Summer Gear Reviews
By Dane Doerflinger
Black Diamond Infinity 60 Pack
Clearly the designers at Black Diamond wanted to do something impressive with the suspension on the Infinity pack series. Now swivels are not new, I put many miles on my NF Back Magic frame pack and its built-in flex joint, so I was pretty excited to try out an internal frame pack with a swivel.
Loading this pack up with weight gave a positive feeling and the construction is on par for BD: excellent. The hip belt closure has a nice mechanical advantage and the pulls are on the side instead of directly below my chest-mounted camera bag that I always carry. And the mesh back panel and vent channels do a nice job of moving the moisture away from my back.
I like packs that I don’t need to take off for all those little things. The Infinity 60 comes equipped with a hip belt pocket, two generous stretch side pockets that face forward and a hydration hose pass through this pack.
I expect the Black Diamond Infinity 60 Pack to excel at skiing and climbing as well as Ultra-light backpacking. Retail: $219.95.
>> see the pack
Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter
We took a group of 9-year-old Girl Scouts on a hike to Ancient Lakes in eastern Washington in April and thought it would be a perfect opportunity to test out the GravityWorks Water Filter by Platypus.
Reading up on the filter beforehand, I knew it did a great job filtering bacteria, protozoa, and particulates but does not filter out viruses or chemicals/toxins.
Our biggest question was: How easy is the filter to operate? I have been using pump-type systems for many years and was eager to try a gravity system. I let the girls do the actual hands-on work, with the full responsibility of supplying the group with safe drinking water. They took it pretty seriously.
We transported water from the lake in a collapsible water bucket and filled the Dirty side of the reservoir from the bucket. Basically you are pouring water into a heavy duty Ziploc. Since there wasn’t a tree in sight to hang the Dirty bag from, the girls took turns hanging it from their shoulders. This worked well and offered us the fastest possible filtering speed. After the novelty wore off, the girls just laid the Dirty bag on the slope above the Clean bag. This also worked well, just not as fast.
We did notice a plastic taste but I think this was due to the bags being new and sitting in the sun while filtering. Further use should eliminate this taste.
I found this filter to be faster and easier to use than the pump systems and perfect for a group. If I was traveling I would bring a way to kill viruses and/or filter out chemicals, however. Retail: $109.95.
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Fly Creek UL4 Tent
The very first thing I do with any tent I review is to give it what I call the “headlamp test.” I go out in my backyard at night with my trusty Petzl Tikka XP headlamp for light and set the tent up with no prior instructions. If it’s windy and rainy, all the better.
Ease of setup
I have always had a preference for clip systems over pole sleeves and this tent did not disappoint. Not a sleeve in sight. The cool thing about the poles with the Fly Creek UL4 is that they are one set; they are all attached.
What this means is that I just pull the poles out of the bag, let the shock cord guide the assembly and I have a four-legged pole structure with the front and back “legs” being connected by a ridge pole and two hubs. There is a short cross pole for added spread at the top center. My only pole design improvement suggestion would be to color code the front hub as the tent is a trapezoid, the back being a little narrower than the front so the corresponding back pole “legs” are shorter than the front. This would be obvious during the daylight but at night with a headlamp, after a long day on the trail, with some wind and rain mixed in, I want this tent setup to be easy as possible.
The fly is easy; just have the zipper end at the front center, the reflective guy-out tabs on the outside and drape it over the tent. There are clips at the corners and the vestibule is staked out.
The tent is self-standing but the fly does need to be staked out for the full vestibule effect. With a little spray paint on the front hub this tent will be very easy to setup.
Clearly the designer has spent time getting in and out of tents in the rain. The front door is near vertical and the fly has a generous vestibule with plenty of overlap to allow easy access without rain coming into the tent. The floor seams are taped and it has a “bathtub” floor design. Bravo Big Agnes for dealing properly with the elements.
Size and weight
Clearly this tent is all about saving weight. High-tech materials all around. Big Agnes does a good job with its advertised weights. With my very accurate scale it was 4.59 pounds out of the box, including tent, fly, poles, stakes, multiple stuff sacs and even some plastic bags and tags. Add in the footprint and you are up to 5.1 pounds. Really want to save weight? Go with their “Fast Fly” (no tent, poles, footprint and fly only) at just over 3 pounds. As with most 3-season tents there is ample insect netting for ventilation and star gazing.
This is the UL4 so it is considered a four-person tent. Yes, you could fit four average sized adults in this tent if they are friendly and you stagger them but you would be much more comfortable with three adults or family of four, the kids being in the pre-teen range.
>> see the tent
More Gear Reviews
By Carolyn Price
Cascade Designs MSR Fast Stash 2 Tent
Seattle-based Cascade Designs knows what you need to keep comfortable in the outdoors. Its newest release, the Fast Stash 2 Tent, will comfortably sleep two people and their gear, weighs in at just under 3 pounds, and its DuraShield waterproof coating is super-resistant to moisture-induced breakdown – a plus in Northwest weather. It’s a quick pitch with the included poles – or even your trekking poles if you want to save weight. The “Stash” part of the tent comes with the ease of collapsing the tent to protect your gear when leaving for the day and re-pitching by just reinserting the poles upon your return. Vent-wise, the Fast Stash has side wings for either protection or increased air circulation while an awning over the entry way allows you to stay dry and enjoy the rain. You can view this tent at any of the events that Outdoors NW attends this year. Retail: $299.95.
ExOfficio Insect Shield® clothing
Halo Shirt and Convertible Pant
Adventure travelers will love Ex Officio’s quick-drying, stylish and functional apparel line. We looked at the men’s Halo Shirt and Convertible Pant, both with the patented Insect Shield® coating which repels a variety of insects. The protection on the clothes is invisible, odorless and long-lasting through 70 washings and offers 30+ UPF for excellent UV protection from the sun.
The Convertible Pants feature zip-off pant legs and ankle zippers so you can keep your shoes on; elastic waistband and multiple pockets. Women’s sizes also available. Retail: $70-$90.
Camping lanterns come in all shapes and sizes and with some amazing features. Some of the ones we looked at included the Kelty LumaPivot, the UCO Flip and Black Diamond’s Apollo.
The LumaPivot, with its two swivel LED panels, is a great feature for directing light to where you want it. High and low output, a waterproof housing and battery life between 6 and 12 hours (6 AA batteries), and weighing about a pound, makes this a perfect car-camping companion. Retail: $49.99.
The UCO Flip, from Industrial Revolution out of Redmond, Wash., serves as a flashlight, lantern and signal strobe all in one. It comes with a tough aluminum and water-resistant housing, measures 6 inches tall; takes 4 AA batteries and illuminates for between 25 and 50 hours depending on brightness setting. Retail: $39.99.
>> see the Flip
When its tri-pod legs extended, it’s clear the Apollo lantern got its namesake from NASA’s Apollo space program. Folded, the lantern measures just 5 inches high with the legs folded up neatly around its body. Unfold and you have a sturdy light source that telescopes to double the height. The Apollo features a DoublePower LED, dual reflector system and frosted globe for a non-glaring illume. We liked the collapsible double hooks at the top for hanging the Apollo from the inside of your tent. Runs on 4 AA batteries or NRG rechargeable battery kit. Retail: $49.95; Rechargeable battery kit: $29.95.
Eureka’s Warrior 400 LED Lantern is an ideal campsite light – transforming from a lantern to a hanging light that can be used in the tent. It also features directional white and red LED lights featuring a multi-switch with high, low and strobe settings. Measuring 9.4 inches tall, running on 6 D-size batteries, and weighing four pounds, the 400 LED is bright enough to light up your whole campsite. Battery life: high – 2.5 days; low – 5.5 days; flashing – 6.5 days; Retail: $84.99.
Short on space? Too much gear? You might want to consider a lightweight sport trailer. There’s two new ones on the market to check out.
The GO by SylvanSport weighs in at just 800 pounds, is light enough to be pulled by even the smallest of cars and has a low 13-inch ground clearance. The GO is a low-profile trailer for minimal drag and fuel efficiency but it’s big on features including an innovative pop-up Kelty tent system. The tent system allows for either two twin beds or one king and a half, includes four self-inflating mattresses, spare tire kit and an additional awning kit that adds 80 feet of outdoor living space. View a GO by visiting TorkLift from Kent, Wash., a full service RV specialist who will be selling, servicing and supporting SylvanSport GOs to the entire Pacific-Northwest region including Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho. Retail: Base model – $7,495; Adventure Accessories Package – $7,995.
>> see the Go
From the same family that brought us Rollerblades comes the Space Trailer, a variety of lightweight trailers designed to appeal to outdoor enthusiasts, families downsizing their vehicles or those who just need more space for their stuff on the road. A basic model sells for $2,299. For more complete information and history on the development of the Space Trailer, click here.
Kelty Big Dipper Jr. Sleeping Bag
The Big Dipper will bring smiles to your kid as they snuggle into a sleeping bag that just fits! New for 2011, Kelty’s bag is designed to grow with your child comfortably up to 5-feet, 4-inches with its expandable foot box that adds 12 inches with a single zipper. Warm to 30 degrees with Cloudloft synthetic insulation, it is a great three-season bag. Mummy-style, the bag is available in blue and purple. Retail: $69.
Industrial Revolution UCO Stormproof Matches
How cool is a match that stays lit even when immersed in water? Well, Storm Matches are your ultimate match! UCO is pleased to introduce this waterproof and windproof match. At three inches long, it will burn up to 15 seconds – even in heavy rain and while wet. Designed to light in all extremes of weather, the match can withstand immersion in water and cannot be extinguished by wind, making it the ideal match when out in harsh conditions. Retail: Single box of 25, $3.99; twin pack, $5.99.
The Quick Chill Cool Off
Cool Off is a pocket-size natural cooling towelette infused with a citrus-ice scent of cooling herbs, moisturizing botanicals and essential oils – none of that annoying alcohol smell that comes with towelettes this size. Cool Off did the trick for our two Outdoors NW staffers, Greg and Kelly, after a hot July workout. After applying to their neck and arms, both were happy that the coolness lingered and refreshed them for about 20 minutes after application. Comes in boxes of 12 or 24. About $6 for a box of 12.
Cushe Footwear Surf Slipper
If you’re into casual and comfortable like I am, you’ll enjoy Cushe Footwear’s Surf Slippers slip-ons. They look great with jeans and Capri’s and perform well at the beach or poolside. They’re just a great all-around summer shoe. The shoe’s micro-lining inside wicks perspiration while the molded rubber bottom-side provided great traction at the pool while I was on vacation.
Available in women’s sizes in either suede or canvas in a variety of colors at Nordstrom and Market Street Shoes in Seattle; and Nordstrom, Amenity Shoes and Footwise in Portland. Retail: $70.
Go green for your campfire this summer with Enviro-Log, an environmentally sustainable product and the most versatile and greenest firelog on the market. Made from 100 percent recycled waxed cardboard, these firelogs burn cleaner than firewood and generate 50 percent more heat than wood with 30 percent less emissions. Enviro-Log firelogs are not only eco-friendly, but they can safely be used year-round both indoor and outdoor. Enviro-Log firelogs are the only manufactured firelog tested safe for use in woodstoves, chimineys, campfires and for both indoor and outdoor cooking. Retail: $21 for a 3-pound, 6-pack.
Cloverware Utensils are versatile camping companions. Featuring a 4-in-1 design (knife, fork and spoon that hook together end-to-end for pot stirring), these are full size, heat-resistant up to 400 degrees, dishwasher and boil-safe and 100 percent BPA-free.
Aura Cacia Essential Oils
Got a nasty bug bite? Feet hurting from that long hike? You need relief and Aura Cacia is on the scene with sustainably produced, essential oils for relief of these annoying outdoor ailments – a great natural alternative to manufactured creams and sprays. We tried the Peppermint Oil drops on the bottom of our socks before our hike one day. It provided a nice cooling sensation. Others essential oil recipes include using citronella and lemon eucalyptus for repelling buzzing campsite pests, and combining lavender oil and aloe extract to soothe sunburn pain. Retail: Various size and prices.
CleanLife Products No Rinse Shampoo
Campers and backpackers will be happy to know about CleanLife’s No Rinse Shampoo and other cleaning products for your body when there is a lack of water. The No Rinse Shampoo, for example, completely cleans your hair without water and there is no rinsing required. Other products available include No Rinse Body Bath, Bathing Wipes and non-Alcohol Foaming Hand Sanitizer. Retail: No Rinse Shampoo, 8 ounces, $3.99.
Slacklining is growing in popularity for the backyard and outdoors set. It’s the act of balancing along a narrow, flexible piece of webbing usually about two inches wide, usually close to the ground, and set up between two trees. It’s been known to increase core strength, balance and movement for climbers – which is where the sport originated. Gibbon Slacklines offers various lines and accessories. Retail: Various options and prices.
Mountain Hardwear Kids Mountain Goat 20 degrees
We took our 9-year-old daughter camping to Ancient Lakes in eastern Washington and despite the cool nights, our daughter had no complaints about being cold. The cool thing about this bag is that the bag will grow with her, thanks to the draw-cord system inside the bottom of the bag which lengthens the bag another 14 inches. Other features we liked were the insulated side draft tube which prevents cold spots along the zipper, its compressibility into its included stuff sack and the chest pocket with a Velcro closure for ‘secret’ things. Comes in blue and pink. Retail: $80. See it online or visit either the Seattle or Portland Mountain Hardwear retail stores.
Primus Profile Duo
We tested this stove in our backyard. We threw on a couple of turkey burgers, a salmon fillet and some grilled vegetables on the BBQ grill part of this nifty camp store and boiled some potatoes on the burner. The water boiled in about four minutes and everything was grilled to perfection. Clean-up was a breeze as the removable grill tray has a non-stick coating and a stainless steel drip tray. Powered by propane (16-ounce bottle). At nearly 12 pounds, this is more than perfect for backyard or car camping. I wish I had gotten one of these sooner! Retail: $120.
Fenix LED Flashlights
Lastly, we didn’t have a chance to check out the Fenix Flashlights and headlamps, however, sources tell us that they are considered among the brightest and highest quality LED flashlights on the market. In fact, its TK 35 model recently earned a Best in Show Award from the Gear Junkie. Retail: $109.