Camping gear test in California's temperate rainforest

  • Jul 27, 2015
  • 673 words
  • 3 minutes
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(Photo: Tyrone Burke)

Four years into a drought of historic proportions, keeping dry on a California camping trip hardly seems like it would be high priority. Yet even as the temperate rainforests along the coast experience severe drought conditions, redwood groves retain a distinctively damp feel. The giant trees are able to fuel their growth to awe-inspiring heights not by drawing water from the soil below, but by taking it in from the air itself.

Temperatures in the Pacific along California’s central and northern coast are steady throughout the year, never rising above the mid teens. The temperature differential between sea and air temperatures creates regular fog, which nourishes the rainforest environment. So even while the sun is shining relentlessly on the beaches of Santa Cruz County — which sits near the southern margin of the coastal redwood’s range and is experiencing severe drought conditions – fog nourishes our planet’s tallest forests.

The ocean’s maritime effect also helps keep the temperature along the central coast moderate throughout the year. The average high in January is just six degrees different than the average high in July, and both are close to typical Canadian summer temperatures. This made Santa Cruz County and Big Basin Redwoods State Park the perfect place to get the jump on summer and test out some of the newest gear this past March. Here’s some of the gear we took along:

Mountain Hardwear Optic 3.5 Tent
The Optic tent series biggest selling point is the way it brings the great outdoors indoors, or at least inside your tent. The dual door design gives you twice the screen area with the fly on, and lets you take in a panorama while you keep dry and cozied up in your sleeping bag. If you’re in a drier environment, the fly easily pulls back so you can stargaze, bug-free.

But the Optic system is more than just a gimmick, this is a solid tent. As a 3.5, it has a more generous amount of floor space than a standard three and its ceiling is high enough to make changing easier for taller campers to change. The added height and dual vestibule system do mean that the Optic 3.5 catches the wind more than a more conventional tent, and in high wind locations, it does flap around.

Icebreaker Compass shorts and Icebreaker Oreti short sleeve shirt
Even when you’ve set up camp among the redwoods, you’re never from a sleek coffee shop or restaurant in California. So to make the most what Santa Cruz county had to offer, I needed clothing that worked in both rustic and urbane environments. This ensemble from New Zealand’s Icebreaker quickly became my go to. Since then, it’s filled the same role in Ontario’s cottage country and on the road in Turkey.

Both the Compass shorts and Oreti shirt are smart casual, but made from highly functional Merino wool (70% and 100% respectively). When they get damp, they dry quickly and stay comfortable, allowing you to move effortlessly between the short hikes and beach walks you find in this part of California, and the sophisticated restaurants you’re sure to find just a few kilometers from the trail head.

Columbia EvaPOURation jacket
The locals like to joke that it’s 68 degrees (20 Celsisu) on Monterey Bay, no matter what season it is. There’s an element of truth to that, and for this gear test, that provided the perfect environment to test the sort of breathable, lightweight rain jacket that you need on Canadian summer camping trips. The EvaPOURation jacket is waterproof and breathable, so it will keep you dry and cool in warm rains, but as an extra layer (with hood) it will warm you up on cool campground mornings. Affordably priced, it’s just the sort of jacket you’ll want to cram into your backpack to make your summer camping trips a little more comfortable.


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