Camping and outdoor gadgets tested

A bumper round-up of great camping and travel kit. You’ll find an interesting range of equipment that we’ve personally tried and tested and that helps make camping or campervanning even better – from a bike helmet with indicators and brake lights to home security, a simple but unbreakable mirror and our much-loved pet feeder.

Don’t forget to have a look at at our ever-evolving list of our tried and tested favourite outdoors and camping equipment.

And…let us know if there’s something you’ve found that works perfectly for you – whether it’s a £5 workaround or a £50 piece of designer kit. If there’s anything you’d tell others to avoid….share that too.


The Lumos bike helmet

Lumos bike helmetWow! They’ve dubbed it the “next generation” bike helmet and our experienced cycling kit tester, Phil Knowles, says it lives up to the billing!

Lumos is a sleek-looking helmet in black or white (more colours coming) with integrated indicators and hard brake lights as well as bright front lights. It all works from a handlebar-mounted wireless remote, and it works well. It’s waterproof and the batteries are rechargeable via a USB connection.

Phil, who’s just about to complete the John O’Groats to Land’s End cycle route, says: “There are a few cycle helmets on the market with integrated lights, but none like this one. The Lumos helmet will really get you noticed by other road users.The lights front and rear are not there to light up the road but to get you noticed by motorists. The most unique feature is the built-in accelerometer, which means that when you brake at a junction, lights on the back of the helmet go red just like a car brake light. The batteries should last around three hours between charges.

Now available at around £150.


The perfect hanging toiletry bag

A Samsonite bag goes wild camping.

Good camping organisation makes things more enjoyable and less stressy. Trips to the shower become a smooth operation if you’ve got a good hanging toilet bag. We used to love the Samsonite bags – sturdy and reliable plus amazing Tardis-like qualities, compartments for easy finding, and a hanging loop for hooks and over doors.

Reisenthel hanging toiletry bags – from funky to subdued!

But they’ve just been pipped to top spot by the Reisenthel hanging bags. Just a bit easier to pack and use while camping and available in a huge range of sizes, colours and patterns.

Both cost less than £25.


iSmart Keep camera monitor

ismart-keep-cameraCamping and campervanning give you a lot of freedom to travel more often. Being away from home, though, does make you more vulnerable to burglary.

Even if your home is protected by an alarm system – and even if you get alerts to your phone if the alarm goes off – what do you do if there’s an alert while you’re away? Trusted neighbours may be away too and keyholders can seldom get there in time to stop theft. And what if the alert turns out to be just a false alarm?

The answer is a camera that can alert you by text, email or app notification if sound or motion are detected (either an alarm going off, or the movement/noise of an intruder). As soon as you get an alert, you can check a live image and see for yourself what’s happening at home.

Some of these cameras offer two-way audio, so you can shout at or plead with the burglar, and they come with different options for recording, live-streaming, taking snapshots and so on. Most popular seem to be the Nest and the Canary security cameras, but they have their problems

We thoroughly researched home security camera thingies like this, looking at Which Magazine, reviews on a number of technology and retail sites and at some of the competing models in the flesh. The impression you get is that no camera pleases everyone. The iSmart, though, is the best of the bunch. It’s easy to set up, gives very little delay in sending notifications and there’s no subscription for the service – these are all issues users have with other models.

The packaging and design are very Apple-like in quality and the camera is simple, neat and sturdy. It’s very easy to set up on an iPhone 6, with absolutely no glitches, which is pretty unusual. We set up two accounts for home so that two phones would receive notifications.

It offers HD resolution, motion and audio detection, and on-demand streaming video control. You can pan and tilt the camera remotely from the app and choose levels of sensitivity. There’s free capture and storage too. It doesn’t offer two-way audio and the focus on simplicity means it lacks some features, such as recognising familiar faces. We prefer simplicity that works, however, to glitchy features.

The picture quality is good, though a little jumpy on occasions. Notifications seem to come through quickly, if not instantly. Sound alerts are more sensitive than motion, but both trigger a notification to the phone. You can then open the app (a few seconds delay here as it boots up and connects), then you can see the room and pan and zoom, plus you can hear anything that’s happening.

The Keep is part of a Cube system that offers door and window sensors and more, but it works perfectly as a standalone device too. The company also makes a more expensive Spot version that comes with extra features, but we haven’t tested this yet. The iSmart Keep costs around £80.


KAZbrella reverse umbrellas

kazbrella-reverse-umbrellaThe inventors of this clever brolly say that, one day, all umbrellas will be made this way. And it’s a design that certainly makes sense. KAZbrella uses unique patented technology that turns the conventional umbrella frame inside out and has a separate patented tensioning system. Jenan Kazim designed and developed the brolly in Great Britain – a process that involved creating more than 50 special components and using 3D printing.

But does it work? Its uniqueness comes from the fact that it opens and closes the opposite way to traditional brollies. What that means is that when you’re struggling to close your umbrella as you get into a car, campervan or tent – holding it over you for as long as possible to avoid the rain – the frame and fabric don’t get caught up in doorways. It’s also designed to be good in a wind and has a coating that shrugs off drops of water. Once closed, the wet surface is inside too– which is both good and bad because it keeps it out of the way, but also means it tends to hang around and drip out the next time you pick up the brolly. Around £40.


Easy on-off shoes

muck-boots-ballet-flat

Easy on and off women’s ballet flats are a cute option. Waterproof as well.

In the search for the best easy-on-and-off women’s camping shoes for the winter, we’ve tried on 20 pairs of boots and shoes. We wanted shoes that could be slipped on quickly and easily because there’s a lot of getting into and out of tents and campervans – and we certainly won’t be packing a shoehorn. One of the best women’s styles is the 100% waterproof Muck Boot Breezy ballet flat. They’re light, supremely comfortable and look rather cute.

The men’s Muckster II slips on and off, but only when you want it to!

For men, the Muckster II is a slip-on mule that fits the bill perfectly.

We tried lots of backless garden clogs too, such as the ones from Fitflops and Crocs, but unless they have a backstrap, they’re often uncomfortable to walk in and tend to fall off. Plus, toes don’t like all that clawing they have to do to keep  clogs and flip-flops in place.

crocs-mercy-clogIf you must have Crocs for lightness and cheapness, the Crocs Mercy work model has the advantage of a heel section and a strap. Finding a size that isn’t sloppy or doesn’t bang your big toe was nigh-on impossible for us, however.

A much better choice than the Crocs, though more expensive, are the Bogs Stewart (very lightweight) and Urban Farmer slide (sturdy rubber). They stay on your feet well, are well-made, have a good insole and are a comfortable fit (go a size up if you’re borderline). From £50 upwards and men’s and women’s versions.


SureFlap cat feeder

Sureflap feeder 2 Sureflap automatic cat feederA lifesaver…literally. This smart cat-feeder is designed for households with a number of animals, and where one of them isn’t getting its fair share. In our case, it was one cat and a greedy interloper. When we go camping, someone visits the cat every day to feed, stroke and play with him, but – unknown to us – most of his food was being snaffled by next door’s cat.

The high-tech Sureflap only opens for one cat, who wears a transmitter on his collar. If your cat is microchipped, then that will work instead of the collar device. There’s a training mode to get your pet used to the opening and closing and you can set the lid closure delay to suit your cat’s needs.

It works fantastically well and absolutely saved our cat from starvation. It looks cool too. One of our best buys in a long time. Around £70.


 The Ecomat 2000 heater

ecomat-classic-plusIf you want the best electric heater for your campervan, caravan or tent, we’ve found it. The trouble is, the cheapest in the range is €155.

It’s hard to know how many people could justify spending probably ten times the amount they’d expect to pay for a small fan heater, but it does have some big advantages that might persuade serious cold weather campers. There are three models in the Ecomat range – the Basic, Classic and Select – and each also has a Plus option. As an example, the Classic Plus version costs around €299.

They’re made in Germany and are very functional to look at. A simple powder-coated box with buttons and a thermostat dial on the top. They’re very small, but best of all, on some settings, they’re all but silent. They have ceramic heating elements, and the temperature always lies below the flashpoint of paper and other solid materials, which the manufacturers claim you can run it day and night and even use it as a frost guard. The PTC heating coil produces a pleasant convection heat and doesn’t dry out the air.

There’s an auto-off if the heater is tipped; fuse protection; a button to select 450W, 750W or 1500W, and it should heat a space up to 80 square metres. All this comes in a super-tiny box of just 185mmx145mmx140mm.

dimplex-mini-radiatorIf the price is just too steep for you, other options include a mini oil-free radiator. These are slower to heat up than a fan heater, but safe to leave on under most conditions, so you could come back to a warm campervan or caravan after a walk or trip to the pub. The baby Dimplex radiator is one of the best and has a 700W output. Around £55.

anna-fan-heaterFor a pretty option, have a look at the PTC Anna fan heaters – slim and stylish with a choice of 700 and 1200W output, plus tip-over protection. They come in a range of colours too. Around £60.


Cordless straighteners

glamoriser-straightenersForgive the vanity, but if you can’t live without straight hair when camping or campervanning, then you might need the Glamoriser straighteners – that’s because they’re cordless, sturdy, lightweight and they work well.

There’s a variable temperature setting (max. 200°C), 120-second heat-up and 24mm wide diamond ceramic plates. Comes with a heatproof pouch and a plug-in charger. Costs around £80.

hfx-cordless-straighteners

Cheaper straighteners tend to snag, not hold their charge so well or not get hot enough. Have a look at the reviews, but watch out for suspiciously written five-star recommendations!

There are cheaper cordless straighteners, of course, but these seem reliable and effective.


Waeco/Dometic CFX compressor fridges

CFX28 Waeco compressor fridgeAfter using a Waeco fridge for a couple of years, we were excited to try this new range. We tested the CFX28, which is  a good size for a couple on a long trip. For a family, though, the CFX35 (32-litre) is probably a better size. Both have a flat top, positive close, sturdy carrying handle and  a divider for the internal wire basket to make things stay in place. They’re tall enough for bottles (unless you place them at the sides because the lip of the lid comes down inside a little), and also have a digital display for temperature (set from below freezing to fridge temperature or higher), USB charging port and interior light. Not cheap (from £450 upwards), but essential for long European summers because they stay at the temperature you want whatever the sun is doing! Use it as a spare fridge at home to justify the cost!

Read our fridge guide here, and our fridge reviews here.


Shave Well camping mirrors

Shave Well travel mirrorA simple (unbreakable) mirror in a choice of options – suction cup for the window of a campervan or hanging chain for in a tent. Nothing fancy, just a clear reflection and a rather heartwarming back-story. The mirrors are made at Sunshine Industries, a vocational training place for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Knoxville, Tennessee.

We spoke to the owner of the company and suggested he’d double his sales if he marketed his mirrors as ‘Make-Up Well’ too. He liked the suggestion. Remember, life is like a mirror. We get the best results when we smile at it! Around £9.


If you’ve used some of the best camping kit – well-designed and functional – do leave a comment below.

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