Fresh camping gear makes the Great Outdoors a bit more modern

By Emily Haile
October 3, 2012
Courtesy SolLight

The leaves are changing, the air is getting crisp. It's a great time of the year for camping. We've rounded up some neat (and affordable) gadgets to help you weather the wild. And keep these in mind for any outdoorsy folks on your holiday gift list this year.

It's a water bottle! No, it's a flashlight! Wait—it's both! The LightCap is a one-liter bottle that has a solar panel on the lid. Charge it in the sun all day and you'll have up to six hours of light to guide you at night. ($25)

There's nothing like drinking wine around the campfire. But who wants to lug around fragile bottles that you have to drink in one sitting? The Bota Box holds four bottles' worth of California wine in a lightweight box with a handle. It stays fresh more than a month after opening (about $20).

Souped-up tents are out, apparently. Hammocks are the new black. REI's travel hammock won't break the bank, and comes with a built-in mosquito net to protect you from the little beasts ($39). The Hennessy Hammock comes with netting, a detachable rain fly, and support ropes. "It's especially popular with teens who don’t want to sleep in the big tent with Mom and Dad," says the site (from $80).

The lightweight, pocket-sized HYmini charger converts wind and solar energy into a power source for all your gadgets. In just 20 minutes, you can tack 40 minutes of life onto your MP3 player or take an additional 20 photos with your camera. Think of all the power you could harness on a long bike ride (from $50).

Find these and more thought-provoking ideas for camping gear at, the travel goods blog.

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Philly's Please Touch Museum gets a new building and new exhibits

Dedicated to children 7 and younger, the expanded Please Touch Museum opens this Saturday (Oct. 18). Its new home in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park is Memorial Hall, a Beaux Arts gem opened in 1876 to host a World’s Fair. Compared with its former digs, the museum now has three times more exhibition space (plus expanded parking outside). A magical Alice in Wonderland exhibit takes visitors down the Rabbit Hole in a former in-ground swimming pool. No matter what the weather is like outside, kids can experiment with waterwheels and toy boats at an indoor water play area. My daughter Ella and I had loads of fun at the museum’s special press preview last week. When we wandered into the Roadside Attractions exhibit, it didn’t surprise me that Ella, already a backseat driver, went straight for the kid-size hot rod with flames streaking alongside the car side panels. She must've been a racecar driver in her previous life! A ride of a different sort capped off our visit. We took a spin on the museum’s newly restored 1924 Dentzel Carousel, with 52 hand-carved animals. It's housed in a beautiful glass-enclosed space. This Saturday’s opening festivities begin with a brief welcome from Mayor Michael Nutter and include a performance by Fandango—a rock band that entertains kids—and costumed characters that will interact with visitors all day long. Please Touch Museum, 215/963-0667,, open daily, $15, free for babies under the age of 1, carousel rides $3, parking $5. —Helen I. Hwang, author of All Grown Up: Please Touch Museum and its Move to Memorial Hall (available at the museum’s kids store beginning Nov. 1).


Iceland on sale for the next year or so

My colleagues and I feel odd saying this, but the financial crisis in Iceland makes for great news for American travelers. The U.S. dollar buys twice as much in Iceland today than it did a year ago. And the country is not as far away as you might think. As my fellow BT editor Kate Appleton points out, it's closer to fly between New York City and Iceland's capital, Reykjavík, than it is to fly from the Big Apple to L.A. The Icelandic Tourist Bureau has just told us that Icelandair has just slashed fares from New York or Boston to $400 roundtrip, "about what a one-way fare once cost." This fare is good for travel November 1 through March 31, 2009. IcelandAir has revamped its seats and interiors on its airplanes for economy- and business-class passengers. And starting in November, the airline will have an easier-to-use website featuring online check-in (with matching kiosks to match at airport terminals). IcelandAir flies from Boston, New York-JFK, Minneapolis/St. Paul (seasonal), and Orlando. This past February, Budget Travel sent Jennifer Sabo to Reykjavík to take photos and notes about what it's like there in the off-season. Read her report: "Reykjavík: Cold, Dark, and Handsome." This view of Iceland's appeal has been seconded by our colleague Marilyn Terrell at National Geographic. Terrell says: "You can get a hot dog in Reykjavík for less than in Central Park." She also notes that the Intelligent Traveler blog has an "Iceland on the Cheap" report and photo slide show. For more on hot dogs and other comfort foods in Iceland, see Budget Travel's story "Eat Like a Local: Reykjavík." My BT colleague Summar Ghias says that, despite the cold, Iceland is a great spot to go for New Year's Eve celebrations. "Icelandic law allows a firework free-for-all on New Year's Eve, making for a raucous night in the capital city. Elves, trolls, and other costumed creatures sing and dance at 11 bonfires scattered across Reykjavík." The island is easy to drive around, despite winter weather. There is only one main highway circling the island's key spots, and the country has become super-adept at keeping its roadways free and safe. So…in case you were wondering: What is there to do in Iceland? Attractions include: Hveragerdi, a hot-spring village that uses geothermal water to warm greenhouses. Skaftafell National Park, near Kirkjubæjarklaustur village. The park sits on one of Europe's largest glaciers and is made up of three different geological areas: Skaftafell and Skeioarársandur, a volcano and outwash plain; Lakagígar, a crater area on a volcanic fissure; and the glacial cap. Gape at icebergs in the glacial lake—while they last! The picture-perfect scenery has been a backdrop in many popular movies and TV shows filmed here, among them two James Bond movies (Die Another Day and A View to a Kill), Batman Begins, and The Amazing Race 6. Explore the Golden Circle, home to hot springs, colorful mud pools, and blowholes. Volcanoes aren't far away. If you haven any thoughts on Iceland, feel free to share by posting a comment.


Boston: A new trail on the historical scene

Boston's newest walking trail, the Norman B. Leventhal Walk to the Sea, is a one-mile route from Beacon Hill to Boston Harbor lined with 10 panels displaying old maps and photos of the city from its days as a colonial port until today. You can download a map of the trail—which threads down Beacon, Tremont, Court, and State Streets before ending at the Long Wharf—from its website. You can even read the contents of each panel via the website if you can't pound the pavement in person.


A satire of Western movies that tours the U.S. this month was a surprise hit in Paris

Paris may possibly be the furthest thing one can imagine from the Wild West. But for one month this fall, a rip-roaring show called "The Spaghetti Western Orchestra" brought a little bit of the mythical frontier to a corner of the 11th arrondissement. And the show comes to the U.S. for a tour toward the end of this month. The modern-day cowboys are actually a group of Australian musicians playing the songs of Ennio Morricone, an Academy-Award winning composer of American western films like A Fistful of Dollars (which starred Clint Eastwood). Even if you have not seen the movies, most of the songs are instantly recognizable. At one recent performance, even French members of the audience were able to join in for a sing-along of sorts to the theme of Le Bon, Le Brut et le Truand (from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly). "The show is popular wherever we play it," said Graeme Leak, one of the musicians, in an e-mail interview. "It reminds people of the old days of cinema when you left the theater with almost a euphoric feeling." Anyone who came to the show expecting a full orchestra may have been surprised to find just five musicians on the stage, although the performers do play 100 instruments between them. In addition to a full range of traditional instruments, the performance features sound effects using cornflakes, clinking bottles, and a rubber glove. "The Spaghetti Western Orchestra" also is not just a concert. The five musicians each play a character: the bank teller, the lie teller, the young feller, the "raconteur" (storyteller), and the mysterious "goldschmeller." Skits and stories are interspersed between the songs, both to pay homage to and poke fun at the old western films, complete with "gun shots" and creaky hinges. A sample skit: One of the characters has the "wrong" script, so they run a clothesline across the stage to transfer the script from one character to another. The lines of the character who lost his script are the same word over and over. ("Yeah." ..."Yeah." ..."Yeah.") The performers have perfected their cheesy Western accents, even though they are native Australians. In Paris, most of the dialogue was spoken in English, with a few terribly pronounced words in French thrown in to make the audience laugh. "Whenever we arrive in a new country it takes a few days for us to work in the right mix of language and references," said Leak, who plays the bank teller. "We are not multi-lingual, but we try to include some words and references in the language of our host country to bring the audience closer to us." The language barrier didn’t seem to be a problem in Paris, as the few hundred audience members laughed, clapped and sang along (with cue cards). At the end of the performance the musicians returned for three curtain calls, eventually leading to a standing ovation. The "Orchestra" first came together in Australia in 2000. Stints at the 2006 Edinburgh Festival and the 2007 Montreal Jazz Festival proved a great success, and the show has since played in in the German cities of Hamburg and Cologne. The American tour dates are as follows: October 24 at the State Theater in New Brunswick, N.J. October 25 at Proctors Theater in Schenectady, N.Y. October 27 at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, Vt. October 28 at the Hopkins Center for the Arts in Hanover, N.H. October 31 at the Carlsen Center in Overland Park, Kans. November 6 at the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts in Wickenberg, Ariz. November 7 and 8 at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts in Scottsdale, Ariz. November 10 at the UT Tyler Cowan Center in Tyler, Tex. November 11 at the Memorial Student Center at Texas A&M; University in College Station, Tex. Ticket prices range from $20 to $55, depending on the venue. For more information, visit —Liz Webber, reporting from Paris