The last few years have been incredibly hard for almost everyone, so now that summer is about here, it’s a good idea to step outside and decompress a bit with whatever activity suits you best — whether it’s a favorite sport, a long hike, overnight camping, bird-watching, bicycling, or just sitting on a beach and watching the waves come in.
As we’ve done for the last couple of years, we asked some of our colleagues from The Leak Herald what they were planning to take with them in their outdoor escapes. Here are some of their recommendations, including outdoor tech, camera gear, rugged footwear, and gadgets that help them take it easy.
Months predominantly spent indoors did wonders for my battery anxiety. Not only was I using my phone less thanks to having constant easy access to a tablet and laptop, but even when my phone got close to running out, my trusty charger was never far out of reach. However, I know that’s going to change this summer, and I’ll be confronted by the fact that my iPhone 12 Pro’s battery life really isn’t as great as I’d like it to be.
That means it’s time to bust out my ZMI PowerPack 20000, a hulking brick of a portable charger equipped with a massive 20,000mAh battery. Yes, I could probably get a slimmer model, but to me those feel like a half-measure: if I’m going to bother to carry a standalone portable charger, it might as well be massive. It charges over USB-C, and there are two additional USB-A ports to charge other devices.
It’s basically the last portable charger I see myself needing. Well, until someone makes an identical model with MagSafe, I guess. (Note: while the ZMI PowerPack 20000 is no longer available, there is still a 10K version to be found.) — Jon Porter, reporter
Last year, I found myself badly in need of a pair of Android-friendly earbuds. I’d put myself on a budget, so the then-top-rated AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM4 were both out of range. I finally went for the Jabra Elite 75t earbuds — and it was a very happy choice. They have good sound quality (especially after I tweaked the settings); they work with two devices at the same time (known as multipoint), which I find very useful when I’m working on my laptop and somebody calls; and I was able to get a pretty good deal on them during Amazon’s Prime Day sales (especially since the 75t were one step down from the 85t model, which had just been introduced).
Jabra has since phased out the Elite 75t and is now marketing four different models, including a well-reviewed budget pair that, unfortunately, don’t offer the multipoint. So, if I were shopping for a pair of earbuds today, I’m not sure which I’d go for. — Barbara Krasnoff, reviews editor
For the longest time, my go-to portable speaker for camping and backpacking was the Ultimate Ears Roll 2. It was small and efficient, but it didn’t mesh well with the rest of my audio setup, especially on those sweltering summer days when I barely made it beyond the confines of my own backyard.
Last year, however, I splurged on the Sonos Roam. The rugged, pint-sized device is on the pricier side when compared to other Bluetooth speakers, but it produces solid sound for the size, offers wireless charging, and can automatically jump between my home Wi-Fi network and Bluetooth, a convenience I’ve come to appreciate when strapping the speaker to my bike and heading out the door.
And while I might not be able to fire off my usual quips at Alexa when I take it into the backcountry — the Roam only supports voice commands when connected to Wi-Fi — I certainly can still do it poolside with a drink in hand. — Brandon Widder, senior editor, commerce
In the summer of 2020, stuck at home, there was the possibility of outdoor hangs in our rowhouse’s rear yard (on a deck that was miraculously completed months earlier) to keep us sane. So, when the weather and pandemic comfort levels were finally ready, I purchased a BenQ TH585 gaming projector (the current model seems to be the BenQ TH585P), a 135-inch Elite Screens DIY Wall 3 Series projection screen, and a JBL Charge 4 speaker so we could spend time outside watching movies, having game nights, and generally enjoying the company of other humans.
It was a huge success. I probably could have gotten a smaller screen, and it was surprisingly tricky to find an outdoor Bluetooth speaker with a 3.5mm jack (it’s not just phones losing them!) but the projector has never let me down. It works great for games, as advertised, and performs admirably at a 10-foot distance for 1080p movies. I suppose it could be a little brighter (so we could start movies a little earlier), but at some point that’s just physics. And, for the price, it’s hard to argue in favor of fancier, 4K projectors. Do yourself a favor and be the backyard movie / game night person in your community. — Christopher Grant, group publisher, The Leak Herald and Polygon
Get out your camera
Years of daily bus commuting turned me into a person who needs their backpack to do and hold everything — a laptop, water bottle, snacks, sundries, actual roller skates, you name it. As versatile as camera backpacks have become, I still can’t convince myself to buy a backpack that only has one job. The Camera Cube was invented for people like me.
If your camera kit is on the lighter and smaller side, then Topo’s Camera Cube is a fantastic way to turn all of your bags into camera bags. I’ve used it with a Topo hiking backpack on many a day hike, and I appreciate the drawstring closure that keeps my camera gear more secure inside the cube. It also fits into my non-hiking backpack and technically in my Madewell Transport Tote, though it’s usually too heavy to wear on my shoulder for very long.
It comes with removable foam dividers so you can divvy up the storage space for an extra lens or two, but I’ve found it’s also a handy way to store a bagged PB&J where it won’t get crushed on a long hike. The navy and yellow color option is also quite attractive. It’s a little too small for a big DSLR and a zoom lens, but it’s the perfect fit for my compact mirrorless kit and a small victory in my quest to avoid uni-tasking backpacks. — Allison Johnson, reviewer
This low-tech classic camera has made some of my favorite photographing memories. It’s all plastic and has a fixed setting of 60mm f/8 using medium-format 120 film. The Holga has a cult following because of its price and the charm in the imperfections it creates. There is an artistry to taping the camera in different ways to block light leaks and other quirks, and the occasional softness from bowing film or the vignetting look is where Instagram got the look for its filters. — Amelia Holowaty Krales, senior photo editor
I always have two to three drinks with me at any given time, and at some point in the last couple of years, I became hyper-aware of the number of plastic bottles I was using just to drink pop or seltzer. (I’m from the Midwest — it’s pop not soda!) I tried to switch to glass bottles, but that got expensive. After much deliberation and a sorry attempt at trying to become a strictly water and coffee drinker, I decided to get a SodaStream.
I’ve had the SodaStream Fizzi for a while, and I’m still thrilled with it. I use it every day to make my own sodas and sparkling waters and to add a little flair to homemade cocktails. There are a large variety of recipes online, but it’s more fun to get creative with different flavors. Lately, I’ve been using fresh peaches and some muddled mint from my herb garden for a fantastic refresher!
The SodaStream Fizzi does have a small learning curve and takes some experimentation to find the amount of bubbles that you like, but it’s a blast to use. — Kaitlin Hatton, audience manager
I’m an evangelist for Corkcicles, which keep stuff hot and cold for a shockingly long time compared to other canteens I’ve tried. I have one that I use to bring wine to the beach. — Kristen Radtke, art director
I bought a hammock a couple of years ago, and I’m never going back to any other way of relaxing in a park over the summer. It’s super portable, super easy to set up, and perfect for just taking a lazy Sunday, reading a book, and watching the clouds roll by. — Chaim Gartenberg, former staffer
Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite e-reader is a great gadget that lets you read books outside without having to worry about things like lugging around a thousand-page tome or dealing with the potential for wet pages. The Paperwhite’s E Ink screen is very visible outdoors (unlike most phone screens, which can be harder to see in bright sunshine). The Paperwhite is waterproof, meaning it should be able to safely handle a splash or even a brief dip in the pool. And the newest Paperwhite dumps the Micro USB port found on past models in favor of USB-C — finally!! — Jay Peters, news writer
Yes, I am recommending a pair of sandals. I’m justifying them as technology for your feet.
For years, my go-to summer footwear were $20 flip-flops, but those usually broke by the end of the summer, and I didn’t particularly enjoy walking around in them. I bought a pair of Birkenstock Milano sandals a couple of years ago, and they’ve since become my favorite pair of shoes I’ve ever owned. I went with the Milano style because of the strap on the back so they would be better for extended adventures.
At $125, they’re certainly the most expensive pair of sandals I’ve ever purchased. But if I lost them today, I’d buy another pair in a heartbeat. — Jay Peters
I invite you to click through and look at these Trapper-Keeper-ass shoes. Really, just get their vibe. I spent a lot of the pandemic hiking — hell, I even took up running — and these trail runners from Saucony are really, really good. They’re grippy on uncertain terrain without being too heavy or stiff, so whether I want to jog on some dirt or knock out a long hike, these are my go-tos. Obviously, the shoe that works best for you will vary based on your foot and gait and so on, but if you’re thinking of taking up hiking, trail runners are lighter than hiking boots and often more comfortable. Plus, you can wear some genuinely shocking neon. — Elizabeth Lopatto, senior reporter
If you want to go hiking and, like me, find hiking boots unbearably uncomfortable (especially in the summertime), I can give these sandals from Bedrock Sandals two thumbs up for being ultra-comfortable and durable hiking shoes that will keep being comfortable even after a river crossing or five (and for being versatile enough to bike in and wear to the beach or grocery store). — Mitchell Clark, news writer