On my twelfth birthday, along with joining the Boy Scouts, I received my first sleeping bag and backpack. The sleeping bag was a grey synthetic mummy bag. The backpack was blue with an aluminum frame. I still have them and even occasionally use them. That humble beginning marked the start of my ever growing collection of camping gear. Since then almost every present or gift I have received for Christmas or my birthday has been camping gear. Now I mostly get gift certificates to REI and I love it. It is about the only store that I enjoy shopping at. Whenever I get a gift card I do not spend it right away. Spending REI credit is a solemn event and must be done right. I make several scouting trips to collect information and prices. Then I develop a spreadsheet with my wish list and prices. It is only after I have determined the optimal potential of the gift card do I make my purchases. Sometimes I will wait several months so I can combine my REI membership refund with the latest sale. The only thing that has stopped my collection from getting out of hand is my frugal streak that I inherited from my parents. I am grateful to them because I would probably be inundated with gear if I didn’t have that check. Here are some of my favorite products that I have collected over the years:
1. Princeton Tec Aurora LED Headlamp. This is an ultra light weight but highly effective headlamp. It is the best headlamp on the market and it is under $30. I carry it everywhere and even use it in bed to read when my wife is sleeping. I even use it when I work on the plumbing or the car.
2. Leatherman New Wave Multi-tool. After a northern pike wrestled my first Leatherman away from me, I was multi-tool-less for about a year. It was a dark time. Then for my birthday my parents gave this to me. It is the only Leatherman on the market to really have improved the original design. The best thing is it has two locking blades on the outside. You don’t have to open up the pliers each time you want to use the knives.
3. Coleman Peak 1 Single Burner Backpack Stove. It works on butane/propane fuel cartridges, which is more efficient than straight propane. I also have never had it freeze in cold weather. It is also very small and indestructible. The best part is I bought it at Wal-Mart for $10. The only way I would need anything more expensive is if I took up mountaineering.
4. North Face Arrowhead Tent. This is an expedition quality tent I inherited from my dad. It is probably 15 years old but it looks brand new. It has stood up to 65 mile per hour winds and my kids jumping on the poles. Now that is tough.
5. REI Andora Down Mummy Bag. It is warm and lightweight. I bought this great bag in Taiwan from “Eddie the Coat Man”. I kid you not, that is what his card said. When I bought the bag from him for $30 I couldn’t believe the price, but he insisted. It wasn’t until his wife came by that we found out he had been drinking heavily just before we had arrived. It is my daughter’s favorite sleeping bag too. She likes its purple color.
6. Sierra Designs Microlight Jacket and Pants. Everyone should have a rain coat and pants that stuff into a little bag. They are perfect in Alaska where the weather changes so quickly especially when you don’t want to carry your Gortex shell around. I carry my set everywhere.
7. Keen Newport H2. This is the latest buy that made it on my list. I have wanted a pair since last summer when I heard all the rave reviews. I finally got a pair on clearance at REI with some birthday money. I have not been disappointed. They are very comfortable and my feet don’t get hot when hiking in them. I can’t wait to try them out while rafting next weekend.
8. REI Insulated Mug. It is just a lightweight and durable insulating mug. When I really want to pack light, I will eat all my meals out of it. I know there is nothing particularly special about this mug, it’s just I have grown attached to it.
9. Flatworld Orikaso Fold Flat Bowl. I hate packing plates and bowls. Maybe that is why I eat out of zip-lock bags and mugs when I can, but that can limit your diet. The first time I used this was when I traveled out to Nikolski and had to bring all my own food. Both weight and space was a huge issue. This came in so handy that I fell in love with it. It is one of those great products that you just say, “It is so simple, why didn’t I think of it?” It is just brilliant and it doesn’t even take up any space in my garage.
10. Nalgene Wide Mouth Bottles. These bottles are the best. Gone are the days of having rusty or plastic flavored water. These bottles are as inert and strong as they come. The wide mouth is a must for when you get ice build up. In Alaska, they are even considered the must-have fashion accessory.
11. Seattle Sports Dry Compression Bags. This is one of those things I use every trip. They work great shrinking your sleeping bag or extra clothes. Plus they keep them dry.
12. Rhino Trekking Backpack. Rhino is a top name brand in Taiwan. This one is an internal frame top-loading backpack. It sold for about $80, but the thing I liked best about it is its versatility. About a third of its storage capacity can be removed or reconfigured to meet the trip needs. At full capacity it can work as a week long trek pack. When all the extra stuff is removed it makes a great two day bag for traveling, especially when you have to go through an airport.
13. REI Day Pack. This bag is a top loading single compartment with a flip over pocket that cinches it down. It has nice padded shoulder straps and a minimal lap belt. It is made out of heavy weight canvas with leather reinforced bottom. I have had it for over 15 years and taken it on almost every trip I have ever gone on. It is great for an overnighter, day hike, or book bag. In a word, it is perfect. Day packs nowadays have too many pockets, straps, bells and whistles that you don’t need or get in the way. Plus they would never last very long. Something breaks or tears. I am not looking forward to when I will have to replace this bag. I don’t think I will be able to.