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Posts Tagged car gear

The Kelty Folding, Zip-up Cooler

Could you use a cooler that packs down small when you don’t need it, but totally rocks when you do? This Kelty Folding Cooler could be the one you keep turning to for camping, travel, or just to have in the car.

How many times have you bought one of those crappy, enemy-of-the-environment styrofoam coolers at the beach or a ball game tailgate party because you didn’t have something better with you? This Kelty Folding Cooler comes to the rescue so you won’t have to do that again by packing down small enough to leave in your car trunk. Or if you’re in a small apartment and can’t spare the space to have a big cooler, this expands when you need it for a road trip.

We’ve sung the praises of Kelty gear plenty of times on this blog and they’re poster children for what we stand for: good gear at a good price. This cooler is no exception. It is well-designed, smart, and comes with a few bonus items. In this case it’s a couple of beer cozies inside and a bottle opener attached to the zipper. Well played. It’s also got indentations on the top for resting your two cans from Oskar Blues—or whatever brewery floats your boat.

Kelty 20L


If you still need product specs even after hearing it has a bottle opener attached, okay. The small size I’ve been using weighs 4 pounds, 3.5 ounces (1.9 kilos) and it’ll hold 20 cans of beer. It’s 9.5 inches by 16.5 by 12.25. Funny enough, that makes it small enough to be a carry-on for most flights. I wouldn’t advise that though: it’s not watertight. As in if you carry this cooler upright, all is well, but if the ice starts melting and you tip it upside down, here comes ice water through the zipper.

See the demo video at the top to get two minutes of set-up display. That’s the small one I’m showing off, but it comes in medium and large sizes if you really want to party, ranging in price from $45 to $70. That’s a fair price for something made this well from a brand you can depend on. I’t's got side handles and a shoulder strap, rubber feet on the bottom, and is PVC free. See the full rundown at the Kelty site.

Get the Kelty Folding Cooler at, Altrec, or Zappos.

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Saris Bones 3 Bike Rack

It’s a beautiful thing to stuff the family and your belongings in a car and be able to ride bicycles far from your home. Through a park, along a greenway, or in a different city.

Most bike racks are such a pain though, and give you so little confidence that they’ll hold up as you bounce along the road, that many casual bike riders rarely take their wheels elsewhere.

When it was time for me to buy a new bike rack, I did some research online and also started paying attention to what other people had on the back of their car. The brand that kept winning out with people who cycled a lot was Saris. So I plunked down the cash and got the Saris Bones 3 for the three of us.

cycling rackThe rack is not quite as simple and elegant as the photo at the top would have you believe. You still have to attach straps to various spaces and cracks in your car trunk or back hatch to securely fasten this. They’re the ones you see on any bike rack, with black nylon adjustable straps and coated metal flat hooks. Helpfully though, they’re labeled as to where they’re supposed to go, so it’s not the usual puzzle to figure out.

There are two reasons this bike rack is popular though. The first is the simplicity. A little disassembly is required to get it properly set up for your particular vehicle, but two minutes or less with the instructions is enough to figure it out. Getting the bikes on and off with the fasteners is about as easy as you can reasonably expect.

The other reason people like this Saris Bones rack is that it’s lightweight but strong. Yes, it’s made of plastic, but it’s very strong plastic and the curving design gives it more strength and stability than most metal ones. It’s also less clumsy to store or to move from one vehicle to another.

If you only ever have to move two bikes, there’s a Saris Bones 2 as well. The company also makes a version that hooks to a trailer hitch.

The Saris Bones 3 bike rack lists for $160 to $170 and is usually not discounted at REI, but I bought my gray one from Amazon for $153 with free shipping.

Sometimes you see new or barely used ones on eBay for a bit less.

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Samsung HM1700 Bluetooth Headset

HM1700If you want a Bluetooth earpiece for your mobile phone but don’t expect it to be permanently attached to your ear, this HM1700 one from Samsung is a reasonably priced option.

I’ve long avoided these in-ear Bluetooth devices for talking on the phone. They’ve rightfully been lambasted in the press as the most effective way to signal to everyone that you’re a dork. Or a Borg from Star Trek. So whether the manufacturer was Jawbone, Plantronics, or Samsung, I couldn’t look at them without picturing some a-hole walking through the airport talking too loud into the thin air because he had one of these in his ear.

For me though, there are two key times these Bluetooth earbuds can come in handy: 1) in the car and 2) when you’re alone but need to do something else with your hands while you’re talking.

The first one is really key. Depending on whose stats you believe, driving while distracted by a smart phone now causes close to—or more—car wrecks on U.S. roads than drunk driving. When I look back at all the near-wrecks I’ve had the past year, in most cases I can see the distracted soccer mom in an oversized SUV messing with her iPhone when she should be paying attention to the road and other drivers.

The long intro brings me to the Samsung HM1700 headset. It arrived in a testing package I got with the Samsung Focus phone with Windows Mobile I reviewed a while back. I snickered derisively when I saw it, but popped it out and started using it while driving or doing a scheduled call in my office.

The verdict? It’ll still be a cold day in hell before I wear this thing around in a crowd, but when I am using it with my phone, it does what it’s supposed to. There’s a little degradation of sound quality that’s noticeable on both ends, but not enough that we couldn’t understand each other as well as usual. Let’s face it—talking on a cell phone of any kind is never an ideal experience, with all that stepping on each other and having to wait your turn to talk, but it’s the price we pay for convenience. Is it “good enough?” Yes.

Before I got used to it though, I did cut off several calls but hitting a button while trying to readjust the positioning of the device. “Call disconnected” the voice said in my ear. So try it out on your understanding friends and relatives before making important business calls. That button is not well-placed.

The other buttons are a volume control and an on/off button. I found it kind of annoying that when I switched this off and tossed it in my pocket, my phone didn’t automatically figure that out and go back to using its own speakers. The only solution on my Android phone anyway seems to be to go into settings and turn the Bluetooth off. (If you have a better solution, please share.)

There’s a tiny built-in battery that recharges by micro USB. Thankfully two phones and multiple other devices I have use the same connector. Handy. The phone industry is finally settling on standards so we don’t have to keep track of 20 different chargers. The design is rather simple: a piece that goes into your ear and a flexible plastic wire that hangs over your ear. There are some tiny accessories included that can help it stay in your ear easier if you’re having problems with that.

You can listen to music from your phone or laptop on this, which not all Bluetooth earpieces can manage, plus you can switch back and forth between two sources: a car system and your phone, for example.

This Samsung Bluetooth cell phone earpiece lists for $40, but is frequently discounted. It comes in black, purple or Magenta (do you really want to call attention to it though?) You can buy it at many cell phone stores, electronics stores, or online at Amazon, where it’s currently selling for a shade over $21.

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In Time for Summer Road Trips: the Mountainsmith Modular Hauler System

As editor of the family travel site Pit Stops for Kids, we road trip a lot. We travel in everything from a mini-van to a Prius, for trips ranging from camping to beach vacations to city tours to ski trips. Sometimes, we tackle a selection of the above in a single trip: packing for a backpacking trek and a city stay for five people in the same vacation can be complicated to say the least. When I saw what Mountainsmith had devised with their Modular Hauler systems, I just had to try one.


The Mountainsmith Modular Hauler 3 System is comprised of four components: one main ‘hauler’ packing compartment, which is designed like an open-topped, cubed duffel. It’s soft-sided (but free-standing…more on this later), made of tough ballistic nylon, and has reinforced, padded side-access handles. Inside the hauler are three ‘cubes’: the cubes are 15″x25″x15″, top-loading with strong wrap-around zippers and see-through laminated mesh top panels (with pockets). The cubes also have reinforced handles and stitching, and their rip-stop nylon interiors and exteriors are easy to clean and weather resistant. Imagine having three deep, sturdy tote bags which store upright in an equally sturdy duffel, and you’ve got the Modular Hauler idea.

I’ve seen packing cubes of course, and I’m no stranger to the use of plastic bins and totes for car travel packing, but what makes the Modular Hauler so much better is its portability. Each cube (which I’d really rather call a tote…that’s what they are) is easy to extract from the hauler, so travelers only need to grab the tote they need. On road trips, we typically pack one tote with our picnic lunch, one with extra jackets or rain boots (or beach shoes in summer), and one with toys, games, and the like. When we reach a pit stop, all we need to do is grab the appropriate tote: no hauling out an entire bag to find what we’re looking for. For instance, we just got back from a six day California Highway 1 tour. We picnicked en route almost every day, and it was so easy to ask one of the kids to ‘grab the lime green tote’ or ‘grab the yellow tote’, depending on what foods we needed.

modular hauler cubeWe’ve used it on ski trips too, for which we pack one tote with lunch, one with everyone’s gloves, googles, and helmets, and one with extra under garments. We unzip the glove/google tote right at the car and get everyone equipped, then take the lunch tote with us to the lodge. I’m looking forward to putting the system to use during car camping trips this summer: one tote will hold camp kitchen gear, one food, and one extra clothing. The totes are not insulated, so you’d still need a cooler for perishables, but because the hauler is soft-sided, you could potentially replace one tote with a soft-sided, cubed cooler and still have the other two totes fit. Also useful: the totes are three different colors (cinnamon, lime, and yellow), so it’s easy to remember what you packed where. And for poor weather ski days, it’s awesome that they zip fully closed at the top.

My only complaint: for most practical uses of the system, I wish the main outer bag was hard-sided, not soft-sided like the totes, or at least stiff. It can be a pain to get the three (full) totes back into it with one hand because the sides collapse. Maybe this is a design issue that will be remedied in the future.

Bottom line: If you do a lot of car travel, either for overnight camping, backpacking, or family road tripping, you’ll get a lot of use out of this system. The Modular Hauler 3 is $79.95, and a four-tote version is $99.95. There’s a two-tote option as well, but I don’t know if it’d be quite big enough to be truly useful. You can buy individual cubes (totes) for $19.95, which is very nice. Pick up a system at Mountainsmith,, Department of Goods, or Amazon.

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Magellan RoadMate Traveler GPS System

I’ve long been a holdout on the car GPS front. I only seem to spend a little bit of time driving in places where I really have no clue about where I’m going and the rest of the time I’ve just used Google Maps on my cell phone, which usually guides me where I need to go.

I agreed to give this Magellan RoadMate Traveler a whirl though to see what I had been missing. Since this one claimed that it would guide me to landmarks and attractions, it seemed to be a good one for people who take lots of road trips.

It does all the things you would expect a car GPS device to do of course. You plug it into the cigarette lighter outlet, though there’s a built-in battery that will keep it going for about two hours with no power. It’s got an attractive and bright five-inch screen, which is an inch more than my Motorola Atrix Android phone. That can make a difference in how clear the street names are. It shows the speed limit where you are, shows and tells you where to turn (including the actual street name), and tells you about how long it will take to get there. In my tests the directions were very good and the ETA was surprisingly accurate—within a minute many times. You can zoom in or out and use the display in either portrait or landscape mode. road trip GPS

It’s got an intuitive spelling function you see on many GPS devices that eliminates letters as you spell the address. This saves loads of time. I also liked the highway exit point of interest function. This is like the signs you see beside the interstate telling you which gas stations or restaurants are coming up, but it’s more comprehensive and you can look ahead to a further exit beyond the immediate one. Supposedly there are six million points of interest in the database of this thing, so you won’t be hurting for info on where to spend your money on your road trip.

Thankfully all of this is pretty intuitive because the “user handbook” only has 11 small pages of info. Two of those are safety warnings and two and a half are about the Wi-Fi function and browser nobody will use. You need to be good at figuring out icons on the menu settings though. Once you do you can command it to take you to the city center, to a certain intersection, or to a previous address.

Directions for Travelers

There are a few bonus features that make this model special though, especially if you belong to AAA. Magellan is the only company making GPS devices that include the built-in “AAA TourBook” that shows Diamond ratings and descriptions on AAA-approved places. If you are a AAA member, you can easily access Roadside Assistance phone numbers from your device to call for help.

The TourDirector feature highlights nearby attractions and you can bookmark favorite places with the OneTouch menu. I can’t say I’ve used that favorites even once though since, if it’s my favorite, won’t I know how to get there already? This is probably more useful for business travelers who return to the same city regularly but don’t know it inside and out. It’s a bit misleading too that the Tour Director icon shows a woman with talk bubbles around your head. Nothing is actually spoken: it’s all text on a screen. So you’re not going to be referencing it while in motion.

In other specs, this GPS unit weighs a half pound and is very thin, it comes with a USB cord and SD slot, and the GPS accuracy is listed as three to five meters. The warranty is good for one year.

Overall this performed pretty much as I expected it would—better than expected with some of the obscure addresses I gave it—and with the included lifetime traffic and map updates it seems like a decent dealcoming in at around $199 in stores. I’m not sure how much the included clunky Wi-Fi function adds to the price but I can’t imagine very many people ever use it. Most people who can afford this device are already going to have a smart phone and a tablet in the car—maybe both.

I had two main beefs with it though that keep me from being totally thrilled with it. First, the dash mount won’t work on an actual dash unless you happen to have one that’s as shiny smooth as glass. Otherwise it’s got to be mounted on the windshield. I know that’s pretty standard, but if my inexpensive Cobra Mount I use for my phone can get around it, surely their design modifications could too.

The more annoying problem is a built-in function that I can’t find a way to disable in the settings: a warning that  you are going over the speed limit. Every time you go over by more than 5 mph, the voice goes “Warning! Warning!” The only solution seems to be to slow down—which means everyone is flying by you on the interstate highways—or to turn the sound off. Neither one is very practical, so I ended up just shutting it off when I had a pretty good sense of where I was. I understand why you would need this  in a school zone or residential area, but it’s just silly on the open highway, when people routinely set their cruise control 6 or 7 mph over the speed limit just to keep with the traffic flow.

Get the Magellan RoadMate 5175T Traveler GPS at Amazon.

Previous Magellan reviews:

Roadmate 3065
Explorist for Geocaching

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