Alice Truong, Special for USA TODAY
Yearning for fresh air? Hiking and camping are great ways to unplug, but you don't have to leave your gadgets behind. For your next adventure in the great outdoors, check out the useful gear we've scouted for this week's Surf Report.
Camp stove charges up gadgets
In dry areas where open fires are prohibited, having a camp stove can mean the difference between a delicious hot meal (and by that, I mean freeze-dried space food) and granola bars for dinner.
The BioLite CampStove ($130) is an obvious choice for techies who can't remember life before the iPhone. Even in the middle of nowhere, you can charge up gadgets thanks to a USB port on the stove. BioLite is fueled off renewable biomass, such as twigs, pine cones and leaves. The heat from the fire is converted to electricity that powers both the USB port and a fan that helps improves combustion. About 1.6 ounces of wood is needed to boil a liter of water, which depending on the strength of the fire, takes roughly four to five minutes.
The introduction of a portable grill ($60) makes this fantastic for car camping (burgers, anyone?). For backpackers who measure out every last ounce of gear, this 33-ounce stove can be on the heavy side. However, the convenience and weight savings of foregoing fuel canisters have their appeal in the backcountry.
A warm shower in the woods
Camping evokes romantic notions of exploring the wilderness and sleeping under the stars, but that doesn't mean we don't long for hot showers.
NEMO aims to bring this convenience to the backcountry with its Helio Pressure Shower ($100). Unlike outdoor gravity showers, Helio, which weighs 25 ounces, uses a foot pump that pressurizes an 11-liter collapsible tank, eliminating the bumbling process of hanging a heavy water container from a tree branch.
Occasional pumping maintains the pressure (the company adds that there's no such thing as overinflating the tank), resulting in a gentle stream for five to seven minutes. If you leave a filled tank out in the sun before heading out on your hike, you might even get a warm shower by the time you return. By no means is this a hot high-pressure shower, but it's certainly more comfortable than a dip in a cold stream. Not to mention, a portable tank and hose can come in handy for other purposes, such as washing dishes, rinsing mud off gear and bathing Fido.
UV bottle filters water
Campers are familiar with the hassles of purifying water. Boiling doesn't just test your patience - if you thought watching water boil was boring, try watching it cool - it also makes the water taste stale. Likewise, iodine tablets can take up to an hour and leave behind an after taste. Pump filters, meanwhile, can be clumsy to handle, and might not remove contaminants found in water outside North America depending on the model.
CamelBak's fantastic solution is its All Clear bottle ($99), which uses a UV bulb to neutralize microbiological contaminants, making this not just great for camping but travel in general. You know how everyone says don't drink the water in Mexico? No fear with All Clear.
The magic is in the cap, which houses a short-range UV light that kills 99.9999% of bacteria. On a full charge, All Clear can last 80 cycles, or treat about 16 gallons of water. The purifier is ideal for treating clear water, such as that from streams, spigots and taps. In dire situations where the only water available is murky, CamelBak advises people to filter the water multiple times using a pre-filter attachment cap, a commercial micro filter and All Clear.
Using All Clear is incredibly simple, made easier with illustrations printed onto the back of the bottle. After turning on the cap, you agitate the water by flipping the bottle over for 60 seconds. This activates the UV light and the LCD screen displays a countdown. When the light turns off and the screen shows a checkmark next to "UV," that's your indication the water is safe to drink.
One down side is that the rechargeable battery and bulb are not serviceable, but CamelBak says that the cap is engineered to last 10,000 cycles. If you use this three times a day, that's about nine years.
Over in Portland, Ore., aka Hippietown, USA, Shwood has created exceedingly stylish shades perfect for enjoying nature.
The company's lightweight sunglasses highlight the aesthetics of natural wood that frame Carl Zeiss lenses imported from Italy. Its flagship model Canby (beginning $145) takes the classic Wayfarer look and embellishes it with four types of wood: oak, dark walnut, walnut and oak, and zebrawood, the last of which is a light wood with a high contrast grain.
At the core of Shwood is an emphasis on high-quality materials and artistry. Its handcrafted glasses are made with sustainable lumber, selected for tone and grain pattern, sourced from authorized plantations in the U.S. and Africa. The frames are treated with a protective finish made of organic waxes and oils. To keep its luster and durability, the company recommends owners apply lip balm, beeswax, butcher block oil or walnut oil to the frames when the wood begins to dry out or fades in color.
Even after returning to civilization, with Shwood, you'll feel like nature is always with you.
Inevitably, Mother Nature will turn a gorgeous sunny day into a wet mess. Don't let the weather put a damper on your plans. We've tested a few umbrellas that will keep you dry when the weather isn't cooperating.
With a 62-inch canopy, the Davek Golf ($129) umbrella is an oversized behemoth that will keep you and your four closest friends dry. (Seriously, this thing is so massive that on several occasions while walking down narrow sidewalks, I found myself stuck between a wall and a sign post.) Davek is so confident in its umbrellas that it offers an unconditional lifetime guarantee. This is something I can appreciate having lived in the Windy City, which relentless tore apart every one of my umbrellas.
Its unique dual-canopy fiberglass frame lets wind travel through the vented construction while keeping the umbrella from inverting. Davek also packed in a few surprises for golfers. The reversible handle base unscrews to reveal an alloy anchor spike, which can be used to secure the umbrella to the turf. With the umbrella in place, golfers are free to take their shots or rest their clubs against the frame's ribs.
If you don't need to shelter a small family, the XS_Metro ($49) from Blunt Umbrella is an adorable, portable choice. The XS_Metro opens up to a 37-inch canopy and collapses down to 14 inches. The key to Blunt's durability is its Radial Tensioning system, which uses double struts to evenly distribute the force needed to open the umbrella. It is this design that gives Blunt its name and its flatter parabolic shape. The floating ribs transfer the opening force onto the ends to keep the canvas taut, creating a durable umbrella without any sharp points. There is some give and take with the design. While it's eye catching, the rounded edges do mean slightly compromised coverage, with occasional droplets rolling off the edge and onto your shoulders.
E-mail Alice Truong at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter:@alicetruong.