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Review: Camping gear for the great outdoors

POSTED: February 1, 2018 4:49 a.m.
Grant Olsen/

Whether you're camping in snow or trekking in warmer weather, this is a great time of year to get outside.

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THE GREAT OUTDOORS — Whether you're camping in the snow or trekking in warmer weather, this can be the perfect time of year for an adventure. Here’s a look at some rugged gear that might be a good fit for your next outing.

Deuter RISE 34+ Pack

PRICE: $169

GRADE: A

Deuter packs usually have a leaner, more streamlined feel to them. They may not have dozens of bells and whistles, but that’s just fine because they’re rugged and reliable. They provide all the essentials.

The Deuter Rise 34+ is specifically designed for the backcountry. It has an attachment system for toting your skis, snowboard or snowshoes, plus a front safety pocket for a shovel or probe. There are also stowable straps for your ice ax or poles.

This pack weighs just a bit over 8 pounds, yet can comfortably haul more than 25 pounds of cargo. There’s a full back panel opening so you can easily get to the gear you need in a hurry. And the adjustable lid expands to give you about five more liters of storage.

RMU Core Pack 35L

PRICE: $199

GRADE: A

The Core Pack from Rocky Mountain Underground looks like a heavy brute of a pack. But on closer inspection, you’ll see it’s only a bit heavier than its contemporaries. And that extra weight comes from the bonus features that make it so special.

For starters, this pack is made with waterproof fabric. Once your gear is secured inside, it’s good to go just about anywhere. It’s also set up to accommodate just about any accessory you can think of. It can carry your skis diagonally or A-frame, there are mic clips for BCA LINKS, dual hydration ports, a daisy chain on the belt for carabiners, exterior helmet sling, avalanche gear storage, climbing rope top sling carry, climbing ax loops and a padded chamber for sunglasses or goggles.

Basically, this pack is set up to be a four-season porter. From skiing to climbing, it’s got clever features to help make your day go smoother.

Kelty Trail Ridge 3 Tent

PRICE: $269

GRADE: A-

In Hollywood, movies with a “3” attached to the name are often the worst. Think "Spider-Man 3", "Superman III" or "Jaws 3-D." Luckily, that’s not the case with the Trail Ridge 3. It’s built upon earlier versions and has introduced upgraded elements like the Stargazing Fly.

The Trail Ridge 3 has a freestanding design and is a snap to set up. The clips are color coded, which takes the guesswork out of things. Once it’s pitched, this three-season tent offers solid protection. The floor has taped seams, which can make a big difference in messy weather. And the 68D polyester material is quite hardy.

With its near-vertical walls, the Trail Ridge 3 gives you ample living space. And the dual-door design makes it super accessible. If you need to make a late-night visit to the outdoors, you won’t have to stumble over your buddy on the way out. Another benefit is how compactly the aluminum poles fold. It also boasts gear loft, night light pocket and noiseless zipper pulls.

Mountainsmith Conifer 5+ Tent

PRICE: $399

GRADE: A-

When you’re camping with children, it’s amazing how quickly your tent fills up with gear. As such, it’s easy for a five- or six-person tent to feel cramped. The Conifer 5+ is designed with big families in mind, providing 84 square feet of floor space and a peak height of well over 6 feet. And the front porch vestibule gives you an additional 33 square feet to work with.

The Conifer 5+ helps you stay organized with the removable gear loft. There are also multiple storage pockets. This way you can keep things off the floor, so it doesn’t start to feel like a messy playroom.

This tent may not be the easiest in the world to set up, but it’s not too difficult. And the instructions are printed on the stuff sack, which is always appreciated. Additional features include tent fly ventilation windows, taped floor seams and mesh wall panels. Plus, the guy lines and stake out points are reflective, to prevent people stumbling over them in the dark.

Kelty Sira 45 Pack

PRICE: $199

GRADE: A

Designed specifically for women, Kelty’s Sira 45 internal frame pack is an excellent option for extended treks. It’s got a FeatherFIT suspension system that is one of the most comfortable on the market. Combined with the AirMesh back panel, you get excellent lumbar support and can wear the pack for several hours without discomfort (assuming it’s packed properly).

While the limited access of some packs forces you to dig around for your belongings, the Sira 45 makes it a snap. There’s center front zip panel access, and the upper opening is massive. There are also large mesh pockets on the front for stashing additional items that you want to keep close, plus a couple trekking pole or ice ax attachments. And inside is a hydration sleeve if you want to add a reservoir.

This pack is streamlined enough that it can combine these features into less than 3 pounds. The optimal cargo weight is about 30 pounds. The frame is made with a steel + HDPE material, while the body fabric is nylon 66 330D Mini Rip PU.

Big Agnes Blackburn UL 0

PRICE: Varies by retailer

GRADE: A

Big Agnes makes some great adventure gear, but their Blackburn UL 0 is in a league of its own. Packed with 850-fill power DownTek insulation, it provides warmth and comfort in nearly any conditions. For example, I’m considering a Kilimanjaro climb later this year, and this is the type of bag the outfitter recommends.

The Blackburn UL 0 may be a technical marvel, but it’s also rugged enough to last. The outer is nylon rip-stop shell fabric, with water-repellent finish. The down insulation is water repellent and insanely comfortable. Also, it’s lightweight and packs down impressively small.

While the nuts and bolts of the Blackburn UL 0 are great, it also has a laundry list of additional features. The integrated pad sleeve is nice, while the sculpted contour helps you maximize warmth. The hood doesn’t feel too restricting but is a lifesaver on the chilliest nights. And beneath the hood is a pillow pocket. The tapered foot box has enough room that you won’t feel cramped. And to seal out the cold, the bag is finished with a no-draft collar, no-draft wedge and no-draft zipper.

Kelty Revol 65 Backpack

PRICE: $219

GRADE: A-

It’s great to have a pack with 65 liters of storage capacity. But with great capacity comes great responsibility. Because when you strap 50+ pounds of cargo on your back, it exacerbates the normal discomfort that can come from wearing a pack for an extended period of time.

Kelty does a great job of making the Revol 65 as comfortable as possible. It’s streamlined, so you don’t get a bulky pack that sways while you walk. And the Kinesis hipbelt is designed to move with you as you step, resulting in more effective carry weight. The belt is contoured to your body, reducing its discomfort.

Like most modern packs, the Revol 65 has a hydration sleeve, though the reservoir isn’t included. It also has bonuses like a trap-door sleeping bag compartment, ax/pole loops, hipbelt pockets and adjustable lumbar support. Made with Robic Nylon 210D Dobby Ripstop and reinforced with Poly 420D Small Back Stafford, it can really take a beating.

Sierra Designs Convert 3 Tent

PRICE: $599

GRADE: A

The latest Convert tent from Sierra Designs is the best yet. It now has a larger vestibule, which gives you more storage space for your belongings. Of course, since this is a Convert tent, weight is still one of the top priorities. So the vestibule, like the fly, is removable. This ensures the Convert is still one of the lightest four-season tents on the market, tipping the scales at a bit over 5 pounds.

This is a true four-season tent, with breathable 20d poly body fabric (with DWR treatment) that keeps the elements at bay even on rough nights. Add the fly into the mix and the tent becomes a veritable fortress against the cold.

The Convert 3 is quite easy to set up, with its three-pole design. The poles are made with Yunan UL aluminum, which is lightweight and sturdy. Once it’s packed down, this two-door, two-vestibule tent is only 16 inches by 7.5 inches
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