As weather warms and the melt begins, it’s time to start getting oriented back outdoors—or at least to find new ways of creating outdoor space beyond the worn winter boundaries of your pandemic bubble. When rounding out your spring camping kit, advances in materials and design are only yielding lighter, higher-performing equipment when ounces count in a pack, or when storage space in your vehicle of choice to get farther from the crowd—whether it be bike, boat, or car—is at a premium. The spring shoulder season also means the flexibility to handle big day-to-night swings in temperature and sudden changes in the weather. Prepare for change with the right gear. Start the longer days of the early camping season with these new 11 key camp items for both backcountry adventures and frontcountry fun.
Clean backcountry drinking water is guaranteed with the new MSR Guardian Water Purifier. The Guardian combines a 10-liter reservoir with a hands-free water purifier that was originally designed for the military, rated to provide safe agua anywhere in the world with complete protection from viruses, protozoa, bacteria, sediment and microplastics. The system relies on gravity and produces up to 1 liter in 2 minutes.[$249, msrgear.com]
The Maven B.3 Binoculars offer crisp, bright optics in a seriously compact package—perfect for birders and hunters who like to get off the beaten track. We tested the powerful 10x model, which focuses effortlessly with a field of view of 341 feet at 1,000 yards. What’s more, these durable, waterproof binos weigh barely 16 ounces. Maven offers a variety of customization options, a no-questions-asked warranty, and manufacturer-direct sales, offering outstanding American-made optics at a great price.[$500 and up, mavenbuilt.com]
Spring camping often means rain. Rely on the new BF Goodrich Off-Road wipers to get you to the trailhead regardless of muck or monsoon rain. These burly blades are styled to replicate BF Goodrich’s distinctive T/AKO2 tire treads, offering great style for four-wheel-drive trucks and SUVs. Sold in packs of two.[$69, offroadwipers.com]
Here’s a sleeping pad that lives up to its namesake: The Thermarest NeoAir UberLite tips the scales at barely half a pound and packs up the size of a fist. Despite these feathery proportions, we couldn’t believe the comfort factor: The pad uses Thermarest’s new one-way valve system to inflate to 2.5 inches, offering plenty of cushion for sleeping on lumpy ground. The 2.3-R value makes it ideal for summer use.[$159-229, thermarest.com]
Want a sleeping pad that’s warmer and thicker? Check out the plush Sea to Summit Comfort Deluxe pad. This giant four-inch thick pad features a knitted topsheet that’s comfortable in all temperatures and an R-value of 6.5 makes it ready for year-round use. After a few knock-out test sleeps we knew we’d found the ultimate pad for car-camping and the perfect bed-in-a-box for around the house.[$199-329, seatosummitusa.com]
The new Biolite 330 headlamp offers high-powered, weatherproof outdoor lighting in a ridiculously slim package. Credit Biolite’s USB-rechargeable battery and wicking fabric for this 330-lumen torch’s light and comfortable fit. Spot and flood settings offer a variety of lighting solutions, with up to 80 yards of visibility at full power. The battery lasts between 3.5- and 40 hours, depending on output, with a clever brightness memory function and locking feature.[$59, bioliteenergy.com]
The brainchild of Silicon Valley vets, the Somewear Labs satellite communication device has held its own as a reliable alternative to its competitor big-name backcountry comm brands. Somewear’s tiny pocket-sized unit makes a Bluetooth connection to your phone to enable two-way text messaging, tracking, real-time weather forecasts and the safety of SOS rescue in case of emergency, anywhere on the planet. Now, it’s even better with an exclusive partnership with the onX Backcountry app, providing an award-winning offline navigation system with satellite communication to keep tabs on your crew.[$279 plus subscription, somewearlabs.com]
A safe and reliable way to combat mosquitos gets even better with the new Thermacell E55. This fist-sized unit is powered by a rechargeable battery that lasts over 5 hours per charge and creates a 20-foot “zone of protection” against mosquitos that might plague a spring camping trip. Thermacell’s EPA-tested, smell-free chemical truly works, especially in calm winds. Forty- and 120-hour refills are available.[$39 plus refills, thermacell.com]
If you love the ritual and taste of great coffee, check out the VSSL JAVA to prepare the beans for your next backcountry brew. This hand grinder features a high-performance burr grinder with up to 50 settings to dial in your favorite coffee taste. We were especially impressed at how quickly the unit turned out grinds for 8- to 12-ounce cups of delicious coffee—along with a lifetime all-metal construction of replaceable parts.[$150, vsslgear.com]
The latest everyday carry from a legendary knifemaker features only the tools you need. The Gerber Armbar Slim comes in two varieties, both of which are anchored by a 2.5-inch locking blade and a bottle opener. The Cut option includes smooth-function scissors while Drive includes a bit driver. Both weigh 2.5 ounces and a key chain attachment.[$32, gerbergear.com]
Down sleeping bags offer superior comfort and compressibility for backcountry camping—but often at a premium price. Not so with the Sierra Designs Get Down 35. Rated to 35 degrees, this is a great summer sleeping option at an outstanding price, filled with 550-power, water-resistant duck down and weighing in at less than 2 pounds. A warmer 20-degree version is also available.[$159-179, sierradesigns.com]
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