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Top Camping Gear Buyer’s Guide

February 24, 2004
Filed under Camping Gear, Misc. Camping Gear

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Each year brings a cavalcade of clever products to help make the outdoor experience more enjoyable, and this year is no exception. We’ve searched high and low to gather information on some of the most interesting new camping gear. What follows is just a taste of what will be available.

FUN IN TENTS

Let’s get down to basics: Nothing says “campsite” like a good tent. Gone are the days of the heavy, canvas, khaki-colored army tent. Today’s tents feature lightweight, attractive fabrics with enough technical properties to make the scientists at NASA stand up and take notice. Many are a breeze to set up, courtesy flexible, jointed poles. Most will keep you warm and dry and protect you from mosquitoes. Some will even keep you grounded in a stiff wind.

Among the offerings we’ve discovered are some of the new models in the Eureka! (800/572-8822; eurekatent.com) lineup. The 6-foot-tall, three-aluminum-pole Twister ($385) is a freestanding hexagonal dome, outfitted with three minivestibules that protect doors from rain. Featuring full mesh walls and three large doors/windows, and a zippered roof vent, the tent is not only easy to get in and out of, but offers maximum ventilation, even when you’re all zipped up. The Twister can sleep six with a 10’ 4”x12’ footprint. The nylon taffeta three-season tent, which comes in periwinkle blue, features a nylon Oxford bathtub floor, a StormShield polyester fly, No-see-um mesh and weighs just 22 pounds. Also check out the Kahuna external frame tent ($569), the Tunnel Vision ($630) tunnel tent and the Zeus 4EXO ($300).

Another manufacturer with some cool new offerings is Kelty (800/535-3589; kelty.com). Among its new tents for 2004 is the Trail Dome 6 ($200), which the company says has the greatest ventilation of its freestanding tents. Constructed of nylon taffeta (both walls and floor), the Trail Dome features four aluminum poles, one door, color-coded clip constructions, taped floor seams and water-tight walls. Side wall vents, mesh ceiling and closable mesh panels help keep things airy inside. It can sleep six, but the model is also available in two-person ($120) and four-person ($180) configurations. Interior storage pockets, gear-loft loops and noiseless zipper pulls round out an attractive, lightweight package (the four-person weighs 7 pounds, 9 ounces) that measures 99”x80”x57”. While you’re at it, also consider Kelty’s Yellowstone tents, which come with fiberglass poles in two-, four- and six-person configurations ($80, $120, and $160, respectively).

BAG IT

OK, even if you’re one of those hardy types who prefers sleeping out under the stars, you must admit that when camping, a sleeping bag can come in handy. Like tents, sleeping bags are, you might say, shadows of their former hefty selves. Remember those bulky bags with the ducks and hunters scampering across their inner flannel? Sometimes they could get downright damp and musty — either from sweat, rain or dew. Nowadays, bags are designed to keep you comfy and dry with incredibly breathable fabrics that repel water. These lightweight bags also won’t give you a hernia as you’re hiking around with them and, unlike the heavy-duty bedrolls, it’s easy to stuff them away in their neat little sacks.

Among the premium 2004 choices we found are the Buffalo Park 40-degree bag ($99) from Big Agnes (877/554-8975; bigagnes.com). Part of the company’s Park Series of bags, the navy and gray Buffalo Park offers a rip-stop nylon shell that’s been treated to repel water. Quallofil insulation is designed to provide breathability as well as excellent warmth. The lining is a cotton and polyester blend that is both soft and breathable and treated with a stain-resistant finish. The extra-wide, rectangular bag also features a perma-pillow sleeve and water-repellent exterior pad sleeve for those who like things a little cushier. It compresses down to 11”x8” to fit into its stuff sack and weighs only 3 pounds, 10 ounces.

Also available from Big Agnes is the Little Red 15-degree bag ($89), which, at just under 2 pounds, is made especially for kids. Featuring similar construction to the Buffalo Park, the Little Red is insulated with Polarguard Delta that will keep your little ones cozy. If it gets wet, it dries quickly and will still provide insulation.

Sea to Summit (702/240-1600; seatosummitusa.com) is an Australian company that has come up with an innovative way to boost the warmth of your sleeping bag. Its Reactor ($49.95) is basically a super techy bag liner. Made of DuPont’s Thermolite fabric, the Reactor absorbs and returns body heat to increase your bag rating by 15 degrees. It can also be used by itself as a warm-weather bag. Weighing 8 ounces, the bag liner packs down to 3”x5”.

Not one to be left behind when it comes to sleeping bag innovations, Slumberjack (800/233-6283; slumberjack.com) has produced the Big Bend 20-degree, a lightweight (2 pounds, 14 ounces) mummy bag that even the claustrophobics in your crowd might appreciate. Thanks to strategically placed Lycra-stretch panels, the bag is designed to allow more movement than the typical mummy. A rip-stop nylon and Teflon exterior shell helps keep you dry, Thermolite Microfleece liner lends a soft hand, and Thermolite Extreme insulation provides superior warmth. A fully contoured hood with flip-over option and an internal media pocket are just a couple of other nifty features. Available in two lengths (maximum heights of 5’ 11” and 6’ 5”), prices range from $209 to $219.

TAKE IT TO THE MAT

If you’re the type who actually enjoys having a good night’s sleep in the great outdoors, a mattress or mat of some kind should be on your list. Mats not only provide a softer, more even sleeping surface, but also help you retain body heat.

When it comes to mats, Swiss manufacturer Exped (253/735-6200; exped.com) has no shortage of them. The company’s newest offerings include the Down Mat 7 ($139) and Down Mat 7 Short ($119), which offer lightweight comfort and double the warmth of traditional self-inflating mats. Made of airtight, slip-resistant polyfabric, the mats are designed with integrated baffles and feature 700 fill, high-loft goose down, treated to prevent moisture buildup. At 27 ounces and 18 ounces respectively, they roll up to under a foot and ahalf each.

Slumberjack, mentioned above, also offers a variety of mats. Its latest is the Longitude ($49.99), which features specially cut foam tubes that are inserted lengthwise within a mummy mat. The results are an extremely thick and comfortable mat that weighs only 2 pounds, 8 ounces. It’s the perfect mat, says the manufacturer, to go with the Big Bend bag.

PACKS A PLENTY

Whether you’re a car camper or RV enthusiast, a decent duffel to stow your gear is almost a necessity. Among the new duffel bag offerings we found are the ORV (Off-Road Vacation) Trunk ($240) from Eagle Creek (800/874-1048; eaglecreek.com). Basically, it’s a duffel bag on wheels that features a front panel opening and 7000 cubic inches of structured interiors for organizing a ton of gear. Designed with a wet/dry boot compartment and external pockets, the durable, water-resistant trunk is a great way to keep track of things — including your sanity. The 9200-cubic-inch ORV Super Trunk is available for $275.

The Kiva (707/748-1614; kivadesigns.com) 22-inch Big Mouth Xtreme duffel ($79.95) includes a stay-open top hinged lid and a plethora of organizer pockets. The company also offers the 26-inch Giant Big Mouth Xtreme ($139.95) and the 36-inch Titanic Big Mouth Xtreme ($169.95) for lots of storage space on wheels. Both of these duffels come with Kiva’s integrated Rack-Lash System for easy attachment to any roof rack. Also check out the Mini Mouth ($19.95) combination toiletry kit, medical bag, and shaving kit.

The All Terrain Duffel ($85) from Seattle Sports (800/632-6163; seattlesports.com) comes with detachable backpack shoulder straps so it can double as either a duffel bag or short-trip backpack. Three internal pockets keep things organized and a Hydrokiss super weather-resistant zipper keeps things dry. This tough, versatile bag is designed with four compression straps for custom load fitting. It also comes with four rack-attachment straps.

Hydration packs are a great way to make sure you don’t become dehydrated when out on the trail. Kelty’s (800/535-3589; kelty.com) Firefly ($35) and Starfish ($40) hydration packs are made just for kids. The tough little lightweight packs come in fun colors and feature the easy-to-clean Source reservoir, so kids can vary their beverage choices. The Starfish offers a storage system large enough to hold extra clothes, too.

High Sierra’s (800/323-9590; highsierra.com) Trek 35+ internal frame pack ($49.99) is designed with a 35+ liter top-load main compartment with gusseted drawstring closure. Gear can be secured via multiple compression straps, and an adjustable sternum strap stabilizes the pack. Constructed with Vapel Mesh Airflow, the padded shoulder harness (featuring adjustable load lifters), waist belt and back wick moisture while keeping loads from shifting. Also included is a stowable rain cover and hydration port (reservoir purchased separately). A slightly larger Trek 45+ internal frame pack goes for $59.99.

For another great daypack, see Jansport’s (800/346-8239; jansport.com) Tribe hydration pack ($90). Pack capacity is 1550 cubic inches and reservoir capacity is 3 liters. The pack is designed to provide the maximum in flexibility and offers what the company calls the Hytundration organizer with headphone exit, fleece-lined sunglasses pocket and “keyper”. Padded back and shoulder straps are constructed with Airvent mesh for great breathability. The Tribe is fitted with a Nirvana bite valve with EZ shut-off valve.

The new Mountainsmith (800/551-5889; mountainsmith.com) Chute Daysipper hydration pack ($80) is great for those on the go. Features include panel zipper access, front pocket, side mesh pockets and padded valuables pocket. S-curved breathable shoulder staps and a sternum strap help keep everything stable and secure. A version of this pack especially made for women is also available. The pack comes with a 3-liter reservoir and is fitted with the company’s Bite Me valve.

Slightly different — for casual travel carry — is the Pacsafe (800/727-1985; pac-safe.com) Gosafe shoulder bag ($29.95). Made of 1200D nylon, the bag, which is designed with several internal pockets, features a slash-proof, steel wire-reinforced shoulder strap and a concealed, slash-proof front guard for security. The strap converts so the bag can be worn as a hip pack.

CAMPSITE FURNISHINGS

You don’t have to get fancy, but there are some basics that are nice to have around the campsite.

The Mini Camp Lantern ($42) from Athena (800/272-8603; athenabrands.com) runs on either the company’s High-Performance Fuel Blend or a butane fuel cartridge. Featuring piezoelectric ignition, the compact, lightweight lantern provides illumination for more than five hours on maximum flame. To cook your breakfast, the Mini Camp Stove with Heater Accessory ($56) is also worth considering. Both are great for those solo trips when you don’t need the big appliances.

Another cool light source on the market is Essential Gear’s (800/582-3861; essential gear.com) 12-LED Lantern ($50). Designed with a dimmer switch for adjustable brightness, the 8.75”x4.5” lantern features a water-resistant case and hanging handle. The LED bulbs are said to last more than 100,000 hours. And it produces no fumes, making it a great tent lamp. Battery life is 12 days on the lowest setting and 40 hours on the brightest setting.

Here’s a clever concept. The New River Grill Company’s (304/252-0883; newrivergrill.com) Stowaway Grill’s most trick feature is that it can be quickly disassembled and stored in a compact tubular container. Constructed of heavy-duty stainless steel, and easy to clean, it could be just the thing you’re looking for if you’re a car camper. The grill is available in three sizes: 12”x24” ($49.95), 9”x18” ($39.95) and 6”x12” ($29.95).

After a long day on the trail, it’s nice to have something besides the picnic bench to sit on. Crazy Creek’s (800/331-0304; crazycreek.com) Crazy Legs Convertible Chair ($52) is designed for double duty. The chair fits on an aluminum frame for campsite lounging, but lifts off the frame for use while sitting on the ground, which you’re more likely to do while hiking. The light-weight chair comes in a range of colors.

There’s no need to visit scary campground shower rooms or go without a refreshing or warming shower when you have the Zodi (800/589-2849; zodi.com) Hot Camp Shower ($149.95). The portable shower provides large quantities of up to 100-degree hot water on demand. The multifunction 4-gallon plastic storage case holds enough water to give you a 10-minute shower. Just place the battery-operated pump in the water and ignite the burner. Included is an 8-foot flexible shower hose with water-saving shower head.

TOOL SHED

There are some tools that are a must when you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors. Some could save your life; others will just make it easier.

Gerber’s (800/777-6805; gerberblades.com) Recoil Auto Plier ($59.99), with plier jaws that pop out when triggered, can come in handy in any number of situations. In one stainless steel tool you get scissors, single-hand-opening knife blade, wire stripper, twine cutter, crosshead driver, bottle opener, flathead driver and can opener.

From Tektite Industries (800/540-2814; tek-tite.com) comes the Expedition Luxeon Star LED Flashlight ($79.95). Utilizing specialized optics that produce an ultra-tight, 10-degree beam pattern, the flashlight provides a strong light output with a depth rating of 1000 feet. The spot beam can cut through fog or smoke and will burn at full power up to 15 hours with an added 50 hours of usable light. It runs on three C-cell alkaline batteries.

The Tracer Headlamp ($25) by CMG (888/699-0622; cmgequipment.com) is another useful light source. The hands-free lamp, using two white LEDs, will illuminate objects up to 30 feet away. The compact, lightweight lamp offers a burn time of 40 usable hours, a comfortable head strap and water-resistant, durable construction. It runs on a AAA battery that is said to be boosted, via a patented circuit, to three times standard output.

Gear to GO (866/683-2276; geartogopak.com), a line of Adventure Paks, is just what is says. In one pack you get a multitool, lensatic compass, hunting knife, mini entrenching tool, axe, saw, and various sizes of aluminum flashlights. Made of high-quality rip-stop nylon with individual pockets for each item, and a selection of loops for different types of carry, the gear is available in various configurations and ranges in price from $19.99 to $99.99.

Don’t risk getting sick. The Miox Purifier ($129.95) from MSR (206/505-9500; msrcorp.com) is a pocketsize, battery-operated portable mixed-oxidant purifier designed to kill viruses, bacteria, Giardia and Cryptosporidia. It’s an easy way to purify large amounts of water without using iodine — no off taste and no health risk. All you do is add fresh water and table salt, shake and press a button.

Need a knife, firestarter and whistle all in one? No problem. The SL3 Pocket Knife ($37.95) from Tool Logic (805/339-9725; toollogic.com) gives you a sharp, 3-inch, partially serrated, stainless blade; pre-mium magnesium alloy fire-starter, and loud signal whistle in a handy little pocket tool. A custom notch in the blade assists in firestarting, and the Firesteel firestarter will last for up to 3000 strikes.

Why get lost? From Thales Navigation (800/669-4477; thalesnavigation.com) comes the Magellan SportTrak Topo GPS ($349). This light-weight, rugged handheld GPS comes ready to rock and is preloaded with 108 MB of interactive, nationwide topographic maps. The pocketsize device is a great tool for finding your way around unknown terrain.

CLOTHING CORNER

It’s one thing to dress up your campsite, but how about yourself? With all the great innovations in outdoor clothing and footware today, you’d be crazy not to take advantage of their benefits. For example, ThermoSense base layers by Duofold (800/994-4348; duofold.com) are designed to cool you down when you get hot by absorbing body energy, only to warm you up when you get cold by releasing the stored energy. Made of 100 percent polyester rib knit, the ThermoSense base layers are also great moisture managers and odor inhibitors. Available in a range of sizes for men and women, the Long-Sleeve Crew and Coordinating Pants retail for $25 each.

Another type of base layer can be found in some of the fabulous socks that are on the market today. Take, for instance, the new Adrenaline socks from SmartWool (800/550-WOOL; smartwool.com). Designed for outdoor athletes, these comfortable, easy-care socks have excellent moisture management properties, also controlling temperature and odor. They are 100 percent wool but are guaranteed by the manufacturer not to scratch or shrink. Styles include crew, 3/4 crew, mini and micro. Prices range from $13.95 to $17.95.

With the threat of West Nile Virus, Lyme Disease and other insect-borne diseases, bug repellency in clothing is another hot ticket of late. Examples of this can be found in Ex Officio’s (800/833-0831; exofficio.com) Buzz Off line of insect repellent apparel. The way it works is an effective active ingredient is bound to the fibers of the fabric. This forms an odorless, environmentally safe protective barrier on the clothes, and hence, around the body. The EPA-approved garments are said to be effective against mosquitoes, ticks, ants, flies, chiggers and no-see-ums. The Buzz Off Lite Long-Sleeve shirts ($79) for both women and men are also endowed with UV-Block 30+ and good moisture-wicking properties.

Outdoor Research (888/4-orgear; orgear.com) also offers insect-repellent clothing but with a different spin. Its Inuvik Bug Jacket ($75) provides protection from bugs via its construction. Elastic cuffs, a neck cinch cord and a single shock cord at the hem create a seal said to keep bugs out. Made of No-see-um netting and SolarLite fabric with a 50+ UPF rating, the jacket, available in bone and olive and a variety of sizes, also features an arm pocket that can be used as a self-storage pocket.

If it’s a parka you’re looking for, try the Expedition Lt. Parka ($100) from Red Ledge (800/722-7345; redledge.com). Made of a Dupont Tactel nylon shell with T-Core coating that’ s waterproof and breathable, and has a water-repellent finish, the parka features a polyester mesh and nylon taffeta lining, 100 percent taped seams, double exterior storm flaps on the main zipper, pit zips for ventilation and a hood with a visor.

In the footware department, check out the Synergizer Footbeds ($30.95) for kids from Superfeet (800/634-6618; superfeet.com). The company makes custom footbeds for adults and kids that fit inside footware to provide maximum support, balance and shock absorption. Its Synergizer Green footbeds are designed for running and training shoes, tennis sneakers, basketball sneakers and ski and snowboard boots. Synergizer Blue footbeds go with tighter-fitting sports footware.

The Enerstrap sandals ($69) from Bite Footware (800/248-3465; biteshoes.com) are great for water-based activities and even just for wearing around on land. The sandals, available in black only, provide the kind of support and comfort found in lightweight running shoes. They offer an adjustable nylon upper atop a nonmarking Burst outsole as well as a toe guard. The dual-density rubber outsole lends superior traction.

Hi-Tec Sports (800/521-1698; hi-tec.com) has recently introduced its Sierra V-Lite Collection of lightweight hiking boots. Available in either leather or suede/fabric, the boot, which features a vertical build system to eliminate weight and a Comfort-Tec footbed with CoolMax HydroCool, provides breathable comfort on those long dayhikes for a street price of $60.

BioMex is a biomechanical technology used by Lowa (203/353-0116; lowaboots.com) that combines lightweight construction with a unique type of ankle support. It consists of an articulated plastic upper cuff that is positioned so that when the knees are bent, the boots’ uppers follow the line of the lower leg. This helps protect against angle twists. The design is also said to enhance comfort while decreasing fatigue. You can find the BioMex cuff on the Vertex GTX ($225) high-performance, lightweight hiking boot, with models available for both men and women.

The Tamarack ($95) from Montrail (800/826-1598; montrail.com) gives you the durability, traction and protection of a boot in addition to the comfort and flexibility of a trail runner. Just the thing for day hiking, the Nubuck upper and TerraFlex platform are designed to take heavy use. Lugged sticky-rubber outsole will help keep you surefooted.

There you have it. Practically an entire outdoor store’s worth of gear and clothing to prepare you for whatever you encounter in the wilderness, even if it’s not too far from your own backyard.

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