Gear Up: All the right stuff for camping

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Family Vacations Guide

Gear Up: All the right stuff for camping


Med Kits

If there's one thing that's nonnegotiable when you and the kids are journeying into the wilds, it's the medical kit. Here are three specifically designed for families:

The Outdoor Research Family Outing Medical Kit ($50) is the weekend warrior's MD in a handy 17-ounce zip bag. Its tweezers, cartoon bandages, scissors, painkillers, disposable thermometers, cold compresses, antibiotic ointments, insect repellent, and antiseptic towelettes should cover most minor emergencies.

For a weeklong outing, the Atwater Carey Family First Aid Kit ($52) by WPC Brands is a more complete offering--68 pieces, to be exact. This 12-ounce set covers a family of five in the event of basic afflictions, plus some less-common ailments, like dislocations and sprains. The wide assortment of remedies encompasses surface-wound bandages and heavier wound wrappings, sterile eye pads, scissors, protective gloves, over-the-counter painkillers, antibacterial ointments, blister and bug-bite salves, and a triangle bandage that doubles as a splint.

Family Spirit If you're bringing along an infant or want to feel even safer during that week in the woods, pack the Family Spirit ($75) from Adventure Medical Kits. This two-pound assortment for a family of four features how-to books on travel/wilderness medicine and caring for children in the outdoors, plus an illustrated pamphlet on dealing with life-threatening emergencies. Developed by wilderness medicine expert Eric Weiss, MD, the kit includes a digital ear thermometer, oral medicine syringe, children's Tylenol, and trauma supplies, along with basic wound dressings, blister preventatives, bee-sting relief, sunscreen, and rehydration salts.  --Kristin Carpenter


Water Filters

Gone are the days of hiking for miles, then stopping to quench your thirst at a crystal-clear spring. No matter how pure that mountain stream looks, debug it first using a good portable water filter that catches all kinds of creepy contaminants before you do.

A fine choice for backpacking is the Stearns B240 High Flow Ceramic Water Filter ($72), weighing in at just 18 ounces. This filter employs a reliable and reusable ceramic cartridge with a carbon core to filter out dangerous bacteria and protozoa. There's no pumping involved--just fill the two-liter water-carrier, hang it on the nearest tree or family member, and let gravity do the rest.

Voyageur Looking for a pump-free filter versatile enough for both daylong adventures and camping trips? The SafeWater Anywhere Expedition G2 ($45) quickly filters out E. coli, giardia, bacteria, and pesticides. The mouth of its sturdy 28-ounce bottle is compatible with any wide-mouth Nalgene bottle, and it clips via carabiner to a pack or waistbelt. The G2 can also be adapted for use with a hose (sold separately) for hands-free hydration.

If you're concerned about eliminating viruses in addition to bacteria and protozoa, try the PUR Voyageur ($75). It's light (11 ounces), quick (up to a liter per minute), and maintenance-free because it never needs backwashing. The Voyageur's pumping mechanism is about as difficult to use as a bike pump, meaning even kids can operate it.  --K.C.



There are two breeds of wilderness family: those who plop down their bivvies on the edge of a cliff without a second thought, and those who wouldn't think of leaving home without the French press and the pastamaker. But no matter which camp you're in, these nesting devices will help you make your home away from home considerably more cush.

Nuk Tuk
Backpacking broods will appreciate the dual-module Dana Design Nuk Tuk ($249), which combines two separate tents--one mesh, mosquito-proof unit, and one waterproof nylon unit--into a single six-pound, four-ounce package. This versatile, four-person structure comes with an adapter that permits assembly with anything from a trekking pole to a perfectly sized tree branch.

Another smart backpackable tent is the new Sierra Designs Clip 3 CD ($249). This four-pound, ten-ounce dome houses three people and the golden retriever. Three-pole construction makes it a snap to put up, and ample windows mean better star views.

For families who prefer four-wheeled overnighters, Kelty's Yellowstone 10 ($250) provides 90 square feet of interior space and 76 inches of headroom. Its easy-to-use clip-and-sleeve design decreases set-up time and hassle. But at 16 pounds, 15 ounces, this four-person dome is strictly for car camping.

Larger households do well in The North Face Bedrock ($449), which combines expedition-worthy geometry with family-friendly features. Two substantial portals and above-door venting add climate control, while color-matched poles and sleeves ease set-up. This five-person big top weighs 14 pounds, 12 ounces, stands over six feet tall, and gives you 100" x 106" in floor space.

Still doesn't feel quite like home? You may just need the closest thing to a packable motor home: the 50-pound (yes, 50) taffeta-walled Eureka! Condo ($1,290). This 10'6" x 20' footprint sleeps eight (plus a few healthy St. Bernards). The "floor plan" comprises three rooms, though the "changing area" should satisfy even the most discerning mother-in-law. Just one drawback: No color choice on the standard-issue venetian blinds.


Bags and Pads

Now that there's a roof over your head, be sure to choose the proper bedding. A synthetic bag that will move with you and keep you toasty is the Sierra Designs Dream Machine ($179; 3 pounds, 6 ounces), rated to 15 degrees. Women will appreciate its peer, the Sweet Dream, a shorter sack specially designed for women's bodies. Lightening your load? Marmot's Sawtooth Regular ($269; 2 pounds, 12 ounces) reduces top-quality 600 goosedown insulation to an affordable price.

Tigger, Aurora Jr., and Link Rest For kids under 12, The North Face's new Tigger ($79; 2 pounds, 5 ounces) doesn't skimp on the features. Rated to 20 degrees, its Polarguard 3D synthetic insulation retains warmth even when wet, and its zippers sport large pull tabs and full-length draft tubes. For serious camp-outs, swaddle them in Molehill's Zero Degree ($119; 2 pounds, 6 ounces), a synthetic bag shelled in water-resistant nylon. If your kids have hit a growth spurt, Slumberjack's new Go 'N' Grow ($62; 3 pounds) places an additional baffle at its foot--zip it out to gain ten extra inches (fits children up to 5'5"). This rugged-shelled 30-degree sack should last you several seasons. Otherwise, try Slumberjack's Aurora Jr. ($62; 2 pounds, 10 ounces), a 25-degree synthetic mummy bag.

But the best defense between you and the ground lies not in the bag, but in the pad. Mountain Hardwear's Trailhead foam pads join together for extra-wide family comfort. They come with a removable outer shell that weighs less than a pound but bolsters warmth. Two lengths, 72 inches ($69; 2.1 pounds) and 77 inches ($92; 4.3 pounds), are available. Cascade Designs's Link Rest sleeping pads join together like puzzle pieces for easy expansion. Pads come in a 24" x 46", eight-ounce model ($14) and a 24" x 70", 13-ounce model ($16).  --K.C.



Carousel Sidecut Skimmer Vision 25 Reality Lookout & Sovereign III

Backpacks, from left to right: Outdoor Products Carousel, Granite Gear Sidecut, Osprey Skimmer, Lowe Alpine Vision 25, Gregory Reality, The North Face Lookout, Eureka! Sovereign III


Little kids can't lift much...until you tell them they can't have their own pack. Let your three- to five-year-olds run with the big dogs, with the L.L. Bear Pack from L.L. Bean ($19.50). For safety, a Scotchlite reflective strip hugs this simple yellow satchel. The multicolor Outdoor Products Carousel ($18) stows a 14-ounce water bottle in an outer compartment.

Six- to eight-year-olds won't go far without their video games. Fortunately, they can carry cassettes, batteries, and more in the 800-cubic-inch Granite Gear Sidecut ($68). Though made for adult skiers, the sidecut is petite enough to fit kids. They'll love its "adult" features: padded straps, hipbelt, internal hydration compartment, and external bungee cords.

Lowe Alpine's Vision 25 ($89) has a framesheet back that gives kids over eight enough support to carry a 1,500-cubic-inch pack. Its Air-Cooled mesh back lends additional comfort. A different bird altogether is the Osprey Skimmer ($109), which opens along the back panel for easy loading, and has an extra wide hipbelt. Its side mesh pockets are great for stashing water bottles, while a front pouch can tote a jacket or shovel.

Teens are traditionally a tough crowd, but these packs will at least get their attention. For that first backpack around Europe, the Patagonia Porter ($219) has a full suspension system, yet the straps and belt fold away, converting it into checkable luggage. The 4,056-cubic-inch (medium size) Gregory Reality ($220) eases packing by loading through both the top and panel. Meanwhile, a removable organizer compartment makes the JanSport Alaska ($190; 6,200 or 7,000 cubic inches) just the ticket for exploring Denali in an orderly fashion.

Designed by a woman for women, the Camp Trails Night Song ($140), with a detachable fanny pack, is a great value. Its female-friendly features include an anatomically cut hipbelt and narrower, shorter shoulder straps. Those with smaller torsos can check out The North Face's 3,500-cubic-inch (medium size) Lookout ($159), with a lid that converts to a fanny pack; and the more hardcore EMS 5000 Short Torso ($219), with a suspension system to fit a range of body shapes and sizes.

If dad's your resident techno-weenie, give him the Kelty Telluride ($300), with standard hydration compartment. Pit bolt shoulder fasteners allow quick shoulder-angle and width adjustments. The Eureka! Sovereign III ($255), which expands up to 7,190 inches, works well for hauling those not-so-little extras you need to leave the world behind.  --Jim Gorant


Kids' Boots

With hiking boots, fit means everything, even for kids. Trying to save money by buying a larger size will only add blisters to your child's feet--and misery to your hike.

Exodus One exception to this rule is the Vasque Exodus (child sizes 1–6; $50), which has a removable, child-growth footbed. Once your child's toes bump the toe box, simply remove the footbed, and you gain at least an extra size without losing support. The Exodus incorporates a time-tested Vasque hiker design scaled down to toddler-through-ten-year-old dimensions. Although its leather upper sheds water and snow, the boot is not insulated and shouldn't be used in winter.

To give 2- to 12-year-olds solid footing on rough terrain, check out the Merrell Eagle (child sizes 10–6; $50) and the Timberland EuroHiker (toddler sizes 5–12, child sizes 12½–6; $50–$65). The Eagle, a three-season light hiker, combines a suede boot with the Tonka-trucklike tread of Merrell's traction sole. An air-cushioned midsole softens landings. The EuroHiker's similarly toothy lugged outsole can roll over just about anything the trail dishes up. The boot's tough, oiled brown leather upper is waterproof, but since it lacks insulation, it's best in more temperate weather.

Eagle, EuroHiker, and Exit Low 2000 Grom Salomon's Exit Low 2000 Grom (child sizes 10½–6; $50) melds cool styling with a functional, three-season design for kids ages four to ten. Salomon has added stability to this synthetic leather and mesh light hiker by integrating a heel cup into the upper. Parents will love its Speed Lacing system, which does the deed in one quick pull.  --K.C.


The Camp Kitchen

OK, so it may not be dinner with Emeril, but bringing along the right tools can mean the difference between scarfing pork 'n' beans straight from the can or savoring a wilderness feast you'll remember after the campfire's gone out.


If you're playing chef for an entire family, you'll need a stove with at least two burners. Coleman has recently designed the first backpacking stove with two fully adjustable burners, the Peak 1 Expedition ($90). It will boil a liter of water in less than four minutes. For family base camp reached by vehicle, try the Camp Chef ATS-50L ($269), a full-featured stove with two burners, fold-out legs, and a 14" x 26" cook surface. Despite its mighty power (25,000 BTUs per burner), this aluminum range weighs just 11.5 pounds.


A good set of camp cookware will lighten your pack and shorten your clean-up time. The Evolution 2 Plus Cookset ($50) consists of two large pots and a seven-inch skillet. Made of lightweight aluminum coated with nonstick Teflon, the set includes a pot-lifter, scrub cloth, and mesh sack. A base-camp option is the 16-piece L.L. Bean Pioneerware Camp Set ($62), which offers not only a three-quart kettle, frying pan, and coffee-pot, but four plates, cups, and bowls.


Powermax Quick-Pack Lantern Bringing your own water? The six-liter Cascade Designs Platypus Water Tank 6 ($18) has a double handle and a large mouth that eases filling and cleaning. With an additional hose attachment ($10), it even converts to a shower. For those nights when you return to camp late, cooking by lantern light sure beats rooting around in the dark. Coleman's Powermax Quick-Pack Lantern ($55), driven by Powermax fuel, has a new ignition system that promises matchless lighting under any conditions. It also features adjustable light output and an easy-to-change, clip-on mantle.

BakePacker Ultra-light If you can't be without your apple-corer at home, you won't want to be stricken gadgetless in the woods. The GSI Outdoors Camp Gourmet Kitchen ($17) assembles the essentials in one convenient pouch--a large spoon, spatula, whisk, grater, salt and pepper shakers, can opener, sponge, towel, and two two-ounce storage bottles. For more complex meals, the Outdoor Research Camper Kitchen Kit ($41) adds Lexan utensils, a cutting board, a measuring-spoon set, six spice vials, and six storage bottles, all in a soft-sided, waterproof satchel. A mesh pocket secures utensils, while a second detachable mesh pouch holds cleaning materials. If your family's favorite course is dessert, whip up a key lime pie with the Strike 2 BakePacker Ultra-light ($16), a pot insert that allows you to bake all kinds of confections over boiling water.  --Jim Gorant


Camper Kitchen Kit

"It's universal. You can make anything with this stuff," says Wayne Pafmick, logistics administrator for the Voyageur Outward Bound School in Minnesota. With VOBS's multipurpose biscuit mix, you just vary the amounts of water, and this ingenious, no-yeast jumble of baking staples morphs into three distinct backcountry delights--bread on a stick, pan biscuits, and pancakes. The following recipe is enough for three portions, each of which serves four.

2 c. whole-wheat flour 9 T. sugar
4 c. white flour 1 T. salt
2 T. baking powder 3 T. shortening
3 T. shortening  

Prior to departure, mix dry ingredients and divide into three plastic bags. Once afield, add 1 T. shortening and water. Stir ingredients in the bag until dry mix becomes a sticky blob.

FOR BREAD ON A STICK: Gently knead dough while adding pinches of white flour. When dry enough, remove mass from bag and continue kneading in a bowl or on a cutting board, adding more pinches of white flour. When loaf is uniform and no longer tacky, cut off little balls and roll into eight-inch-long cords the diameter of a cigar. Roll in rock salt and wrap around a long stick. Toast over open coals for about 15 minutes, and add mustard to taste. Voilà, pretzels!

FOR PAN BISCUITS: Gently knead dough in the bag until biscuit-size dollops can be cut or spooned from mix. Liberally oil and heat the pan on one-third flame. Add dough and fry until biscuits puff up and turn golden brown.

FOR PANCAKES: Add more water. Mix should be creamy and easy to pour from bag. Heat and oil the pan. Fry until golden brown.  --Philip D. Armour

Photography by Clay Ellis and Douglas Merriam

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