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The Verge’s favorite summer gear for 2021

Everyone’s heading outside, and here’s what they’re bringing

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Photo: Wise Owl Outfitters

After over a year of indoor living, people are finally able to go out and enjoy the outdoors: beaches, sports, hiking, camping, bird-watching, bicycling, picnics… you name it. We asked some of our colleagues from The Verge what they were planning to take with them in their outdoor escapes. Here are some of their recommendations, including outdoor tech, camera gear, rugged footwear, and gadgets that help you take it easy.

Outdoor tech

ZMI PowerPack 20000

Twelve months predominantly spent indoors did wonders for my battery anxiety. Not only was I using my phone less, thanks to having constant easy access to a tablet and laptop, but even when my phone got close to running out, my trusty charger was never far out of reach. However, I know that’s going to change this summer, and I’ll be confronted by the fact that my shiny new iPhone 12 Pro’s battery life really isn’t as great as I’d like it to be.

That means it’s time to bust out my ZMI QB820 PowerPack (more recently released as the ZMI PowerPack 20000), a hulking brick of a portable charger equipped with a massive 20,000mAh battery. Yes, I could probably get a slimmer model, but to me those feel like a half-measure: if I’m going to bother to carry a standalone portable charger, it might as well be massive. It charges over USB-C, and there are two additional USB-A ports to charge other devices.

It’s basically the last portable charger I see myself needing. Well, until someone makes an identical model with MagSafe, I guess. — Jon Porter


Jabra Elite 75t

For a while, I was resisting the urge to get a pair of fully wireless earbuds — I usually listen to podcasts or audiobooks when I’m walking around, and my old single-ear Plantronics Explorer 500 headset worked fine. But the idea of being able to sit outside on a summer’s day listening to music finally proved just too much for me, so I checked out The Verge’s roundup of best wireless earbuds.

My main phone is an Android and in addition, I’ve put myself on a budget, so the top-rated AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM4 were both out of range. I finally went for the Jabra Elite 75t earbuds — and so far, I’m very happy with them. They have good sound quality (especially after I tweaked the settings); they work with two devices at the same time, which I find very useful when I’m working on my laptop and somebody calls; and I was able to get a pretty good deal on them during Amazon’s Prime Day sales (especially since the 75t is one iteration down from the more recent 85t model).

Unfortunately, old habits are a bit hard to break, and I find myself, more often than not, only using a single earbud (the right one) as if I were still wearing my Plantronics headset. But for those times this summer that I want to listen to music, I’m set. — Barbara Krasnoff


Sonos Roam portable speaker

For the longest time, my go-to portable speaker for camping and backpacking was the UE Roll 2. It was small and efficient, but it didn’t mesh well with the rest of my audio setup, especially on those sweltering summer days when I barely made it beyond the confines of my own backyard.

This year, however, I splurged on the Sonos Roam. The rugged, pint-sized device is on the pricier side when compared to other Bluetooth speakers, but it produces solid sound for the size, offers wireless charging, and can automatically jump between my home Wi-Fi network and Bluetooth, a convenience I’ve come to appreciate when strapping the speaker to my bike and heading out the door.

And while I might not be able to fire off my usual quips at Alexa when I take it into the backcountry — the Roam only supports voice commands when connected to Wi-Fi — I certainly can still do it poolside with a drink in hand. — Brandon Widder


Get out your camera

Topo Designs Camera Cube

Years of daily bus commuting turned me into a person who needs their backpack to do everything — hold a laptop, water bottle, snacks, sundries, actual roller skates, you name it. As versatile as camera backpacks have become, I still can’t convince myself to buy a backpack that only has one job. The Camera Cube was invented for people like me.

If your camera kit is on the lighter and smaller side, then Topo’s camera cube is a fantastic way to turn all of your bags into camera bags. I’ve used it with a Topo hiking backpack on many a day hike, and I appreciate the drawstring closure that keeps my camera gear more secure inside the cube. It also fits into my non-hiking backpack and technically in my Madewell Transport Tote, though it’s usually too heavy to wear on my shoulder for very long.

It comes with removable foam dividers so you can divvy up the storage space for an extra lens or two, but I’ve found it’s also a handy way to store a bagged PB&J where it won’t get crushed on a long hike. The navy and yellow color option is also quite attractive. It’s a little too small for a big DSLR and a zoom lens, but it’s the perfect fit for my compact mirrorless kit, and a small victory in my quest to avoid uni-tasking backpacks. — Allison Johnson


Holga 120N Plastic Camera

This low-tech classic camera has made some of my favorite photographing memories. It’s all plastic and has a fixed setting of 60mm f/8 using medium-format 120 film. The Holga has a cult following because of its price and the charm in the imperfections it creates. There is an artistry to taping the camera in different ways to block light leaks and other quirks, and the occasional softness from bowing film or the vignetting look is where Instagram got the look for its filters. — Amelia Holowaty Krales


Easy living

SodaStream Fizzi Sparkling Water Maker

I always have two to three drinks with me at any given time, and at some point in the last couple of years I became hyper-aware of the number of plastic bottles I was using just to drink pop or seltzer. (I’m from the Midwest — it’s pop not soda!) I tried to switch to glass bottles, but that got expensive. After much deliberation and a sorry attempt at trying to become a strictly water and coffee drinker, I decided to get a SodaStream.

I’ve only had the SodaStream Fizzi for a while, but I am so thrilled with it. I use it every day to make my own sodas and sparkling waters, and to add a little flair to homemade cocktails. There are a large variety of recipes online, but it’s more fun to get creative with different flavors. Lately, I’ve been using fresh peaches and some muddled mint from my herb garden for a fantastic refresher!

The SodaStream Fizzi does have a small learning curve and takes some experimentation to find the amount of bubbles that you like, but it’s a blast to use. — Kaitlin Hatton


Wise Owl Portable Hammock

I bought a hammock last year, and I’m never going back to any other way of relaxing in a park over the summer. It’s super portable, super easy to set up, and perfect for just taking a lazy Sunday, reading a book, and watching the clouds roll by. — Chaim Gartenberg


Kindle Paperwhite

Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite e-reader is a great gadget that lets you read books outside without having to worry about things like lugging around a thousand-page tome or dealing with the potential of wet pages. The Paperwhite’s E Ink screen is very visible outdoors (unlike most phone screens, which can be harder to see in bright sunshine), and the newest Paperwhite is waterproof, meaning it should be able to safely handle a splash or even a brief dip in the pool. Happy reading. — Jay Peters


Summer walking

Birkenstock Milano sandals

Yes, I am recommending a pair of sandals. I’m justifying them on this list as technology for your feet.

For years, my go-to summer footwear was $20 flip flops, but those usually broke by the end of the summer and I didn’t particularly enjoy walking around in them. I’ve only owned the Birkenstock Milano sandals for two months, but they’ve become my favorite pair of shoes I’ve ever owned.

After a week or so of breaking them in, they fit like a dream, and I’ve already taken them on many long walks. I can’t wait to use them during the summer weeks ahead. I went with the Milano style because of the strap on the back so that they would be better for extended adventures.

At $125, they’re certainly the most expensive pair of sandals I’ve ever purchased, but they have already proven their worth. — Jay Peters


Saucony Peregrine 11 Trail Runners

I invite you to click through and look at these Trapper-Keeper-ass shoes. Really, just get their vibe. I spent a lot of the pandemic hiking — hell, I even took up running — and these trail runners from Saucony are really, really good. They’re grippy on uncertain terrain without being too heavy or stiff, so whether I want to jog on some dirt or knock out a long hike, these are my go-tos. Obviously, the shoe that works best for you will vary based on your foot and gait and so on, but if you’re thinking of taking up hiking, trail runners are lighter than hiking boots and often more comfortable. Plus, you can wear some genuinely shocking neon. — Liz Lopatto


Cairn Pro II Adventure Sandals

If you want to go hiking and, like me, find hiking boots unbearably uncomfortable (especially in the summertime), I can give these sandals from Bedrock Sandals two thumbs up for being ultra-comfortable and durable hiking shoes that will keep being comfortable even after a river crossing or five (and for being versatile enough to bike in and wear to the beach or grocery store). — Mitchell Clark