- Gear Review
Bluetooth Gear for Rocking Out Outdoors
Add a soundtrack to your adventure with these Bluetooth-enabled headphones and speakers.
Music in the wilderness isn’t for everyone. But for some, music is life itself—and the thought of being without their favorite tunes might prevent them from venturing into the great outdoors. For music fans, a number of brands now make Bluetooth-enabled speakers designed to handle the elements. This means they are water- and shock-resistant, if not totally waterproof, and they have enough battery to play for several hours. The party could touch down on the trail, at a backcountry ski hut, or on the beach—just far enough from the indoors.
Respect those who don’t want music as part of their wilderness experience and consider buying a set of Bluetooth headphones. There are two basic, self-explanatory types: over-the-ear and in-ear. The BTS Sport from 66 Audio is a great example of a sporty, over-the-ear version. These headphones use Bluetooth 4.0, which comes with a whole range of options beyond previous versions of Bluetooth. This model also has incredible battery life: The manufacturer claims 400 hours of standby and 25 hours of continuous play. While I haven’t timed it, I have been very impressed with how long I can go between charges.
Oh, and the most important thing? The sound is pretty incredible, as is the microphone for taking calls. My one wish for these would be to be able to tighten the fit on my head so they wouldn’t bounce around while I run with them.
For true no-bounce functionality, go with the in-ear style. They’re more like earplugs and, for better or worse, they block out a lot of the sound around you. That’s great when there’s a noisy child on a flight, or when your canoe partner won’t stop gabbing with other paddlers. (But it’s possibly dangerous when in the city—where not hearing a siren or honking horn could be trouble—so use with discretion.)
One of my favorite in-ear pairs is the Jaybird Freedom. They use Bluetooth 4.1 and have an eight-hour playback life and 110 hours of standby power. Naturally, these sound really good and can take a call like the others. Both the Jaybird Freedom and BTS Sport headphones are water- and sweat-resistant, so they’re suitable for intense workout sessions or in the rain on the trail. Just don’t fall in a lake.
Bluetooth-enabled speakers come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of sound quality. One of the smaller versions available is the Buckshot 2.0 from Outdoor Tech. Measuring under four inches long and one and a half inches across, it’s about the size of a bike grip handle. This little speaker packs good volume and is a significant upgrade from just using the built-in speaker on a smartphone.
A standard tripod screw hole lets you mount the Buckshot 2.0 anywhere you would mount a camera. You can even put it on a camera mount plate like those offered from Peak Design and clip it to your pack or any other strap. The Buckshot 2.0 also comes with a handy figure eight-style strap to mount to a bicycle handlebar, trekking pole, or tree branch. And if nothing else works, it has a clip molded right into the body to hold onto a pack strap or a tote bag. And, yes, you can take a call with the Buckshot 2.0 as a speakerphone.
Really Big Speaker
For large groups, or on a windy beach or mountain pass where some tunes will help set the mood, take along the incredibly powerful hundred-watt EcoBoulder from EcoXGear.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
This is not for backpacking—unless you’re a glutton for punishment. This speaker weighs 27 pounds and measures 12-by-15-by-20 inches. Fortunately, it does have some hauling features built in, including two big handles molded into the body for single or double carry. It also has wheels and a retractable pull handle and drags like a heavy piece of carry-on luggage—best used on smooth surfaces.
Amazingly, the EcoBoulder is totally waterproof. The manufacturer even goes so far as to suggest users can chuck it into a pool or lake—it floats. Granted, if there is water on the speakers themselves, sound quality suffers. Bluetooth pairing or the built-in AM/FM receiver can suffer a little while in the water as well—but I tested its buoyancy, and it’s true. Rotate it speaker-side up and it could even float down the lazy river alongside your inner tube. It also has a waterproof storage compartment for your smartphone so you don’t have to worry about it getting damaged.
If you get two EcoBoulders, they will pair together to blast stereo sound. The internal battery will last for about 10 hours at a medium volume (which is still pretty loud). There are a bunch of extra features, including an external mic jack to use it as a public address system, auxiliary input, USB ports for device charging, and more. Just be sure to invite your neighbors whenever you use it.
Adventure correspondent Cameron Martindell travels the world seeking beautiful destinations and amazing adventure to document in photos, prose, and video. These adventures provide plenty of opportunities to break gear all in the name of the testing process. He contributes to Gear Institute, Elevation Outdoors, Wired, Outside, and Backpacker and maintains his own adventure website at offyonder.com. Follow him on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Snapchat as @offyonder. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.