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New Camping Gear: Editor’s Picks

January 1, 2003
Filed under Camping Gear, Misc. Camping Gear

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Every year a cornucopia of new camping equipment arrives in outdoor shops. Manufacturers of gear ranging from camp lights to sleeping bags try to get your attention with new ideas to make your camping trip a more comfortable and rewarding experience. The list of great new gear is mind-boggling and would fill every page in this issue, so we have waded through the hundreds of new ideas and compiled a handful of our favorites. On the next few pages, well share our editors picks with you, tell you why we like them and where you can find more information about these hot, new camping products.

Last year, the camp kitchen seemed to be the focus of attention from gear makers. This year, the attention appears to have moved to the bedroom, with innovative sleeping bags and mattresses on the way. But thats not all. New ideas in outdoor recreation and camping comfort have come from all quarters, including tents, packs and camping gadgets for the entire family.

BIG AGNES

If you’re looking for a high-quality sleeping bag, Big Agnes (877/554-8975; bigagnes.com) new Hog Park 20-degree bag (MSRP: $129) may end your quest. Similar to other Park Series bags for car camping, such as the 0-degree Qualofil Whiskey Park bag (MSRP: $150) and the minus-20-degree Qualofil Elk Park bag (MSRP: $165), the Hog Park 20 offers 25×78 inches of comfort in a durable, water-resistant nylon bag, featuring a no-draft wedge surrounding the zipper and a no-draft yoke collar. The stain-resistant interior is lined with soft, breathable 190T nylon that will keep you comfy in a variety of camping situations, and jackets can be stowed in the built-in perma-pillow sleeve for head cradling. Any of the bags in the series can be zipped together with left or right zip options a cool little feature to our way of thinking. Youll have especially sweet dreams if you combine the bag with one of the new Hinman Series Self-Inflating Pads (MSRP: $70), which provides extra support, insulation and comfort. The suggested price for a Hog Park bag and pad combo is $179.

BRUNTON

Gadgets are this companys fort. Brunton (307/856-6559; brunton.com) not only manufactures premium-quality compasses, but a host of other outdoor instruments, as well. Some of the newest Brunton creations are the Solo portable power unit and the Lamplight flashlight/lantern.

The Solo can provide power whenever and wherever you need it. It will deliver hours of power in three different outputs (7.5 volts, 12 volts and 110 volts) to operate small electronic devices such as cell phones, laptop computers, air pumps and compact blenders. Cords and cables can be stored in the Solos handles. Weighing just 10 pounds, 12 ounces, the rechargeable unit is 11.5×12.5×3.7 inches in size, and has an output of 200 watts with an 8000 mAh storage capacity. Now you can have it all. The Solo retails at $649. The Solo 2 (twice the staying power of the Solo) carries a suggested retail price of $949.

A pocket-sized LED flashlight/lantern powered by three AAA batteries, the Lamplight converts from a bright-focused flashlight to a soft-glow lantern. A simple twist of the housing changes the light from spot to flood, and you can hang it inside your tent for area illumination without the hassles or fumes of a fuel-fired or candle lantern. Weighing less than 3 ounces, the Lamplight ($25) is 4.25×1.25 inches in size.

CAMELBAK

With the new Ares daypack (MSRP: $100) from Camelbak (800/767-8725; camelbak.com), youre ready to tackle the trails in any season. Part of the Exo-Air Series, the Ares, measuring 1570 cubic inches, is built around a uniquely shaped, 3 mm polyethylene sheet that has been shaved down to the bare minimum to keep things light. We liked the way the double-concave sheet suspends the middle of the pack away from the back, while Camelbaks exclusive three-dimensional air mesh provides great airflow. Sweaty backs? Forget about it. The pack also features a traditional panel-loading design, and is fitted with four external compression straps and an easy-access outer pocket. The 70-ounce OMEGA reservoir is easily cleaned and filled, via a wide opening, and loaded, courtesy of the full-zip back panel. Other features include a low-profile Hypalon ice ax loop, a 1-inch removable waist belt, and the new PureFlow tube. The HydroLock shut-off valve and neoprene tube cover keeps water cool. Colors available include black and caramel.

CASCADE DESIGNS

Camping no longer has to be hard on your back. The Fusion and Fusion EX (MSRP: $130 and $140) from Cascade Designs/Therm-A-Rest (800/531-9531; thermarest.com) are durable, self-inflating mattresses with built-in sleeves that house removable 3/16-inch closed-cell, foam pads. The mattresses alone can offer a decent nights sleep, but the pads are reported to keep you 30-percent warmer, while also lending extra support and protection from rough surfaces. The Fusion is full length, while the Fusion EX features a three-quarter-length mattress with removable foot section (without the pad), which can be used for a pillow or seat. We were impressed with the fact that the mattresses feature Staytek Lite fabric on top, a LiteFoam core, a urethane film and nylon bottom, and can be used with or without the pad, depending on the degree of insulation or mobility needed such flexibility in one little pad. And for even more excitement, add the new Therm-A-Rest Game Sleeve (MSRP: $25). It fits on any of the companys 20-inch-wide pads.

COLEMAN

The Coleman Co. (800/835-3278; coleman.com) always has lots of new, cool stuff for campers, and 2003 is no exception. Our favorites were the new Boulder Ridge sleeping bags, and Northstar 8 and Boundary Water 4 tents.

The Boulder Ridge bags are available in a 0- and 20-degree ratings ($150 and $125, respectively). The new bags offer techy highlights such as a draft-tube design to keep cold air from seeping in and warm air from seeping out through the zipper, an extra-large semi-rectangular shape for roomy comfort, and an oval foot section so your tootsies dont feel cramped.

Two new family-size tents will be available come spring: the Northstar 8 ($500) and the Boundary Water 4 ($250). The eight-person Northstar 8 is ideal for a base camp and offers a 6.5-foot ceiling, upright walls for a feeling of spaciousness, two vestibules, and a two-room, 152-square-foot interior. One of the rooms can be converted into a screened porch by rolling back all three doors to reveal large mesh walls great for warm summer evenings. Oversized awnings stretch the entire 15-foot length of the tent, and two power cord ports allow access to a power source without leaving the doors or windows open.

Colemans Boundary Water 4 is a great structure for the mobile family of four and, unlike the 33-pound Northstar 8, is designed to be light enough (12.8 pounds) for use on a canoe trip. It offers a large front door for scenic views and a huge vestibule thats just right for stashing large amounts of gear out of the weather. The four-pole tent also features dual zippers on both entrances for better ventilation.

EUREKA!

The new Blue Mesa 11 two-room, freestanding tent (MSRP: $380) from Eureka! (800/572-8822; eurekatent.com) is just too cool for us not to tell you about it. We got excited about all the extra space in this family-sized posture-saver that stands 5 feet, 6 inches tall, weighs an estimated 21 pounds, and features bathtub floors, aluminum primary poles, and a new, unique, two-position gear loft organizer.

But we really were intrigued with the fact that this three-season, hexagonally designed tent offers zippered room dividers to create separate rooms, handy for those times when not everyone wants to go to sleep at the same time or when a little privacy is needed. And if even more room is desired, the 6-foot, 2-inch-tall Blue Mesa 1610 (MSRP: $470), at an estimated 27 pounds, will give you three rooms. Both versions of the Blue Mesa offer vented doors and large areas of mesh on the roof and windows for good airflow, and flys made of 75D StormShield fabric offer excellent weatherproofing and UV protection. Taffeta rod pockets allow stability and quick setup.

EXPED

More snoozing comfort is the news from Exped (888/609-7187; exped.com), a camping equipment company that specializes in backpacking gear, but is stepping up to the plate when it comes to providing family campers with great gear, too. Our favorites from Exped are its new Ibis WB sleeping bag and Down Air Mattress.

While the Ibis WB is a bit pricey ($449/medium; $469/long), it is said to be waterproof and breathable due to its Pertex Endurance ripstop nylon shell. The three-season sleeping bag is filled with 700-fill goose down, rated for 18 degrees, and features an oversized collar and draft tube, locking zippers, an inner chest pocket for personal items, and a stuff sack that doubles as a bug screen.

The Down Air Mattress offers the comfort and convenience of an inflatable sleeping pad with the extra body-heat-retention qualities of goose down fill. It has dual, oversized locking valves for faster inflation and deflation, laminated polyester fabric surfaces that are textured for slip-proof sleeping, baffles between the mats six chambers to keep down from shifting and creating cold spots, and a combination pump/stuff sack. The Down Air Mattress comes in three sizes: 20×70 inches in two weights, 30 ($149) and 24 ($119) ounces; and 26×77 inches ($179), weighing 44 ounces.

KELTY

If, for whatever reason, you prefer a doublewide sleeping bag, we think the 80-inch-long Lunar Double Wide (MSRP: $160), which features a 136-inch girth, from Kelty (800/535-3589; kelty.com) is just the right size. We darned near waxed poetic on this bag thats designed to keep you warm in oh so many ways. Lined with comfortable Rentex microtherm brushed polyester and Cloud-Loft insulation, the 20-degree bag offers a soft nylon taffeta shell and two-layer offset quilt construction. A full-length zipper draft tube also helps keeps things cozy inside, aided by ground-level side seams that keep heat from escaping and a differential cut that eliminates cold spots. Other features include FatMan and ribbon drawcords; sleeping pad security loops; hang loops for drying; and two full-length, two-way locking zippers. The bag will keep one person cozy, but its really built for two.

Also new from Kelty for 2003 is its line of hydration fast packs, speed packs and containers. We were impressed that, coupled with Source Hydration Technology, these comfortable, efficient packs provide clean, fresh water on the trail, without the plastic bag taste even after weeks of storage. External reservoir access allows easy filling and insertion of ice cubes. The angled leakproof bite valves allow high flow rate without risk of losing sealing characteristics. MSRP ranges from $30 to $150.

MARMOT

Marmot Mountain (707/544-4590; marmot.com) manufactures high-quality outdoor apparel, tents, packs and sleeping bags. Marmot started as a sleeping bag company in 1974, so its no surprise it would have some exciting new offerings in that arena. Of special interest to Camping Life readers is the new Marmot DoubleWide 600-fill Down Bag Collection.

These new sleeping bags have an internal volume control feature that consists of two top zippers extending nearly the full length of the bag, which, when unzipped, increase the girth of the bag substantially. The DoubleWide Series bags arent designed to sleep two, but are great for campers who dont like the confines of most tight-fitting sleeping bags. Best of all, the bags differential cut is not degraded even when the zips are unzipped, so no cold spots are created. The DoubleWide comes in a regular and long 30-degree rating and a regular and long 15-degree rating. The DoubleWide 30-degree bag is $219 and weighs just 2 pounds, 19 ounces.

MOUNTAINSMITH

The six new lumbar packs from Mountainsmith (800/551-5889; mountainsmith.com) are perfect for day hiking in comfort. Instead of a fanny pack with limited or no suspension and fit, or a traditional backpack that sits high on your back, a lumbar pack can evenly distribute load and help you maintain freedom of movement and agility. Since the lumbar pack is closer to your center of gravity, the thinking is that it will provide better
balance.

Our favorites were the Kinetic ($40) and the Swift ($50) models. The Kinetic features five liters of volume, one main compartment, and has a padded, fleece-lined and zippered inner pocket. Two mesh water bottle holders are provided, too. The Swift also offers five liters of volume and one main compartment, but in addition features Mountainsmiths patented Delta compression waist belt to further stabilize loads. It also has two mesh water bottle pockets, daisy chain loops and organizer slots for a cell phone and CDs. The Kinetic and Swift are available in red, cobalt, green and black.

SEATTLE SPORTS

The next time you venture out to the woods, consider taking along the new Big Mat (MSRP: $79.95) and Self-Inflating Pillow (MSRP: $17.30 to $25) from Seattle Sports (800/632-6163; seattlesportsco.com). We were enthusiastic about the luxury-level cushiness of this combination. Ideal for car campers, the 4-inch-thick Big Mat self-inflates to provide a great nights sleep on the bumpiest terrain.

The heavy-duty vinyl construction helps guard against punctures and when its time to pack up, riveted cinch straps allow the mat to be easily compressed when rolling. Inflation and deflation is a snap courtesy of dual valves. And dont forget your head. The lofty, urethane-foam-filled Self-Inflating Pillow features fleece on one side for cold-weather use and nylon on the other for warmer weather.

Its further proof that its the little things that count.

SIERRA DESIGNS

A company that manufactures a wide variety of outdoor gear, including tents, sleeping bags and clothing, Sierra Designs (800/635-0461; sierra
designs.com) brings plenty of new goodies to store shelves this year. However, we were especially attracted to its line of new custom convertible sleeping bags and a new four-person tent.

Designed as a build you own bag component system for the entry- level buyer who eventually wants it all, the Custom Convertible Sleeping Bags offer complete adjustability: temperature rating, weight, stuff size, and mix-and-match Polarguard Delta and Powerfill 600 goose down fills. Starter bags, such as the Delta-filled Mojave for men and Kalahari for women (regular, $159; long, $169), and the down-filled mens Gobi and womens Sahara (regular, $199; long, $209) are rated at 15 degrees. Gender-specific insulated Zip-On Lids, a 15-degree Delta and a 15- and 30-degree down, are available to add warmth. The Zip-On Lids retail prices range from $60 to $149. All the pieces are sold separately, so you can buy what you need now and come back later for more.

The Nomad 4.1 ($349) four-person tent is the newest member of the Sierra Designs Base Camp series. It has sleeping room for four, easy three-pole set up, and an adjustable venting rainfly. The Nomad 4.1 weighs 10 pounds, 10 ounces, offers 58 square feet of floor space, 19 square feet of vestibule room, and has an interior peak height of 56 inches.

SLUMBERJACK

Heres a company that makes sleeping bags, sleeping mats and pads, camping furniture, and accessories such as camp pillows and stuff sacks. Our favorite new items from Slumberjack (800/233-6283; slumberjack.com) are the new R3 System Bag and the new Campground Pad.

The R3 System Bag ($155) is part of the Slumberjack Basecamp Series designed for the family. Its a bag-within-a-bag featuring an outer bag for mild weather, with an inner bag that can be added for fall and winter camping that brings the bags temperature rating down to -10 degrees. It measures 38×84 inches, weighs 10 pounds, and fits persons up to 6-foot, 5-inches tall.

Inside your new R3, you can rest comfortably atop the new Slumberjack Campground Pad. The Campground Pad ($50, long; $90 jumbo) features a Tactel nylon upper and an Oxford bottom that is finished in a DWR (durable water resistant) coating to help keep it and you dry. The pad (long, 25×77 inches; jumbo, 54×77 inches) is made from convoluted polyurethane foam and provides a pocket for a pillow to be incorporated into the mat so you dont wake up in the morning with your face on the floor.

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