Ground level 

Even the playing field with the latest and greatest gear

click to enlarge Vibram FiveFingers are good for pretty much everything - but the dance floor.
  • Vibram FiveFingers are good for pretty much everything but the dance floor.

It happens every year. Your outdoor-obsessed friends put away their skis and boards and start to make noises about hiking or camping or other activities that require you to leave the flat-screen, the microwave and the sleep-system bed behind.

Why, you ask, would you want to abandon all those amazing creature comforts for a long slog up a gravel path, a bed on uneven ground, a night where the only entertainment is a campfire if, that is, you can even figure out how to make a campfire?

Because, they say, it's a grand adventure. And, they say, you can take your Snickers bars, your favorite dog, even your favorite wine. If you stay overnight, you can even have Thai food at night and espresso in the morning and a shot at that story that you can save for the grandkids about how you fended off wild things with just your cunning and your multi-tool that you got for free from your credit-card company.

So the chance at a heroic encounter with a bear or mountain lion or something equally impressive finally gets you, along with the idea of taking a nice Cabernet in your backpack. You decide to go shopping to complement your slightly moldy collection of hiking and camping gear. What's new? Or even tried-and-true?


Say it after me: Nalgene. It's the industry standard for the water bottle. Sure, you can use a leftover soda bottle, but that plastic gets flimsy after a while, and it tends to hold odors. Not the Nalgene. This polycarbonate is virtually indestructible.

Check out last year's newest model, the OTG, with a great spout that allows you to hold and open it with the same hand. To be cutting-edge, get the N-Gen that comes with a sleek, opaque silver finish and can be thrown in the dishwasher.

OTG Nalgene, $9.99, N-Gen, $10.25; nalgene-outdoor.com

Now Jake, your four-legged companion, is jealous. The Cool Pooch sport water bottle is a strange-looking contraption with a flexible plastic straw and a dish-shaped lid. It allows you to share your aqua stash with your dog without sharing spit.

Cool Pooch sport water bottle, $7.99; coolpooch.com

We get it. You can't go anywhere without your espresso machine. GSI makes a mini model with a 3-ounce tank. Made of aluminum or stainless steel, it comes in at 7 ounces and has a brass steam pipe.

GSI mini-espresso machine, $19.95; gsioutdoors.com


Remember when you were little and you got new sneakers that made you jump higher and run faster? Well, you're all grown up now, but there might still be hope. GoLite has made a name for itself with feather-light backpacks, tents and clothing. Now, the Boulder-based company is trying to transform the footwear industry. GoLite Trail Fly shoes are just 22 ounces a pair, and have one feature to appeal to gear heads a footbed system that allows you to customize your width.

And for those who want to stand out in the running crowd, the Trail Claws little bumps on the sole compress on impact for support and enhanced speed.

GoLite Trail Fly shoes, $120.95, men's; golite.com

Not unique enough for you? How about Vibram's FiveFinger water shoes? By the company that you know for making hard-core soles for your hiking boots, the FiveFinger shoes are like gloves for your feet, with individual toe slots. Before you say, "Ewww, I don't think so," think about this: The folks at Mountain Chalet downtown are considering trying them for climbing. (Think about the traction thing.)

Vibram FiveFingers, $70; vibram.com


It's all about the UV rays ... or protection from them. We hate the UVs and we love fighting them off. You know you need sunscreen, but you're unsure how long it lasts, and that bothers you. The Oregon Scientific Personal UV Monitor with Exposure Timer actually calculates your recommended sun-exposure time. This gadget uses UV, SPF and skin-type information for its calculations. If your friends suggest you've gone to the gear-head dark side with this, remind them it also has a digital clock, timer and wrist strap.

Oregon Scientific Personal UV Monitor, $29.99; oregonscientific.com


The Jetboil Personal Cooking System revolutionized camp cooking when it was introduced a few years ago. The concept is simple: It integrates the pot and the stove and is so efficient, you'll have water boiling for that Thai food before you can tear open the noodle package. And Jetboil's fixed its small pot by introducing the 1.5-liter group system, big enough to cook dinner for all.

Jetboil Group Cooking System, $119.95; jetboil.com


So you order pizza with half pepperoni and half jalapeo. You fill your grocery-store bag with Jonathan, Delicious and Granny Smith apples. The new TrailFlex Modular Pack system is perfect for you. You start with a base harness that has a built-in hydration pouch, then add components such as the backpack and a waist pack, and accessorize with more than 20 attachable accessories, including gear holders, tech holders (for things like your GPS unit), and pouches for stashing all your stuff.

TrailFlex Modular Pack System, $89.95, base harness; $69.96, modular backpack; $7.95-$24.95, accessories; trailflex.com


We like the name of this gear company, and we also like its stuff. The Big Agnes insulated air-core pad is a new twist on the old blow-up sleeping mattress. It's waterproof, only 24 ounces and packs down as small as your Nalgene bottle. It's a combination of a coated nylon and PrimaLoft insulation to keep you warm.

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Pad, $69.95; bigagnes.com

You have priorities. You will sacrifice 7 ounces in your backpack for an espresso machine, but you'd rather not stagger under the weight of an old, heavy tent. Consider Black Diamond's Lighthouse. The Lighthouse is a single-wall tent (no separate rain fly) that weighs just 3 pounds, 12 ounces when it's packed. It's a two-person shelter made of water-resistant, breathable fabric.

Black Diamond Lighthouse, $379; blackdiamondequipment.com

Still too heavy? The tent designers at Black Diamond outdid themselves with the Firstlight, another single-wall tent that weighs just 3 pounds, 5 ounces when packed.

Black Diamond Firstlight, $299; blackdiamondequipment.com


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