Gear Geek: Coleman and the Hudson River Valley

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Gear Geek: Coleman and the Hudson River Valley

Last month

I arrived in NYC’s Penn Station just before evening rush hour, the city enduring an uncharacteristic early September humid swelter. The streets surrounding the train station were choked with camera-wielding attendees of Fashion Week, milling about on the narrow sidewalks waiting for … someone? ... to exit one of the events, completely blocking my hurried path. Four blocks into a ten-block walk and I was drenched in sweat.

An hour later, I literally lifted off from Midtown with a few other gear-centric journalists in a passenger helicopter, leaving the steaming city—its traffic-choked streets, blaring horns, screaming sirens, grinding construction, and all the other cacophonies that give Manhattan its perpetual, noisy, organic buzz—behind as we lifted up from the place where 34rd falls into the Hudson, arched over the river, and pointed the nose of our bird north.

Let’s call this experience a temporary vacation into the one percent, made possible by the kind generosity of Coleman.

In retrospect, a helicopter is an oddly contemporary mode of transport from a brand that came into existence more than three decades before the first helicopter took flight in 1936. Coleman got its start when W.C. Coleman—then a young typewriter salesman—encountered a gasoline-fueled lantern in a store window in Alabama and recognized its potential as a solid solution to outdoor lighting. Decades later, it built a compact stove for World War II field troops in response to a request form the U.S. Army, a move that expanded their line—and forged a relationship with the brand for an entire generation. From there it was steel coolers, big tents, camp furniture and damn near anything else you’d use in an outdoor setting.

Indeed, Coleman reigns as one of the only heritage brands that inspires memories that span several generations. I can still hear the hiss of my dad’s lantern back from the days when we camped at national parks, and he still has his big green Coleman cooler, the kind with a dual-spin locking latch.

In short, the brand breathes authenticity. So it should come as no surprise that Coleman has seen a surge in popularity among the Millennial generation: folks discovering the wonder of car camping and tail-gaiting; people who are yearning for a brand that’s real, tactile, and reliable in a world where you can literally access anything from a device that fits inside your pocket. Coleman may never rank as the lightest, or most innovative company in the outdoor space. But in an industry awash in superlatives, that’s also quite welcoming.

That helicopter ride

took us to a regional airport in the Hudson Valley, followed by a 40-minute drive to a field covered in Coleman shelters arranged in the expansive yard of an Airbnb. This tent city would serve as our HQ for the next 72 hours, where we’d get our hands (and everything else) dirty with a slew of new and existing Coleman products.

Hudson Valley proved a perfect testing ground. The place is so damned quaint that you actually start to hate that word, you use it so much. Quaint. Pastoral. Charming. Beatific.

Beyond the postcard-perfect views and the occasional honest-to-god rainbow, we were also able to dine on local fare cooked on Coleman’s stoves, zip line through the dense canopies of Hunter Mountain, and sit fireside checking out the latest and greatest product. We rode around on Coleman ATVs—mini go-carts and mini-bikes with small engines that inspired a bit of Mad Max: Fury Road fantasies (minus the fireballs). We tubed down the Esopus River through rapids that bely any notion that tubing is a lazy, beer-drinking, driftin’ affair. We ate wood-fired pizza and sipped cider a Westwind Orchard, owned by an Italian ex-pat and one-time freelance photographer out of Manhattan. We dined on a nine-course meal at Butterfield, a stunning restaurant attached to the Hasbrouck House, run by a chef who eschews the “farm to table” trend for working directly with the ingredients that farmer needs to sell, rather than cherry-picking whatever happened to look good. We visited Mohonk Mountain House, a Hudson Valley vacation resort since 1879, and hiked the property’s unforgiving scramble of a trail known as the Labyrinth before climbing a lookout tower and staring down a distant thunderstorm.

And we talked product—a lot of product. Coleman’s kit, of course, and the brand’s enduring ability to keep creating products that resonate with the car-camping and tailgating set. And of Coleman’s sister companies, like Esky—a cooler line that’s just a burly as Yeti. And Sterns, who provided our PFD for the half-day of tubing. But also the new dry bags from SealLine, the latest insoles and flip-flops from Superfeet, and pack-friendly Helly Hansen shells. That, and other products that populate the contemporary world of outdoor and travel gear.

So, yes. A once-in-my-lifetime 40-minute helicopter ride along the Hudson River. But also hours of talk about how the sudden thunderstorm that hit our tent city that first night really tested the tensile strength of the tent poles and how easily it was to shut the ovens and regroup and why the Carbon Superfeet insoles need to incorporate a break-in period and why it’s so hard to for the industry to make a shell that doesn’t wet out in extreme humidity. Deep gear-speak, in other words, that would be frighteningly dull to just about everyone, save the dozen or so folks hanging out on the front porch of that Airbnb.

Call it the one percent, but one mixed with the rugged heritage of a company more 100 years old.

Here are a few items (of the many camp products that Coleman offers) that caught my eye.

Photo:Nathan Borchelt

1. Quad Pro Lantern, $100; 2. Tenaya Lake Tent, $330; 3. National Parks Fyreknight Propane Stove $150; 4. 12-Piece Enamel Dinnerware Set, $30; 5. CT200U Trail Mini Bike, $500

Nathan Borchelt is a gear-obsessed travel writer and adventurer whose collection of shoes, backpacks, jackets, bags, and other “essential” detritus has long-outgrown his one-bedroom apartment (and his wife’s patience).

Quad Pro Lantern


Out this spring, the Quad Pro Lantern comes with four removable panels, each one equipped with a 100-lumen area light, flashlight, magnet, and handle, making it easy to venture out from the kitchen to your tent in the distant darkness without finding your own flashlight. The portable panels recharge from the lantern base, which also has a USB port for charging your other devices.
Coleman

Tenaya Lake Tent


Like several other tent-makers, Coleman will start to integrate electronics into their shelters this spring. The Tenaya Lake will come with an integrated overhead light cast 150 lumens of diffuse light from above, running for ten hours on three AA batteries, with multiple settings to adjust to the perfect mood (read: mellow reading mode or an eye-seering blast to find the missing tooth paste lid). The fast-pitching tent itself is massive, rated to fit eight people and includes a closet with organizer, easily shaming your former car camping tent.
Coleman

National Parks Edition Fyreknight Propane Stove


Coleman's iconic green stove may live in older campers' minds as the pinnacle of outdoor culinary perfection, but this new spin on the classic may dominate the next generation. REI can barely keep the National Parks Edition in stock—and with good reason. This official National Park Foundation Fyreknight stove delivers all the Coleman elements, including twin 12,000-BTU propane-fueled burners equipped with a stair-stepped design and added flame holes for faster, more even heating; 360-degree wind protection; and the ability to swap the burner for a grill grate or griddle (sold separate). And it does all this in an instant-classic khaki color that's sadly a limited-editions style.
Coleman

12-Piece Enamel Dinnerware Set


Hipster restaurants in Brooklyn, Atlanta, and Washington, DC, have recently been favoring the the durable blue-speckled enamel cookware over more haute options. But Coleman's been tuned into the scene for decades. Join the trend with this 12-piece set, including four ten-inch plates and six-inch bowls, along with four 12-ounce handled mugs.
Coleman

CT200U Trail Mini Bike


You might have never been allowed to ride a mini-bike or low-octane go-card when you were young, but hop on Coleman's CT200 Trail Mini-Bike and you're certain to feel like a kid again. Although the bike speed levels out relatively quickly, the 196-cc engine packs a kick when you first throttle back, so take it light the first time out. The off-road rig boasts a simple, classic profile, with carrying racks added to the classic frame for a touch of utility—in case that's the justification you need to get one.
Nathan Borchelt