Camping Gear Reviews

Lanterns & FlashlightsUncategorized

Mountainsmith Mountainlight Packs


Miracle diets are likely to weight loss without suffering never work, right? Wrong. We found an exception: Mountainsmiths Mountainlight pack series. These lightweight backpacks do allow you to shed pounds without sacrificing load control or comfort.

Five editors and several gear testers carried the four backpacking models on this packing line (Auspex, Chimera, Ghost, and Specter), and every one of us came home happy. For a hike in Arizona’s the San Francisco Peaks, I loaded up the near-expedition-size Specter with a week’s worth of gear and a decadent selection of fresh food. I figured Id use the 2-plus pounds I was saving in pack weight to brighten my eating options with weighty foods Id usually leave behind: apples, carrots, cheese, chocolate chip cookies. Because the Specter proved just as comfortable as similar-size packs Id carried, I almost felt as if I were cheating. Gain with absolutely no pain.

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ApparelCamping Gear Reviews

Best jacket for Men for camping


When the mercury plummets and the land turns white, nothing keeps you warm like a coat of down.

The North Face Summit Jacket

It really doesn’t matter when the mercury dives. Whether you’re under the full glare of a midwinter sun or shivering through a Fourth of July night high in the Rockies, one thing is on your mind: staying warm. Trouble is, your insulation must fit into a crowded pack. So how do you maximize warmth while minimizing the weight on your back? Enter the goose, whose feathers are more precious than gold in cold conditions.

Generations of savvy backcountry adventurers have relied on down jackets because they insulate superbly with little bulk and weight. High-quality goose down is so light and fluffy that a single ounce fills 600 or more cubic inches (about three gallon-size milk jugs) under laboratory conditions. Add a nylon shell, a few zippers, and several yards of stitching, and you have a jacket that insulates with incredible efficiency, but still compresses to half the size of a football.

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ApparelCamping Gear ReviewsTechnology

Noggin Skull Cap Reviews


Trail-tested headgear will protect your melon from every kind of weather imaginable.

When I say I’m a man of many hats, I don’t mean that I’m some multi talented, jack-of-all-trades renaissance guy. Just ask my friends, and coworkers-they’ll happily recite numerous examples to my wide-ranging incompetence.

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Big Mountain Boots


For off-trail hikes, scrambling with a heavy load, glacier crossings, and cross-country marches, you need the support, weatherproofing, and durability of a burly boot.

Some clever scientist once determined that every pound on your feet takes the same energy to move as 5 pounds on your back. So it stands to reason that lightweight footwear will take you farther faster. But there are times when the light just is not right-when you’re lugging a big pack across steep sidehills, for instance, or descending loose scree and ankle-turning tussocks. Or perhaps you like climbing and snowshoeing, so you need better insulation and waterproofing, plus stiff soles for kicking steps, edging on nubbins, or attaching crampons. Or maybe your weak ankles and falling arches need extra-firm support. In all these cases, the ultralight mantra can be a false economy.

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Camping Gear ReviewsTents & Shelters

Tents For The Antisocial


Plus a pack for organization freaks, cold-weather trousers, a dew-shedding sleeping bag, and more


One-person tents (“Room For One,” ), several excellent new solos have hit the market. Beginning last winter, we put four of them through 5 months of testing everywhere from Oregon’s misty forests to Utah’s red-rock high country to the mountains of Idaho, Colorado, and New England.

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First Aid Kits & Insect RepellantsSAM Medical

Adventure Medical Kits SAM Splint Review


The SAM Splint is a flexible splint for pre-hospital and wilderness medical situations. It is made of a thin aluminum sheet sandwiched between one blue and one orange layer of thin ethylene vinyl acetate (rubbery) closed cell foam. The SAM Splint can be bent into various configurations to serve as splints and braces. There is a small instructional paper included with each SAM Splint, when purchased in retail rolled form. The SAM Splint Company also offers brief descriptions and videos of how to use the splint on their website. A more in-depth instructional video tape is also available.

+ Dimensions:

I usually store my SAM Splints rolled into a semi-rectangular shape, of dimensions 3.5 x 4.25 x 2 in (9 x 10.8 x 5 cm). The two layers of foam together are approximately 0.15 in (4 mm) thick. The aluminum sheet begins 0.6 in (1.5 cm) in from each end of the foam. The overall (unrolled) shape is that of a long rectangle with curved corners, measuring 4.25 x 36 in (10.8 x 91 cm).

Basic Product Information

  • Manufacturer: The Seaberg Company
  • Year of Manufacture: 2000
  • URL:
  • Listed weight: 4 oz (110 g)
  • Weight as delivered: 4 oz (110 g) (Average over seven splints)
  • Size: Rectangular 4.25 x 36 in (10.8 x 91 cm)

+ Details:

In my experience, SAM Splints can be cut or trimmed easily using my EMT shears (which are strong and ever-so-slightly serrated shears for cutting through jeans, seat belts, and other thick items. The shears are also usually associated with Emergency Medical Technicians, hence their name). The SAM Splints do not absorb water or sweat. They clean easily and do not discolor or become brittle while using the American Red Cross advised disinfectant solution of a 16:1 water:bleach solution. The SAM Splint aluminum pieces do not block X-rays and therefore can be left on while X-ray treatment occurs. The blue foam side is significantly thicker and provides more cushioning than the orange side.

+ A Short Comment on the Instructional Video:

While the subject of this review is not the instructional video, it is worth mentioning that I consider the instructional video to be an integral part of using the SAM Splints. Without knowledge of how to properly use a SAM Splint, they are simply floppy pieces of aluminum. I have seen horrendous uses of the SAM Splints in practice by people who are otherwise well trained, and yet have not taken the time to educate themselves in the use of the SAM Splint in particular. Many nuances of the splint, as referred to below, are not readily apparent. The video itself clearly covers all major common usages for the SAM Splint, and is a great clarification and instructional tool. Major portions of the video are also available on the manufacturer’s web site in QuickTime format.

Field Testing

I have used a number of SAM Splints over the course of three years. They are reusable, but I have demands on them which require that I have more than one. Over those three years, I have carried a SAM Splint on every trip more major than taking a walk in my backyard. I have used them to treat around ten major injuries, ranging from a dislocated ulna to a broken second tarsal. I have also used them in demonstrations and activities while teaching three American Red Cross First Responder courses.

Trip Details:

My SAM Splints have been carried and used on trips of all types, including backpacking, climbing, mountaineering, day hiking, skiing, and general outdoor and urban fun. Temperatures ranged from 100 F (38 C) to -25 F (-32 C), and conditions ranged from snowy and icy to dry sandy desert. Elevations ranged from sea level to 14,000 ft (4300 m), and terrain was mostly mountainous.

Important Usage Points:

+ Product as Advertised: Yes, in almost all aspects.
Comments: There are many advertised aspects of a SAM Splint, whether on the packaging or on the website. Some advertised aspects I found to be very accurate, others were not quite as they were claimed to be. I will comment on all the advertised aspects I know of here:

  • Lightweight: Of course, this is very subjective, but I consider it to be lightweight. When I used to carry a simple wire-grate splint with all the padding and edge protection needed to properly apply the splint, the total wire-splint package was significantly bulkier and heavier. Plus, carrying other appropriate materials to formulate a C-collar (which the SAM Splint can mimic) would be even heavier still.
  • Suitable for both adults and children: Thankfully, I have never had to use a SAM Splint on a child in the field. However, children were present in some training situations, and the splint seemed adequate at those times.
  • Easily rolled or folded for storage: Easy to roll and fold, for sure. However, folding more than about fifty times in the same way kinks the splint permanently at the fold mark. Fifty may seem like a lot, but if you are using one to teach a class, or folding one to fit in first aid kits of different sizes, the splint can wear out without any actual use in a very short time frame. I prefer to roll mine.
  • Requires no extra equipment: This is where I disagree with the advertising. I require two additional pieces of equipment: (1) Padding, and (2) Tape. First, I prefer to carry extra padding, in the form of a single or double gauze layer for the length of the splint. I have also successfully used a tee-shirt, a long and wide elastic bandage, and a towel as padding. Nowhere on the site or video does SAM mention the need for padding, and when applying the splint unpadded to the first major injury I treated (a severely sprained ankle) the wearer soon had to remove it because of added pain. We ended up taping the ankle with athletic tape instead. After that trip, I experimented with different ways to make the splint more comfortable, and never again did I apply the splint without padding. I find it to be an oversight of SAM to not mention that padding may be needed. On the upside, the SAM splint is very smooth, and does not rip through padding as wire splints tend to do. But, even if someone, somewhere, has discovered how to properly apply a SAM Splint without padding, I would be very impressed if anyone has managed to secure a splint properly without tape or similar wrap. All properly applied splints must be fixed to the limb above and below the injury, and there is simply no way to do that in many common cases without tape. Even the demonstrations in the instructional video use what appears to be Coban (a sticky sort of bandage). I always carry tape or an elastic bandage along with the SAM Splint to secure it.
  • Does not puncture: I am not sure what the manufacturer means by this, but although the foam on the outsides of a few of my SAM splints punctured and tore with moderate abuse, the aluminum splint portion did not puncture at all.
  • Easy to use: Yes! However, it seems to be also easy to use incorrectly (from observing my students). Personally, once I learned the general stiffening techniques, it was easy to correctly apply the ideas to new uses. It indeed comes with step-by-step instructions (for the retail rolled form only), though the instructions are small and easy to lose in the field.
  • Water, weather, and altitude-proof: They are indeed. Even in the very cold situations I encountered, it remained pliable. However, old crusty snow cut into the foam a little bit and left one of mine looking slightly more worn.
  • Easily cleanable: My splints have only faded, and have never seriously discolored from dirt, iodine, blood, or other substances. I clean mine, as mentioned above, with the American Red Cross recommended bleach solution, and the splints clean easily and well.
  • Radiolucency: This is very true, and useful, but in all cases I have used them the splint had to be eventually removed anyway for setting or casting. Thus, though it is kind of neat to leave it on for X-rays, removal has to happen eventually. But, this is still a great advantage for the comfort a well-applied splint will give during the X-ray process.

+ Durability: Good
Comments: On one hand, every one of my splints looks a little worse for the wear, and a single American Red Cross course usually breaks at least one splint. On the other hand, one of my splints, though being used three times and carried for nearly three years, has outlasted everything else in the first aid kit — including the sack! In my opinion, the durability of these splints is just an added bonus to their usefulness, and I would not mind too much if they ripped after the first use, as long as they worked well that first time.

+ Versatility: Excellent
Comments: Only one of the injuries I have treated using the SAM Splint has been a “textbook” injury. Every other one required me to know three or four basic folds for the splint, and then say “Hmm…ah, padding there…fold there, support there…”, find a good configuration on the fly, and then apply a lot of padding and tape. The only downside to the SAM (or any flexible) splint is that I have found it needs to be used next to or as close to skin level as possible. Whereas the good ole’ stiff board can be (and, in some cases, gains certain advantages from being) used to splint right over five or six layers of clothing, the SAM Splint is too floppy to withstand the added force from clothing slippage.

+ General Usefulness: Excellent
Comments: I cannot say enough good things about the usefulness of the SAM Splint. Thankfully, broken bones and sprains/strains do not happen every day, but the SAM Splint has added more comfort and stability to unhappy situations in the wilderness than any other piece of first-aid equipment I carry, with perhaps the small exception of a Mylar heat blanket.


The SAM Splint is a compact and flexible aluminum and foam splint which helps out in wilderness emergencies. Although it is not applicable in all situations, it is lightweight, easy to clean and maintain, and, with training and education, relatively easy to apply correctly and improvise with. I find it to be a valuable tool in my first aid kit.

+ Trips that I would bring the SAM Splint on in the future: All of them. Really.

Upsides for me:

  • Easily washable
  • Reusable
  • Applicable to many types of injuries
  • Orders of magnitude better than any other similar product I’ve found

Downsides for me:

  • Long-term durability (folding creates weak points and the aluminum edges cut through the foam)
  • Easy to use incorrectly without training or education
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Camping Gear ReviewsGEARSleeping Bags

Therm-a-Rest Women’s ProLite

9.4tech score

Product Description

The Therm-a-Rest Women’s ProLite  is a lightweight, self-inflating mattress intended for 3-season backpacking or camping. It has extra insulation under the torso and feet areas to accommodate women’s colder body temperatures while sleeping. The pad is sized for women with a shorter length and slightly tapered design.

There is a valve on the upper left corner (if facing the mattress). There is also a small Therm-a-Rest logo, size, serial number, and web address printed on the top left corner. There is small diamond shaped holes in the foam that are visible through the outer material. These holes appear as slight indentations when the pad is deflated, and they bulge slightly when the pad is fully inflated.

There are fewer holes in the torso and foot areas of the pad than under the head and leg areas. I assume that fewer holes are indicative of the extra insulation in those areas.


Manufacturer: Therm-a-Rest
Year of manufacture: 2005
Size: women’s regular
Color: Red on top and Black on the bottom
MSRP: $89.95 (US)
Top: Polyester
Bottom: Nylon
Filling: Urethane Foam
Coating: Polyurethane
Listed Dimensions
Weight: 1 lb 4 oz (567 g)
Length: 66 in (168 cm)
Width: 20 in (51 cm)
Thickness: 1 in (2.5 cm)
Rolled length: 11 in (28 cm)
Rolled width: 4 in (10 cm)
Dimensions as delivered
Weight: 1 lb 3.5 oz (553 g)
Length: 66 in (168 cm)
Shoulder width: 20 in (51 cm)
Foot width: 17.5 in (45 cm)
Thickness: 1 in (2.5 cm)
Rolled length:11 in (28 cm)
Rolled width: 6 in (15 cm)

Initial Impressions

The Women’s ProLite  sleeping mattress arrived with minimal packaging inside a surprisingly small box. The mattress was rolled inside of a plastic sleeve that had product information printed on it.

The information on the sleeve explains that the Women’s ProLite  is part of the Fast and Light Series of sleeping mattresses and is intended for 3-season use. It also lists the dimensions of the bed and the R-value, which equates to warmth.

The R-value for this pad is three on a scale of 8 (8 = warmest), although it is not clear what temperature ranges these values map to. The packaging also claims that this is the lightest, most compact women’s 3-season mattress and that it is 30% warmer than the regular (men’s) ProLite .

The mattress was folded in half lengthwise and rolled tightly. Upon unrolling it, I found a sheet of instructions and warranty information tucked inside the roll. The mattress has a lifetime warranty covering manufacturing defects in materials and artistry. Instructions are provided for initial inflation, first use, winter use, deflation, storage, repairs, and cleaning, as well as tips for protecting the mattress.

I followed the instructions for the initial inflation and let the mattress self-inflate (this took about 30 minutes). I then over inflated it by blowing a few breaths into the valve and then closed the valve and stored the pad overnight. The next day it was still fully inflated. I opened the lid and started to roll the mattress back up to see how small I could roll it after it had been inflated.

I rolled it the same way that it was when I received it and was not able to get the roll quite as narrow as it had been upon arrival. However, it is still quite compact and easy to roll up. I then unrolled the mattress and let it self-inflate again, and it was slightly faster this time (about 20 minutes).

Once it had self-inflated, I sealed the valve and laid on the mattress. I felt comfortable and could not feel the holes while laying on it. The mattress provided a decent amount of cushioning after self-inflation, but I would add a few more breaths to it if I were in the field. The mattress is long enough for me, and the width of the shoulders and feet is more than adequate.

The material on the top does not seem particularly slippery, but my sleeping bag is slippery, so I will be curious to see if I slide off the mattress much. The material on the bottom of the mattress seems to have tiny little grippy dots for traction. Hopefully, this will keep me from “traveling” around inside my tent.

I deflated and inflated the mattress a few more times over a couple of days, and everything seems to be in working order. I have now stored it according to the instructions by tucking it in my closet unrolled, with air in it, and the valve open. When I am ready to take the mattress backpacking for the first time, I will use one of my older stuff sacks, as this mattress did not come with one. However, if it does not fit in my stuff sacks well, I will likely purchase a sack for the mattress.


Central and Northern California Coasts:

During the beginning of the testing period, I will go on multiple trips to the coastal mountains to take advantage of the warmer winter temperatures in that area. Locations will include multiple state parks and national forests, such as Big Sur, Los Padres National Forest, and Henry Coe State Park, ranging in elevations from 0 to 6000 ft (1800 m).

I will go on at least two overnight backpacking trips. Temperatures will be between 30 and 60 F (-1 to 16 C), and conditions will be damp and rainy with occasional dry and warm days. The Bay area tends to get a warm spell in February between all the rain and cold in January and March. Thus, I will be able to get quite a bit of backpacking in during the winter months.

Sierra Nevada:
As the testing period progresses and the weather improves I will start backpacking in the Sierra Nevada range again. I will go on two overnight backpacking trips in Tahoe National Forest and another trip to Yosemite National Park at elevations between 7000 to 9000 feet (2100 to 2700 meters). Temperatures are typically between 30, and 70 F (-1 to 21 C) and conditions tend to alternate between dry, clear weather and occasional rain storms.


Some specific things I will evaluate include:

*Does the pad hold air all night or does it slowly leak?
*Is the outer fabric tear and puncture resistant?
*Is the bottom durable enough to use it outside if the weather is good?
*Is the valve durable without bending or breaking easily in case someone accidentally steps on it?
*Is the non-slip bottom grippy? Is it too grippy?
*Is the top layer slippery against my sleeping bag?
*Is it easy to inflate, deflate, and open and close the valve?

*Is the 1-inch (2.5 cm) thickness enough padding?
*Is the pad wide sufficient to accommodate rolling over or side sleeping?
*Do my feet stay a bit warmer?
*At what temperatures do I start to get too cold?
*Does the pad keep me warm enough to warrant the bit of extra weight from the extra insulation?
*Given that the insulation is strategically placed and the pad is not necessarily reversible is the valve in an excellent location? Is it by my face so that I roll onto it in the night?

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