A Pleasing Contradiction
The ThermaRest ® brand has long been synonymous with backpacking sleeping pads. They have continually refined and perfected the art of building lightweight, tough, and cushy pads, and those of us who appreciate a good night’s rest after an arduous day on the trail are grateful to them. But they’re never satisfied. This quest for constant innovation has led them to engineer a new line of sleeping bags that work in conjunction with their pads as a system. We tested one of these, the Antares ™ 20, a down bag rated to 20° F. Thanks to the way the bag attaches to the pad via a pair of straps (ThermaRest calls them SynergyLink Connectors, c’mon now), insulation is omitted from the underside, where it is instead provided by the pad. This results in a super-light (just a smidge under two pounds) and super-compact (7 by 12 inches in your pack) bag that immerses you in 750+ goose down. And here’s the kicker: Despite its light weight and diminutive packed size, the interior dimensions of the bag are generous. The genius of this became obvious the first night I slept in the bag. Thanks to the roominess, instead of turning over with the bag, one turns over inside the bag. The straps keep everything where it should be and instead of waking up in a knot of twisted down, one wakes up in the morning pretty much the same way that one went to bed. This is a good thing. When combined with a ThermaRest pad like the NeoAir ™XLite ®, the Antares 20 offers a pleasing contradiction. It’s roomy, yet packs small. It’s light, yet delivers a warm, comfortable night’s sleep. Info: http://www.cascadedesigns.com
Banishing the Darkness
Headlamps have come a long way. This is good news for those of us who enjoy catching the sunset from that lofty ledge above camp and then high-tailing it back down through the scree in the dark. The SEO series of lightweight headlamps from LED Lenser® (a division of the Leatherman Tool Group) have raised the bar with respect to headlamp usability and technology. We tested the SEO7R and if we’ve ever seen a brighter headlamp, we can’t remember it. With 220 lumens in high-power mode, the light is bright enough for minor surgery. Weighing just 3.8 ounces, it’s reasonably light and compact, yet feels durable. The SEO7R runs on three AAA batteries or an innovative, rechargeable battery pack that can be charged either via an AC outlet or a USB cable. And as if that isn’t enough, this headlamp features what LED Lenser calls “Optisense” ™, which allows the light to adjust its intensity based on ambient light levels. The SEO7R will run for five hours on a set of batteries at high intensity and 20 hours on low. Info: http://www.ledlenser.com/
A Picture-Perfect Camera Bag
The Lowe Pro ® Inverse 200 camera bag is the latest in a long line of hip-slingers from Lowe-Pro. The bag hangs on a robust waist belt and also offers a strap for over-the-shoulder carrying (or as a load distribution aid when slung around the neck). I have used this type of camera bag for years – it enables me to access my camera gear while wearing a backpack. I learned years ago that ready access to the camera and accessories equates to more pictures taken, which in turn means more “keepers”. This bag has a few cool innovations including straps on the bottom for attaching a tripod, a built in rain-cover that tucks into a pocket when not in use (sheer genius) and convenient pouches for quick access to memory cards. The bag performed well in the field, holding my Canon DSLR, two lenses (including a moderately long zoom), a hood loupe, filters, cable release, extra batteries, etc. A round-the-top zipper makes access to the contents of the bag easy. The Inverse 200 is another winner from Lowe Pro. Info at http://www.lowepro.com
Darn Tough Socks – No kidding!
Socks are an undervalued component of the backpacking experience. Their quality – or lack thereof – has played a major role in numerous excursions over the years, where the miles pile up and the weight of the pack grows ever more onerous. Darn Tough Vermont makes socks that mean business. These socks (available in a variety of styles and materials) are – as the name suggests – darn tough. On a recent off-trail backpacking trip that involved lots of semi-extreme side-hilling and numerous gullies offering opportunities for up and down scrambling, they held up magnificently. And here’s a secret: in addition to being tough, they’re really, really comfortable. The pair that I put to the test was made of Merino Wool, but they also offer Coolmax options. Info at http://www.darntough.com.