It’s that time of year where you brush the cobwebs off that tent at the back of your shed in preparation for a holiday or festival. While there’s nothing quite like getting back to nature and sleeping under canvas – we mean, man-made waterproof fabrics – the best camping gadgets will ensure you can still enjoy a bit of modern living while you’re away.
To test, we loaded up a car with the latest camping kit and used it in earnest. We’ve listed the products here that we were happy with, but have mentioned any flaws or issues we might have discovered along the way. Where possible, we’ve linked to our full reviews and the best alternative products.
We borrowed a Vango Air Capri 500XL from Taunton Leisure to sleep in. This model uses Vango’s AirBeam system, so you inflate the supports rather than needing to insert traditional poles. The result is that it goes up faster and whose structure is more stable, with the thicker beams providing better support than more traditional thin poles.
Vango’s tent uses a smart valve system, where removing the provided pump doesn’t allow any air to escape. Once up, the tent provides two sleeping compartments and a sizeable living area, with enough head height to walk around.
Food and drink
Going camping means that much of what you’ll need for your time away will go with you. You’re not going to have enough power to run a fridge, so passive cooling is is the way forth. This will come by way of a cool bag or box; we tried the Red Original Waterproof Cooler Bag. We went for the Large, 30-litre model, which can hold up to 54 cans.
It’s designed for paddle boarders, so is waterproof inside and out. As such, you can fill it with ice and, as it melts, the cold water will be contained inside. We dropped a large freezer block into the bottom, put in some cans and beers, then filled up the remaining space with ice.
The Red Original Waterproof Cooler Bag offers plenty of room and kept our drinks cold for almost two days
After 24 hours, the contents were still fridge-cold; after 48-hours, the content of a Coke was a cool 13ºC – not bad considering that no powered cooling was used and the cooler bag was kept in a hot boot – and then a tent where daytime temperatures were hitting 28ºC.
The Vaya Tyffyn 1300 is designed to keep food hot or cold for up to five hours. The model we tested came with four internal containers, each with an optional sub-divider and a lid. There are three smaller tubs (around 280ml) and one larger tub (around 370ml), which stack on top of each other.
A vacuum-insulated stainless steel container slips over the top of the unit and is designed to keep things cold or warm for up to six hours. Two clips hold the top in place, ensuring it’s spill-resistant – although not watertight! The lid jams on firmly and is a little hard to get off at first, although it loosened after a few uses.
The Vaya Tyffyn 1300 is great for picnics
We filled ours with a selection of cold deli items including olives, mozzarella, peppers and artichokes, and left the unit in the fridge before transporting it.
Three hours later, lifting the lid off of the Vaya Tyffyn, the individual boxes were noticeably cold to the touch, with the contents sitting at 11ºC. While the system won’t keep your food cold overnight, it’s handy for initial transport or for a picnic while you’re away.
Provided the weather stays good, there’s nothing quite like a chilled glass of wine – but how do you keep it cool? The Hydro Flask Wine Bottle takes a full 750ml bottle of wine, offering double-wall insulation; it kept our test bottle of wine chilled all evening. The bonus of the flask’s air-tight screw-cap lid is that you won’t lose any of its contents if the bottle is knocked over. It can be paired with the Wine Tumbler, which is also insulated and can hold a large glass of wine. The lid on the latter isn’t watertight, but it does stop the flies from contaminating your well-deserved drink.
Leak-proof and capable of keeping your wine cold, what more can you want from the Hydro Flask Wine Bottle
Not liking the idea of a “digital detox”? Then decent internet will be a must. It makes sense to carry a portable 4G router, since it means you won’t be draining your phone battery by using a hotspot. Plus, to a degree you’ll be able to position the router for the best reception.
We used a TP-Link M7350 with an EE data SIM. The M7350 takes a full-sized SIM, although it has adapters in the box for micro- and nano-SIM cards. These are impossibly fiddly; my SIM kept falling out, taking a good few attempts to get it to slide into place.
Once charged, TP-Link says that the battery should last for up to eight hours. After testing, using the M7350 for streaming Netflix movies for just over three hours, we had 50% battery life left.
A portable router will last longer than your phone’s battery.
The M7350 uses 2.4GHz 802.11n networking (UK products aren’t licensed for use outside on the 5GHz band), and we found that we achieved similar download speeds using the router compared to my iPhone X, which is also on EE. In the middle of a field on the outskirts of London, we were achieving download speeds of around 9Mbps, which is sufficient for HD Netflix.
A Bluetooth speaker is a must. We took the JBL Charge 4, which has IPX7 waterproofing, so it can keep going even if it starts to rain. It’s a decent speaker, too: it’s loud, engaging and pumps out plenty of bass. If you want, you can use JBL Connect+ to play music through multiple speakers at once. It also acts as a power bank, with a chunky 7500mAh battery that provides up to 20 hours of playback.
If you’re camping, go for a waterproof speaker.
Something for watching a film on is a good idea, and what’s better than a portable projector? We’ve reviewed the Android-powered Nebula Capsule before, but we took the Android BenQ GV1 instead.
About the same size as a Bluetooth speaker, the GV1 is small enough to carry around with you. It uses a DLP chip with an 854 x 480 resolution – although this isn’t super-high resolution, it’s a fair trade-off for the size.
At 200 ANSI Lumens, the projector isn’t particularly bright. As a result, you’ll have to wait until it starts getting dark before you can really use it to its max. A 60-inch screen is about as big as you can get, so we’re talking TV-sized entertainment rather than full cinema.
This projector is tiny and you can get a 60-inch screen out of it
You can mirror an Android handset or iPhone to the projector, although when I did there was no Netflix video. There’s also USB-C input for a compatible laptop, but it’s frustrating that there’s no HDMI input to directly connect a games console or Blu-ray player.
Fortunately, the GV1 runs Android and you can download both Amazon Prime Video and Netflix to it. The remote control makes Netflix control really clunky, and we couldn’t get to the search option at all. My workaround was to add items to my List on my phone then use the projector.
Importantly, the projector can run off its battery for up to three hours. There’s a built-in speaker, too, although it’s comically quiet: we used its Bluetooth connection to connect it to the JBL Charge 4, which improved the sound.
Streaming films off Netflix onto the inside of marquee, we had a room full of happy (and quiet) kids on this trip. Portable projectors are limited compared to their full-sized brothers, but there’s no other way of getting such a big screen from such a small device. The GV1 is good enough for streaming Netflix, although the more expensive Nebula Capsule is more powerful and has an HDMI input making it more flexible.
When it got dark, the projector kept the kids out of trouble
You need something to charge all of your gadgets, so it’s wise to pack plenty of power banks. We also took a Ted Baker Connected Real Leather Wireless Power Bank. The 5000mAh capacity is just about enough for two charges of an iPhone X and, since the charger uses Qi wireless charging, you can slap your compatible phone on top without needing a cable. However, there are USB-C and USB-A ports if you do have devices that you need to charge via a cable.
A wireless charger is much easier than reaching for cables
No power means that rechargeable LED lamps will be useful to take with you. We went with a variety of lighting options. Inside the main tent, we had a Fatboy Bolleke, which can be tied up pretty much anywhere. This large ball (20cm diameter) produces a warm white (2700K) light and will last for 20 hours on the lowest setting – which was bright enough to light up the main living compartment. It’s charged via the USB-C port on top.
Bold but not to bright, the Fatboy Bolleke was great for lighting up the inside of the tent
Outside, we had the Mpowerd Luci Solar String Lights, which give you a string of 10 lights that you unwrap from the circular box that holds the solar panels. There are four light modes, lasting up to 20 hours on the low setting, and the set takes 12 to 14 hours to charge via the sun. There’s a handy USB port at the end of the lighting chain, so you can charge manually if you prefer. Draped across the opening awning, the Luci lights made it easier to see the tent and get in and out.
The solar-powered lights helped us find our tent
Inside, we went with the Foxx Project PowerGlow Mini, which has a lanyard for hanging or for around your wrist. The light’s pretty bright (certainly bright enough for the sleeping compartment) and lasts for up to 60 hours on the lowest setting. There’s also a red light, which is less intrusive for using in a tent or around a campsite.
A decent night-time light, the PowerGlow Mini is also a torch
Finally, we took the Coast Dual Colour LED Head Torch . It’s surprisingly comfortable and easy to adjust, and even has clips to attach to a hard hat. It has a standard white LED, with the three AAA batteries lasting up to 13 hours on low. There’s also a bright mode and a less intrusive red mode.
While head torches are never a cool look, at least you’ll be able to wander around and have your hands free – and also put up your tent in the dark.
They might not be cool, but head torches let you do things more easily in the dark, keeping your hands free
Tents are super-easy to break into, so how do you protect your kit? How about with a security camera? The Arlo Go is a little expensive, but it uses 4G to connect to the internet (you need to provide a data SIM). It can record to a built-in microSD card, too. The flexible stand means that you can place the camera inside or out, and even screw it into something nearby.
A security camera can alert you if anyone enters your tent
Video quality is pretty good at 720p and alerts are sent to your phone. While the product can be stolen easily, if you place it in your tent when you’re away, you’ll get a notification immediately and can see what’s going on. Alternatively, place it in your car to monitor that.
A safe can be handy, too. The Master Lock Portable Safe is big enough to hold a couple of phones, and has a clip-in metal strap that you can wrap around something that’s hard to move. That’s not so easy in a tent, but you should find a suitable anchor in your car. Even in your tent, unwrapped, it provides somewhere to store valuables against a casual thief wandering in – although the entire safe could be lifted.
A safe is useful for keeping your valuables away from opportunistic thieves
If you can’t remember where you pitched your tent, then a Tile Pro is a handy way of being able to find it. The app shows you where you last saw the Tile and, when you get close, you can sound the siren to help you aim in. This is particularly useful if you’re at a festival, surrounded by similar-looking tents. And, you can always stick a Tile inside your safe, just in case it does go missing.
Comfort and safety
How do you carry everything? The Master Lock Crossed Carry Strap is the answer and it offers excellent value. Just put your stuff into boxes, then wrap the straps around your items (you get one strap at 2.5m and one at 5m), locking them into place. The carry handle on top gives you grip and makes it much easier to move things.
This carry handle makes it easier to transport bulky items
If there’s one thing that we don’t like about camping, it’s having to sleep in a sleeping bag: they either constrict your movement or, when open, don’t keep you warm enough. The Duvalay Luxury Sleeping Bag is different. It’s effectively a memory foam base with a fold-over duvet on top (there’s no zip), so you get freedom of movement while keeping warm.
There are many options available, but we went with the 5cm of Freshtec foam (designed to keep you cool by not retaining heat) and 66cm wide model. You can use a camp bed or other surface, but we used the bag on the floor and it was the most comfortable sleeping bag I’ve ever used. If there are two of you, you can reverse the side that the bag opens to place two side by side.
The downside is that the memory foam makes the Duvalay Luxury Sleeping Bag quite big, so it isn’t a product for those looking to travel light.
The most comfortable sleeping bag I’ve ever used
Handling getting changed and drying off when camping can be tricky, but the Dryrobe Advance Long Sleeve aims to fix both problems. It’s basically an oversized coat with a fleece lining, that you can use a towel, to keep the rain off. You can even pull your arms inside and get changed without exposing yourself.
Handy for stumbling to the toilet block at night, or for cover after a trip to the communal showers, the Dryrobe is also great for surfers and cyclists. The downsides are that it’s quite bulky (there’s a compression travel bag to help squash it down), a touch expensive and maybe a bit warm for camping on the hottest of days.
It’s a bit toasty in summer, but the Dryrobe is great in the wet and wind, and you can easily get changed while wearing it
Nobody wants to get hurt, but it’s worth taking a medical kit with you just in case. To save space, we took the Ultralight and Watertight Medical Kit 7, which weighs just 227g, from flightstore.co.uk. It comprises antiseptic wipes and butterfly bandages, a mini-duct tape roll, Die-cut Moleskin plus Skin Tac for blisters, pain medication, and wraps and bandages.
This lightweight medical kit is easy to pack
Tents can get extremely hot as soon as the sun comes up, so we took the Evapolar Personal Air Cooler, which you can run from a power bank; it draws very little power. It can work as a fan, but fill up the water tank and the Personal Air Cooler uses evaporation to cool the air (its effectiveness depends on the temperature and humidity). Just be careful, as moving the fan can make it leak a little.
A fan can help you relax in a stuffy tent