Talk about practical travel gear: this UCO Arka gadget is a flashlight, a lantern, a charger for your gadgets—all rolled into a water-resistant package that collapses down to fit into a corner of your bag.
I’ve annoyed a few PR people over the years who were pitching camping lanterns or flashlights they thought this travel gear blog should review: I passed because they used throwaway batteries. Sure, it’s possible to charge C or D batteries if you have the right kind of big, bulky charger. But who’s going to carry that along on even a car camping trip? Hardly anyone, so people just buy disposable acid batteries that will be chucked into a landfill probably.
In this day and age, that just seems barbaric.
This device charges up by USB, so you can plug into a laptop, into a wall outlet with the included adapter, or into a solar charger like the ones we’ve reviewed from Goal Zero or Bruton. Or some portable charger you’ve carried along like the Innergie, Digital Foci, or Eton travel chargers we’ve checked out. But the current can also flow the other way, this light itself serving as a charger if needed.
If you’re into stats, here are the ones that matter. This UCO Arka lantern weighs less than half a pound (213 grams) and its light output is 180 lumens. The charging output is 3.7 volts, 4AH. That should be enough to fully charge your dead smart phone. As for how long the light will stay lit when fully charged, the official promise is 6-8 hours on high. In my tests though, it went for more than eight hours on full blast. So figure you’d be good for a weekend camping trip without needing a recharge: on low mode it’s supposed to last 50 hours. It juiced back up again in about two hours from my laptop, a tad less from a solar panel charger in full sun.
There’s just one button on the top of this flashlight/lantern and it cycles through the various modes. You can use it as a flashlight or lantern in low or high, of course, or you can go in red lantern mode, flashing or steady on. The really cool thing is that button is also a dimmer. Hold it down and dim it or do it again and make it brighter, to the exact level you want.
The designers didn’t take the easy way out on this product. They even built little extendable feet into the base of it that fold out when using it as a lantern, fold back when a flashlight. And you pop it down to half its height when it’s time to use it as a flashlight or just pack it away to get a move on during daylight hours. There’s also a ring on top for hanging it in a tent or on a branch.
My only real complaint about this Arka lantern is the way it is packaged. For something so eco-friendly, the packaging is atrocious: lots of Chinese plastic that requires judicious cutting and can’t be recycled. It took longer to free the lantern from its bondage than it did to figure out how to use it.
I’ve reviewed the LifeProof iPhone case before, and at that time, it was available for the 4 and 4S models. A newer version is out for the iPhone 5, which I’ve tested and it’s just as good. But let’s go a little bigger and take a look at the LifeProof iPad case.
Because the iPad case doesn’t include the thin screen protector that exists in the iPhone case, LifeProof is calling this one nüüd. Cute, but let’s look at the practicality. Because built-in screen protectors degrade the visual clarity of your device, as well as cause a bit of issue with the speed and ability to touch/click those apps, the lack of a screen protector with this product is nearly like using your iPad without a case.
But the case really does protect your iPad. It’s waterproof to 6.6 feet (2 meters), dirt- and snow-proof (sealed to IP-68 standards to keep dirt, dust, snow and ice out), and it’s shockproof to military drop survivability specs of 4 feet (1.2 meters). Even though it may seem light in terms of protection without that screen cover, it’s a pretty beefy case.
The case doesn’t get in the way of access to all the ports and buttons of the iPad. There’s a headphone jack that allows you to plug in when you want, but also seals up tight against water and dirt. And the sound itself isn’t compromised. The case channels the sound through the case cavity, making it richer and less tinny than other cases I’ve tried.
LifeProof also makes a variety of accessories. I regularly use the armband and lifejacket for my iPhone 5. If you’re regularly around water (whether in a boat, kayak and stand-up paddleboard), I’d recommend the lifejacket for your iPad case. It’s one thing for your iPad to be waterproof, but it’ll still sink if you don’t have a way to keep it afloat.
Jill has gone gaga over a few Athleta items before on this gear blog, reviewing their Bettona Boyfriend Pants and Whatever Skort. Most fitness freak women I’ve met have a lot of love for this brand, which is owned by The Gap.
I’m not qualified to judge a travel dress, but my personal trainer guest reviewer in the house is, so take it away Donna!
When the weather is warm and I am packing for a trip, the first thing that comes out are my travel dresses. The newest one I am adding to my collection and putting into high rotation is the Dhara Dress by Athleta. True to form for Athleta, the dress is flattering, comfortable and very durable while still being stylish. It is a pretty mix of two patterns and comes in a choice of four colors. I have it in the Earth Green, the hue of which is more earthy than green.
Body skimming without being snug around my tummy and hips it creates a flattering silhouette for most figures. Coming to just above the knee is also a nice length. The poly/cotton blend makes it breathable, airy and very lightweight. It washes well and even after being balled up in a suitcase overnight, my dress came out relatively wrinkle free.
The added details of V-neck, purl-edge hems and cap sleeves up the stylish factor for sure. While this is not a dress that can transition to fancy evening attire, it can easily go from a casual daytime look with sandals or cute sneakers and a sun hat to a low-key evening out paired with little heels, a wrap, and some jewelry.
My only complaint is that it is a little small in the bust. I am not overly chesty but I still find it a little snug. A bustier woman may have a problem with this dress because of that. (The photo on the right gives you a look at the cleavage.) The dress comes in regular, tall and petite sizes and runs from XXS-XL. I’m not sure who would wear the XXS though seeing that the dress does already run on the small side up top.
You can get the Athleta Dara Dress direct from the company or at their stores for $84, or check prices online at Amazon, where some colors are much less, even though they’re still coming from Athleta, with free shipping even.
It’s not always easy to find a dress that’s comfortable as well as versatile enough to wear for nearly any travel occasion. Travel dresses usually come in one of two camps: way too casual or too dressy. With these two Mountain Khaki choices, I’ve found a way to have dresses that I’m just as comfortable wearing around town during the day, or out to dinner at night.
Made with a 100 percent cotton slub knit, the Mountain Khakis Oxbow Dress is one of the softest, most comfortable dresses I’ve had in a while. The ruched bodice includes a shelf bra for support, and the skirt drapes well to the knee. The hem is a little lower in the back, so you don’t have to worry about showing too much. The dress can easily be worn super-casual with flip-flops, or dressed up a little with nicer shoes.
The only thing to note with the Oxbow Dress is that it doesn’t work as well on people with long torsos. I’ve worn mine a few times, and while I love the feel, the waist hits me too high to move it into favored dress status.
The Mountain Khakis Anytime Knit Sleeveless Dress is a great go-to for a little black dress (or really, any color). The racerback dress also has a built-in shelf bra, plus seamless sides to up the ante with style. The dress fabric is 90 percent cotton and 10 percent Spandex jersey knit, making it touchable and soft, and super easy to pack. The hem hits just above the knee. Pair the dress with casual shoes or heels, and it’s easy to look good no matter what you do.
Mountain Khakis Oxbow Dress lists for $69.95 on the Mountain Khakis site. Available colors are blue, russet (brown with red) and grass (white with green). It’s priced the same at Moosejaw and Amazon. The Anytime Knit Sleeveless Dress lists for $64.95 on the Mountain Khakis site, and comes in black, coral, blue and gray. It’s priced the same at either Moosejaw or Amazon.
Want a great pair of performance for a price that won’t kill your budget? Bollé, the company you probably turn to when buying ski goggles, makes great sunglasses that pack great technology in a lower-priced package, like these Vibe shades.
Sure, you can go out and spend $300 on a pair of polarized lens sunglasses, and they may well be worth it. But if you don’t have that kind of money to throw around, Bolle makes some other options that will cost you less. Take these Vibe sunglasses that you’ll often see for two figures instead.
These Bolle Vibe sunglasses come in a nice carrying case that protects them and the polycarbonate lenses are supposedly 20X more impact resistant than glass. They’re lightweight and cool looking, with designer pizazz in the look. They come in multiple colors, from bright blue to tortoise shell to black.
For my tests I used them in the super-bright Florida sun on the beach and biking, plus in Turkey while being a tourist and taking a Bosphorus cruise on the water. The polarization worked well at keeping the glare at bay and these transitioned well between various lighting levels.
These sunglasses have some give to them, but this Vibe model is probably not the best bet for people with very wide heads. With the cool-looking thick stems, it’s important to get the right fit. When they do fit right, they’re extremely comfortable for all-day wear.
You can see the various frame and lens combinations at the Bolle site, but you’ll have to drill down a bit to find this specific model as they’ve got an old-school frames website where I can’t link directly.