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Go Outside — Summer 2008 | Out Here Magazine

State-of-the-art camping gear makes roughing it a bit smoother

By Johnny Molloy

Camping isn't exactly what it used to be. The days of pitching a single-wall canvas tent are as antiquated as the rotary home phone, due, in part, to ever-advancing technology that entices people to stay indoors with their video games and computers.

A recent Nature Conservancy study revealed that as video game play increased, visits to national parks, camping, fishing, and other outdoor recreation have fallen as much as 25 percent.

But just as technology has crept into our daily home lives, it also has made its way into the back of beyond. And rather than fight an irreversible trend, consider embracing what technology can do in the "new outdoors," where roughing it has never been so smooth.

Now, we're not talking RVs here, but rather simply taking advantage of changes that make tent camping a little easier.

These items just may make spending the night under the stars and exploring the wilderness a little easier — and fun:

GPS (Global Positioning System) — These handy devices have come a long way in the past few years. Now, you can download topographic or aerial maps onto the GPS and see exactly where you are, where you are going, and where you have been. It's like a real-life outdoor video game, and can be a real lifesaver.

LED headlamp — Leave the clunker flashlight at home. Nowadays, energy-stingy headlamps light the way hands-free and weigh so little you won't even feel them on your head. Or clip a tiny but powerful LED light — operated by a watch battery — to the brim of your ball cap.

Electric airbed pump — Today's portable camping mattresses can be blown up or decompressed using a portable battery-powered pump. Simply slip the pump nozzle into the air mattress, push the "on" button and you have a comfy cradle in moments. With the flick of a switch you can reverse the fan on the pump to let the air out.

Two-way radio — Modern two-way radios are high-powered, long-ranged, and quickly rechargeable. Higher-end models are waterproof and virtually indestructible. You and the kids can stay in touch at the campground or on the trail. Truth is, everybody has fun with these, despite their practicality.

Electric tent — Unbelievably, the latest tents are now wired with multiple DC outlets, all powered by a sealed power pack that can be recharged or connected to a car battery. Run lights, a fan, or charge the two-way radio.

Weather radio — Choose a model built for the outdoors and it will serve you well. Instantaneous local information — no matter where you are — allows you to learn the rain is coming before it comes and clear the picnic table in time. Also, you can set the weather radio to come on when it issues severe weather warnings, such as thunderstorms, flash floods, and/or tornadoes.

Johnny Molloy is a Johnson City, TN-based author of more than 30 outdoor-related books.