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Gear and Gadgets

Supplies for Spoiled Campers

July 10, 1994|JUDI DASH

Camping out used to be so basic. You had your backpack, your tent, your trusty Army-Navy store canteen and some freeze-dried food. That was before everybody expected more of the comforts of home on the hoof. Sporting goods manufacturers have heard the call of the not-so-wild and come up with a wide range of products for hikers and campers that make the rough a lot less tough--and sometimes downright cushy. Prices do not include shipping and handling:

Camping as a couple can be cozy. And now the burden is lighter thanks to Cascade Design's new Therm-a-Nest Sleep System, created specifically for camping duos. The system starts with a Therm-a-Coupl'R zippered sheet to which a sleeping bag is opened up and zipped onto, making a second sleeping bag unnecessary. For comfort, two camping mattresses can be inserted side by side into the bottom of the Coupl'R. Two pockets at the top of the Coupl'R accommodate inflatable pillows, or you can stuff them with clothing for makeshift pillows. The system is designed for use with the company's Therm-a-Rest self-inflating air mattresses and Therm-a-Nest synthetic-fill sleeping bags, but the Coupl'R will work fine with similar-size camping mattresses and with any sleeping bag that has a 100- or 110-inch-long No. 7 YKK coil zipper. (Take your sleeping bag along to the store if you're not sure about compatibility.) I loved testing this product. The system saved my mate and me the weight of one sleeping bag, and I liked the way the Coupl'R held our mattresses firmly in place beneath us. Just make sure all is copacetic on the relationship front, since there's only one bag. You can't go rolling off on your own on a chilly night.

The Therm-a-Coupl'R comes in two sizes to accommodate different size air mattresses. The Therm-a-Coupl'R 20 ($65) is for the company's 20-inch by 72-inch mattresses, which cost $50-$100, depending on fabric and thickness; the Therm-a-Coupl'R 25 ($70) fits the 25-inch by 77-inch mattresses, which cost $70-$110. Therm-a-Nest sleeping bags range from $125 to $145. For a catalogue and the name of a store near you, contact Cascade Designs; tel. (800) 531-9531.

A good canteen is crucial on hiking and camping trips, and I even carry one on urban outings when I travel overseas to places with unreliable drinking sources. The Dromedary Beverage Bag, manufactured by Mountain Safety Research, a Seattle company, is made of polyurethane-lined nylon cloth that folds to pocket-size when empty. Available in two-liter or four-liter sizes, the bags have a wide mouth for easy filling. A smaller cap unscrews from the wide-mouth lid for easy pouring.

Two-liter collapsible canteen (No. 7302) is $17.50; four-liter model (No. 7313) is $22.50 from TravelSmith, a mail order company; tel. (800) 950-1600.

Camp coffee's never been much to write home about. I usually settle for instant, though real backcountry campers go for the cowboy brew, where you throw ground beans into a pot, boil and let settle, usually spitting out bitter grounds as you drink. Now those who simply must have a classier brew can get genuine espresso on the trail with the GSI Mini Espresso Maker. The aluminum unit, with a brass steam tube and a filter unit to trap ground coffee, perks grounds-free coffee on a backpacking stove or atop a grill in about two minutes. When ready, the coffee perks out of the brass tube into a ready cup (not included). The espresso maker comes in two sizes. The smaller model weighs seven ounces and churns up three ounces of coffee. The larger size weighs 14 ounces and makes 10 ounces. The small size is more convenient for backpacking, but three ounces of coffee is just a tease in my book.

GSI three-ounce Mini Espresso Maker (No. 15773) is $13; 10-ounce model (No. 15774) is $20 from Campmor, an outdoor gear distributor; tel. (800) 526-4784.

A good protective hat is essential under a hot summer sun. Most caps give fine cover to the top of the head, and wide-brimmed models shield the face. But what about your neck--often a prime sunburn zone? Enter the Desert Cap, a baseball-style cap with a detachable (via Velcro) wrap-around cotton cape that drapes over the ears, down the shoulders and over the back of the neck. The cape also protects against gnats and other flying insects that seem to delight in dive-bombing ears and shoulders. The bottom of the cape can be tucked under a shirt neckline, or left out for that Lawrence of Arabia look. The Desert Cap's other pluses include a long visor lined in black to cut down on glare, a cap top made of a breathable mesh and lined with reflective foil so you can keep a cool head on blistering days, an adjustable chin strap to keep the cap in place when the wind's up and a terry sweatband.

Desert Cap (No. 3043) in white or khaki is $29.50 from TravelSmith; tel. (800) 950-1600.

Under the theory that if it can go wrong while you're out in the middle of nowhere, it will, sporting gear distributor REI offers the Murphy's Law Kit, a handy collection of 25 essentials to repair tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, air mattresses, clothing and more. A locking heavy plastic carrying pouch that's slightly bigger than a wallet contains patches, rubber cement, a tent pole splint, replacement backpack hardware, wire, utility cord, mosquito netting, a sewing kit and duct tape for when all else fails.

Murphy's Law Backcountry Repair Kit (No. K603-029) is $13.50 from REI; tel. (800) 426-4840.

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