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Drive Time

Gadgets for the quintessential car camper

By Corinne Asturias

THE YUPPIE machine has gone into overdrive in the outdoors world of late. And the result is more choices. The camper will have to decide in his or her own mind:

Is it worth carrying into camp?

Is it torturous to clean afterward?

Is it worth carrying out of camp?

Is it one of those things you will look at in its box later and feel foolish for purchasing, owning, and dragging into the middle of nowhere and back?

These are personal questions, with personal answers. Here's some of the latest gadgetry on the shelves at local sporting goods stores.

Ciao, Baby
The Camping Espresso Maker

Well, OK, the manufacturer actually spells it with an "X," as in "Mini Ex-presso Maker," and this unfortunately puts them in the category of people who spell barbecue with a "Q." But anyway, this setup is small and durable and stainless steel and shiny. The little cups, like tiny orbs, are quite Euro and could double as shot glasses later in the, er, day. The bottom reservoir of the coffeemaker fills with water, and as it boils, the pressure forces it through the coffee and out a little spout, where hopefully the camper has a cup waiting. Makes two pretty tasty demitasse cups. Price: $24.99. Cups: $1.95 each.

In Hot Water
Solar Showers

This is essentially a big collapsible plastic bottle that a camper fills with water and hangs from a tree in the sun each morning. It delivers a spray of surprisingly hot water each evening. The amazing part? It really works. Since there are so many remote campgrounds without showering facilities and even more that claim to have them, but really offer lukewarm, quarter-fed medieval torture devices, this is a solid concept for the devoted camper. (Unfortun-ately, it's also the closest many of us have ever come to using solar power.) Also great for washing dishes and taking sponge baths. It costs anywhere from $20 to $30. For the serious bather, there's the Sun Shower Enclosure, for an additional $27.95.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place
ThermaRest Pads

Who can put a price on a good night's sleep? Well, someone tried and it turns out it's a lot--anywhere from $60 to $100 for the thinnest, most durable, and most comfortable sleeping pad imaginable: the ThermaRest. These semi-inflatable pads have actually been around for many years, but are now available in more shapes, sizes, and thicknesses than seem necessary. They roll up thin and with a few puffs of air (literally, six or so) provide a durable cushion of air between hips, shoulders, and the ground.

Sucking Sound
The KamelBak

It is apparently now deemed too much work for the average person to actually remove a water bottle from a backpack, unscrew the lid, and take a sip from it. One must now carry a large flat reservoir on the back with a tube going to the mouth, which merely has to be sucked on for water to trickle into the mouth, like a hospital patient. The KamelBak water system was a wondrous invention for racing cyclists and extreme hikers, but it has now become de rigueur for all activities that take place more than a quarter mile from a drinking fountain. It costs between $40 and $100, and if you can get over the idea that you look like a hospital patient, it'll help ensure that you've always got enough water with you, wherever you hike. Some of the more expensive ones come with zipper compartments and pouches, so they can double as daypacks.

The Kitchen Sink
Coleman Camp Kitchen

They've finally done it--come up with the mother of all kitchens, and it's coming soon to the back of a suburban near you. The Coleman Camp Kitchen is essentially a tabletop-sized suitcase on legs that opens up to reveal a countertop, a sink, a stove area, and a wall of hanging utensils and pots and pans. There's undercounter storage space for dishes and the ever-important paper-towel holder. And because it has legs, the cook need not be restricted by the location of the picnic table. (What is it with the rangers that tables are situated in the windiest location possible?) It also solves the ever-challenging problem of food prep space. And when the work is done, why not close it up and play a game of backgammon on the lid? Drawbacks: it's heavier than a stove and costs $230. And hey, isn't the reason for going camping to get away from the demands of the overly tidy kitchen syndrome?

Use the Right Tool
The Tool-Box Grill

Petaluma inventor Wayne Hermansen has devised a nifty car-camping accessory--the tool-box grill. This sturdy, highly portable, self-contained, hibachi-like grill is constructed of heavy steel and fashioned like a gray enameled tool box. The vent-free box contains a recessed nickel-plated coal basket and bottom-plate heat shield, so you can just dump the coals and pop this baby right back in the trunk without fear of a car fire. The cost is $69; a grill tools set is available for another $19.99. For details, call 886-BBQ-FUN-1.

Heads Up
The Headlamp

Ever notice that a flashlight is (1) never around in the dark, (2) never where you left it, and (3) never pointing where you need it? Well, if you don't mind looking like a coal miner (and isn't camping really about letting go, anyway?), there is a plethora of illuminating devices known as headlamps that solve these problems. Various devices from Petzl and Princeton Tec offer an array of headlamps on adjustable head straps, in varying intensities. They run from $20 to $60, with the high end being the high-output halogen model. But, regardless of price, all headlamps have the distinct advantage of pointing where you're looking and allowing the hands to be free for other things.


Greg Cahill contributed to this article.

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From the May 17-23, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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