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Skiing and Snowboarding : Gear

The Front Runner Slimline II

In theory, roof racks should be pretty simple—and most of them are. A couple of bars and a bracket or two designed to hold outdoor equipment. No big deal, right?

Wrong. Enter the world of car camping, where it’s generally accepted that your roof rack needs to carry a bike, a shovel, spare fuel, water, firewood, and your ridiculously heavy rooftop tent. Oh yeah, and it now has to be aerodynamic and efficient.

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That’s when you need the Slimline II, a simple, secure, lightweight system made by South Africa-based Front Runner. Made from high-strength aluminum, the low-profile Slimline II has all the rigidity of steel without the weight. And it's been tested in Africa as an expedition-grade roof rack for safari and overland vehicles.

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You’d expect water, shovel, jack, spare-tire, and fuel-can mounts on a system like this. But Front Runner didn’t stop there. You can buy accessories like the company’s Dutch oven mount, bottle opener (why not?) and table, which slides underneath the rack. Of course, there’s also a full line of mounts for your outdoor gear, including skis, snowboards, kayaks, and bikes (in all, the company offers more than 25 add-ons).

The Front Runner Slimline II is available in more than 55 sizes with plenty of mounting options for most vehicles. Prices start at $729 for smaller racks, with most popular SUV models starting around $1,100, with free shipping.

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Giro Synthe

At a wind tunnel in Scottsdale, Arizona, helmet and apparel manufacturer Giro released what it describes as the next iteration of the aero road helmet.

According to Giro, the Synthe combines the comfort and cooling-abilities of its top-selling road lid, the Aeon, with the aerodynamic benefits of its aero road model, the Air Attack. “This is the helmet that has it all,” says Eric Richter, senior brand manager at Giro. “Cooling, aerodynamics, and light weight.”

Up until July 2012, when Giro launched the Air Attack, the aero road category didn’t exist. There were road helmets, which were feathery and well ventilated. And there were time trial helmets, which minimized drag but were bulky and extremely hot. But the two variants were mutually exclusive. “For the road rider, we had taken lightweight as far as it could go,” says Richter. “We realized that the real gains to be made were in aerodynamics.”

The Air Attack was Giro’s first attempt at bring the aerodynamic benefits of a TT helmet to a lid you could wear comfortably every day, all day. However, not everyone loved its looks. “Industrial design was an impediment to some people buying the Air Attack,” Richter admits. So the company set out to make a more conventional-looking helmet that was just as aerodynamic as the Air Attack.

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Enter the Synthe, which Giro says is 16 percent faster and two percent cooler than a comparable-size Aeon, and 13 percent lighter than the Air Attack. According to one journalist, the Synthe also looks at least 114 percent better than the Air Attack.

The performance numbers can seem obscure, even doctored (every company seems to have similar stats to bolster its product), which is why Giro debuted the Synthe at Faster, a fit studio with an in-house wind tunnel in northeastern Phoenix.

There, we witnessed several wind-tunnel tests on both the Synthe and the Air Attack that validated those stats. According to Giro’s tests, the Synthe not only has significantly less drag than the Aeon, but it also supposedly edges the Specialized S-Works Evade by about 8 grams of drag over a 40-kilometer course—the equivalent of about four seconds.

But it’s not just about aerodynamics. In Giro’s thermal testing—a lab protocol dubbed the “Therminator” that uses 24 sensors to monitor the temperature of a heated-up head in the wind—the Synthe dissipated heat better than any of its top competitors, meaning it will cool riders' heads more quickly. Aero models such as the Air Attack and the Evade were the least breathable on the scale.

In addition to all the lab protocols and results, Giro brought test samples of the Synthe for on-road testing. On our first outing, the new helmet felt surprisingly cool and well-ventilated despite the 85-degree Phoenix morning heat. Testers especially liked the sunglass docks, which make it easy to store your shades while climbing or at dusk. 

The Synthe will be available in eight colorways, including a revolving special edition version, and will sell for $250. It will go on sale in late fall. Both the Aeon and the Air Attack will remain in the line.

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Topeak Bikamper

You don’t need a tent to go camping. And when you’re riding across the U.S. on a bike, you definitely don’t want to lug around a stuff sack full of tent poles.

Enter the Topeak Bikamper, a personal shelter that forgoes poles in favor of a 26-inch mountain—or 700c road—wheel and handlebars for support. Just prop the wheel at one end and the bike frame at the other to give structure to the tent's walls.

The three-season tent weighs just over three and a half pounds, and comes with mesh panels for ventilation and stargazing, and a waterproof 70-denier ripstop-nylon fly. It packs down into a stuff sack that straps onto handlebars so you'll be able to fly as you tour the country. 

$175, topeak.com

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Pitch This: 5 Alternatives to the Tent

Yes, tents are an institution in the gear shed, but (gasp!) they’re not always the best option. Dozens of alternatives exist, many of which weigh less, are more comfortable, or simply work better in certain conditions. With camping season now in full swing, it may be time to try something new and leave the pitching to baseball.

Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp Shelter ($199)

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Pros: Hikers obsessed with ultra-light options (and Boy Scouts) caught onto this secret a long time ago: With a good roof, you don’t need a floor. A tarp is lighter, easier to set up, and can be used in most bad weather situations.

Sea to Summit’s Escapist would surely get the Boy Scout seal of approval, weighing in at just nine ounces. It’s waterproof and has eight tie points to ensure stability even in windy conditions. It can be pitched with hiking poles or without, and the company offers a few minimalist mesh shelters that fit under the tarp if you need protection from mosquitoes. 

Cons: In a severe rainstorm, you're going to get wet. 

Therm-a-Rest LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot ($219)

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Pros: Sleeping under the stars is the most romantic part of camping. But you'll need good weather, the right campsite, a killer view—and the proper bedding. 

While sleeping on the ground is always an option, cots add a level of comfort that turns a good starry night into a great one. But temporary beds are typically clunky and they’re rarely portable—or durable—enough for backcountry travel.

Therm-a-Rest aims to reconcile cot complications of the past with its LuxuryLite line, which is easy to set up, sturdy, and light enough to toss in a backpack. The low-profile cots can hold up to 325 pounds and will keep you four inches above the ground.

Cons: The LuxuryLite UltraLite still weighs about as much as a plush inflatable pad. And you’re going to need great weather if you plan to use the cot without additional shelter over your head.

Black Diamond Spotlight Bivy ($219)

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Pros: There’s something inherently adventurous about the ability to throw down your sleeping bag, whip out your bivy sack, and crash just about anywhere. On the side of a mountain? Sure. Suspended on a big wall? No problem. Bivy sacks are one of the most versatile shelters you can buy. 

Black Diamond’s Spotlight Bivy solves the traditional bivy problems (condensation on the inside and no headroom) with a single hoop pole that keeps the shell material from rubbing on your head and dousing you with raindrops. There’s also a large mesh panel with a zip-over awning for increased ventilation.

Cons: Bivy sacks are small and will limit movement. If you toss and turn in your sleep, you might find feel a tad confined. 

Clark Vertex Hammock ($599)

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Pros: Like ultra-light backpacking, duck hunting, and coffee brewing, hammock camping has its own fanatics. And for good reason. Hammocks are light, easy to set up, and comfortable. And in recent years, there’s been a big movement to improve the classic design.

Clark Outdoors has risen to the challenge, designing innovative two-person, four-season hanging shelters that resemble bunkers more than hammocks. Features include insulating pockets, a waterproof rainfly, mosquito netting, and an integrated hanging system that can hold more than 300 pounds.

Cons: Some people don’t sleep well in the curve of a hammock. And, no matter what, you’re going to have trouble hanging one of these things in the desert.

Sylvansport GO Trailer ($8,495)

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Pros: Tent trailers sit on the lavish end of the blue-collar-camping-equipment spectrum. Yes, they offer some comforts you won’t get in a tent, but they’re typically utilitarian, not luxurious.

But Sylvansport aims to change that. The company has revamped the tent camper, ditching the usual hard-shelled, canvas-walled pop-ups. The GO features a fold-out aluminum frame and a rip-stop polyester shell. When not in use, the tent folds neatly on itself and the trailer can be used to haul gear.

Cons: Though the GO has 13 inches of clearance, you won't get too far off the beaten path towing one of these trailers. And the price tag may have you running for shelter in your much more affordable tent.

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The On-The-Go Camp Food Showdown

For campers and backpackers looking for the best pre-prepared backcountry meals, Good To-Go is the new contender in town. Co-founded by chef Jennifer Scism, the Maine-based company aims to make lightweight gourmet meals that outdo typical freeze-dried fare.

Scism, who co-owns Annisa in New York's Greenwich Village and has cooked at four-star restaurants, decided she needed better food options after planning a seven-day backpacking trip with her husband. So she pulled out the dehydrator and started making the kinds of meals she'd be proud of in her own restaurant. 

My fiancée, Paige, and I eat a vegan diet, and she's gluten-free. That limits options for camp food. But thankfully Good To-Go has three gluten-free flavors, two of which are also vegan (they're labeled vegetarian). We wanted to see how they stacked up against the other big names out there—Backpacker's Pantry, Mountain House, and MaryJaneFarms—so we worked up our appetites and dug in. Here are the results: 

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Good To-Go Three Bean Chili

Gathering firewood and setting up camp on the Chama River in northern New Mexico left us hungry. Good thing we'd brought snacks. Because Good To-Go is dehydrated rather than freeze-dried like most backpacking meals, it requires almost double the time to absorb water—20 minutes—compared to others. Expect that going in, and you're, well, good to go. When it was ready, I opened the resealable packet, and the chili was still piping hot.

The consistent first response was, "Mmm." The chili packs a lot of flavor, and it's spicy, but not over-salted like most brands. Perfect texture, too, just like you'd expect at home. At 100 grams per serving (a more realistic serving size than most offerings), the chili made for a hearty meal, the kind you want after a long day outside. ($6, 3.5 oz)

Calories: 340
; Protein: 16g; 
Carbs: 64g
; Fat: 5g
, Sodium: 360mg

Overall Rating: 9.5/10

MaryJanesFarm Outpost Lentils, Rice, & Indian Spice

Part two of our Chama dinner was also dehydrated, but took half the time to hydrate. Nonetheless, the rice was a bit chewy, and though the flavor was good, it didn't stand out after Good To-Go's excellent chili. MaryJaneFarms does get props for all-organic ingredients and eco-packaging that you can burn when you're done to eliminate waste. Unfortunately, the lack of insulation and no reseal option (you fold the top down while hydrating) means you lose heat for a lukewarm meal. ($6, 4.3 oz)

Calories (per pouch): 435; Protein: 16.5g; 
 Carbs: 90g; 
Fat: 2.3g
; Sodium: 780mg

Overall Rating: 8/10

Good To-Go Herbed Mushroom Risotto

After a 3.5-mile quad-busting hike to 11,400-foot Nambe Lake in New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness, I needed fuel. So after boiling water, I chomped into an apple and let the risotto soak. Twenty minutes later, I dove in, and I admit I didn't waste much time reflecting on every bite. But my first impression was the risotto's texture—I felt like I should be eating this on a plate at a restaurant. The mushrooms popped satisfyingly, and the flavor was subtle, but good. I was mostly satisfied, but while the serving is ample compared to other brands, I'd probably already burned most of the 410 calories it gave me just getting here. I was left wishing for just a bit more. ($6, 3.4 oz)

Calories: 410; 
Protein: 13g
; Carbs: 64g ; Fat: 10g; Sodium: 420mg

Overall Rating: 9/10

Backpacker's Pantry Katmandu Curry (for two)

Paige and I had just come back from a late-night music session, and we thought we'd save time by boiling up this curry dish at home. In the backcountry, a certain psychology and physical necessity tends to make your taste buds forgiving, so it's true that our home environment could have skewed the results here. Still, Backpacker's Pantry has long been my go-to when opting for freeze-dried backpacking meals, so I'm familiar with it in its proper setting.

In both scenarios, my biggest complaint is the over-salted flavor. Otherwise, it would stand up to home cooking. True, you need electrolytes after a long hike, but I found it was excessive here. And I'd normally eat the whole pouch myself, which gives me 2440 mg of sodium (ouch), yet only three grams of fat—a key requirement in the backcountry. The curry was a tad watery, too. Extra points for clear gluten-free and vegan labeling. ($6.50, 6.6 oz)

Calories (per serving): 340;
 Protein; 18g 
Carbs: 64g ; Fat: 1.5g; Sodium: 1220mg

Overall Rating: 7/10

Good To-Go Thai Curry 

This one has milk and anchovy, so I gave it to Paige's brother Pete for testing. He found the rice to be quite tasty, full of Thai flavor. His only complaint: the spices were a tad too sweet. But he declared it good to the last bite, which came a bit too soon to fill him up. Bring on dessert. ($6, 3.4 oz)

Calories: 380; Protein: 10g; Carbs: 56g; Fat: 14g
; Sodium: 500mg

Overall Rating: 8/10

Mountain House Fire Roasted Vegetable Blend

Mountain House doesn't have any full-meal options for vegans, so I opted for a side dish. While the food smelled like it was going to be very tasty, when I drained the excess water (it's in the directions, but it feels like wasting precious liquid) and ate a spoonful, the meal was bland. That's fine if you want to customize your flavor, but I didn't.

Nonetheless, I added some much-needed salt and garlic powder, but it still didn't hit the mark. Something else was missing, too. Rice would have been a good touch. The veggies were flaccid and not particularly appealing, while the beans were unremarkable. True, this is a side dish, but it's made to be self-contained, and yet I found it only works in tandem with something more flavorful. ($4, 1.5 oz)

Calories: 150
; Protein: 7.5g
; Carbs: 30g; Fat: 1g
; Sodium: 13mg

Overall Rating: 5/10

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