Wherever you go today, music follows. A bluetooth speaker can spice up a ski lift or turn the top of a mountain into a club. It can keep the threat of karaoke alive and well and, more importantly, prod drunk uncles onto the dance floor. But up until now, these lightweight, hand-sized wireless speakers, while convenient, were delicate and infinitely vulnerable to drowning.
No more. Now, hikers have Nalgene-sized speakers, coming in at under two pounds, packed into their trail bags without any worry of rain or leaking water bottles. And even better, weekend BBQers can now shower their speakers with cannonball fallout, and even dip them in the pool. No sweat. There’s no plug, no jacks and no need to check the weather report. This is durable music wherever you need it, and these are your best options.
Best All-Around Speaker: Along with its 12-hour battery life, the 1.5-pound Braven is protected to up to 1 meter underwater and has a shockproof rubber exterior, meaning you can let it roll down a cliff into a lagoon and it won’t be worse for wear. Separate indoor and outdoor modes make the most out of the speaker’s volume to fill big areas, and a strap connection lets you hang it from a tree, kayak or backpack. And if you buy two they can be paired to work as left and right stereo speakers.
NudeAudio Super M
Editor’s Choice: Of NudeAudio’s first three portable, durable bluetooth speakers, the pocket-sized M speaker was by far the most popular, so the founders redesigned it to be waterproof and sand-proof and, most noticeably, able to produce 360 degrees of sound. The speaker, with 8 hours of battery life, features 2 full-range drivers and a passive subwoofer on each side of the speaker, which is unprecedented for a speaker this size. The Super M model is still in its Kickstarter phase, so the price hasn’t yet been released, but the Move M is available for only $69 as part of the founders’ “fair price policy” — so don’t expect to break the bank.
Altec Lansing Life Jacket
Worst-Looking Waterproof Speaker: The Life Jacket looks like something out of Tron (not in a good way), but the 1-pound speaker is the most durable in Altec Lansing’s line of outdoor speakers. Waterproof, dirt-proof and washable, the speaker features a 16-hour battery life, CD-quality audio and dual 2.5-inch Neodymium drivers, along with the ability to remember up to eight devices. Built-in caller-ID and voice operated commands allows you to accept and reject phone calls via the speakerphone if anyone calls while you’re jamming.
Best High-Endurance Speaker: This speaker has the best battery life on the list; the ability to play for 40 hours at 50 percent volume makes it ideal for a weekend trip. It’s snow-, mud-, shock- and waterproof and a speaker strap (sold separately) allows you to strap it to a tree — just to let everyone know you aren’t joking around about the Fugees. Complete with six symmetrically placed drivers, producing sound from all four sides of the speaker, and Siri/Google Now integration, this speaker is one of the best on the market and is also available with more fashionable (but less tough) exteriors.
Ultimate Ears Boom
Best-Looking Waterproof Speaker: These speakers lean more toward water and stain resistance than being fully water- and stain proof. Looking like a giant pill, these are the most stylish on the list and come in a selection of colors and limited-edition designs (hunt for the sold out colors on eBay). The speakers offer 360-degree sound, pair with speakerphones and can even be used as alarm clocks. They’re better suited to an outdoor summer BBQ than a full-on rugged adventure, especially if you use the iOS app to enable two of them as stereo speakers.
Grace Digital EXOXGEAR ECOXBT
Best Speaker for Kayakers: This 6-watt speaker isn’t the most powerful on the list. It doesn’t deliver 360 degrees of sound, or have an exceptional battery life (10 hours). But it floats. It’s designed to be attached to your kayak, waterski or boat for easily listening while you don swim trunks. And as one of the cheapest speakers on the list, it’s an easy add-on for any boating kit.
Outdoor Technology Big Turtle Shell
Biggest, Baddest, Loudest Speaker: The Big Turtle Shell is the biggest, loudest speaker on the list. At over 2 pounds and almost a foot in length, it’s double and triple the size of these other speakers — which means it isn’t designed to blast its 110 decibels on a hike or kayaking trip, but rather at an outdoor party or large campground shindig. The speaker lasts for 16 hours of playing time and features simple navigation buttons. Because of its size, it can recharge your iPhone four times over and, when placed on its side, can go from 360-degree room-filling sound to directional blasting.
Best Value: Delivering an output power of 15 watts, this is a surprisingly potent speaker for its price (you’d have to buy two of the ECOXBTs listed above for the same sound). It has a battery life of 12 hours; the speaker can answer you calls with a Bluetooth range of 30 feet; and at around 7 inches in length and 1.5 pounds, it’s the perfect entry-level speaker for your hiking bag.