing the Cascade Range wilderness, staying in contact is important (for the adults’ sanity, mostly). 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 an actual waterproof 5.56 calibre ammo box to house a big battery and a Midland MTX500 transceiver ($399, sold separately).

The ammo can case has been refitted with a big battery and enough buttons, switches and readouts to keep this old-school Midland CB radio geek thoroughly entertained and checking 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 teen explorers as they (likely) misbehaved miles away across the lake while carrying Midland’s GXT1000 GMRS walkie talkies. Oh, you want us to quit asking if you’re OK? We read you loud and clear. Be back in camp by 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 both teens and adults. With 4-inch wide 20-inch balloon tires, a stout rear hub motor and a big battery, the accessible RipRacer was the go-to errand runner and fun machine while camping at an alpine Oregon lake, which features a twisting, scenic 12-mile paved bike path around the shoreline. The RipRacer made many loops around the lake, but overall, it’s just big fun to ride, with a twist throttle like the minibikes of old, but with no gas or gears (it has just the one). The fat tires roll over just about anything and the bright LED headlight throws a bright beam far, far down the trail at night (I tested it, often). Hydraulic disc brakes bring things to a stop, and while it has no suspension, everyone who rode it was having too much fun to care. Read my review here.

SylvanSport Privy Bivy: $129

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

GoSun ‘Chill’ Electric Cooler, $699

A cooler that can freeze stuff without a single bit of ice? That’s the idea behind GoSun’s electric ‘Chill’ cooler, which can run off A/C or 12-volt power. The Chill includes a large-ish portable battery with a 12-volt receptacle, but it was only able to run the cooler for about three hours. Otherwise, plugged into a more stout energy source (including a Yeti battery pack), the Chill worked as advertised, keep our hot dogs and frozen OJ frozen while camping. Large wheels and a luggage-type handle make it easy to roll around and the electrical cords stow 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 back porch at a party, no ice needed.

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