Green gadgets for camp and cottage

Save money, save fuel and save the earth: that’s the message behind travel trends again this year. Going to the cottage and camping (whether it’s in a tent or RV) are still popular summer pastimes and one of the least expensive vacations out there. If you’re thinking green this year, we’ve got some gadgets for the environmental conscience:

Lights on

Kerosene, candles and batteries continue to make way for renewable sources that won’t burn out, avoid being affected by heat or cold, and use long-lasting LED bulbs. If you can shake, crank, squeeze or find some sun, you’ll always have access to light. Try some of these options:

– The NOMA LED Shake Flashlight ($17.99) features an electromagnetic magnet and metal coil to recharge the battery by shaking the device. For a few dollars more, you can get two settings on the Crank Lite ($19.99) as well as a compass and cell phone charger. However, if you’re looking for something a little smaller and less expensive, try Lee Valley’s Mini Dynamo Flashlight ($9.50). It’s tiny enough to fit in your pocket, glove compartment or tackle box.

– If you’re looking for brighter or ambient light, try the Dynamo Camping Lantern (Lee Valley, $23.50). It has two settings for brightness and recharges with a hand crank (two minutes cranking equals half hour of light). The lantern can also make use of resources: It comes with a DC car adapter to charge the batteries, and you can get an AC/DC for it as well.

– L.L. Bean’s Solar Clamp ($39.95 USD) recharges without any physical effort, just a few hours of sunlight yields eight hours of light. A sturdy clamp lets you attach it to your grill, picnic table or deck railing.

– If you’re looking to save space when you pack, try a Folding lantern ($29.50) — the lantern folds flat and is lightweight to carry.

These products are just sampling of what’s available, and they’re not just for summer fun. Easy-to-recharge light sources are great back-ups in case of an emergency.


Lights aren’t the only thing using alternative sources of energy this summer. There’s a wider variety of solar-powered devices and chargers available on the market:

– RVs can be outfitted with solar panels charge the 12 volt batteries that run lighting, water pumps and small appliances. An inverter can be used instead of propane or a gas-powdered generator to run 120 volt appliances, like a microwave, toaster or vacuum. The idea isn’t new, but new and improved kits are always becoming available as the technology develops.

– You can use solar power to recharge just about anything, including cell phones, laptops, rechargeable batteries, car batteries and portable music players. The trick is to find a product to suit your needs. There are many small, lightweight chargers on the market that can provide a little extra power to your cell phone in an emergency, or power up a set of AA batteries.

– Larger and more powerful chargers will be needed for a laptop or boat battery. Prices range from about $25 to $600, so it’s important to assess your needs and talk to an expert. Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) has a variety of products for camping and cottage, including charges and solar powered vehicle lamps.

– A radio is essential to for weather reports and to provide valuable information in an emergency, but the old batteries used to power them can go dead or leak acid. Try a Hand-Crank Radio with Solar Panel instead (Lee Valley, $24.50).

When considering your power needs, remember that some products “trickle charge” — meaning they compensate for the power the battery loses when not in use, thus maintaining a full charge for stand-by items. Trickle charge type rechargers tend to be less expensive, but they recharge rate is slower.

Stay cool

If road trips are in your future, you’re probably aware of the current debate over whether to roll down the windows or use the air conditioner to cool down. However, there are other products on the market that are designed to help keep you cool when sitting for long periods of time. For instance, the Cooling Air Cushion ($49.99) has you covered for long road trips.

To improve air circulation in an RV, try a Door Way Fan ($25) which can be mounted in an out-of-the-way location. Cooling products and onboard fans may just be a way to decrease dependency on the A/C.

If you’re outdoors, it may not be possible to find a shady spot when the sun peaks. Instead, you may want to consider setting up a portable refuge, like the Sunbuster Shelter from L.L. Bean ($89.00 USD, $99.00 USD with privacy screen). It’s about the size and shape of half a tent, and can be set up anywhere to provide shade.


While not technically a gadget, biodegradable soaps are promoted as being better for the environment than their traditional counterparts. However, the soaps need bacteria in the soil time to biodegrade and are harmful if they end up in rivers, streams and lakes. If you must use soap, keep it well away from fresh water and bury the suds if possible. If you really want to be green, Parks Canada recommends going soap-free altogether.

And if rising gas costs have you thinking of trying gas-saving additives or gadgets, you’ll want to remember last year’s advice from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) before you purchase these products. “The vast majority of gas-conserving products are not viable solutions for squeezing mileage out of vehicles,” the advice warns. The BBB’s advice for improving fuel economy? Watch your driving habits, keep your vehicle in good shape and reduce excess weight.

Got a favourite gadget or tip to share? Post it in the comments.

Photo © Nacino

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