As cold as it’s been, it’s hard to imagine doing anything outside. But it won’t be long until it’s warmer, and you’ll be using the search box here at GearDiary to ask “What was the name of that cool outdoor blender that Chamberlain was going on about?” The answer to your future query is the Vortex Blender from GSI Outdoors.
The Vortex is designed for light to medium duty blending tasks when you find yourself without access to easy electricity. Whether you’re camping or tailgating, sometimes you just want to whip up some daiquiris, margaritas or Bloody Marys without the bother of a heavy mixer or extension cord running all the way back to a free-standing structure. (Or I guess you could even blend some soup, but I know that there will probably always be something rummy in my Vortex.) Even though Jimmy Buffett musically describes those concoctions with little umbrellas in them as “boat drinks,” an actual boat is probably one of the last places you want to worry about dealing with a heavy electric blender around all those gas fumes. Check out you old Waring when it’s running, and I’ll bet you see an occasional spark or two.
The Vortex is a sturdy piece of equipment, and assembly and disassembly for cleaning could hardly be simpler. Inside the box is the self-contained gear base, a 1.5 liter pitcher and lid, a strong handle for cranking and a clamp to secure the whole shebang.
The clamp hooks into a groove on the side of the base, and when firmly attached, the blender was quite stable during use. If you don’t make sure that the bracket is fully engaged, though, the Vortex may shift during use and make a big mess. Safety first! The actual clamp could potentially leave marks or cut grooves into whatever you are attaching it to, so it might be smart to pack a few short lengths of plank if you intend to use it on somebody else’s picnic table or the tailgate of a truck that isn’t actually used on a ranch in Texas.
Speed control is variable based on two factors. First, how fast you crank the handle. (Duh.) But secondly, there are two different gear attachments that determine how many revolutions of the motor each turn of the handle creates, like the low and high gears of an automobile transmission. The low gear has more torque, and is appropriate for crushing ice. The other gear is speedier and will help whip anything in the blender into a froth. This would be an excellent way to get your children to burn off some excess energy during a campout.
The handle was quite well-built, which actually surprised me since I’d seen items like this in various catalogs and figured, “Nah, that’ll never work.” But it does indeed work, and work hard at that. Another pro user tip is to never try to grind ice without at least some water (or other liquid, if you know what I mean) in the pitcher to keep the works from freezing up. Even if all you want is crushed ice, it’s no difficulty to drain the water out after the cubes have been broken down into the desired consistency and size. While I couldn’t recreate the perfect pellets of a drink from Sonic, the Vortex did a fine job crushing and then blending some fine frozen cocktails using the aforementioned “other liquid,” in my case, rum.
Is it a just gimmicky to try to use a blender outside? Sure, maybe a little, but with the popularity of outdoor kitchens and the corresponding gear taking off, this may be one of the cheaper items that you acquire to take the fun outside. I guarantee you’ll be a hit at the next tailgater if you volunteer to mix up a few batches of boat drinks. That’s the sort of Polar Vortex I can get behind!
The Vortex Blender from GSI Outdoors is available at the company’s website and other online retailers.
What I Liked: Sturdy construction and ease of use and cleaning
What Needs Improvement: Crushing ice can be a bit of a workout, but once I learned to lubricate the gears (and the user) with a little rum, it was no problem at all; do be careful with the attachment points of the clamp so as not to mar any soft wooden surfaces.
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample