The right stuff: This year's essential kit for the great outdoors
Saturday 14 March 2009
Lifesystems Fire Starter
Unlock the power of man's red flower with this professional fire starter. One strike of the flint creates a shower of sparks that can be used to ignite the resin-rich wood shavings and cotton wool in the accompanying waterproof container. Wilderness experts swear by this simple tool – and it's certainly a lot easier than rubbing two sticks together. The flint is good for thousands of strikes. Lifesystems also sells a similar-sized pot of 20 wind- and rain-proof matches for £3.
Vivo Barefoot Aqua shoes
Eco-footwear company Terra Plana cites a ream of scientific reasons why these stylish shoes are good for your feet. Their ultra-thin soles are as close as you can get to walking barefoot, which can help with both posture and strength. But I like them because they're incredibly light (300g), so can be stuffed into a travel bag. They also have a grippy Kevlar sole and are made using recycled materials. Be warned, though: it takes a while to get accustomed to feeling every bump in the pavement. Available in a range of colours and styles.
Mammut Extreme Cho Oyo jacket
Remember how you used to predict the weather using a pine cone? This Alpine jacket incorporates a new Schoeller "c_change membrane" that works in a similar way, opening or closing depending on the temperature. When it's warm (or you're exercising hard), the membrane opens to release sweat. When it's cold, the membrane closes to conserve heat, keeping you at the perfect temperature whatever the weather. The pricey Cho Oyo jacket has active wicking to avoid chills, zippered vents for when it's really warm, plus pockets and fasteners galore.
£370, mammutsports group.ch
Oregon Scientific Handheld Altimeter
Traditional compasses are great but they can't tell you how much further it is to the summit – and whether you'll enjoy panoramic scenery or just the inside of a cloud when you get there. This nifty gadget sports an altimeter and weather forecasting function. The compass has an adjustable declination angle and a built-in alarm clock. Just remember to pack spare batteries.
Sony Walkman NWZ-W202 MP3 player
Apple's iPod family is tough act to follow but this lightweight MP3 player has a lot to offer the sporty traveller. For a start, its all-in-one design means there are no dangling wires to annoy you, while GB of built-in memory is enough to store several hundred of your favourite tunes. The splash-proof headphones offer decent enough sound quality and the whole package weighs just 35g. Anyone in a hurry will appreciate the quick-charge battery.
Osprey Talon 4 beltpack
Planning a big trip this summer? Think small. A waist pack can store essentials without weighing you down with kit better suited to tackling Kilimanjaro. This four-litre pack has a zippered main compartment with room for a jacket, phone and snacks, plus dual hip pockets for sun cream, cash and more. Twin bottle sleeves each hold a litre bottle of water and a compression system keeps it stable even if you break into a jog. Of course, if you really are tackling Kilimanjaro, you might consider taking a proper-sized rucksack, too.
Meindl Softline Ultra GTX boots
Treat your feet to some of the most comfortable walking boots around. A Vibram sole and supportive midsole enable these hill-walking boots to tackle tough terrain with ease and a Gore-Tex waterproof lining means foul weather shouldn't present problems either. High ankles offer good protection and Meindl's extended lacing system keeps your heel safely in place. Their broad fit will suit walkers with wider feet. Available in men's fit only.
Garmin Oregon 400t Europe sat nav
With its colourful three-inch touchscreen, this outdoor satnav looks and feels like an iPhone – albeit a super-rugged one that you can drop, freeze or take into the shower with you. It offers first-class GPS off-road navigation, 3D map view, a digital altimeter and compass, and even the ability to swap routes and waypoints with other Garmins wirelessly. You'll want to upgrade the 400T's basic European mapping, although it's annoying that Garmin locks you into using its £150 UK topographical data instead of standard Ordnance Survey maps. Battery life is weak, too – use lithium ion rechargeables for longer expeditions.
Lifeventure Sleeplight 750 sleeping bag
You have to love any brand that sells duct tape as a "travel essential", so it's no surprise to find Lifeventure's new two-season sleeping bag full of backpacker-friendly features. The Sleeplight 750 is pretty light (750g), treated with EX3 to repel mosquitoes, bed-bugs and bacteria, and has security pockets to keep your wallet, passport and phone close by. Its stuff-sack is waterproof, so you won't go to bed damp. If you're heading somewhere chilly, trade up to the Sleeplight 1100 (£60, 1.1kg), which can handle sub-zero conditions.
Helios turns the traditional camping stove upside down. By inverting the gas canister, fuel can't evaporate inside and every last drop is used to brew up those deliciously-warming cuppas. The Helios lights at the click of a button and can boil a litre of water in just a few minutes, even in windy conditions. It ships with lid and bottom covers that cleverly double as plates, as well as a wind shield, a can stabiliser and a two- or three-litre pot.
Icebreaker Superfine Tech T Lite
When the weather warms up, the last thing you want next to your skin is heavy, moisture-absorbing cotton. This ultra-light T-shirt is made from the lightest and finest merino wool, offering breathability and comfort. Icebreaker's "Baacode" lets you track down the very New Zealand sheep station where the wool was ethically and sustainably-farmed, and its natural anti-bacterial properties mean you can wear it for days without getting (too) smelly. The silky Tech T Lite is even machine washable and dries in a flash. Perhaps the ultimate travel T-shirt.
Patagonia MLC Wheelie
Now that more airlines are charging for checked bags, travelling with just hand luggage can save you money as well as time. MLC stands for Maximum Legal Carry-On, and the capacious 41 litres of storage inside includes a floating divider to keep your clean clothes away from your laundry. The soft-sided suitcase is made from 100 per cent recycled polyester with a water-repellent coating. Hidden ergonomic shoulder straps quickly convert it into a (basic) backpack and its zippered pockets are made for one-handed use. Comes in four colours.
Mountain Hardwear Viperine 2 tent
Trekking tents often economise on space in their quest for the lowest weight; but not this classy two-person shelter. The sleeping area is over 7ft long, while a 3ft porch should be large enough for the heftiest backpacks and boots. Inside, the designers have used an innovative single-pole and hub system to keep the packed weight under 2.3kg. When every gram is crucial, you can leave the mesh inner at home and pitch with just the fly, pole and footprint (sold separately) to save another half-kilo. Whichever configuration you choose, the Viperine is guaranteed watertight, thanks to its fully-taped rip-stop nylon construction.
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