February 24, 2004
Filed under Camping Gear, Navigation & Communication, Tents

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For many backpackers and campers a quality tent is the most important piece of gear they own behind footwear, a backpack and sleeping bag. No manufacturer of outdoor products probably understands that better than Kelty (800/423-2320; kelty.com), which has been making backpacks and outdoor-related gear since 1952.

We had an opportunity to try out one of its latest tent offerings, the Trail Dome 4, during a weekend outing. The Trail Dome 4 is a four-person, three-season tent that weighs just 8 pounds. It has nearly 5 feet of headroom with an approximate 7×8-foot floor, providing room for four people in a pinch. However, it’s most comfortable for two or three people and their gear.

We relished its protection during the light drizzle in the evening and 15- to 30-mph wind gusts the next day. It kept us and our gear dry, while doing an excellent job of keeping the sand at bay. My wife and I were really impressed by how easy the tent set up. We got to camp just before dark and had the tent up and gear stowed in less than 15 minutes — and we spent 10 minutes unrolling sleeping bags and squaring away our weekend “living quarters.”

The key to fast setup is the use of Dongah Aluminum Corporation (DAC) DA17 aluminum alloy poles, and the plastic clips sewn into the tent loops. (DAC aluminum poles also provide a very high strength-to-weight ratio.)

The large-diameter poles with bungee-style cord connections almost snap themselves together. The poles are then laid across the spread-out tent and the attaching clips are snapped over them. As the poles are lifted up and set into the corner pockets, the clips slide into perfect position and hold the tent taught. The process takes but five minutes. The corner pockets are plastic, too, with a hole for the bullet-shaped end of the pole and a plastic receptacle/side-release for the rainfly snaps. Very convenient and easy to use; literally a snap here and a snap there and you’re done.

The tent has a big entry door with fat zippers for easy use in all conditions. It also features excellent ventilation on those hot, humid summer outings, with tight mesh screens to keep bugs at bay. We’d give the Trail Dome 4 a thumb’s up for anyone looking for a tech-featured, economical, easy-to-use dome tent. Prices range from $130 to $170 on the Web and in stores.

These handheld radios from Garmin (913/397-8200; garmin.com) combine communications with navigation to solve the perennial problem of the mislocated party member on camping trips. Garmin has come up with a clever blend of GPS and dual-mode communications, bundled in a palm-sized handheld radio it calls Rino (Radio Integrated with Navigation for the Outdoors). Rino provides voice communication through FRS and GMRS channels and sends location and distance information to other Rino users when the talk button is depressed. GPS coordinates can also be gleaned from other units by poling them in the event a user is unable to depress the talk button.

The Rino is loaded with features. Consequently, the learning curve for this device is steep. It’ll take users a fair amount of study and practice at home to become proficient at all the features while out on the trail. Nevertheless, the Quick Start Guide that’s included speeds up the learning process, and the device’s seven well-placed buttons, providing basic operation and quick access to often used functions, make operation relatively easy. Some other interesting features include a total of 22 channels, 38 squelch codes per channel, function key lockout, waterproof voice scrambler and vibration mode.

The 110 model has a built-in city point database and 1 MB of internal memory for additional points-of-interest data that can be downloaded from the MapSource website. The more expensive 120 model has a built-in base-map that consists of American road and highway detail and 8 MB of internal memory for downloading additional road, street, and points-of-interest data from MapSource.

The manufacturer claims that the Rino will transmit up to two miles on FRS frequencies and up to five miles on GMRS frequencies. That may be so, but in our test (on an unobstructed beach) we found that at one mile, communication was intermittent with either set of frequencies. We found the effective range to be a bit less than a mile.

Packing such a profusion of features into a small screen area means the print and symbols have to be small. We found it difficult for less-than-perfect eyes to distinguish some of the icons used for various purposes. The back-light feature was very helpful in this regard. With just the touch of a button a soft green light bathes the screen, making it very readable in all manner of light. It then turns off automatically.

Suggested retail price for the 120 model is approximately $268; the 110 model is about $195. If you shop around you should be able to find them for less. In spite of the few features we found less than perfect, the Rino is a great innovation in the world of electronic outdoor equipment

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