With spring comes the call of the wild. Whether you're a backpacker, a wilderness canoeist, a hunter or an angler, nothing matches the serenity of the forest or mountaintop or pristine lake unsullied by civilization. However, for many of us, electronics have become an indispensable part of our lives. And while the futuristic Orange Solar Concept Tent, with its wireless control hub and solar-power generating fabric is not yet available, there are gadgets you can buy right now. In fact, new devices have made the wilderness experience safer and getting lost — obsolete. Among the coolest devices in wilderness tech we've found:
The Garmin Rino 110 FRS GPS Radio
This gizmo helps keep your wilderness troop safe in two ways. The family radio service (FRS) feature is a two-way radio. Each member can keep in verbal communication with others over a range of a couple of miles, a great help for keeping track of dawdlers on the trail or the lake.
The GPS feature will pinpoint your location within a few feet anywhere in the world. You can even beam your location to others carrying their own Rino 110s. Use this feature and a good topographic map and you'll never get lost.
The best deal: Try ePal, for $140 with free shipping.
The Delorme Earthmate PN-60W GPS unit
Don't want to lug around topo maps? Want to keep the loved ones at home updated on your progress while you're in the wilderness? The rather pricey Earthmate will fulfill both desires. The handheld unit contains a variety of maps, including detailed wilderness and trail ones that will tell you where you are with exactitude.
It also includes the SPOT Satellite Communicator (noted below as a separate unit), which allows you to send predefined text messages up to 40 characters, including SOS, via satellite link, from far beyond the range of any cell phone. You can even update your Twitter page, or check in to Foursquare from the peak of Denali. You'll incur a $99.99 a year charge for this basic satellite text feature.
You can also send custom text messages for around thirty cents apiece, when purchased as a bundle of 100 messages for $29.99.
Best Deal: Eastern Mountain Sports is selling the Earthmate PN-60W for $450.
SPOT Connect Satellite Communicator
There are a number of apps available for smart phones that upload detailed maps and take advantage of a phone's built-in GPS technology. If you decide to go this route, you can still hook into the aforementioned SPOT Satellite system with this portable Communicator, which links wirelessly to your phone. Like the Earthmate, the Communicator allows you to send SOS messages and predefined check-ins to friends for $99.99 a year, and typed messages for around 30 cents apiece (neither option included in the price of the device).
The Communicator weighs only 4.9 ounces and occupies a mere 10 cubic inches.
Best Deal: REI has it for $150.
Kestrel 2500 Pocket Weather Meter 2011
Any outdoor buff knows that weather plays a huge part in not just enjoying the outdoors, but doing so safely. One thunderstorm experience on a stony mountain ridge or gale in the middle of a lake is enough to make one wish for some weather news beforehand.
The Pocket Weather Meter can help make that wish come true. It keeps track of air pressure (which can help predict foul weather on the way), altitude, wind speed and direction and temperature. It's also handy for taking water temperatures before deciding whether to go for an impromptu dip in a hot spring or mountain pond.
Best Deal: Amazon, at $149 with free shipping.
Brunton Inspire Portable Power Device
Of course, the challenge to using any of these wondrous electronics in the wild is keeping them powered. There are two solutions to this dilemma. The first is the Brunton Inspire, essentially a large battery that can be charged up at home, then used in camp to recharge your phone, camera or other devices. It stores 11.8 watt hours, enough to fully recharge your smart phone two or three times via its USB port. The Inspire can be recharged up to 500 times and only weighs 5.5 ounces, an important concern for those carrying their abode on their back.
Best Deal: Get it from REI for $59 with free site-to-store shipping.
Brunton F-Solarroll9 Solar Panel
Don't like the idea of lugging around a battery to recharge your batteries? If you are spending your days in the sunshine, then you might want to consider the Brunton F-Solarroll9. It's a flexible, rollable solar panel that soaks up the energy of the sun to reinvigorate your handheld devices. It's waterproof, only weighs 10.6 ounces and will output 9 watts.
Best Deal: You can get one from Amazon for $209, with free shipping.