Gear you can use and gear you should lose
Any idiot with a tent knows you can construct a functioning campsite with a knife, some string, and a pot. But you are not any idiot and you want something more from your camp experience than a stinking, dead rabbit sizzling over the fire and a strip of bark for a plate.
The volunteers at the Recession Vacation Research Laboratory feel the same way, so we contacted more than three dozen companies looking for the essential, innovative and just plain novel. Here's what we ended up with and what we thought of it all.
Here's a solicitation: This isn't a shopping blog. Got a favorite piece of D.I.Y. camp gear? Head to the comments section.
Snow Peak Pack & Carry Fireplace
You know what bums me out about campsites? You can't pick where the fire will be. I don't mean to get all Wiccan on you, by fire is the primal element and it ought to be just where you want it. This fire-pit sits where you want it and packs flat when you're done.
Camp Chef Collapsible Fire Box
This thing is great. It folds flat and packs small. But there is no bottom, which means all you are getting are the walls to contain your fire. It's not a fire-anywhere contraption and if that's okay with you, then this here is a good box.
Reliance Luggable Loo
One of the RVRL volunteers is pregnant. That means peeing and lots of it. We set this dandy right next to the tent for nighttime tinkle runs. We put a little water and a special solution in and that was that.
Reliance Hassock Toilet
Again, for the tinkle runs--but the comfort upgrade from the Luggable Loo means you can confidently use your whole range of bathroom tricks on this one.
Edmund Astroscan Telescope
What good is camping if you can't see the sky? This thing went on the market in the 70's and it's still a dazzler of a starter telescope (and alas, I am forever a beginner astronomer).
The lab liked this thing. It screws onto your durable-plastic water bottle and lights it up. It was pretty and made a nice night light, but ultimately superfluous.
Brunton Orion LED Lantern
By gum, this thing is solid--with more than two dozen LEDs running on four "D" batteries. We hung it in the tent each night after using it to walk the campsite putting things in order after a long day of lab work.
Coleman Storm Beam
We were excited about this thing because it's a crank-powered lamp, a radio and a cell phone charger. But it feels cheap. The lamp is a single LED and you've got to crank awhile if you want it to stay lit for awhile. If you have to induce crank-cramping to power a single LED, imagine what it would take to get that emergency phone call out.
Oregon Scientific ATC2K Waterproof Action Cam
A camera that straps to your head and can shoot under water? I'll take it--unless it's this one. We had high hopes for this thing--a head-mounted camp cam! Then we tried it and found the video to be bad and the sound even worse. Back to the drawing board.
Kelsyus Portable Hammock
Yeah, you can pack the kind that ties up to a couple of trees. But prepared to get burned. Turns out they don't grow trees perfectly spaced to aid in your leisure. It's heavy but it packs long and thin and you'll always have a hammock. I'm just saying.
Sea to Summit Pocket Shower
If you are camping, you are smelly. I was skeptical when I unpacked this thing, but the RVRL volunteers loved it. "Refreshing" they said. One piece of advice: if you rig up some sort of curtain situation, weight it at the bottom. For a short second a gust of wind turned our laboratory into an nudie show--and my backyard isn't zoned for that.
Sea to Summit Dry Lite Towel and the MSR Pack Towel
The only thing I need more than surfaces at a campsite are towels. Each of these did their job admirably--after showers, with spills, and with the dishes. They soaked up a lot of water and dried out fast. Well done, towels.
Kelsyus Portable Outdoor Table
It's heavy and it takes up a lot of space in the car, but the same could be said for me. We used this thing all weekend long. It's a sturdy sit and easy to clean. Campsites are always short on surfaces--usually the picnic table, when there is one, is all you get. Take charge, add a surface and some sitting space. Or don't. Who am I to tell you what to do? I camp in my backyard!
Ruff Wear Mt. Bachelor Pad Dog Bed
I rolled my eyes at this one initially. But once we rolled it out the RVRL greyhound never left it (when they aren't racing, they are lazy beasts). It has a waterproof backside and is good for reinforcing a tent floor to protect it against dog nails. It rolls up when you're all done, but it would pack better laid flat.
Planet Dog Trail Runner
We got a few of these things from two companies: Planet Dog and Ruff Wear. They were all well made but better for hiking trips than car camping. If you're operating on a limited budget, just pack some plastic containers, no?
Planet Dog Travel Feedbag
This, however, is good gear. Maybe it's just me (often it is) but I can't ever find the right road-trip receptacle for dog food. If I throw it in a plastic grocery bag, it rips. If I throw it in a plastic container, the lid pops off. Either way: dog food everywhere. This thing is the right size and it seals tight. Plus--stripes!