Dear Lazy Environmentalist,

What are some good gadgets for enjoying the great outdoors?

Ahh, the great outdoors. That bastion of bugs, bites and restless nights in cramped tents. For me, it’s enough just to know that Mother Nature is out there, but for others who need the real thing, I suggest packing along an array of Freeplay Energy productsfor your campsite. Freeplay is a U.K.-based provider of radios, lanterns and flashlights that have regenerative energy sources built in. With integrated solar panels and hand cranks, you never have to worry about dead batteries when trekking in the wilderness — though if you happen upon an electric outlet, you can recharge the internal batteries and run your Freeplay products using the AC adapter.

The Freeplay Eyemax radio offers impressive sound quality in a sleek compact design that doubles as an LED flashlight. Leave it in the sun to charge up or turn the hand crank for 30 seconds to get 30 minutes of light and radio pleasure. The Freeplay Summit is a multiband global radio and alarm clock that offers the same self-sufficient energy technology as the Eyemax and when fully charged can play continuously for 20 hours. 

Let’s say you’re already an eco-enlightened adherent of digital convergence — the rapidly advancing technological trend enabling single electronic devices to perform multiple functions that formerly required multiple products. You depend on an all-in-one gadget like the iPhone for GPS navigation, phone calls, emails, surfing the Web, listening to MP3s, taking photos and shooting videos. To keep your all-purpose gadget consistently charged and at the ready, turn to a Voltaic Systems backpack or attachable daypack. Voltaic Systems offers a line of bags that are embedded with solar panels and which feature a battery that stores the sun’s energy. Each pack also comes with a wide assortment of plug tips that can be fitted to virtually any handheld device. Sleekly designed and built to withstand harsh outdoor conditions, Voltaic Systems bags provide an elegant solution for powering up with nothing more than a bit of daylight.

Convenient plug-charge-and-play capability is enabled with cords that are woven through the pack’s shell, which makes charging up as easy as placing your cell phone or iPod inside the shoulder strap pouch. "This is wearable electronics — where the electronics are fully integrated in a seamless way," explains company founder Shayne McQuade. "You will see things like an LED charge indicator light integrated into the logo that it actually lights up when the panels are collecting the sun’s energy. We’re aiming for a full integration of textile and electronics." The Voltaic Systems line of backpacks, daypacks and messenger bags are built with padding to protect laptops and other valuables, as well as plentiful pockets and storage compartments. A messenger bag,aptly dubbed the Generator and capable of powering a laptop, was recently released and is available directly through the Voltaic Systems site.

Other portable solar power options include the line of Reware Juice backpacks and messengers, which are equipped with solar panels and Reware Power Pockets — travel-sized solar panels that are capable of delivering up to 12 watts of power, enough to power some small laptops —  and can be easily folded and stowed away. When folded, Power Pockets measure five inches wide, nine inches long and three-quarters of an inch thick, and weigh less than a pound, making them your convenient energy accessory. 

Or opt for a tent with solar panels like the Eureka Solar Intent, which is roomy enough to sleep up to six. The Solar Intent comes with an LED light source and rechargeable batteries that can illuminate the tent’s interior for up to eight hours when fully charged. It might not deliver enough light to comfortably read, but it will prevent you from stomping on your brother’s head when heading out to relieve yourself in the middle of the night.


Excerpted from Josh's latest book,"The Lazy Environmentalist on a Budget."

Photo: joxur223/Flickr

What are some good gadgets for enjoying the great outdoors?
The Lazy Environmentalist offers an array of handy gadgets to get you closer to Mother Nature.