A look at new camping and hiking gear

Tested this go-round are a two-man tent, hydration pack, sleeping pad and light.

With summertime weather hitting lots of the country in late winter this year, overnight backpacking trips can now conveniently move to April and May. Just in time, an impressive new crop of hiking and camping gear has sprung up along with the cherry blossoms, promising easier times on the trail in any season.

Roomiest two-man tent

Kelty Vista 2 tent: The first two-man free-standing tent that actually fits two full-grown men, due to a unique design with near-straight-up walls.

Likes: Two people can sit up in this tent comfortably — an impossibility in other two-man tents that use the traditional X-pole design, which crosses two poles from corner to corner. The Vista 2 also uses X poles but gets rid of the sloping, confining sidewalls by adding two short "brow" poles that run horizontally from door to door, holding the walls straight up. It's a simple, brilliant, effective idea. While camping, a friend and I marveled at the room inside and didn't know what was more impressive — the Utah Canyonlands or this. Well vented, with plenty of zip-close mesh windows, and includes a rain fly.

Dislikes: Though still easily lugged in a backpack, at 6 pounds it's light but not ultralight.

$269. (866) 349-7225. kelty.com

Pressurized hydration pack

Geigerrig Rig 1600: Medium-sized overnight backpack with a built-in hydration system consisting of a patented pressurized fluid container that sprays water, making it more useful than traditional suck hoses and even able to filter water.

Likes: This is the first real improvement in hydration packs since the category's debut 15 years ago. Just bite on the valve and water sprays into your mouth, no sucking required, due to the pressure applied on the water bladder by a separate air chamber that you fill via a shoulder-strap pump. Use the valve to spray your face, clean a wound, even shower. Other nice features: big zip pockets on the waist belt for quick, on-the-go access to camera and snacks, well-organized storage space for clothing and larger items and a zippered, waterproof pouch for small items like cellphone, wallet and lights. The bladder can be refilled quickly from its own zippered compartment. An optional 2-ounce Geigerrig filter ($28) can be attached to the drinking tube nozzle for safe refilling in the wild. A variety of pack sizes for cycling and running.

Dislikes: No carabineer attachment points or straps on the outside of the pack for carrying a sleeping bag, axes or other gear.

$145. (801) 823-3336; http://www.geigerrig.com

Pint-sized sleeping pad

Klymit Inertia X-frame ground pad: Highly sculpted inflatable 6-foot-long ground pad that weighs only 9.1 ounces (10.1 ounces with pump) and folds to the size of a soda can, easily making it one of the world's lightest, most compact ground pads.

Likes: Provides good off-the-ground support when you lie flat on your back. I blew it up by mouth in just 43 seconds. A huge space- and weight-saver for a backpacker. A pump, stuff sack and patch kit are included.

Dislikes: At 16 inches wide, it is too narrow; my arms and elbows were on the ground at all times. Some part of your legs will touch the ground if you roll over, sleep on your side or even just wiggle too much. The fact that it includes a patch kit worries me; what good is a de-inflated ground pad with big cutouts in it?

$99. (888) 559-6481. klymit.com

Hot little light

Petzl Tikka XP2: Innovative 60-lumen headlamp that integrates a high-output white light with a red LED and a wide-angle lens.

Likes: A good value that offers versatile lighting options in a small, light (4 ounces) package. Three white-light modes include a focused long-distance beam that projects to 60 meters, a diffused flood for hotspot-free map-reading and a power-saver with a claimed 160-hour burn. The red light, accessed through the same button, offers a safety strobe or a gentle beam useful for minor night vision and reading inside a tent without disturbing sleeping partners. A "charge light" indicator comes on when half the burn time is used up. It can be powered by three AAA batteries or Petzl's optional Core Pack lithium-ion polymer rechargeable battery ($41.95), which comes with a wall charging cord.

Dislikes: The light leaks through the bottom of the clear plastic case into your eyes. Some users have recommended applying a strip of duct tape to black it out.

$54.95. (801) 926-1500. http://www.petzl.com

Wallack is the coauthor of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100" and "Barefoot Running Step by Step." roywallack@aol.com

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