Top Camping Gear: 2006 Editors’ Choice
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Tents are the center point of any camping trip. It’s where you sleep at night, nap during the heat of the day and wait out bad weather. It had better be good. Our favorite new tent this year is the Kelty (800/423-2320; /kelty.com/) Pavilion 6 ($625). The six-sleeper offers a 162×108-inch footprint (tent only), super-strong DAC DA17 aluminum poles, polyester walls and fly, D-shaped door, taped floor seams, full-coverage fly with large mesh vestibule and pull-down shades, internal storage pockets and gear loft loops.
Honorable mentions go to Johnson Outdoors for its Eureka! (800/572-8822; /eurekatent.com/) ATV Garage ($199.99) and REI (800/426-4840; /rei.com/) for the Hobitat 6 ($299) tent. The Eureka! ATV Garage, designed primarily for campers who use ATVs, provides portable, ventilated protection for your machines, as well as bicycles and other camping gear too large to keep in your living-quarters tent. REI’s Hobitat 6 is over 6 feet tall, sleeps six, offers aluminum poles and full-coverage rainfly.
If you’re not sleeping comfortably, then you’re not going to have a good time camping. That’s why we chose to honor the Eureka! (800/572-8822; /eurekatent.com/) Eagle Point -15-degree mummy sleeping bag with one of our Editors’ Choice awards. It’s rated at -15 degrees so you won’t get cold even in the nastiest weather (unless you’re ‘packing on Mt. Rainier), and you won’t lose sleep over the price you paid, either. Featuring double-layer offset, multi-needle quilt construction; fully adjustable hood and storm collar; and roomy trapezoidal foot box, the new bag from Eureka! will only cost you $79.99. Comes in regular and long sizes.
And you had better have a good sleeping pad, too! We especially like the new DualCore pad from Big Agnes (877/554-8975; /bigagnes.com/) that combines PrimaLoft insulation and a foam core for the ultimate comfort of an insulated air mattress and the unsurpassed support of foam. Available in a 20-inch width (mummy and rectangular shapes) and 66-, 72-, and 78-inch lengths; and 25-inch width in a 78-inch long rectangular pad. MSRP ranges from $89 to $145.
Other great sleep products deserving recognition here are: the Slumberjack (800/233-6283; /slumberjack.com/) Telluride 30-degree ($59.99, regular; $69.99, long) sleeping bag and Fusion Core ($60) self-inflating mattress; Kelty (800/423-2320; /kelty.com/) Corona ($60) two-person sleeping bag; and the Therm-a-Rest (800/531-9531; /cascadedesigns.com/) Trail Comfort ($70) self-inflating mattress.
LIGHT YOUR WAY
The new Coleman (800/835-3278; /coleman.com/) Pinnacle ($69.99) lantern, claimed to be the brightest Coleman lantern yet, gets the nod from us as our favorite new lantern. The Pinnacle offers battery-powered, push-button matchless starting and easy-to-change Insta-Clip mantles. But the real kicker is that the top half of the lantern (globe and burner) can be removed as one piece and stored securely inside its cylindrical metal lower housing for protection during travel.
Brunton’s (800/443-4871; /brunton.com/) new triple-mantle Orion ($89) lantern received an honorable mention by our staff because of the way the cross-hatching on the glass globe cut the glare. It was brighter than the Coleman Pinnacle, but didn’t store for travel as well as the Pinnacle.
Our favorite new camp stove is the Wind River Range ($439) from Brunton (800/443-4871; /brunton.com/). This is a masterpiece of modern camp cooking – lightweight, sturdy and powerful. The aluminum suitcase-style body opens up to reveal two 15,000-BTU (each) burners and a heavy-duty stainless steel grate on one side, and a food-grade plastic cutting board with utensil storage underneath on the other side. It’s pricey, but comes with a lifetime warranty!
We also love the new Coleman (800/835-3278; /coleman.com/) Self-Contained Portable Propane Oven ($89.99) that can produce baking temperatures up to 450 degrees and take standard 13×9-inch pans. It offers push-button, matchless starting and a glass viewing window on the front-load door.
Another of our favorites is the new Century Tool & Manufacturing (800/435-4525; /centurycamping.com/) Matchless Deluxe Stainless Steel 2-Burner Model No. 4980 ($69.99). We liked it because the stainless drip tray is corrosion-free and easy to wipe clean.
PACK ON YOUR BACK
You’ll need a good daypack to carry those 10 essentials on your outdoor adventures between breakfast and supper, and we have always liked the daypacks from Deuter (303/652-3102; /deuterusa.com/). The company now offers women’s specific packs (SL line) in every one of its categories, including the Futura 22 SL ($95) and Futura 34 SL ($115) daypacks that feature Deuter’s Aircomfort SL back system, streamlined designs, shorter torso lengths and narrower shoulders to better fit the female frame. The Aircomfort-System is like a spring-loaded trampoline – a special mesh covering the frame keeps the weight evenly distributed and suspended off your back, and allows warm moist air to circulate freely away through the three open sides.
Hydration packs are all the rage. Carrying capacity and a water container all in one – such a deal! And Gerber (800/950-6161; /gerbergear.com/) has really nailed it with the Canyon XC ($99.99). It not only carries Gerber’s remarkable Liquifusion 100-ounce capacity reservoir that’s “dishwasher safe” and good for hot or cold fluids, but offers 1420 cubic inches of cargo volume, too.
This year, we’re sweet on the new Lowrance (800/324-1356; /lowrance.com/) iFinder Expedition c Plus. The handheld GPS unit retails for $309 and offers a 2.83-inch (diagonal), 256-color TFT display; 16-channel GPS/WAAS receiver; electronic compass and barometric altimeter; built-in continental U.S. and Hawaii base map; an internal slot for a MMC/SD digital media memory card; a Scout Mode to mark area perimeters and create borders, and it’s waterproof. It will also play MP3 audio files on the MMC/SD card with an optional MP3 kit, accept high-detail maps such as Lowrance Freedom Maps and ProMaps, and comes with the MapCreate USA Topo Accessories Pack for custom mapmaking on a PC.
Hands down, our favorite new communication device is also a navigation device. The Garmin (800/800-1020; /garmin.com/) Rino 530 ($535.70) two-way GMRS radio/GPS unit provides 5 watts of transmission power, position-reporting capability, WAAS-enabled 12-channel receiver, a bright color TFT display, mini USB port and 56 MB of internal memory for downloading and lots of map storage, compatibility with Garmin’s U.S. Topo 24K and other cartography software for the PC, and much, much more. And it’s waterproof!
Sky gazers will go for the SkyScout ($399) by Celestron (310/328-9560; /celestron.com/), a compact handheld personal planetarium that uses advanced GPS technology to instantly identify stars, planets, constellations and more. You can find out what star you’re looking at by pointing the SkyScout to the sky and clicking the “target” button. You can also find certain stars or planets via a menu of listings on the 3×1-inch display. Choose a target on the list and follow the directional arrows through the viewfinder; the SkyScout will tell you when you’re on that target. The device also offers audio and text information, including facts, trivia and history about the most popular celestial objects, and its database can be updated.
COVER THY SELF
We like the REI (800/426-4840; /rei.com/) Aegis ($169) jacket for its feminine cut and welded top, waterproof shoulders, chest and hood — replacing traditional stitching. It also has a stretchy soft-shell fabric on the main body for mobility and breathability while resisting rain. The welded (or seamless) construction makes it lightweight and breathable.
Some of the best shirts are the basic Tees, like the Isis (866/875-8689; /isisforwomen.com/) micro-polyester ActiviTee ($32). The micro-polyester fabric gives it a soft feel and helps wick away moisture from your body.
Ex Officio’s (800/644-7303; /exofficio.com/) Amphi Pants ($58) are lightweight and offer a relaxed fit. It has mesh mobility at the knees, a floating pocket loop and a security zip pocket. It’s also wrinkle resistant and quick drying, great for travel.
Woolrich (800/995-1299; /woolrich.com/) offers the Riverbank ($50) shirt that really delivers as a technical apparel appliance. It offers sun protection (30 UPF), a sunblock collar, and side panels, a mesh vented back and an invisible zipper security pocket. At 3.5 ounces, it’s a lightweight shirt that can be worn alone or over a tank.
Smartwool’s (800/550-WOOL; /smartwool.com/) Bent Crew ($70) is good for warm and cool days thanks to its 100 percent jersey knit. It offers contrast flatlock stitching for softness and a hidden pocket for keys or an ID. A nice, updated look to the crew.
The Diad ($179) jacket by The North Face (800/477-2333; /thenorthface.com/) is made of “Magic Seam” construction, replacing stitches with sealed seams, making it one of the lightest-weight shells of its kind and highly compressible (try fitting it in a Nalgene bottle). The 7-ounce nylon ripstop jacket is also waterproof.
Royal Robbins’ (800/344-7277; /royalrobbins.com/) Trail Cloth Cargo Pant ($44) scores points for its functional style. It has zip secure front pockets and a button secure cargo and back packets. The durable material is pre-washed, giving the pant a lived-in look. Good to wear in and out of the outdoors, and at a good price.
Storage cubes have gone cargo. The Mountainsmith (800/426-4075; /mountainsmith.com/) five-piece Cargo Case Storage System ($70) is specially designed to fit all manufacturers’ cargo box carriers. There’s one shaped cube for wind-resistant designed cargo carriers, two standard cubes and two split cubes. Made of a rugged fabric with a ballistic-nylon reinforced bottom and a self-repairing coil zipper, each cube has two haul handles for easy loading. All of the cubes have weatherproof interiors. Clear contents label sleeves are on each side for dual-access cases.
There are a handful of new outdoor “accessories” that got our attention and accolades, and deserve yours, too.
Nalgene (800/625-4327; /nalgene-outdoor.com/) offers up its new children’s cup, the Grip ‘n Gulp ($6.99) that’s spill-proof and far tougher than the average sippy-cup. It has side indents for tiny hands to grasp, rubberized lid and smooth plastic mouthpiece, lid loop for clipping to a pack or stroller, and the 12-ounce vessel is compatible with OTG, ATB and wide-mouth closures. Made from polycarbonate, it’s nearly indestructible and dishwasher safe.
Crazy Creek (800/331-0304; /crazycreek.com/) offers the Crazy Legs Ratchet Chair ($48) is the only one of the Crazy Legs series that doesn’t have legs. It’s a ground-level seat that has a three-position internal ratchet mechanism allowing the back angle to be adjusted from upright to recline. A sturdy aluminum frame offers support, closed-cell foam padding provides comfort, and the 600-denier coated polyester covering is tear-resistant and easy to clean.
Don’t like biting bugs? Bring along the new ThermaCELL (8-NO-SKEETER; /thermacell.com/) Mosquito Repellent Lantern ($24.99) for your campsite. Adding a soft glow of light to the table, the device is also capable of keeping those nasty little biters at bay. A replaceable butane cartridge powers the internal lantern (push-button ignition), and the insect repellent mat (3 included) heats up and releases a chemical that provides a 15-foot circle of protection from 98 percent of mosquitoes, black flies and no-see-ums.
A good knife is like a best friend-always there when you need them. And the B.U.L.L. ($39.99) from Columbia River Knife and Tool (800/891-3100; /crkt.com/) is a real pal. The Basic Utility Locking Liner is a no frills, classic folding knife that offers a 3-inch, high-carbon steel blade in either straight or partial-serrated edge design, with a Zytel-grip handle. A pocket clip keeps it close at hand.