Last year was the year that we rediscovered our outdoor spaces at home. Partly because it was the only way we could see our friends prior to the Covid vaccine.
But summer’s back and this time it’s hitting differently! We’re vaccinated! We’re ready to have some fun without worrying about, well, everything. It’s time to dust off those lawn chairs, set up some movie screens, and enjoy our pools, patios, and backyards. Doing it because we want to and not because we have to makes it that much sweeter.
Here’s what I’m gathering this summer to make sure Summer 2021 is epic for all the right reasons.
Yeti V Series Hard Cooler
Can we talk about your cooler? Yes, I know that chunky red and white plastic rectangle of a cooler that you’ve had since college does still technically work “just fine.” Over the years, though, it’s developed a permanent patina of dirt bonded to the textured plastic and a leaky puddle of filthy ice water forms under it as soon as you set it down anywhere. It’s an embarrassing patio party centerpiece.
The Yeti V Series Hard Cooler, on the other hand, is made from stainless steel, with a chunky lid latch that seals off the vacuum interior and its vacuum insulated walls for days of frozen ice. That vacuum insulation means the walls are considerably thinner than your typical cooler as well, letting you fit three six packs, a couple of bottles of wine (standing upright), and maybe a cheese plate or two with plenty of room to spare.
It’s not light. The cooler is 35 lbs. before you fill it up and it can hold up to 55 lbs. of ice. So this isn’t necessarily a beach cooler. But the rubber-grip handles on the side make getting it into place on the patio an easy task. And once it’s there, the stainless steel is rustproof and can stand up to the elements (it also comes with a nylon cover if you want to leave it in place). This is the cooler to upgrade to when you retire “old faithful.”
Traeger Timberline 850
The Ironwood 850 from Traeger is here to put your old charcoal grill to shame. With a 24-lb pellet hopper, it feeds hardwood pellets via a motorized auger into a firebox that can maintain temperatures of anything from 165 to 500 degrees for hours. The control box is WiFi-enabled, so you can hook up to the grill via the app and do everything from control the cook temperature, to check the temperature of your meat (with the included temperature probe), to send instructions for a new recipe from the absolutely staggering number of tasty selections in the app.
Everything about the Timberline 850 is focused on a superior grilling/smoking experience. The fuel source, hardwood pellets, gives you the smokiness you expect from charcoal. The brushless motor and intelligent fire control provides the consistent, reliable temperature you expect from gas. But unlike gas, you don’t have to shake the cannister and wonder if you have enough for the weekend. You don’t even have to open the hopper lid to see if you have enough pellets. You can just pop open the Traeger app and check the fuel level.
The Timberline has all kinds of extras that make it an even more impressive grilling machine than my beloved Ironwood 650. There’s an integrated bamboo cutting board, a stainless steel shelf, and three tiers of shelves in the insulated cooker. There are special channels that move heat and smoke quickly throughout the interior to heat it up quickly and rebound to your cook temperature fast after opening.
And Traegers are incredibly versatile. I’ve made everything from baby back ribs to burgers to blueberry muffins and cocktail ice (well, the water for it at least) in mine. I do wish Traegers were easier to clean (it’s a bit of work to vacuum out the ashes every few months) but that’s honestly my only complaint. You’ll find that the Timberline 850 is easily the most versatile, most capable grill you’ve ever used and makes all other machines look paltry in comparison.
Outer 1188 Outdoor Rug
Outdoor rugs are a bit of a cringe topic here in Florida. Sure, they look nice when you first put them out on your patio and they really do finish an area. But after a few months you’ll notice the edges that get more sunlight are starting to bleach and fade. Maybe the stripes are still red where they’ve been protected by your furniture but everywhere else they’re a pale orange. And then after a few weeks of afternoon thunderstorms and 100% humidity, you flip the rug back and are met with a horror show of mold and mildew. Then what do you do? It’s too big for the washer. Your pressure washer would destroy it. It’s more expensive to professionally clean it than it was to buy it. So you ultimately toss it into the landfill and buy a new one.
Outer doesn’t want to just stop this cycle, they want to improve the entire process by rescuing PET plastic bottles from landfills and turning them into the soft, durable woven fiber that makes up their outdoor rug collection. The number at the beginning of each model is the number of bottles they diverted from landfills to make your rug. And, frankly, unless you tell someone that the rug is upcycled plastic, they’re never going to know.
The dithered pattern has a dominant color, blue, grey, or beige, that hides dirt phenomenally well and is neutral enough to not compete with your furniture and accents. It’s meant to be a foundational piece that complements your patio decor as you change it from season to season.
The recycled plastic fiber doesn’t fade in the sun, is naturally stain resistant, and can stand up to the harshest of cleanings. When I was chatting with Jiake Liu, one of Outer’s co-founders, he told me about testing the limits of the rug’s durability with bleach and a pressure washer. It came away from the test looking good as new.
The 1188 Outdoor Rug isn’t cheap but then neither is having to replace your rug completely year after year. The rugs continue Outer’s mission of providing lasting style and comfort in outdoor living spaces beautifully.
Goal Zero Yeti 500X Portable Power Station
Unless you’re incredibly blessed, your outdoor outlets (if you have them at all) are in the most inconvenient of places or there aren’t enough of them. So you end up running extension cords inside and are stuck with a snakes’ den of trip hazards. Or if you’re hosting an outdoor movie night, you’ll find that, inevitably, the one spot for the projector that’s the perfect distance from the screen is the one spot that you can’t get power to.
That’s where the Yeti 500X Portable Power Station comes in. Weighing just 13 pounds, with three USB ports, a 12V car port, a 6mm port, and a 120V AC plug that provides 300W of clean power, you can keep just about anything running for hours, even a smart TV or small projector. And it has enough juice to recharge dozens of phones, something that everyone at your gathering will appreciate.
The 500X is easy to keep topped off as well. If you grab one of Goal Zero’s solar backpacks, you can plug it in to grab a steady stream of power from the sun. This compact, reliable power station will be the backbone of your summer.
Epson EF-100 Mini-Laser Streaming Projector
Is part of the reason I included this Epson EF-100 projector on this list because it looks sexier than any of the other bland black or white rectangles on the market? Yes it is.
However, even if the Epson EF-100 didn’t have an eye-catching copper edge, it’d be on this list for a variety of reasons. It has a 3-chip laser display that can pump out 2,000 lumens of brightness. It can project a screen image up to 150”. It has automatic horizontal and vertical keystone correction so that your image doesn’t look like weird 80’s parallelogram.
The cherry on top? It comes with an Android TV dongle. Unlike other projectors that use weird proprietary app stores, Epson uses Android. Why is that important? Because it means all the apps from which you want to stream: HBO Max, Paramount+, Disney Plus, Bravo, etc., are all there. You don’t have to worry that your favorite new streaming service won’t be compatible with your projector. After reviewing probably half a dozen different projectors over the past year, it was the ones with Android TV that I recommended to friends and family. They work like your smart TV and they’re infinitely more useful.
I do wish the EF-100 had an integrated support for a tripod. But then that’s a bit of convenience that hasn’t quite caught on as of yet. It’s a minor quibble in an otherwise flawless projector. Grab one, point it at the nearest flat surface you can find, and enjoy the show.