All the Right Stuff for Family Camping

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

1999 Family Vacation Guide

All the Right Stuff for Family Camping
By Douglas Gantenbein

A sturdy, packable tent is your family's home on the trail. For summer camping, look for something light and well-ventilated. If you're heading for high elevations or planning some spring or fall camping, less mesh in the tent walls will keep you a bit warmer. One of the best new backpacking tents is Sierra Designs's Astro CD ($289). It's a roomy, two-person tent that features a 20-square-foot pole-supported vestibule that can hold packs, boots, and the family golden retriever. A big mesh roof panel provides fresh air, while three equal-length poles in the tent body simplify setup when you've staggered into camp in the dark. Put the youngsters in a Slickrock tent from The North Face ($225). It's light enough (four pounds, 12 ounces) for the kids to lug and has lots of mesh; plus, its separate doors mean there's no squabbling when someone has to answer a call of nature ("MO-O-OM! Jeff stepped on me!"). For extra family togetherness, Marmot's huge Monarch ($599) is an extremely rugged four-person tent. At nearly 14 pounds, it's a heavy beast, but if three people share the load (it breaks down into fly, body, and poles), it's manageable.

The right pack will make your burden seem 10 to 15 pounds lighter. One of the best for helping dad carry a big family load is the K2 Loadmaster Shortbed ($279) from Dana Design. It's based on a tried-and-true external frame, but updated so it carries like an internal-frame pack. With 4,900 cubic inches of capacity and lots of places where you can strap on a tent, sleeping pad, and other stuff, it's a pack that's up to any family vacation. For mom, consider an L.L. Bean White Mountain Expedition ($189) in the women's model, an internal-frame pack with a generous 4,400 cubic inches of capacity. Best of all, it comes with a custom harness and hipbelt to better fit a woman's build. For a youngster, try a Kelty Yukon ($90). Its telescoping frame will ensure that it lasts more than just one season. Adolescents will appreciate a Gregory Thru Hiker ($230), a load-friendly pack that's available in small sizes to fit a young teen. If you've got a toddler who's not quite hiking age, put 'em in a Tough Traveler Stallion ($160), a kid carrier that's built like a full-featured backpack.

Sleeping bags and pads
Dad will surely sleep well in Mountain Hardwear's 2nd Dimension ($175), which has soft, durable Polarguard 3D insulation, weighs a packable three pounds, and is rated to a snug 15 degrees. Mom will appreciate the special woman-friendly design of Sierra Designs's Georgia ($220). This innovative mummy bag is cut narrower at the shoulders than a men's bag and has more insulation in the torso and the foot box. Put the youngsters in either an REI Down Time 15 ($170), a down-filled bag rated to 15 degrees, or a Kelty Little Creek 30 ($60), a comfy bag that fits kids up to four feet, 10 inches tall. In pads, the gold standard is Cascade Designs's Guidelite ($70), a comfortable self-inflating pad; add a Cascade Designs Couple Kit ($5) to join two mattresses for sleeping double. Slumberjack's Comfort Camper ($70) also self-inflates and comes in a generous 26-inch width.

In stoves, the perfect family solution is the Peak 1 Xpedition ($90). It's an easy-to-use, propane/butane-fueled stove that includes two integrated burners. Figure two fuel bottles for each day and a half of cooking for a family. For a cookset, mate the stove with MSR's BlackLite Gourmet Cookset ($43), which includes two pots and a fry pan, all with an easy-to-clean nonstick coating. For more exotic fare, American Outdoor Products's Outback Oven Plus 10 ($50) turns nearly any camp stove into a convection oven that can bake brownies, scones, and pizza. And if you miss your handy drawer of kitchen accessories, Atwater Carey's Campside Kitchen ($47) includes all those useful extras such as a pancake turner, a wire whisk, spices, Nalgene bottles, and two sets of Lexan dinnerware.

For men, Merrell's M2 Grand Traverse ($175) is made of thick waterproof leather and has a high cut for ankle support on rugged trails. A knit lining cradles the foot and wicks away sweat, while a dual-density midsole helps smooth out the bumps. One of the best women's boots on the market is Montrail's Sandia Peak ($115). Fitted especially for women, it's a light but tough boot suitable for day hikes and moderate backpacking. Put the kids in a pair of Hi-Tec Trailhead Jr.s ($40), affordable boots with tough rubber outsoles. Also good are Vasque's Kids' Exodus ($60), made of waterproof suede leather and fitted with an adjustable footbed to accommodate growing feet, and Salomon's new Exit 9 Groms ($55), which look just like the grown-up version of that lightweight boot. It's a midcut shoe that offers good support without being constricting.

Unless you're expecting a serious downpour, L.L. Bean's Activent Jacket ($119) may be all the rainwear you need. For warm weather, Sierra Designs's new Congo Backpacker's Short ($50) is made of durable but soft nylon and has deep slash pockets for storage. Mom will be comfortable on summer days in a Vaporwick Ribbed V-Neck Shirt from The North Face ($48), which is soft and fast drying. She can match it with Yak Trail Pants ($76), made of durable Cordura for excellent leg protection. When the thermometer drops, a Patagonia Light-Weight Synchilla Vest ($83) is a must-have torso-warmer that packs down to nothing.

The kids will be comfortable in a kid-size Dakini Rollneck Shirt ($44, for ages 4-14), cut loose for easy movement. The Gramicci Children's Climbing Pants ($30) are made of tough but soft cotton twill. Warm days, meanwhile, are spent more comfortably in a pair of Columbia Girls' Rainier Shorts ($29). When the temperature drops, Patagonia's All-Terrain Storm Jacket ($130) protects a youngster from the elements, especially when layered over an REI Bi-Polar Vest ($38) or a Kids' Berber Sweatshirt from Layers ($30).

To ensure that your water is safe to drink, SweetWater's Global Water Express ($90) includes a Guardian Plus water filter/purifier and a Platypus collapsible water bottle, all in a padded, zippered case. At night, the camp will have a warm glow if you carry a UCO Candelier lantern ($30-$32), a three-candle lantern that puts out enough light to read by. For those times when you could use more focused light, Princeton Tec's Vor Tec headlamp ($40) has a halogen bulb that shines a bright, white light for three to five hours with four AA batteries. Another nifty high-tech gadget is Kenwood's FreeTalk personal radios ($149 per radio). These pocket-size 14-channel radios can keep a family in touch when they're as far as two miles apart. And because things break down, it's always worthwhile to carry a Leatherman PST II ($60). This all-in-one tool has a knife blade, pliers, diamond-coated file, screwdrivers, and more. If it's more of a human breakdown, Adventure Medical Kits's Weekender medical kit ($50) has a sufficient supply of bandages, medical accessories, and blister patches to accommodate a family of six.

Copyright 1999, Outside magazine

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