Camping gear: A little less wild in the wilderness

It seems like nothing’s really changed about camping in the last 100 years. You start a fire, sit around it, tell stories and make s’mores, then crawl into your sleeping bag ... and check your email. So a few things might have changed. But the good news is that innovative designs have made each of the aforementioned a little easier, more comfortable and more convenient. Pass the marshmallows.

Sleep (not so) tight

Nemo Nocturne 30 Down sleeping bag: A 30-degree sleeping bag sized wider in the knee area than normal lightweight down bags to allow more natural and comfortable knee bends while sleeping.

Likes: The bag’s guitar (or peanut) shape makes it far more comfortable than a standard mummy bag, which tapers from shoulders to feet and can make sleeping with bent legs a claustrophobic pain. The Nemo’s flared leg zone and 64-60-68-inch shoulder-waist-knee girth gives your legs space where they need it, so you can roll around and shift your body more naturally. It includes an adjustable hood with a pocket for a pillow (sold separately) and an insulated “blanket fold” flap that can be wrapped around your neck to block drafts. It uses duck down with a water-repellent treatment, weighs 2 pounds and packs down fairly small.


Dislikes: Pricey (but worth it)

Price: $349.95.

Solar power anywhere

Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel with Guide 10 Plus battery pack: Foldable, two-panel solar charger with USB output.

Likes: Incredibly portable and fairly fast charging. Ten fabric loops on the casing allow you to hang the compact device (12-by-8.7 inches when opened) anywhere; we put it on a backpack while hiking and biking and atop a tent and a beach umbrella. Cellphones, GPS devices and even tablets can be charged directly from the sun or from the previously charged battery pack (although the sun is quite slow given the tablet battery size). The latter’s 1-amp USB output charged a Samsung cellphone about 2/3 as fast as a wall outlet, while a direct charge from the solar panels (which have a 0.5-amp output) took twice as long. The removable battery pack uses four rechargeable AA batteries and comes with a handy AAA converter. When not in use, it folds in half into a smartly designed zippered pouch that holds the battery pack, cables and a fast-charging 12-volt car adapter, so nothing gets lost. Total weight is 1.5 pounds. We banged it around a lot with no problems. Good value for the money.

Dislikes: None, really

Price: $79.99 (Nomad 7); $39.99 (Guide 10 Plus);

Fire starter


Firease IncinerGrate S4000 log holder: Four-pronged steel scaffold that stacks wood in a pyramid for easy lighting without lighter fluid.

Likes: It works perfectly, making it fast and simple to get a fire started. By loading the center with kindling (twigs, bark, pine cones and needles) and stacking four or five logs around it, we were able to light it up without any lighter fluid.

Dislikes: Big and heavy. At 9 by 14 inches and 5 pounds, it takes up a lot of space in the trunk. The company is said to be working on a folding backpacker 2.5-pound version, which would help. Then you have to clean it when you pack up.

Price: $69.99 for ½-inch-diameter model.


Edge of your seat

Alite Monarch mini-chair: Tiny 1.3-pound aluminum-framed folding chair that packs into a foot-long, 5-inch-wide nylon cinch bag.

Likes: Comfy and compact enough to carry in a backpack. Assembles in one minute with 3/8-inch-diameter X-shaped tent-pole legs connected by shock cords. Quite comfortable once you get used to its “rocker” design, in which you lean back and balance on two round rubber balls that anchor the frame and serve as chair legs, relying on the support of your own feet to keep your rear end off the ground.

Dislikes: While the balance becomes instinctive after a few minutes, you can never fully relax. For that reason, I would prefer Alite’s new, slightly heavier Mayfly model ($100; 1.4 pounds), which packs as small but has built-in legs for stability.


Price: $70.

Wallack is the coauthor of “Fire Your Gym: Simplified High-Intensity Workouts You Can Do at Home.”



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