I just got back from five days of car camping with my wife, six-year-old son and another family at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, New York.
The good news is I was able to keep all of my gear alive without the convenience of wall power outlets.
(At a fundamental level, all of my preparations that I discussed last week were sufficient.)
But the bad news is I often felt like an 800-pound gorilla stumbling about a giant wheat field. I’d definitely pack my tech needs a little differently next time…
Tech Lesson #1
Forget Those Tiny Power Sticks with Big Power Buttons…
Sure, they’re almost as small as sticks of gum. So why not bring them, right?
But their giant power buttons can too easily be turned on during transport.
(Then, when you want to use one, it’s already dead.)
It’s a real a design flaw for this application.
So leave ‘em home!
(Or bring ones that are more difficult to power on)
Tech Lesson #2
Bring Two Extra Flashlights and Expect to Lose Them Along the Way
Look… nobody’s perfect. And when you’re juggling a family ‘in the wild,’ things aren’t always going to be where you left them.
(Or where you think you left them)
That said, you don’t want to be without a flashlight at the wrong time. So that’s why you’ll want access to some back up…
And those lost flashlights… ?
Don’t be too hard on yourself. They’ll likely turn up when you get home and unpack….
Tech Lesson #3
Bring a Solar Panel to Charge Your Hungry Gear
My new Goal Zero Nomad 20 solar panel performed admirably… in the bright sun.
(It was definitely worth bringing.)
As soon as I got up on the first morning, I set up the Nomad 20 to greet the early light. Over the next 2-3 hours, I had my iPhone 6 Plus plugged in as I made my coffee with my little Coleman propane stove and had some breakfast with the group.
During that time, I was able to juice my iPhone up from 50% to about 85%. And that’s while I was using it. Not bad…
But it played out that way only on the first day, when the sun was blazing.
(Don’t forget your sun block. And definitely bring an extra sheet to hang off your pop-up canopy to block multiple hours of intense sun exposure.)
But on the other days, when there were clouds in the sky, the energy feed was more inconsistent and sometimes slowed to a trickle.
Even with the occasional cloud passing by, the Nomad 20’s performance was noticeably stunted. The charging icon still displayed on my iPhone, but the charging percentage in the top right of the screen wouldn’t budge.
Tech Lesson #4
Have Some Battery Back Up!
When I realized Sol wasn’t always going to be perfectly in place for me every morning, I had to turn to my new RAVPower Power Bank.
This rechargeable 26,800mAh battery happily handled the cloudy days and not only fed my iPhone, but my wife’s too!
It was simply awesome.
Tech Lesson #5
Not Every Device Charges with a Simple USB Plug
When it became clearer to the larger group I was running my own little power café, I began receiving requests to recharge other hungry tech gear that I hadn’t planned for.
Some of this tech came with power cables without standard USB connectors. So they couldn’t plug directly into the USB inputs of my Nomad 20 or RAVPower battery.
That’s where my Goal Zero Sherpa 50 rechargeable power pack with AC inverter came in handy…
Yes, the Sherpa 50 had some performance limitations…
- It didn’t respond as quickly to the Solar Nomad 20 as my iPhone did
- And it didn’t have the storage capacity of the RAVPower
But with its inverter, the Sherpa 50 essentially became a three-pronged power outlet.
That’s pretty cool and a lifesaver for your tech sporting weird power jacks.
(You just need to make sure to bring their power blocks… which granted, is counter intuitive when you’re packing to go camping.)
Tech Lesson #6
Don’t Rely on Your Cell Phones to Communicate
Remember, you’re in the middle of nowhere in the Catskills. If there’s no cell service, you’d better have a couple of walkie talkies to keep you and your family connected if you split up to attend different activities at a music festival.
As it turned out, the AT&T cell service that blanketed Grey Fox offered one and occasionally two bars for my wife and me… so we stayed connected via texts.
But I was told that Verizon Wireless users were down for the count.
With zero bars, you’re really going to need those walkie talkies…
Tech Lesson #7
Keep Your Tech Gear Organized in One Place
I really stumbled here. I had my tech spread across three bags.
(A small duffle and portions of two knapsacks… bad organization)
What a big mistake. Whenever I was looking for something, it was inevitably in another bag.
(None of my bags were structured properly to handle all of my tech.)
The dad on the other team brought this really cool ‘utility bag’ where his tech was properly organized and easily accessible. I was quite jealous at the efficiency of his approach.
Plus, the right gear bag allows you to organize and store everything in one place back at home… so you don’t have to spend time gathering your camping tech the next time you’re getting ready to go.
(Guilty as charged)
So upon my return, I did a little online research and came upon this multi-pocketed Phitz Stage Duffle. It appeared perfectly structured to store all of my camping tech, both at home and in our camping tent.
Technically, this bag is for musicians to store their audio gear on the road… and it falls into the ‘gig bag’ or ‘stage bag’ category. And that makes it a little pricey… $59.99 on Amazon.
(Which is twice what you’d spend on a more basic tool bag.)
But if you’ve been adding up my camping purchases, my recent outing has not been exactly a cheap one.
So why not go with the right bag to protect the investment…?
Bonus Tech Lesson
I freely admit I’m not an experienced camper…
But I’m sure I’m not alone when I say a big draw is the opportunity to set up your little portable ‘kingdom’ that functions in the ‘wilderness.’
There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from that self-sufficiency.
…Being able to brew your own pot of coffee the way the old cowboys did.
(Granted, there were no Coleman propane stoves in the 1800’s.)
And though I didn’t build a campfire, I succeeded at keeping the “lights on.”
Yes, I traveled heavy, and I would hardly describe my tech management approach as elegant.
But it got the job done, and my tech survived. And at the most primal of levels, isn’t that what camping is all about?
(That’s my tech grunting.)