Nothing’s more frenetic than the rat race of tech-driven gear. Like most product-first industries, it’s in a perpetual state of reinvention (read: build a mouse trap that’s better than anyone else!). But for the companies that are trying to survive in the shark-infested waters of constant competition and endless innovation that is technology, the ideas have to be cranked to 11. Here are some that are making waves, from a device that turns your cell phones into an off-the-grid communication system to the best damn way to make sure you’re always drinking safe water.
1. Tivoli Model One BT, $180; 2. goTenna Mesh, $179 (pre-order for $149); 3. Google Trips, Free; 4. Outdoor Tech Buckshot Pro, $80; 5. MSR TrailShot Pocket-Sized Water Filter, $50 6. BioLite SolarPanel 10+, $130; 7. Snow Peak Hozuki Lantern 2.0, $100.
Nathan Borchelt is a gear-obsessed travel writer and adventurer whose collection of shoes, backpacks, jackets, bags, and other “essential” detritus has long-outgrown his one-bedroom apartment (and his wife’s patience).
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Tivoli Model One BT
There aren't a lot of companies that offer a 30-day in-home "audition period" of their products, and that's not even what makes Tivoli's radios and speaker systems stand out. It's their unyielding adherence to sonic quality and an enduring, classic aesthetic. But up until last month, their tabletop radios weren't terribly tech-inclined, either. That changes with the Model One BT, which adds seamless Bluetooth connectivity to your smart devices to help bolster the entertainment factor beyond just the AM/FM dial. You'll want to leave it sitting prominently on your bookshelf, but consider taking it with you for a long day, poolside. The only downside from a travel perspective? You need an outlet.
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GoTenna already solved the problem of staying in contact without cell service with their first release (aptly named goTenna), which specifically targeted the outdoor space. But their new Mesh streamlines the service to a few core features to make it more accessible to all travelers, not just those that live off the grid. With the Mesh, you get the ability to message people without cell or data coverage, offline access to interactive maps, and location sharing. It pairs via Bluetooth to iOS and Android devices, and privately routes your messages through other Mesh users to reach its target. Two people in different parts of a foreign land can now stay in contact without paying for international coverage; range is one mile for congested environs like cities, and three miles in more open areas.
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Artfully balanced between "awesome" and "creepy," Google's free Trips app accesses different parts of your various smart phone features (email, photo library) to understand where you're traveling in order to produce an array of interactive half- and full-day itineraries, along with round-ups of various attractions like nearby museums, cafes, beaches, kid-friendly hot spots, or outdoor pursuits. They also nest your various details (hotel and flight reservations) for one-stop access (sorta similar to TripIt), and pulls together a cool "history" of other places you've visited based on the lat-long data imprinted when you took a photo. It ain't perfect—book a hotel with a travel agent based in Winter Park, Colorado, and it might think you're going there instead of the place you've booked. But for a free app, it's surprisingly robust, another confident step in Google's goal to become all things to all folks.
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Outdoor Tech Buckshot Pro
Music meets flashlight meets charging station in this three-in-one package—and you can even strap it to your bike's handlebars. At a full charge the Bluetooth-enabled speaker will play for ten hours, while the flashlight component includes three modes, including a cycle-friendly strobe setting, and can work as a small lantern. It's also water and shock resistant, dust proof, can operate as a speaker phone, and can charge devices via USB if all other portable power options have been drained.
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MSR TrailShot Pocket-Sized Water Filter
Not all travel tech needs to run on electricity. The new TrailShot water filter is small enough to stash in a small pocket, but powerful enough to let you drink directly from any outdoor water source for instant hydration. As with all of MSR's water treatment system, the hand pump-operated TrailShot has been put through its paces, and will filter out bacteria, protozoa, and particulates.
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BioLite SolarPanel 10+
BioLite recently expanded their award-winning solar panel line to include the bigger boy on the block. The dual-panel 10+ boast a power output of 10 watts via USB, running off a 3000 lith-ion battery that reaches a full charge in 1.2 hours of direct sun exposure; enough to power up your smart phone in one hour, or a GoPro Hero 5 camera in 30 minutes. The flip-out panel makes it easy to store, and kickstand affords easy positioning when charging; the included sundial assures you've achieved the optimal angle. Their new portable charge packs—the Charge 10a dn 20-are also viable methods of assuring that you don't run low on battery charges, with a weather-resistant stainless steel design.
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Snow Peak Hozuki Lantern 2.0
Already a winner, the new take on the now-classic Hozuki Lantern includes improvements to its "LED Candle Mode," which creates a realistic flicker of light with variations in breeze or noise, along with a new Sleep Mode, which turns off the lantern when things become silent, reserving precious power in the new, rechargeable battery. The hook has also been re-envisioned to double as a light stand. The new design comes in white as well as moss and bark.