Everyone loves a good picnic in the summertime: Gourmet sandwiches, wine, cheese, and the great outdoors can go a long way toward relieving 9 to 5 office drudgery. But there are a few ways you can take it up a notch with a bit of high-tech help, whether you’re trying to impress your latest squeeze or you’re just goofy for gadgets. Feast your eyes on these ideas for geeking up your next afternoon
Keep It Cool
The first order of business on a picnic is getting all your goodies to your favorite park, beach, or cave. But it doesn’t befit a true geek to settle for a simple picnic basket. The Igloo PlayMate IcyTunes Gripper ($40) is a cooler with built-in speakers and a shoulder strap, so you can rock out on your way there. It holds all your perishables–or 18 12-ounce cans of beer–and it’s got a removable pouch for your MP3 player, which you can connect via the cooler’s line input. There’s even a dry storage area for your extra goodies and a comfy rubberized handle.
For a techie take on a more traditional cooler with more space, check out Coleman’s Electronic Radio Cooler ($70). This chest-style cooler has an AM/FM radio with WeatherBand, an alarm clock, 8th-inch line input (for your music player), and a small pair of speakers mounted on the front. The speakers run on four C batteries and the clock requires a single AA cell. Plus it’s got a drain channel so you don’t have to tilt it. It may look hilarious, but it holds up to 46 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon for you and your besotted buddies, so you can all sing along to your favorite
Broadway musicals Zeppelin tunes and annoy the hell out of other picnickers.
If you’re up for more than just wine and cheese, the 1.5-liter GSI Vortex Blender ($70) will help you whip up some margaritas and smoothies (go ahead, frappe away!) without using a single watt of electricity. That’s because you turn the two-speed ergonomic crank for maximum mixing power–and you get a bit of a workout in the process. It even comes with a C-clamp so you can attach it to something flat if you can’t manage to hold it steady.
For those who faint at the sight of manual labor, there’s the Coleman RoadTrip Portable Blender ($80). It uses two 6V rechargeable batteries, good for 20 to 30 batches of frozen daquiris per charge (each batch takes about 30 seconds). The 48-ounce pitcher has measurement lines and a lid with three pour settings. The rustproof blades can chop ice–and fingers–and 12V (for your car) and 120V chargers are stored in the base.
You can’t booze it up if you can’t get your wine bottle open. Watch your picnic date’s eyes go wide when you whip out your Oster Electric Wine Opener ($20) and open a nice cabernet without shredding the cork or batting an eyelash. The cordless opener comes with a charging base station (with a foil cutter stored in it), which you can leave at home, and the opener can remove up to about 30 corks per charge.
Sit On It
As of yet, I couldn’t find a beach-style chair with built-in audio capabilities, but I did find a patent on one, so I’m guessing you’ll see one soon at places like Target and Wal-Mart.
In the meantime, the Picnic At Ascot Waterproof Blanket ($28) will keep your butt dry even if it rained earlier that morning. The polar fleece top is nice and soft, while the durable waterproof backing keeps out water and even snow for the most hardcore picnickers! The blanket rolls up tight to just 4 by 14 inches and comes in its own carrying bag with a detachable shoulder strap. And after a few uses in the mud, you can just pop it into the washing machine.
Bugs can be a major hassle at any picnic. This may not be super high-tech, but it’s a brilliant idea nevertheless: Coghlan’s Fold-Away Food Cover ($3) unfolds into a 13- by 13-inch see-thru nylon mesh cover with a metal frame–perfect for protecting a plate of goodies from unwanted guests. It folds up to just 1 inch in diameter, so you can shove it in your backpack or cooler.
Instead of using paper bowls and plastic cups, which can take up valuable space in your picnic basket or cooler, check out Guyot Designs’ Squishy Bowl and Cup Set ($15). These space-age dishes are made of “food-grade” silicone and are just about impossible to destroy but easy to wash (anyone want to lick my squishy bowls clean?). Best of all, you can mash em into your backpack or even a pocket, and they pop right back out to their original shape. They’re even temperature resistant up to 400 degrees! The set includes
a 6-ounce cup and 16-ounce bowl that nest together–just remember to get a set for your date too! 10-ounce bowls are also available for $10.95 each.
Music lovers may want beefier sound than you can get from the aforementioned coolers’ tiny speakers. The Cambridge SoundWorks PlayDock I ($170) is an excellent portable speaker designed for iPods (a first for parent company Creative), though it works very well with any music player thanks to a line-in port on the back. It’s very compact, but you get big, detailed sound even when it’s running on eight C batteries (for up to about 13 hours), and the bass output is adjustable via a small knob. There’s also a convenient rubberized handgrip so you can easily move it out of the way if things start to get crazy on the picnic blanket.
No outdoor activity is complete without a Swiss Army Knife. But the latest and greatest (okay, geekiest) version is the Victorinox USB Swiss Army Knife (2GB, $118). Aside from the blade, nail file, screwdriver, scissors, key ring, and ball-point pen, there’s a USB flash drive with up to 2GB of memory, as well as a miniature LED light so you can search your cooler for that last beer once it starts getting dark. There’s even a version with a laser pointer ($148) in case you want to
try to bring down a plane point out cool clouds or something, instead of simply chatting idly about how cool or annoying it would be to have an iPhone.
So stock up on your favorite edibles and booze, pack up your high-tech picnic gear, and go have lunch outside–even if it’s just a little clearing in the concrete jungle!