Fun without an Agenda

Looking for some good, old-fashioned toys to play with that don’t claim to build STEM skills, expand your brain, or anything else? If so, you’ll want to check out these new items that offer, gasp, nothing but fun. And that’s just fine.

Hamsters in a House (ZURU)

hamsters in a houseThis might bring to mind another toy craze from a few years ago, (Zhu Zhu Pets) and we admit there are some similarities. These little hamsters are small (though not so small that your kids can swallow them), soft, and furry. They buzz and scoot around any smooth, flat surface as well as in their own little “ecosystems.” There are several playset houses, such as the luxurious “Ultimate Hamster House,” which has a bed, a slide, and even a toilet that makes flushing sounds—a sure-fire hit for kids who love potty humor (and who doesn’t?). Put the hamsters on any of the hotspots, and they’ll say one of 16 phrases. You can expand your hamster’s ecosystem by adding hamsters and accessory packs (sold separately), which include styling studios, cars, and run extensions (think train tracks for hamsters). Ages 4 and up. Prices vary. Available exclusively at http://www.toysrus.com/.  More at http://hamstersinahouse.com/

Micro Boats Shark Attack Challenge (Zuru)

micro boats These self-steering, motorized speed boats are great fun in the summer (and any other time of the year). They’re water activated, meaning that they fire up when wet and shut down when dry. With the Shark Attack Challenge, you and an opponent put your boats into a water-filled track and race to stay away from each other—and, of course, a shark. There’s also a real, working crane to retrieve half-chewed boats. Ages 3 and up. The Shark Attack is about $25. Individual boats (there are six of them) are about $10 each or two for $15. Available at Toys R Us. More at http://zurumicroboats.com/

Finding Dory Robofish Collection (Disney Pixar)

dory robofish In the new Disney Pixar movie, “Finding Dory,” that absentminded blue fish and her loveable friends (plus some new ones) are back. The Coffee Pot Playset lets your child carry Dory around, just like in the film. It comes only with Dory, but you can certainly drop in as many other characters as will fit, and create your own scenes. Other characters (including Marlin, Nemo, and Bailey the manatee are available, and all can survive in the bathtub or pool. Like the micro boats, they’re water activated, but they have a power save mode that automatically shuts them off after one minute in the water. The Coffee Pot is about $20; individual figures are $12 each. Available at Walmart and other major retailers.

Angry Birds (Spin Master)

angry birds figs 2Can’t get enough of Angry Birds? You’re in for a real treat, because Spin Master just released a variety of playsets, collectable figures, zooming toys, and more. Launch your bird at the pigs to save your eggs in the Angry Birds Pig City Strike Playset, which comes with a launcher, bird, pigs, and stackable city (just like in the app!). Victory is yours as the city comes crashing down. Small collectable figures can add to sets, or be played with solo. The large vinyl figures are great for launching or using as a ball. They’re soft and bounce off walls and other objects, so they’re pretty safe to use indoors. Angry Birds Speedsters are fun as well. Just wind them up, put them on any flat surface, point them at something to crash into, and let ‘em go. Ages 3 and up. Prices vary. Available at Amazon, Target, and other retailers. More at http://www.spinmaster.com/

It’s Alive! Or Is It?

There’s something almost primal about building robots. Maybe it’s the chance to create something that moves (and doesn’t need its diaper changed). Or maybe it’s the challenge of building something that will make our life easier. Whatever the reason, building—and playing with—robots is a wonderful way to spend time with your kids and to build a strong relationship. Here are some of our favorites.

Kamigami (Dash Robotics)

kamigamiKamigami are app-controlled robots you build and program. Start with putting together the robot’s body by folding a flat sheet of thin cardboard (hence the “-igami” in the name, as in origami). The robot’s insides snap together without tools. Kamigami look like giant Hexbugs and once they’re built, you control them with a free app. They play nicely with others and they’re practically indestructible. Race them, play laser tag, or just have them run around and smack into things. We especially loved that there’s zero intimidation factor: lots of other programmable robots can be overwhelming, but you don’t need to be a techie or a coding expert to get your Kamigami up and running. Ages 6+. $99. www.kamigamirobots.com

Circuit Scribe Maker Kit (ElectronInks)

circuit scribe maker kitCircuit boards are at the heart of just about everything in our life. But they’re incredibly tiny, which means it’s nearly impossible to see all the connections and how they’re made. Circuit Scribe changes all that by allowing you to physically draw your own circuits. The Maker Kit comes with 11 magnetic circuit board modules, a battery, and a handful of small components. But what makes this kit especially unique is the special ball-point-type pen that draws with highly conductive (non-toxic) silver ink, which allows you to draw circuits on just about anything. You can build simple switches that turn a light on and off, as well as more complex ones that involve touch sensors, timers, and more. But whatever you’re building, you’ll have a blast. Ages 8+. Under $80. http://www.electroninks.com/

Dash (Make Wonder)

dash robotDash brings the wonderful world of robotics to the kindergarten set. Dash is different than many other robots in that you aren’t actually building him—he’s ready to roll (and talk) right out of the box (after you charge him, of course). What makes this little guy so appealing to kids (and adults) is that you use an iOS or Android device to control him. The simplest app allows you to move Dash’s head, turn lights on and off, move him around the room, and a bit more. The apps get increasingly more complex, even allowing for drag-and-drop programming (using the app, you string together commands: go forward, turn left, flash your eyes, turn right, dance when I clap, etc.) to create surprisingly sophisticated routines that are beyond the capabilities of little ones, but will keep kids as old as 12 fully engaged. Ages 5-12. Under $150. https://www.makewonder.com/

Vex Robotic Arm (Hexbug)

vex hexbug robotic armThe first thing to know about this robotic arm from Hexbug (makers of those adorable, frenetic mechanical insects) is that it’s not a true robot in the “it-moves-all-by-itself” sense. Second, with more than 50 pieces, building it is going to take some time. But none of that detracts in any way from the product; if you want to automate your arm, you can buy a motor kit separately, and you and your child(ren) will have an absolutely amazing time working together to build your arm. Once it’s done, you’ll have and even more amazing time using it (mechanically or motorized) to pick stuff up and move it around. It comes with easy-to-follow instructions for the arm, a scorpion, and a helicopter. Ages 8+. Under $50. http://www.hexbugvex.com/robotic_arm.html.
 

A Vacation from Vacations

With all the camps, family trips, excursions, and non-stop activities, after a few weeks, summer vacation can sometimes start to feel like work. Here are some great ways to slow things down and get back to having some good, old-fashioned, low-pressure fun.

Math Dice Chase (Think Fun)

math diceThink Hot Potato, but with math facts. This game comes with two pairs of 12-sided dice and the goal is to pass your pair to your opponent before he or she does the same to you. The way you get rid of your dice is by rolling them, multiplying the two up-facing numbers, and calling out your answer. The speed factor and the element of competition make Math Dice Chase a fun, engaging way for kids (and adults) to master their multiplication tables. There are, of course, plenty of other ways to use the dice. You might, for example, roll one and have three players roll a die of their own and be the first to multiply theirs by the one in the middle. Ages 8+. Retails for about $6.99. http://www.thinkfun.com/products/math-dice-chase/

Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor (Think Fun)

escape the roomThere’s something very strange going on at the old manor down the street. Your neighbor, a famous astronomer, has seemingly disappeared and you and your guests have decided to investigate. Being adventurers, you let yourselves into the astronomer’s house, but, gasp, you find yourselves locked in a room. And time is running out. The only way you’ll survive the night (why do these things always happen at night?) is to work together using logic and problem-solving skills to solve puzzles and unlock clues. It’s a delightful (but a little sinister) way to spend time with your family and/or friends. The kit includes scene cards, sealed envelopes containing secret items (no, we’re not going to tell you what they are), instructions, and more. It’s for 3-8 players, ages 10+, and retails for under $22. http://www.thinkfun.com/products/stargazer/

Back Spin (Think Fun)

back spinImagine a two-sided flying saucer with six color-coded slots on each side. Every slot can accommodate three colored marbles, for a total of 36. But there are only 35. That allows you to push a marble from one side into the empty space on the other. Mixing everything up is plenty of fun, and involves lots of twisting and spinning and poking. But the real challenge is getting all the marbles back into their original positions. Back Spin is frustrating (in a good way) and requires logic, planning, time, and patience. But it’s also incredibly addictive and you won’t want to put it down. It’s for one player aged 8 and up (so it’s perfect for when you need a little “me” time) and retails for about $14.99. http://www.thinkfun.com/products/back-spin/

Wet Head (Zing)

wet headIf you’re looking for a fun way to cool down after a long day out in the sun, Wet Head is perfect. Imagine a small tank mounted on what looks like a hardhat. The tank has eight pins sticking out of it. Then, fill the tank with water and put the hat on. One of those pins will dump the contents of the tank onto your head. Now, spin the spinner, which will tell you to pull one or two pins, skip a turn, or do something else. (There’s also a Wet Head Challenge app that brings in trivia questions and just ads to the fun factor.) If you follow the instructions and stay dry, pass the hat to the next player. Eventually, someone’s going to get soaked. You can play indoors or out, fully dressed, or clothing optional. Ages 4 and up. Retails for under $20. http://wethead.toys/

 

Puzzles, with a Twist

There’s something incredibly engaging and fascinating about Rubik’s Cube and other similar puzzles, which explains why they’re so popular. This week, we had a lot of fun trying to solve five really unique cube-type puzzles (none of which is a Rubik’s). But because kids are often better at these things than adults, we got some assistance—and insights—from Jonathan Amir, a true puzzle-solving master.

V-Cube 7 (V-Cube)

v-cube 7If solving a traditional 3×3 Rubik’s is a challenge, just looking at this 8×8 cube may make you run screaming from the room. But if you’re an intermediate or advanced cuber, you’ll love this puzzle (although even Jonathan was overwhelmed at first). As with smaller cubes (3×3, 4×4, etc.), it helps to know the algorithms, which tell you how to move the horizontal and vertical layers. This 7×7 cube has algorithms as well, but, as you might imagine, they’re a lot more complicated and require much more memorization. Jonathan felt that the cube’s pillow shape (rounded sides) made it a little harder to hold, and if you have small hands, you might find it tough to twist some of the inner layer. Nevertheless, it’s a solid challenge. For ages 8+. About $38. www.v-cubes.com/

Gear Ball (Mefferts)

gear ballEven though it’s a sphere, this puzzle has six faces and the goal is to make each one a solid color. You do that in the usual way, by grabbing the ball with both hands and twisting in opposite directions. The interlocking gear-shaped pieces make this unique puzzle look nearly impossible. But according to Jonathan, it’s easier to solve—and a lot more fun—than a Rubik’s. So once you’ve got this one mastered, you’ll be able to show off to your friends. In the meantime, you’ll have a blast.  Ages 6+. $34.95. http://www.recenttoysusa.com/project/gear-ball/

Molecube (Mefferts)

molecubeThis fascinating brain teaser looks a little like a Rubik’s, but aside from the way you manipulate it, the Moleube actually has more in common with Sudoku. The spheres come in nine colors, and the goal is to twist and turn until there are no duplicate colors on any of the six faces of the cube. Jonathan didn’t have a chance to try this one, but for mere mortals, solving it is a lot harder than it sounds. Ages 9+. About $20. http://www.recenttoysusa.com/project/molecube/

Pyraminx (Mefferts)

pyraminxThis pyramid-shaped puzzle has been around as long as Rubik’s Cube (more than 40 years) and operates on the same basic twisting and turning principles. It has four triangular faces, each with 9 pieces, which makes it easier—and quicker—to solve. It a good option for littler kids and beginning cubers, but it’s still plenty of fun for advanced players. The world’s record for solving it is 1.36 seconds, which is exactly 1 hour, 6 minutes, and 19 seconds less than it took us.  Ages 6+. About $19. http://www.recenttoysusa.com/project/pyraminx/

Cube (Boulding Blocks)

boulding blocksAside from its geometric shape and the high entertainment value, Cube has very little in common with the other puzzles here. First, designed by artist Mark Boulding, it’s visually stunning. Second, it consists of eight pieces—four black and four white—and is made to be taken apart. Third, as Jonathan discovered, unlike the twisting puzzles, there’s really only one way to solve (reassemble) Cube, which makes it less of a challenge for determined cubers. But who says you have to limit yourself to cubes? What we found especially fun is that you can assemble the pieces into all sorts of other shapes and structures. If you have more than one Cube, you can combine the pieces and build even bigger things. Ages 6+. Under $20. www.bouldingblocks.com/

Figure This

Is your little one a cuddle monster—the kind of kid who falls asleep amid a pile of stuffed animals on the bed? If so, your child will love the plush toys we review this week. But wait, there’s more. We’ve got movie-themed characters and something to keep cuddle monsters entertained when you take them outside.

Nintendo Plush

nintendo character plushThese video-game themed toys have hit the trifecta: they’re cute, fun to play with, and encourage your child (and you) to act out scenes from his or her most beloved games. You’ll find just about any Nintendo character you can imagine—old ones, new ones, and even the most obscure ones—including Kirby, Mario, the coin box (really!), Koopa Troopa, Cat Toad, and regular Toad. Some make those well-known Nintendo game sounds like the coin bling and the Koopa Troopa “hit” sound. Prices vary, but most are under $10, and they’re available at any toy store.

Pokémon Collectibles

pokemon colectiblePokémon fans and collectors will love the new collectable Pokémon toys, which are being released to mark Pokémon’s 20th anniversary. Every month through December 2016, Nintendo will release one retailer-exclusive, Mythical Pokémon. These extremely rare plush figures will be 8-inches tall and made with a very special crushed velvet material. There will also be 2-inch pearlescent-finished figures that come with their own pearlescent-finished Poké Balls. The company will also release a number of limited-edition Pikachu products throughout the year, but you’ll have to move quickly because when they’re gone, that’s it! Visit http://tomycollections.com/ to see which Pokémon is being released in which month, and at which retailer. Prices will vary.

Precious Moments

precious moments plushThese plush toys may not have the same instant recognition and cachet as Nintendo’s, but they’re just as sweet and snuggly, and they’re made by Aurora World (which has created some of our very favorite stuffies). The new 17-piece Precious Baby line is perfect for even the smallest cuddle monsters, and includes a blanket puppet, wind up musical toys, plush rattles, toys that recite prayers (in either English or Spanish), and a number of traditional plush toys. Prices typically range from $12-24. Visit Aurora’s website, www.auroragift.com, to see their full line of baby items as well as stuffed animals for older children.

Zootopia figures (Tomy)

zootopia If your kids loved Zootopia (is there anyone who didn’t?), you can’t go wrong with these figures. There are plush toys, character sets, and more. There are even vehicles, like Nick’s convertible and Judy’s Police Cruiser, which has a little jail cell in the back. Characters some in sets of two, three, and more. Prices vary. Available at your favorite retailer or http://tomy.com/

 

 

 

Marvel’s The Avengers Big Wheel

Marvel’s The Avengers 16-Inch Big WheelWith summer here, you’ll probably want to be outdoors as much as possible. For some parents, getting the kids away from screens can be a challenge, but you’ll be able to remedy that situation by making going outside an event for the whole family. Grown-ups and big kids usually have bikes, but what about your little one—you know, the one with the short legs and less coordination? Well, a Big Wheels trike might be just the ticket—and it’ll be a fun blast from the past for mom and dad as well. With the new Marvel’s The Avengers Big Wheel, your kids can ride with their favorite superheroes. These Big Wheels are easy to assemble (even for non-techies) and they’re sturdy, so when your helmet-wearing Captain America wannabe decides to take on a tree, the Big Wheels will survive to ride another day. These new Big Wheels have a “Grow With Me” seat that can be positioned up to three times. Retails for about $60 at stores such as Amazon and Walmart.

Summer Fun for the Kids

Many of us who have kids at home during the summer break spend a lot of time thinking about how to fill all those school-less days and weeks. Here are a few of our current favorite ways to while away the hours…

Nerf Action Camera

nerf cameraWith a colorful, Nerf-inspired design, this camera is the perfect way for your kids to document their favorite summer activities (while keeping their little hands off your own camera and phone). Although it’s made for kids (meaning that it’s sturdy enough to take a tumble), it’s also more stylish than most of our first “grown up” cameras were. Resolution is a perfectly respectable 5.1 megapixels (way more than our first digital camera), and kids can shoot videos in 720p HD’llThen they can preview it all in the 1.8-inch TFT preview screen. That’s pretty much guaranteed to keep them occupied (and laughing) for a really long time. Oh, and the Nerf Action Cam is waterproof too, which means it’s ideal for pool-, waterpark-, and beach fun. Around $50 at http://www.toysrus.com.

Kurio Xtreme 2

kurio xtreme 2If there’s a long trip—be it plane, train, or automobile—in your future, your kids will love the latest Kurio, which, according to the manufacturer, is the safest, most full-featured Android tablet built especially for kids. Of course, the kids can use it at home too, and the child-friendly styling will give them a little extra incentive to reach for it instead of yours. This Kurio Xtreme 2 comes with 60 apps, including smash hits like Fruit Ninja and Subway Surfers, some active, body-controlled Kurio Motion games, and a ton of parental controls (including the Kurio Genius Internet filtering system). It also connects to the Google Play Store, but requires parent permission. Kids can use their Kurio to read e-books, take photos, shoot video, and watch movies. This sturdy tablet is made tough, and comes with bumper and a screen protector, as well as a kickstand. Setup can be a little time consuming, so we suggest that you start the process while the kids are in bed so they don’t drive you insane. If you need help with setup or anything else, Kurio techs are available 24-7 and can even take over the tablet for you to fix what ails it. About $100 at http://www.kurioworld.com

Budsies

budsies This has been the biggest hit of the season, by far. It starts with your child drawing a picture of an animal, mythical creature, or anything else he or she can imagine. Then, you scan the drawing and upload it to the Budsies website or text it to them (info is on their website). In about four weeks (you can pay more for faster delivery), a 16-inch high, stuffed version of your child’s creation arrives at your doorstep. Along the way, you get adorable emails giving you detailed updates on how your future Budsies is progressing. Have your camera ready, because the look on your child’s face when he or she opens up the box and sees a 3D version of something that had previously existed only on paper, is priceless. Sam’s son was thrilled beyond belief when his Budsies arrived—a polar bear with a rainbow sweater. Budsies are a wonderful gift, project, or memento for any child, and will be a toy you’ll never give away or get rid of. If your child doesn’t like to draw, try Selfies, which are plush stufies based on a photo that you upload or text in. Selfies are especially great for military families. Prices vary. Find out more at http://www.budsies.com

Time to Get Wet, Baby

Just when you thought it was safe to get into the water, it may actually be—but only with plenty of adult supervision. This week we take a look at several products that keep kids safe while still letting them enjoy themselves, and one that’s just plain fun.  Water safety is not something to take lightly and tragic accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, so never, ever take your eyes off of your child.

Power Swimr (SwimWays)

power swimrFor young children who are new to swimming, this is a great way to give them the support (literally) they need to learn at their own pace. The Power Swimr vest comes with nine removable flotation pads that are hidden inside a cute shell. With the full nine, your child will be almost upright in the water where he or she will be able to start learning the basics. As you remove the pads, the child gradually becomes more horizontal. The vest is small enough that it doesn’t interfere with the child’s ability to get into proper swimming position. And it comes with adjustable side cords and leg straps to keep it securely in place. Available in small (for ages 2-3, 20-35 pounds), medium (35-60 pounds), and large (55-80 pounds). Prices range from $15-$20. http://www.swimways.com/

Sea Squirts Swim Assist (SwimWays)

swim assist vest-Like the Power Swimr, Sea Squirts vests are a three-step system (small, medium, large) that includes several flotation pads that you can remove as your child develops skills and gains confidence. Made of neoprene (the same material used in wet suits) and sporting a lovely, orca-like dorsal fin, Sea Squirts vest are a bit more stylish than Power Swimrs, but they make swimming just as fun. Available in pink, orange, blue, and black. About $28. http://www.swimways.com/

Baby Spring Float (SwimWays)

baby spring floatBefore they can learn to swim, kids need to want to be in the water. But water can be scary and intimidating (as it should be). The Baby Spring Float is a great way to introduce babies who are too young to swim to water play in a fun, engaging way. The float itself is an easily inflatable, fabric-covered ring with a comfortable mesh seat in the middle where baby can learn the basics of kicking and paddling. And when it’s time for a break, there’s also a mesh play space that’s great for just splashing around. For mom and dad, the float is extremely stable, so you’ll be able to play with your baby without worrying about whether the float will tip over. Comes in a variety of colors and with an optional, adjustable canopy for added sun protection. Appropriate for babies 9-24 months. Retails for about $25. http://www.swimways.com/

Kickboard (Maui Toys)

kickboardIt’s hard to imagine learning to swim or even just playing around in a pool without a kickboard. And with these stylish boards from Maui Toys, you don’t have to worry about missing out on either. Boards come in a variety of sizes, colors, and styles. Prices vary. http://www.mauitoys.com/

Blow-up Billiards (SwimWays)

blow-up billiardsOlder (water safe) kids and adults will get a blast out of this set of ten large (8-inch diameter) inflatable billiard balls that turns your pool into a pool table (with apologies to purists who know that pool tables have pockets in the corners and the long sides, while billiards have none). The set includes a cue ball and nine numbered balls. Use those long, foam “noodles” (not included) as cue sticks or move the balls underwater or by splashing them around from place to place. For all ages, but it helps if you’re tall enough to touch the bottom. About $14.95. http://www.swimways.com/

Family Adventures in Costa Rica

If you’re looking a wonderful, adventurous family vacation, put Costa Rica at the top of your list. The scenery is stunning, the biodiversity even more stunning, the people are friendly, the prices—including the airfare to get you there—are reasonable, and there’s no shortage of adventure activities that the whole family will enjoy. Here are a few of our favorites from a recent trip there.

Exploring Nature

quetzalThanks to a dozen distinct ecosystems, which include coral reefs, rain forests, and cloud forests, Costa Rica is home to about 500,000 species of animals, hundreds of which exist nowhere else on the planet. Because so many of the most beautiful creatures are nearly impossible for an untrained eye to spot, the best way to see them is to hire an experienced nature guide. You can find guides outside the major national parks, but you never know what you’re going to get, which is why recommendations from trusted sources—such as Parents@Play–are so important.

baby howler In Manuel Antonio, our sharp-eyed guide was Edgar Avila (newconceptedgaravila09@gmail.com), who pointed out bats, lizards, three types of monkeys, frogs, caterpillars and other insects, sloths, and dozens of amazing trees and plants. In Monteverde, we hired Maikol Cruz (maikolcruz20@gmail.com) to take us bird watching and boy, did he deliver. We saw several Quetzals (which most people never get to see), about 15 other bird species, and a variety of other animals and plants. Both Edgar and Maikol were extremely knowledgeable about the animals, their diets, and their habitats. And their powerful scopes let us see everything in amazing detail.
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2016 Travel Accessories

When you’re taking a family vacation, you need to be ready for anything. At the same time, you don’t want to pack everything you own and the kitchen sink. Here are some of our travel must-haves.

Galaxy S7 (Samsung)

samsung galaxy s7A good cell phone is absolutely essential, and at the risk of starting World War III, we prefer Samsung’s over Apple’s. To start with, the camera takes vibrant, sharp photos, and the number of available apps is dizzying. The S7 and S7 Edge are also water resistant, which makes them much more durable. And in our experience, Samsung phones age well—they last longer than other brands we’ve tested, and are less likely to get “glitchy” or slow down or freeze. Sprint, the network that Samantha uses, also pairs really well with the new Galaxy line and has some really awesome offers right now for both new and existing customers, making it the perfect time to upgrade. Options and prices vary, visit your Sprint store for details.

 

HERO4 Session (GoPro)

GoPro HERO SessionWhile your phone will likely double as your main camera for basic photography, most of us don’t want to risk losing or destroying it by taking it jet skiing, skydiving, snow tubing, into the ocean, or on a ziplining marathon. The HERO4 Session is the smallest, lightest addition to the GoPro family. It has a free app that connects it to your phone so you can see your photos and videos right away. You can hold it, mount it, and wear it, and it’s waterproof, so it’s up for any and all adventures. The HERO4 takes sharp, high-resolution, professional-looking video and retails for a reasonable $200. Smart remote sold separately. https://gopro.com/

Sara (NAOT)

sara - naotWhen you’re on the road, a good pair of shoes is critical and the Sara by NAOT is a great option. These gladiator-inspired sandals are not only super cute, but also super comfortable, and you can dress them up or down. They have an anatomic cork and latex footbed which is wrapped in oh-so-soft suede. And yes, they can get wet and still look and function just fine. The heel and back panels have additional lining and padding that’s remarkably effective in eliminating blisters and those weird “ow” spots from rubbing. That said, we still recommend that you break them in before going on a long hike. About $150. http://naot.com

Nosilife Apparel (Craghoppers)

craghoppers nat geo chimaHere’s a great way to stay warm and to keep away those dreaded bugs (especially the ones who might transmit the Zika virus) at the same time. NosiLife Apparel has both sun protection and Insect Shield insect repellent woven right into the fabric. The jackets are cute, comfortable, and perfect for summer weather excursions and cooler nights. For the kids, check out the new Nat Geo NosiLife Chima jacket, which is soft and lightweight, has front pockets, a zip front, and a hood. It’s also nearly impossible to wrinkle. For mom, we like the NosiLife Astrid Cardigan, which has neither pockets nor hood, but it’s soft, lightweight, hard to wrinkle, and easy to dress up or down, making it perfect for trips where you can’t pack too much. Prices vary. http://www.us.craghoppers.com/

 

RFID-blocking vest (SCOTTeVEST)

cottevest_womens_26_pocket_vest2This vest is perfect for when you don’t want to or can’t carry a giant bag, but still need to pack lightweight things like your camera, binoculars, phone, granola bars, wallet, maps, and so on. With 18 pockets, this vest can handle it all. Plus, SCOTTeVEST has somehow designed it so you won’t look like a marshmallow when it’s fully loaded. The vest has a special RFID blocking pocket to keep your passport and credit cards hidden from identity thieves. Pockets are on the inside, so your stuff is also safer from wandering hands. Comes in several colors and in men’s and women’s styles and sizes. About $135. http://www.scottevest.com/

Superhero Movie Figures

If you’re a fan of superhero movies, life is pretty good right now. Between reboots of existing hero stories (Batman, Spiderman, and X-Men, for example), sequels (Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Fantastic Four 2, Thor, etc.), first-time-on-screen heroes (Deadpool, Antman, Jessica Jones), and heroes who had cameos in current films but will be getting their own movies soon (Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Aquaman), you’re going to be spending a lot of time in dark theaters. This week, we take a look at some fun toys to keep you connected to your favorite heroes—and villains—during those long spells between movie releases.

Big Figs (Jakks Pacific)

 jakks wonder womanThese 19-inch figures, ripped straight from the new Warner Bros film, “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” are stunning. If you’re a collector, you’ll probably put these big figs on a high shelf somewhere and never touch them, which would be too bad, because they’re really fun to play with. We had a chance to review Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and the opportunities for imaginative play are endless. Act out scenes from the movie by pitting that buff alien from Krypton against the equally buff vigilante from Gotham City. Or have that buff warrior princess from the Amazons take on both of the boys. Each of these figures is highly detailed and has seven points of articulation and a cloth cape (in the case of Superman and Batman). They’re for ages 3+ and retail for about $35 each. http://www.jakks.com/

 

Justice League figures (Schleich)

schleich batman v harley quinnThe Justice League is DC’s answer to Marvel’s Avengers, and while they’ve been a little slower getting to the big and small screens, they’re catching up quickly. Schleich, which makes gorgeously detailed animal figurines (including dragons and other mythical beasts) has created a line of just-as-gorgeously detailed Justice League characters. They’re available individually or in pretty much any combination. One set of small figures features Batman and Harley Quinn (who, if you don’t already know, is Joker’s girlfriend and one of Batman’s adversaries. She’s been in the comic books and animated series, but will be making her first live-action appearance in the forthcoming “Suicide Squad” film). Another set comes with seven of the founding members of the League: Aquaman, Batman, Cyborg, The Flash, Green Lantern, Superman, and Wonder Woman. All of the figures are beautifully rendered, solidly crafted, and great to play with. For ages 4+. Prices vary widely.  http://www.schleich-s.com/en/US/

 

Marvel Avengers RC Rollover Rumbler (Jakks Pacific)

jakks avengers rollover rumblerIf you’ve seen “Captain America: Civil War,” you may be feeling the need to side with the Cap or Iron Man. But with this two-sided remote-controlled vehicle, there’s no need to choose. Each side is decorated with images and colors from either Team Red or Team Blue. Start off as Iron Man, and when you get tired of his sarcasm and inflated ego, flip it over and continue as Captain America. And when you’re sick of Steve Rogers’ brooding and pouting, flip back to the billionaire. The multi-function 2.4 GHz remote lets you barrel straight ahead, flip, roll, jump, or do 360-degree spins indoors or out and on almost any non-smooth surface. It’s a real blast for parents or kids and will keep you busy and entertained for hours. The only downside is that it you’ll need 10 AA batteries, which aren’t included. The Rumbler is for ages 4+ and retails for under $48. http://www.jakks.com/