Published on June 30th, 2009 | by Greg0
Truly Outdoors: Sierra Designs Sleeping Bag and Tent, Tilley Hats
We've been testing some of the biggest and best names in outdoor apparel and supplies to bring you a month-long look at camping, hiking, backpacking, and adventure travel equipment. We've got a great lineup planned- with everything from stoves to storage. Join us throughout July for our regular feature in our brand-new gear section, beginning with a look at Sierra Designs, one of our favorite camping gear manufacturers, and Tilley Endurables, makers of some excellent travel clothing.
Sierra Designs offers a wide range of camping equipment, for men and women. We've been testing out the light-weather, three-season Men's Verde 20 sleeping bag, which as the name suggests, aims to be eco-friendly. The green claims: post-consumer recycled insulation and a recycled shell, with a sustainable, all-natural liner made from cocona- which sounds like some sort of interesting tropical plant but is actually the activated carbon of recycled coconut shells! At 27 ounces, it's a bit heavier than many other similar sleeping bags, but definitely passes the test for comfort- testers remarked that it was cozy, warm, and much smoother than other synthetic bags.
It performed well in the field too, handling light rains fairly well- it isn't a great bag for heavy storms or wind though! In terms of durability, it matched up well against dirt and the zippers were solid, but the chest pocket was a bit annoying and trapped dirt (and some moisture). We liked the fit- not as strict as some mummy bags, not as loose as semi-rectangular cuts- as well as the slight light-reflective sheen on the bags. The color is great as well, and doesn't pick up or show stains. And continuous baffle construction might sound baffling, but basically means that the insulation won't move around, preventing bunching or cold spots. Overall, a great bag, with great green credentials, that sacrifices nothing in terms of comfort. It's easy to go green with the Verde. $190, online and in stores.
The Vapor Light 2 Tent, also from Sierra Designs, would be relatively unremarkable but for two things- the nifty Ball Cap connector in place of normal grommets and tips on the ridge poles, and the extremely light weight. This is a super-portable tent, with an appropriate name, light enough that a reviewer or two was disbelieving that you could get a tent in a bag so small and so light. At less than three and a half pounds, it won't strain your back or your arms. Setup and take down is made easier by a few clever devices, like the SpiderHub, which keeps poles locked in place.
Of course, you do have to make some sacrifices- it isn't very large, and offers a single door. Two people will be a snug fit, and will need to be comfortable with one another (and fairly short). Light sleeper? Toss and turn a bit? Over 6-feet tall? Even having to use the bathroom at night, always a problem, is made worse by the squeeze. It may look like a rectangle as well, but isn't- the trapezoidal shape means that you should take care to orient your head towards the door, and both people should probably face the same direction for best results. A three-season tent, it's perfectly fine for warmer weather, and well-suited for those who don't need something larger and want a well-ventilated tent with a decent rain fly. At nearly $300, you expect something that will last, and all signs point to the Vapor Light 2 seeming perfectly… well, solid.
Finally, our first July outdoors gear article wouldn't be complete without a look at something beyond the campsite. Tilley Endurables makes most of their items in Canada, and takes their hats and clothing very seriously- claiming to be probably the world’s only insured hat, and offering a lifetime replacement guarantee should your item wear out. Further, all of the hats float, offer great sun protection (up to 98% blockage of UV rays), and are super-easy to care for (wash anywhere, no shrinking, and quick drying). They even offer nifty hidden interior pockets, making sure that your wallet or keys are safe (and can float as well).
We tried the TH9 Hemp Hat, available in mocha or natural, with a fairly wide brim and three hatbands in different colors that can be changed out. The hatbands seemed a bit unnecessary, but did add a nice touch of style to an otherwise fairly straightforward hat. Comfortable, if a bit heavy, it offers a nice strap against wind, and the same owner's manual that comes with all Tilley hats. Yes, an owner's manual, and it's actually fun to read! The TH9 is a great gift for those hikers always complaining about the sun in their eyes, and works for both men and women. Like others, it's available in 13 sizes, and runs about $80.
We liked the LTM5A Audobon AirFlo hat a bit more- not only was it much lighter, at about 3 ounces, but the mesh around the the top of the hat made it more distinctive and breezier. And thus more comfortable! It lacked the hatband options of the Hemp Hat, and only comes in olive, but the straps were a little more pleasant. The slight reflective sheen of the material was nice as well, and the hat only costs about $72. If neither of the above options quite seems right for your head, Tilley offers a wide variety of others, including ones with insect repellent technology, and even a few lines for kids. Available primarily online, they also are carried in R.E.I. and some specialty stores locally.