PINELLAS PARK — I'm not a guy who checks his email while out in the woods. I carry a smartphone in the backcountry, but not because I need to stay plugged in.
This time of year, there are only two things I really care about when camping: a hot cup of coffee and avoiding hypothermia.
The former is easy: just bust out a backpacking stove and fire up the java. But the latter can be a little trickier, especially during the winter, when a cold front can bring wind, rain and freezing temperatures.
That's why I use my smartphone to check the weather radar. Problem is the battery is better-suited for a Barbie phone than one used by an outdoorsman. It usually works the first day and then I find myself looking for the nearest marina or ranger station to hook up to an electrical outlet.
But now, thanks to the new PowerPot charging system, I can have the power I want, plus a cup of joe anywhere I go. The PowerPot, a lightweight, thermoelectric generator that converts heat into DC electrical power, is the answer to all my dreams. In 25 years on the outdoors beat, I've seen my share of innovative products, but the PowerPot is the first one in a while to make me say, "Hmmm."
The concept is simple. Add water to the pot, put it on a heat source (i.e., backpacking stove), plug the wires into the pot and your mobile electronic device, and in a matter of minutes, you're powered up. The PowerPot is equipped with a standard USB (5V) port found in most devices on the market.
The PowerPot works with cellphones, GPS units, iPods and lithium ion batteries. It will also run speakers, lights, fans or other low-power USB appliances. It is relatively lightweight (18.2 ounces with the lid and cord). The pot is expensive — $149, and that is without the stove — but there is nothing else like it. To learn more, go to thepowerpot. com. What else makes for a great gift? Read on:
Best Camp Chair: My gear guru buddy, Darry Jackson at the Bill Jackson Shop for Adventure in Pinellas Park, is always looking for the latest gadgets when he goes to the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City.
"You have got to check this out," he said recently. "This is the most comfortable chair I've ever tried."
I spend a lot of time sitting around campfires telling scary stories, so I've become something of a connoisseur of camp chairs. The Strongback Elite chair ($79.95, strongbackchair.com), with its frame-integrated lumbar support, did not disappoint. It costs more than your typical big box store variety, but I figure if you break it down by the hour, or even minute, then this chair costs just pennies per snore session.
Caffeine King: Did I mention that I love coffee? If Santa is listening, I hope he brings me the new Jetboil Flash Java Kit ($99, jetboil.com). Brew two cups of perfect coffee in just two minutes with this device that packs down to the size of a water bottle. Stick it in the hull of your kayak, tackle box, or keep one in your top desk drawer and head out on your coffee break and brew a batch in the parking lot. This is a must for every caffeine-addicted outdoors person.
These are just a few of the items on my wish list. To see more in a photo gallery accompanying this story, go to tampabay.com/ outdoors.