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Camping - Men's Fitness Gear Guide - tents, sleeping bags, clothing and shoes - Buyers Guide

Camping is about communing with nature and getting back to basics. It's about forgetting the hustle and bustle of everyday existence and remembering what's really important in life. Ah, yes, but is it all so simple? Not quite. To help survive the whims of Mother Nature, we enter the wild armed with modern technology. In fact, there is no shortage of technically advanced gear to protect you from the elements, whether you're going deep into the backcountry for a week or just heading off to the local wilderness park for an overnight stay. Here's what you'll need to stay comfortable when you want to get away from it all.

Sleeping Bags

Slumberjack Columbia

While certainly not the most sensuous bag on the market - the tradeoff for a lower price is less glitzy materials - the synthetic-filled Columbia is light, warm and water-resistant. It's also roomy - it's available in lengths ranging from 78 to 90 inches and widths from 32 to 34 inches. The result is a mummy bag that will keep you plenty warm without making you feel like, well, a mummy. We also appreciated the Columbia's 20-degree-rating (the bag also is available in heavier 0- and minus 20-degree ratings), three-pound weight and relatively compact stuff size ($137).

Marmot 7th Heaven

The 7th Heaven is the best synthetic back- packing bag we've ever tested. The first thing you'll notice about it is its silky and highly breathable Gossamer Teflon shell; the second thing you'll notice is its attractive sub-three-pound weight; the third thing you'll notice is its performance - the 15-to-25-degree temperature rating is legit, even conservative ($189).

Mountain Hardwear Tallac

The cheapest down bag made by noted mountaineering manufacturer Mountain Hardwear is also one of the company's most versatile and comfortable. Its 575-power-fill down lofts up into billowy softness with a shake - it'll keep you warm and soft at temperatures even slightly below its 20-degree rating. The Tallac also works well in warmish fall temps thanks to flexible baffles that let you push the down filling away from your body ($205).

Tents

L. L. Bean Acadia Geodesic Tent

We love backpacking, but most of the time, we're proud car campers. Shoot us: We like hauling a lot of comfortable gear, which probably explains why we like L.L. Bean's spacious and solid geodesic design. This construction style maximizes floor space, while being remarkably strong for its weight. The Acadia enjoys these advantages and is bonehead-simple to pitch thanks to its color-coded sleeves and clips. More than anything else, though, the Acadia is comfortable: There's a generous 57 inches of headroom and enough space on the floor for three (and even four) people. The main drawback is its weight: It checks in at nearly 15 pounds, which means it's only appropriate for car and canoe camping ($215).

Mountain Hardwear Thru-Hiker

This is the tent for the backpacker who cares about weight but wants protection from occasional exposure to rough weather. Four aluminum poles, rugged pole clips and oversize nylon webbing loops for the stakes keep the Thru-Hiker (and you) firmly affixed to the ground in all but Everest-caliber windstorms. This security comes in a fairly compact five-pound, three-ounce package - not bad for a tent with almost 28 square feet of living space, plus a nine-square-foot vestibule for your stuff. Once you reach your chosen spot, the tent's wide windows and efficient venting system will keep your enclosure comfortable enough to enjoy it ($260).

The North Face Lenticular Tent

Making a tent tough enough to withstand a range of extreme winter conditions requires compromises: Winterproof shelters tend to be heavier, more expensive and stuffier than their three-season cousins. Although it's a true all-year tent, the Lenticular negotiates those compromises better than most. Large double doors in front make it easy to get into and out of; when it's clear enough to camp without a rain fly, the gaping doors also provide nice ventilation. A four-pole design with extra-long supporting pole sleeves keep it stable even in bad conditions, and although it's not cheap, it's a great value. The Lenticular's main compromise is weight. While not exactly heavy at almost seven pounds, it's definitely a chunk to haul on your back ($345).

Clothing

Columbia Elkhorn Pant

Visit a car campground, and you'll see a lot of guys wearing jeans. That's too bad for them: Jeans are heavy and take forever to dry. Columbia's cotton Elkhorn pants are a better choice for kicking back around camp - their proprietary cotton treatment handles water better than jeans or standard cargo pants while still providing you with abundantly useful side pockets ($43).

Columbia Shoshone II Vest

Warm but not hot, fleece vests are the perfect mid-layer for changing weather conditions during winter, or the perfect outer layer for crisp nights in fall and early spring. The Shoshone's polyester microfiber fleece is warm, light and more wind-resistant than other fleeces of comparable weight. Combine this performance with Columbia's styling details and vibrant colors, and you get both polish and practicality ($56).

Nike Air Mada Pro Mid

Nike's Air Mada shoes have been a day-hiking mainstay for years. Now, after a brief hiatus, the popular line is back, with the same comfortable ruggedness as always, but sporting an improved waterproof all-leather body and much-improved styling. Criss-crossed small lugs on the shoe's sticky sole provide good traction on moderately rough trails, while the air-fortified midsole provides excellent support without a lot of weight. Although you wouldn't want to carry a big pack in them, the mid-cut version of the shoe is supportive enough for long hikes with a large daypack ($90).

Smartwool Hiking Socks

It's tempting to ignore them, but socks matter. Think about it this way: Your boots stop your feet from being pulverized by the ground, while your socks protect your feet from being blistered by your boots. The best material for this is wool, and Smartwool splurges on merino wool to make the most comfortable wool socks we've found. In summer, the soft wool whips moisture away from your feet, keeping them cool; in the winter, the wool does the same thing, keeping your feet from getting sweat-soaked and freezing ($15).

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