Tent? Check. Bug spray? Check. Sleeping bag? Of course. Global access to information? Absolutely! When people think of camping, they tend to think of fresh air, the great outdoors and an opportunity to get away from it all. Access to the Internet isn't generally a top priority.
For serious Internet addicts, however, staying wired in while you're camping out can be a real concern. Even if you pack your smartphone and laptop computer, there are still remote regions of the globe where internet access remains sketchy and power sources are few and far between. Luckily, today's wired world offers plenty of gadgets to help you stay connected. In this article, we'll reveal our favorite gadgets for keeping your internet devices charged, finding access to WiFi, creating hotspots of your own and boosting your broadband signal -- even when you're far away from civilization. First up, let's plug into Google Earth!
Google Earth: Find Wireless Hotspots AND Great Fishing Holes
Google Earth is an endlessly entertaining and helpful free application for desktop computers, the Web and mobile devices. Load the Google Earth app onto your smartphone for detailed views of just about anywhere on Earth. You can even explore Mars and the Moon!
Use Google Earth in conjunction with a GPS device or your GPS-enabled smart phone to navigate to fishing holes, hiking trails and any number of geographic locations that aren't marked on old-fashioned paper maps. For internet addicts, Google Earth's search feature allows you to quickly locate campsites that offer WiFi access. Online camping directories such as camp-wireless.org provide waypoints (GPS Coordinates) for campsites around the world that offer internet access. Click the waypoint links to quickly view any these sites in Google Earth. You can even use the waypoint data to create your own custom layer in Google Earth that will allow you to overlay Google Earth's satellite images with locations of your favorite Wi-Fi enabled campgrounds, parks and public spaces.
Using Google Earth to find campsites with Internet access is a great first step, but serious information addicts will want a way to stay connected when they venture away from base camp. Find out how on the next page.
Staying Connected With Mobile Hotspots and WiMAX
Today, many smartphones including iPhone and Android devices can legally be used as mobile hotspots. Look at your phone's manual to see if it has the capability to provide WiFi access to your laptop and other devices. For smartphones that don't come with the wireless hotspot feature, apps like MyWi try to fill in the gaps. Be careful with these; they generally require that you jailbreak your phone, and data charges can be costly.
Another great way to stay connected when you are away from a standard wireless network is to use WiMAX devices. Companies like Clear, Sprint, Comcast and others now offer hardware that will enable you to take your broadband Internet service with you wherever you go. These devices usually take the form of small hubs for wirelessly powering multiple devices or USB modems, designed to power a single device to which they are connected.
Mobile hotspots and WiMAX devices definitely provide Internet on the go, but coverage areas vary. If you plan to camp in a remote location, you may need to find a way to boost your WiFi signal. From Pringles cans to professionally crafted WiFi antennas, find out how to amplify your WiFi signal in the next section.
Cantenna to the Rescue!
You're in the middle of a six-mile (9.65-kilometer) trek up the side of a mountain when your cell phone signal vanishes, taking your mobile hotspot or your WiMAX connection with it. If you've packed some Pringles, a few bits of hardware and some tools, you may still be able to save the situation.
Do a Web search for "Pringles can antenna," and you'll find multiple home-brewed solutions for creating a device to boost your WiFi signal. These Pringles "cantennas" are endlessly helpful, whether you're trying to access a neighbor's wireless network or boost your own while you're out in the wild. Keep in mind that FCC guidelines do apply, even to these homemade devices. Authors of these hacks are also careful to point out that you use these devices at your own risk.
If building electronics isn't your forte, you can also purchase a WiFi antenna booster. RadioLabs has written a great overview of the different types of WiFi antennae available today. Wireless Garden Inc. makes a WiFi antenna, the "Super Cantenna," small enough to be chucked into a backpack.
For an even more powerful WiFi boost, however, satellite is the only way to go. Read on for details!
Satellite Wi-Fi Antennae for the Seriously Addicted
There are many reasons for wanting or needing Internet access in very remote areas. Maybe you're conducting important research. Maybe you're part of a medical or rescue team. Whether your reason is noble or you've simply hit rock-bottom trying to access new episodes of "The Vampire Diaries" in the middle of the rainforest, the technology exists to access the Internet even in the world's wildest regions.
Internet addicts who plan to camp in the most remote parts of the world will need to step up to satellite technology. Satellite Internet service isn't cheap. This type of service is popular on ships, on transcontinental vehicles and for use by first responders. One popular satellite Internet provider, Ground Control, advertises portable models starting around $1,650 and ranging up to $13,000+ [source: Groundcontrol]. The hardware is only part of the picture, however. You'll also need to pay for the data you download.
Even if you invest in one of these systems, you will still need a way to power the device. We look at alternative ways to charge your Internet devices in our final section.
Power Up! The Plug-less Path to Power
Electrical outlets are few and far between when you're out in the wild, and lugging a generator into the jungle isn't always practical.
One nifty little alternative power source is the wind-up cell phone charger. Wind a small hand crank to create kinetic energy. Wind-up chargers store up kinetic energy and convert it usable power. Similarly, rechargeable kinetic batteries are under development. Design engineers Yeon Kyeong Hwang and Mieong Ho Kang have proposed a rechargeable AA battery design that uses a spring and a twisting action to charge a Ni-mH battery, and Brother is researching technology that would utilize a shaking action to recharge batteries [sources: Yankodesign, Samaniego].
Until kinetic rechargeable batteries become commercially available, you can invest in a battery or solar-powered USB charger. If you are so inclined, you can even make your own from a kit such as the MintyBoost. Before purchasing or building a battery powered USB charger, be sure to check whether it will work for the device you want to power.
Got another essential gadget for staying wired up when you're camping out? Be sure to let us know in the comments! Find an article on how wind-up chargers work, as well as other related HowStuffWorks.com articles, on the next page.
HowStuffWorks looks at the popularity of hiking in the U.S.
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