Q. I am buying a new tent and looking at several three-season, two-person tents. We like to move light and fast, so weight and stuff-size are my No. 1 criteria (5 pounds, 8 ounces is the somewhat arbitrary ceiling that I have set.) My price limit is $300, and I prefer free-standing tents.
I am leaning toward models made by Sierra Designs and Eureka because of their reputation but was also wondering about the quality of REI tents (the Half Dome is the particular model that seems to meet my needs.) Finally, are you familiar with a brand called Outbound/Safesport? The gear guides show them providing a lot of value on paper, but since nobody I know has ever heard of them, I am concerned about their quality (Are they a department store brand?). I definitely want something that will last a long time and that I can “grow” into (i.e. camp in more rugged, windier, colder conditions as my skills progress.) Mark Wojcik
Gear Guy: You’re on the right track, Mark. If I had to buy just ONE tent, I’d probably go with the Sierra Designs Orion. It’s light (just under 5 pounds), adequately roomy for two, well-priced ($240) and incredibly rugged. SD’s Meteor Light ($270; 5 pounds, 10 ounces) is a little larger but also obviously a bit heavier.
Eureka’s tents also are very good, and you tend to get more all-weather designs for your money. For instance, their Alpenlite XT2 ($250; 6 pounds), is a sturdily made two-person tent that can survive mountain or winter camping. True, it’s a touch heavier than your specification, but for a few more ounces more you get a very functional tent.
In the REI line, the Half Dome ($110), as an entry-level tent, may be a little light for what you need. Their new Slip Tent ($175; 5 pounds, 12 ounces) is a nicely designed two-person, three-season tent. Outbout/Safesport tents also tend to be entry-level, OK for the money, but you can do better.
So, bottom line: First choice would be the Orion. Second choice the XT2, with the XT2 getting the nod if your intention is to do some winter camping any time soon.
Q. I’m confused. In trying to purchase the right sleeping bag for three season-backpacking in the Smokeys, I have been overwhelmed by such terms as Polarguard, Polarguard HV, Thinsulate Lite Loft, Quallofil, etc., etc., etc. WHAT DO THEY ALL MEAN?
And more importantly, is any one material better than the rest. Please respond… I’m freezing here!
Gear Guy: Well, you’re right. It IS confusing, and it’s not at all surprising that consumers are feeling a little resentful about the proliferation of brands, the claims, the counterclaims, the general insanity of it all.
Basically, all those brand names are for synthetic-fiber insulations that in my view are more alike than dissimilar. Some do tend to be lighter and softer than others, hence are preferred for higher-end bags. These materials would include Polarguard 3D, Lite Loft and PrimaLoft. Due to massive marketing by Hoechst-Celanese, maker of Polarguard 3D, that material currently is the most widely used synthetic. Lite Loft was the market leader, but it has had durability problems. PrimaLoft has maintained a reasonably comfortable niche market due to its effectiveness when wet and “down-like” characteristics (i.e. very soft, so drapes well).
Personally, I would lean slightly toward a bag made of 3D or PrimaLoft. Good bags include The North Face’s Cat’s Meow 3D ($180); Moonstone’s Minima 3D ($165); L.L. Bean’s PrimaLoft-filled Airloft ($160); and Integral Designs PrimaLoft-filled North Twin ($185). All of these bags fit into the 20-35 degree range and are well-suited for three-season camping.
Q. I need a size 15 narrow, light to medium-weight hiking boots, preferably Gore-Tex. Do you know where I can find this?
Gear Guy: Size 15 boots are hard to find and impossible to do so in narrow widths. One option would be to go with a pair of Vasque Sundowners and try an after-market insole, such as ones made by Superfeet to adjust the fit. The Sundowners don’t come in 15 narrow but are not a particularly high-volume boot and may be acceptable if you sock-up a little and use a thicker insole. Otherwise, you’re almost certainly looking at a custom boot. Good luck!