Now is the most popular time of year to take to the trails and campsites of America. Having the right gear will keep you outdoors in comfort and safety.
By Ted Alan Stedman
A mummy-cut sleeping bag, especially in the cool high country, is the ticket for a good night's sleep. The contoured fit is more heat efficient than a rectangular bag, plus the narrower dimension reduces packing volume and trims weight. Down vs. synthetic fill? It's a matter of preference and making the best choice for the conditions. Ounce-per-ounce, goose-down fill beats synthetics on warmth, light weight and compressibility, but loses its insulating value when wet. Synthetic fill is bulkier, but can be a lifesaver because it maintains its heat-trapping loft when damp. Choose accordingly.
The one-pound, twelve-ounce (regular) Kelty Light Year 45-degree down bag uses 650-rated down fill and a differential cut to place more insulation at cold spots. A zippered foot vent allows temperature regulation, and its durable polyester ripstop shell will handle years of backcountry travel. List Price: $130.
At two pounds, seven ounces (regular), the Sierra Designs Maska 30-degree synthetic bag is filled with Polarguard Delta insulation that maintains warmth, even when damp. Its 70-denier nylon shell is made to withstand extended use, and the bag offers creature comforts like a handy chest pocket and pillow stuff-pocket. List Price: $119.
Backcountry three-season tents don't present much of a weight penalty anymore. Most technical models have shed weight without sacrificing creature comforts or durability. Lighter, stronger poles, along with greater use of mesh and lightweight nylon fabrics, are part of the formula. And design tricks like vertically inclined tent walls to increase usable interior space improve a tent's livability without adding material weight.
With a compact wind-shedding design based on a two-pole architecture, REI's Quarter Dome 3 tent is only five pounds, eight ounces, but provides enough floor space—39 square feet—for three cozy people. The taut, freestanding tent's DAC Featherlite NSL poles offer one of the best strength-to-weight ratios available, and two doors, each with a nine-square-foot vestibule, give ample enter/exit room without having to crawl over tent mates. List Price: $279.
The Eureka! Wabakimi is a roomy self-supporting backpacking tent with more than 37 square feet of floor space and a seven-foot, six-inch interior length, making it large enough for two people more than six feet tall. Twin doors/vestibules and vents provide ventilation options to nearly eliminate condensation buildup, and 12 square feet of vestibule space supplies protected room for outside gear. List Price: $219.
Most hikers don't need a multitool with 30-plus functions—just the right tools for the excursion. For overnight use in the backcountry, start with a locking knife blade and maybe a serrated blade for sawing. Gear with screws and nuts that could conceivably loosen make the case for carrying a tool with pliers. In short, try to match the lightest possible multitool to your backcountry activities.
The main feature of the Buck Knives 730 X-Tract multitool is its one-handed open and locking function—a big plus for climbing or for other tactical hands-on activities requiring concentration. The three-inch, partially serrated locking blade is surgically sharp, and the pliers are easy to deploy with their spring-loaded mechanism. Flathead/Phillips screwdrivers and bottle/can openers round out the collection of commonly needed tools. List Price: $50.
Swiss Army's Expedition Set comes with an altimeter and a compass, making this multitool well suited for wilderness trekking. A full complement of Swiss tools is included, such as blades, screwdrivers, scissors, a saw, a can/bottle opener and other useful devices. List Price: $160.