GEAR

New products promise happier trails for campers

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You learn to put up with lots of inconveniences while camping, which is half the fun of it for some. But the other half of us can do without an uncomfortable, too-tight sleeping bag that gives you sweaty feet on a not-so-cold night, a ground pad that makes you lightheaded while blowing it up, a lantern that inevitably gets placed too far away to do much good and the increasing risk of Lyme disease hanging over the proceedings. That's where these four innovative products come in. Some revolutionary, some just practical, they are sure to make some happy campers a little happier.

A whole new bag

Sierra Designs 600F Backcountry Bed: Groundbreaking zipperless design has an oval-shaped opening that is closed off with an integrated, oversized comforter blanket, similar in concept to the tongue of an athletic shoe. Insulation is provided by waterproof duck "DriDown" feathers rated to keep you warm in temperatures as low as 30 or 15 degrees, depending on the model.

Likes: A comfortable, effective, versatile mummy-shaped bag. The lack of a zipper or other hardware is quite convenient and seems to give the bag a flexibility that makes it easy to find a natural sleeping position. Various pockets and compartments allow for very good temperature regulation. The comforter seals out cold air drafts well; you get good ventilation on warmer nights by pulling it outside of the opening and slipping your toasty toes out of a novel foot port at the bottom. Arm pockets on the comforter keep your hands warm, even when the blanket is being used externally. A nice touch is a rare, integrated, 20-inch-wide sleeping pad sleeve, which prevents you from sliding off the pad through the night. (The Therm-a-Rest pad reviewed here slips into the sleeve perfectly.) The 6-foot model weighs 2 pounds, 8 ounces; the 6-foot-6 model is 3 ounces heavier. Bottom line: An impressive new design that works great.

Dislikes: There's nothing to stop the blanket from coming untucked if you move around a lot in your sleep. (although some suggest that this won't happen when it's used with a ground pad inserted in the sleeve). Because it is not heavily insulated on the back side, it's not a good idea to go without a pad. The 8.5-by-16-inch stuff-sack is fine for car camping but big for backpacking.

Price: $249, 30 degrees; $339, 15 degrees. www.sierradesigns.com

Fast pad

Therm-a-Rest ProLite air mattress: Super-light 6-foot-by-20-inch foam-and-air-filled backpacking insulation pads that blow up in two breaths and compress quickly into a small package. One-inch and 1.5-inch thicknesses are available.

Likes: Very convenient and labor-saving. The pad actually fills by itself when unrolled, as the "memory" foam inside expands, and is brought to maximum firmness when topped off with two breaths. (By contrast, it took me more than 30 breaths to blow up competing air-filled models). The inch-thick model rolls up very quickly into a compact 12-by-3.5-inch stuff sack and weighs a pound, making it good for backpacking as well as car camping.

Dislikes: None, but a warning: When kept too long in the bag, the memory foam (like down feathers) squishes and loses its shape. Although it will often return after a week or two, it's best to store it unrolled in a cool place. This pad is five times as expensive as simple foam pads.

Price: $99.95 (1 inch thick), $109.95 (1.5-inch-thick Plus model). www.thermarest.com

Tick time bombs

Insect Shield compression socks: Compression socks of 85% Cool-wick, 15% Lycra Spandex that are laced with EPA-registered Insect Shield, which is designed to repel ticks, mosquitoes, ants, flies, chiggers and midges through 70 washings.

Likes: It's cheap insurance and a performance booster. Consider socks the first line of defense against the growing scourge of Lyme disease, which is carried by ticks that generally bite you on the lower leg. The Insect Shield process, invented in 2003, binds apparel and gear with a proprietary formulation of permethrin, an odorless insect-killing chemical that has been used in lice shampoos for children and flea dips for dogs since 1977. On the performance side, knee-length compression socks, often seen now on runners and LeBron James, are designed to fight fatigue by speeding the flow of waste products that accumulate during athletic activity and periods of prolonged sitting. Many outdoor brands have long offered Insect Shield products, including ExOfficio, Outdoor Research, REI and RailRiders.

Dislikes: They're not cheap for socks.

Price: $16.95 for two pairs of crew socks; $39.99 compression sock. www.insectshield.com

Light where you want it

Blackfire Clamplight lantern/flashlight: A lantern that can clamp to branches, tents, backpacks, boat railings, you name it. The 8.5-inch-tall light, which doubles as a flashlight, includes a spring-loaded clamp that grasps onto objects up to 1.25 inches wide and a 90-degree articulating head.

Likes: Ideal for putting light where you want it while freeing both hands. It also has a handle for conventional hanging. When there is nothing to clamp it to or hang it on, the Clamplight locks open to stand erect on a table or a rock. Easy one-button operation; click once for high mode (230 lumens), twice for low mode (95 lumens), three times for strobe and four time for flashlight. The design includes a battery indicator, scratch-resistant polycarbonate lens and 2CREE LEDs rated to 100,000 hours of bulb life. It uses three AA batteries (not included).

Dislikes: It does not provide a big, super-bright illumination. It's hard to read a magazine beyond 18 inches away.

Price: $44.99. www.Blackfire-usa.com

Wallack is the author of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100." roywallack@aol.com

health@latimes.com

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