We’re always on the lookout for cool camping gear no matter the season. Here are some of the latest products we’ve discovered and tested.
AO Carbon Series 36 Can Cooler
No matter the weather, you’ll want to keep food and beverages cold and AO Coolers’ Carbon Series Coolers will get the job done. And don’t just take AO’s word for it: We took the Carbon Series 36-Can Cooler all the way to the land of fire and ice—Iceland—and camped for 12 days around the country with this cooler in tow.
Made with vinyl-coated fabric that looks like carbon fiber (silver or black), this cooler provides a sleek, modern look. It’s insulated with a ¾-inch-thick closed-cell foam to keep its contents cool and fresh. The liner is a welded TPU eco-friendly linter that AO states is leak-proof. It also has four tie-down hooks to strap it down in a vehicle, though we kept ours free-floating in our rental.
This cooler will carry up to 36 cans plus 18 lbs. of ice, and will hold 50 lbs. Plus, it meets airline requirements and includes a shoulder strap. Over 14 total days of use in Iceland, this cooler kept our goods cool, dry, and secure. We had three people on this trip, and while we never had anywhere near 36 cans in it, we had plenty of soda bottles, beer and wine; cheese, fresh veggies, and cold cuts and even some dry goods we wanted to stay secure. It was big enough for three travelers and a couple weeks of travel.
We circumnavigated Iceland in a 2023 Toyota RAV4, and we were able to shoehorn our AO Cooler into the cargo area due to its soft-sided construction (a hard-sided cooler would’ve been more space prohibitive). We took the cooler out of the car every single day and carried it to a table, so the sturdy shoulder strap was much appreciated when carrying it.
The cooler has two clips on each end of the zipper. When stowed, you clip these to the cooler’s base to form a square. When you need to access the cooler’s interior, unclip the buckles and open the main compartment with the heavy-duty zipper.
The cooler feels secure and well built, even when totally full. There’s also an external pocket, which can be great for things like coffee filters, napkins, or other flat-folding items. The cooler’s interior membrane is attached to the cooler’s upper perimeter. You can pull the membrane out to clean it, but just be careful not to damage it.
Lastly, one of the neat things about AO Coolers is you can have custom logos embroidered on the side. We had a custom logo sewn on. Buyers can also have their logos stitched on for an additional cost.
Benchmade Mini Bugout Knife
A pocketknife can be one of the handiest things you can have on you when adventuring. Whether it’s cutting paracord while camping, opening supplies on the trail, or simply slicing into dinner in the back forty, a small knife is a must-have everyday carry item.
Oregon-based Benchmade Knives offers a great little pocketknife, perfect for EDC called the Mini Bugout. Made in the USA from premium materials, this knife’s 2.82” blade is laser cut from sheets of high-grade steel and ground, beveled, and finished in-house. Hand-assembled, the Mini Bugout Knife is ultra sharp and fits easily into pants pockets thanks to a mini deep-carry pocket clip. That clip might be a bit tight on some pants pockets but seems to open up over time. The knives weighs just 1.5 ounces, has an open length of 6.49”, and a closed length of 3.7”.
The Mini Bugout can be had with a wide spectrum of handle colors (or carbon fiber), different hardware hues, and black oxide or stainless-steel blade finishes; all Mini Bugouts have a drop-point tip. You can even have custom graphics added to the blade for an extra cost. The company offers lifetime blade sharpening on these little knives, too.
With a pleasant open and closing action, the company’s AXIS lock, and handle that fits well in the hand, the Mini Bugout is a great everyday pocketknife, and a terrific camping companion as well. The first time I cut something with it I was very impressed with the blade’s precision and incredible sharpness. Since ethen, it’s made a home in our camp essentials and toolbox.
MSRP: Starting at $170
Ignik Backside Heated Pad XL
Ideal for cool weather camping, the Ignik Backside Heated Pad XL provides plenty of warmth for your camp chair, bench, or even your car’s seat.
The pad comes with a hand-held control unit allowing you to customize the heat levels and has an auto-shutoff feature after 90 minutes. The pad is compatible with USB-C Power Delivery (PD) power banks and other 12-volt supplies with a minimum of 2.0 amps.
While having a USB-C cord is convenient, you must find that just-right power supply for the pad to work properly. Ignik recommends a Goal Zero Venture 75 (sold separately) for use with the pad, but our Goal Zero Yeti and Inergy Flex 1500 solar generators both had the USB-C PD and right amperage rating. The Backside Heated Pad XL is not for use with AC power adaptors, such as phone chargers; you’ll need DC power.
To keep the orange pad in place, it comes with an adjustable paracord strap to around the backside of a camp chair. Alternatively, you can lay the pad flat and have two people sit on it, which would be great for a bench seat or picnic table.
The pad is comfortable, and the two-button controller is dead simple to use. Simply long-press the top button until the Ignik logo appears. You’ll then see the temperature setting, which defaults to 80 of 100. The display could be brighter, however.
With the addition of Ignik’s 12-volt power adaptor (sold separately), the pad works great on cars without heated seats. Just plug it into the 12-volt socket and you’ve got instant rump wamers.
Overall, the product works well, stays warm, and folds in half for easy storage or transport when not in use. Once you get the right power supply, you’ll be warm and toasty.
Pale Blue Earth AA and AAA USB-C Rechargeable Batteries
If you use a lot of AA or AAA batteries in your camping kit (think flashlights, headlamps, etc.), costs can add up. Plus, once dead, they are either tossed or recycled. Pale Blue Earth offers AA and AAA USB-C-rechargeable lithium batteries designed to outperform both alkaline and rechargeable Ni-Mh batteries. The company says each battery can prevent up to 1,000 single-use batteries from being thrown away.
The batteries come minimally packaged, so there’s hardly any waste from the get-go. That packaging is also a place to store the batteries and included cord when not in use.
Each battery has a built-in USB-C port. An included charging cable allows users to charge four batteries at once. Batteries can be purchased in four packs with one charging cable, eight packs with two charging cables, or 12 packs with three charging cables. The charging cable has a USB-A end to plug into any standard USB port, and four USB-C ends for the batteries.
Each AA battery has 255 mWh of power and a 1,700 mAh capacity. The AAA batteries have 900 mWh of power and 600 mAh of capacity. It takes about 90 minutes to charge the AA and 60 minutes for the AAA depending on charger specs. The batteries are rated for 1,000+ cycles, and each has a bright green LED indicator on the side that indicates a charging or charged state. Blinking green means they’re charging. Solid green means they’re ready to use a gain. Pale Blue Earth claims a cost per use of just $0.07 USD vs. $1.00 per for each alkaline battery.
We’ve been using these batteries in a wide range of personal electronics including headlamps, clocks, and flashlights with great success. The lack of a big, bulky charger is great for taking with you on adventures, and the brief charging times mean less time charging and more time using them. We’ve also been impressed with the battery life between charges.
MSRP: AAA starts at $24.99 (four pack) and AA $29.99 (four pac