- Buyer's Guide
Adventure at Home | Best Accessories for Socializing in the Pandemic Era
This pandemic has continued longer than any of us ever imagined and will have a lasting impact on our social lives. Throughout the past 14 months, we’ve had to get creative in order to share time with our friends or family. And even as lockdowns ease or restrictions change, some of those inventive solutions will stick around. The good news is, if you like your time outdoors, there are plenty of excellent carry items that can make any garden, park, or open space your new living room. So we got to work finding the best accessories for socializing outdoors.
The items we’ve tested over the last five months are perfect for making a social space anywhere. We’ve chosen items that will encourage good food, good company, and good times. Our criteria for these items were pretty simple: portable, robust, and social. We started our testing in January 2021 and wanted items that could handle inclement weather and being tossed around outside, that could fit in the back of any car or be walked to a neighbor or family garden, and would encourage people to gather round and take a load off.
Not only are these items good for the situation that we are currently navigating, they will continue to serve a long and fun existence – wherever you may find yourself on a weekend!
I’ve thought long and hard about how to describe this tarp. When I think of tarps, even outdoor-specific ones, I think of a sheet that keeps me dry. Sure, they might be lightweight and packable, but there usually isn’t much soul to them. Or so I thought. The Snow Peak Takibi Tarp is a revelation. It has all of the things I just mentioned, but with one upgrade of epic proportions – it’s fire retardant. That’s right, with this puppy set up you can seat eight people (10/12 if you’re really friendly) around a firepit. You can keep throwing log after log after log onto your pit and not worry about going up in flames.
During the height of winter, when it was 15-20ºF outside, me, my wife, and a couple of neighbors watched all of the playoffs in supreme comfort. The fire retardant Takibi roof liner traps the heat from your fire pit so you can stay out there for many hours and we did! See the attached photo of our Super Bowl party, after a fresh 20 inches of snow. We dug out our walkways and got cozy!
Not only does it have a fire retardant liner, but it is also exceptionally weather resistant. The main tarp is made from a 210d Polyester, with a Teflon water repellent. Snow and rain were no match for this, neither was the wind! I would recommend investing in a second set of wing poles so you can fully open up the sides and have a true outdoor space. This will also work perfectly as a camp kitchen. You don’t need to worry about the heat damaging anything, and everyone stays warm!
Aside from its incredible warmth and performance, it also looks great. We’ve had this up in various spots of our garden for five months, and the muted earthy tones chosen by Snow Peak mean it doesn’t look like I’m trying to run an illegal circus! It packs down into a 2ft carry bag and only takes about five minutes to erect. I’m obsessed with this, and don’t tell anyone, I think my wife might be too!
I’ve battled portable fire pits for years now. We all have. We’ve all thought “I think this is the one” only for it to be too smokey, to rust out on you after a couple of months’ use, or look great while not providing enough heat. Well, like a child caught up past their bedtime, Solo Stove has put my qualms firmly to bed. Before we get into the performance, I actually think that one of Solo Stove’s biggest strengths is its ability to blend in. The 304 stainless steel is a minimalist look that would fit with both modern and classic aesthetics easily, and, arguably more importantly, isn’t fragile. I like the fact that it is burly and will hang around for a long time!
Performance-wise, the Solo Stove Yukon is hard to beat. Under the tarp, in 10ºF weather, I’ve had eight people all comfortably warm. When the flames get going on this behemoth, it throws out some really impressive heat. Due to the diameter of the Yukon, you can fit full logs, and a couple of layers of them at that. You can essentially manage your heat output by your log layers. One layer for just two of you, two layers for four or five of you, and three layers for when the family is round! If you add the stand, you can increase airflow or have it on your lawn/deck without any concerns. If you’re planning on keeping this in one spot, the shelter cover is weatherproof and will stop any rust or filling with water.
The Yukon is a big piece of kit. But in the same breath, it easily fits in the trunk of my SUV. And it could fit in my wife’s sedan with a bit of finagling. I think what I enjoy most about this fire pit is it really encourages people to sit down, take a load off, and relax. Even if only momentarily, we could all do that a bit more! It’s a great tool to encourage safe socializing, and it’s mesmerizing too!
Camp tables, in my opinion, are often a frustrating experience. They usually aren’t high enough, big enough, or sturdy enough to achieve many useful tasks! Sure, you can make it work. But when you don’t need to save every ounce of weight for your pack in/pack out, why should you suffer? Snow Peak have nailed it with the Renewed Single Action Table. A laminated Bamboo worktop, supported by sturdy aluminum legs (that stay in place with a twist lock), makes the perfect serving table, preparation table, or even dining table. I managed to fit four people and their dinners on it comfortably. The best thing? It collapses in half for easy transportation via the included nylon carry case! It’s 36 inches long, and three inches thick when collapsed, so it easily fits into most places!
Snow Peak not only kept me sheltered while preparing my food, but they also make some great camp chairs that, well, don’t look like camp chairs. The Luxury Low Beach Chair and Folding Chair provided a great variety of seating positions and styles. The luxury option provides natural wooden armrests, a taller back (with a mesh pocket), and a hearty canvas seat. It also comes with a carry case, making it easy to take from garden to car to in-laws. The folding chair is your classic camp chair, with the Snow Peak treatment. Lightweight aluminum, paired with a rich red polyester canvas; this is a stylish piece. Think director’s chair meets campground!
If you’ve ever wanted a chair that combines comfort, durability, and style, it’s hard to beat the Trailhead Camp Chair from YETI. Constructed with their proprietary FLEXGRIDTM fabric, on top of an aluminium packable frame, this chair is the epitome of comfort. The fabric not only holds 500lbs of weight (!) but is also sprung so that it conforms to your sitting position. Easy to set up with a series of three clicks (that provide tension in the fabric), this chair becomes an instant favorite. Once you add a removable cup holder, two-strap carry bag, and adjustable feet, you’ll want to take this with you everywhere. It is heavier than the others in our guide, weighing in at just over 13lbs. But in my mind, the features are definitely worth the heavier load.
It’s important to have a bit of ambiance when you’re socializing, so that people are relaxed, and crucially so that you can see! However, I don’t love gas lanterns. And I don’t want to have to think about batteries every time I want to see my friends. Solar lighting is the answer, but often they come stuck to rigid poles and aren’t the most portable. MPOWERD have thought this through, and the Luci Solar String lights (also available in color) solve all those problems for me.
These lights can charge by solar via the small panel on top of the unit, or by USB for cloudier days. I’ve found them to last around eight to 12 hours on a full charge. I was using the medium brightness, and they can go all the way up to 100 lumens, which will last around five hours. Intelligent and elegant design means that a simple twist of the bottom of the unit unleashes 18ft of string lights that can be attached anywhere you’d like. It even includes a single bulb on the top of the unit, so you can use it as a flashlight in a pinch.
I really like these. They aren’t much bigger than a saucer, and you can easily stick one in your bag to provide some mood lighting wherever you go. While they aren’t advertised as waterproof (splashproof), I found them to handle snow and rain admirably, as long as they aren’t left out for days on end in your garden.
It’s important to be comfortable when you are outside for any extended period of time, and that means blankets. I tested a few over my five months, and these are the pick of the bunch. Eddie Bauer’s Cabin Fleece Throw is great for cooler nights or just those who run cold! The sherpa pile is machine washable, so don’t be afraid to use this outside.
Kammok are outdoor magicians and one of their latest inventions, the Bobcat Trail Quilt, is the perfect weapon for time outdoors. Poncho, camp blanket, and even emergency sleeping bag, the Bobcat is like a chameleon and with just a few snaps you can change it from one format to the other. Weighing in at 20oz, insulated with 600 fill power down, this water-resistant blanket is rated for 45ºF weather. This is a real cozy piece and is honestly useful in all seasons. It also packs down to around Nalgene size, so it’s easy to take with you wherever you go!
Old-school is cool. When it comes to wool blankets, no one does it better than the folks at Pendleton. With patterns derived from traditional designs, nature, and even social issues (some of their blankets support particular initiatives), it’s hard not to love them. The White Sands Blanket that I tested is a timeless pattern inspired by Tularosa Basin at New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument and it would fit just about any style. Not only do they look good, but they also perform well too! A mix of virgin wool and cotton, these blankets provide great wind resistance and warmth. These heirloom-worthy blankets also come in a range of sizes to suit your needs.
From the plains and mountains of Colorado come RovR. Their RollR cooler isn’t hard to recommend because it is incredibly functional in every way. This can truly become your mobile bar or kitchen (I’ve tried both!). Before I get into the excellent additional features, the most important is that it actually functions excellently as a cooler! They claim ten days, and while I haven’t tested that out, I did my own little “control” test. I managed to keep drinks in there for around four days in direct sunlight, with no ill effects. And they were wonderfully cold still! This is a rotomolded cooler and as such, it is bear-resistant (with locks) to keep your food safe.
When it comes to capacity, that leads us into what makes the RollR so different, in my eyes, to many other coolers. Without the included dry bin, it can hold up to 60 cans with 10lbs of ice. With the dry bin, it can hold 24 cans and 10lbs of ice in the main compartment and four to six bottles of spirit/wine with food too! That’s right, the design is very intelligent with an internal shape resembling a step that allows you to store different sized items.
The removable dry bin is really useful for both transit and arrival at the destination. It can pull double duty as a “pantry” of sorts when you roll up. Not only that but there is a removable, collapsible tote that attaches to the lid. This is ingenious. I’m inclined to agree. It’s the perfect spot for your snacks, maybe a jacket, a Bluetooth speaker, sunscreen, and so on. The RollR is party-mobile. The attachable tray table is great for snacks, cutting limes for your cocktails, or whatever else you might need.
Other excellent features that make this a delight to use include the telescoping handle and puncture-resistant 9” tires (you can probably take this off-roading if you put a motor in it!). This makes transporting it around the neighborhood, to and from your car, and wherever else you may find your social life taking you as easy as can be. While they make bigger sizes, the 45L is perfect for the trunk of your car. And it’s still liftable for one person (providing you bend your knees properly!).
Prefer traveling light and don’t need the wheels or 60 beers? There aren’t many better than YETI when it comes to the soft-sided cooler game. Their Flip 12 is a portable and robust cooler perfectly sized for a few cold ones! The clue is in the name, but it can hold 12 cans with a 2:1 ice ratio – the optimum size for an afternoon jaunt! With YETI’s DRYHIDETM shell that is mildew, puncture, and UV resistant and a watertight HydroLok™ zipper, this little cooler really packs a punch. You can customize with your favorite morale patch on the 2×3″ Velcro too, along with more customization potential thanks to the MOLLE webbing!
YETI have a range of useful accessories if you want to level up, including bottle openers and waterproof pouches. Handles on the top and side, along with a padded shoulder strap make it easy to transport. This has been incredibly useful for the afternoon trips. Whether a picnic with your loved one, a few beers with friends, or picking up takeout and keeping it warm! The Goldilocks size is perfect for most of us and the quality is second to none.
Everyone knows that you can’t socialize without food. I’m pretty sure it’s a law of the universe? When you want food that’s social, there is a clear winner: pizza! So what better than a portable pizza oven!? Ooni have you covered with the Fyra which is both a conversation starter and portable kitchen in one!
The best thing about the Fyra is that it is truly portable; the slipcover makes it easy to take from one event to another. Minimal assembly is required and you can be cooking fresh pizza in 15 minutes! It takes a few attempts to master (hey, a little carbon is good for you, right!?). But once you do, you’ll find yourself using it all the time. By using food-grade pellets, you heat the stone base to 700ºF and you can cook a pizza in 60 seconds! I found it to be a lot of fun, and a really social way to eat.
Must-have accessories include the peel and thermometer which make it easy to maximize your cooking experience (pro tip – use cornflour on the peel). It’s nice to have your own little trattoria and cook fresh pizza! It almost took me back to our honeymoon in Italy – perfecto! You can cook other meals too, and Ooni has some great recipes on their website. A crowd-pleaser, you’ll be wondering how you managed without one.
Just like their fire pits, the Solo Stove Grill is an innovative take on a garden favorite. Easy to assemble, store, and transport, the grill is a more social way of barbecuing. Gone are the days of one person slaving over the heat with a drink while everyone else wonders how long it will be. Solo Stove’s airflow design keeps an even heat that is great to cook over. With the included charcoal briquettes, it takes around 15-20 minutes to heat up, and it will give you approximately 45 minutes of cooking time. It’s worth noting that these times may vary if you use wood instead of charcoal.
There are two things in particular that made this a pleasure to use. Firstly, there is no need to fiddle with controls or adjust X, Y, Z. You fire it up and get cooking! Secondly, cooking together with others around the grill is a really enjoyable experience. You can chat, and drink, while everyone cooks to their own specifications! As with all items here, this can fit into the trunk of a car with ease, particularly when using the included storage/carry case. This is how barbecuing should be.
These products were chosen because of their innovation, their quality, and most importantly, their ability to bring you together with those important to you. Even as our global situation improves, one thing we can all agree on is that we need each other, no matter how big or small your group, to thrive. Maybe, just maybe, one, two, or even a few of these will help you do that!