From surviving power outages on the homestead to transforming the "camping experience" in the wilderness far away from the trappings of modern life, we discovered a growing lineup of technology that tackles the challenges of off-grid survival in sometimes extreme environments or during catastrophic events.
A few of my family's many favorites include BioLite's latest CampStove 2, LuminAID's PackLite 16, and Power Practical's Luminoodle Light Rope — all featured at the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, that I attended this past January in Las Vegas.
In the coming months, I'll profile a few others, like some great portable solar power options or surveillance gadgets. For many meals, we cook with the sun with our Solarvore Sport Sun Oven and All American Sun Oven. Turns out, some technology doesn't have to cost a fortune.
"Be Prepared" is the motto of the Boy Scouts of America and on our latest campout at the Black Hawk Memorial Park near Woodford, Wisconsin, my family and troop put some of our tech gear to the test. As many preppers, homesteaders, and campers know, just because you have the gear doesn't mean you can deploy it in an emergency, or during The Long Emergency. Getting some practice using the gadgets in the field — without the need to refer to instructions or product guides in hand — is essential.
We were also there to experience the living history of the pre-1840s re-enactment camp known as the Bloody Lake Rendezvous, itself a stomping ground for those eager to put into practice survival skills, primitive camping, cooking with fire, and tomahawk throwing.
Hosted by the Yellowstone Flint and Cap club, The Bloody Lake Rendezvous is held annually the first week in May and we're there every year. There are many other such events around the country where blacksmithing, hand-crafted item trading and knife-throwing are skills shared freely by the enthusiastic campers.
Here's a roundup and review of a few of our tech deployed on this camping trip.
BioLite's CampStove 2
Cook, grill, boil and charge with the wood-fired BioLite CampStove 2 burner that generates electricity while preparing your camp meal or MRE. Best of all, the energy source for the stove is nothing more than sticks and twigs, far more readily found in an emergency or on a campout than many other sources of fuel in many parts of the country.
BioLite's latest CampStove 2 reflects "being self-sustaining with the energy around you," says Erica Rosen, Director of Marketing for BioLite. "We feel [this] is where the prepper and outdoor world overlap."
"We make off-grid on a personal scale," adds Rosen. "We're actually most well known for our BioLite CampStove which is a wood-burning camp stove that generates electricity from the heat of the fire.
That electricity does two things. One, it powers an internal fan that blows air back into the fire so you're getting smokeless flames. So when you're cooking with wood, you're actually reducing emissions and burning really clean without any fossil fuels. Second, the surplus electricity that's being generated goes into a USB port on the side of the stove and that can recharge small devices."
In less than 5 minutes, we had our BioLite CampStove 2 fired up and boiling water for our hot cocoa in the morning. With four fan speed settings, we could control the air circulation better with the internal fan jets. We also had a source for back-up power for our smart phone should it die in the woods, with the built in USB port for charging that had 50 percent more power thanks to the improved design of the thermoelectrics in this model.
The Smart LED dashboard provided real time feedback on the fire strength, power output and fan setting. With a little practice, anyone can make a smoke-free fire now. Their USB FlexLight can provide some light at night, too. The CampStove 2 is compact, at 5 inches by 7.91 inches, and weighs 2.06 pounds.
LuminAID's PackLite 16 Solar-Powered Inflatable Light
A LED lamp can't get any lighter, safer and easier to use than this. Just clip the 3-ounce, deflated and folded down LuminAID PackLite 16 to your backpack or bug-out bag and hit the road. After about 7 to 10 hours of direct sunlight hitting the small high-efficiency solar panel on the inflatable light, we were good to go for the night.
The built-in battery holds a charge for about two months, perfect for any emergency preparedness kit on the homestead or farm. They're much safer than commonly used candles or kerosene lanterns.
When it's time to turn on, just unfold the light, inflate it by blowing it up like you would a small inner tube and hang it where you need it. The PackLite 16 is durable, waterproof and floats. At the maximum of the three brightness settings, it puts out 65 lumens of light for about 6 hours. Plenty.
We attached our LuminAID PackLite 16 to our dining canopy, carried it to the outhouse at night (in the rain) and hung it from the top of our tent for some late night reading. LuminAID was actually started by Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta, architecture students from Columbia University who designed the product in 2010 to assist post-earthquake relief efforts in Haiti and elsewhere.
Power Practical's Luminoodle Light Rope
Waterproof, bright, flexible and USB-powered, the 5-foot LED light rope/lantern provides the light you need, without the weight in your backpack or bug-out bag at only 4.7 ounces. It can be used with any USB power source or a universal battery pack.
During our campout, we used the slider magnets to connect the light to the metal on our pop-up canopy tent for lighting our outdoor kitchen. The Luminoodle can also be attached with universal ties and a utility loop, or tossed inside the rip-stop nylon bag to use as a camping lantern. Our 5-foot strip provided more than enough light, about 180 lumens' worth. Power Practical also has a 10-foot Luminoodle Light Rope that producers 360 ultra bright lumens of light.
Liam Kivirist is a tech writer, computer hardware geek, fledgling programmer and freelance web developer. Based on a small organic farm in rural southwestern Wisconsin, Liam marries his deeply rooted love of the outdoors, food, and camping with his passion for technology. Connect with Liam on Twitter, at Tech Socket, and www.LiamKivirist.com.