Walk into any outdoor store and one thing becomes immediately clear: You can’t fit everything on the shelves in a backpack – or even a normal-sized room. There’s simply too much of it. And even if you could carry around all of that new, fancy gear… who would want to? For any trip or hike, no matter its duration, you only actually need a few key pieces of gear on your back and in your bag consistently to get by: A good shirt, a solid pair of pants, and the essential gear you need to survive outside. Everything else is filler. (Yes, I mean you, portable hot-tub.) Instead, make sure you pack is always stocked with the stuff that will last, from your next trip to your last.
Here are some recommendations I’ve pulled from my own pack (in the order they came out):
The easiest and most efficient way to carry all the tools you could ever need in your pack is to bring along a multi-tool. I’ve used the classic, all-stainless steel Leatherman Wave ($91) for years, and it’s still arguably the best design out there. Admittedly though, I have a new, slightly lighter weight and streamlined favorite: the Gerber Crucial ($52). It’s also made out of stainless steel, has all the tools I use the most – knife, pliers, screwdriver – and nothing else. It’s almost half the weight of the Leatherman, and impossible to bust.
Yes, your spork counts as gear; and, yes, I’m serious. If you’ve ever had your only plastic eating utensil break the first week into a month-long trip, you’ll know exactly how serious I am. It’s a simple thing, but it needs to work; otherwise, you’re going to be eating with your hands. Before titanium sporks came around, like the ones Snow Peak now makes ($10), I used to just take out the stainless steel flatware from my kitchen drawer, because I knew I could trust it. (That’s still a viable option, by the way, if you don’t want to spend the $10). Now though, thanks to titanium sporks, you can combine your spoon and fork into one utensil, and have it weigh about the same as if it was made of plastic. And it’s almost physically impossible to break.
Ceramic Water Filter
Unless you want to risk a severe case of giardia, you need to filter or boil your water in the backcountry. Boiling takes extra fuel that you have to buy and carry; and then you’ve got hot potable water on your hands, which is the opposite of fun. Life is simply better with a no-nonsense ceramic water filter, like the Katadyn Pocket Filter ($370), which allows you to quickly and easily filter water from an ice-cold source and drink it immediately. Why not get a paper water filter that’s less than half the price? Simple: You can always – and I mean always – clean a ceramic water filter in the field if it gets clogged. Once a paper filter gets clogged, it’s useless. The Katadyn Pocket Filter also comes with a 20-year warranty, so that’s hard to beat.
Wide Mouth Waterbottle
You need something to put your potable water in once you’ve filtered it, and there’s nothing better for it than the tried-and-true 32 oz. Wide Mouth Nalgene ($11). It’s the perfect size, the wide opening makes it easy to fill, the caps don’t come off unless you want them to, and you can’t break ‘em, even if you try.
There are some great, ultra-lightweight camping stoves out there that run on iso-butane/propane mixes, which heat incredibly efficiently when they’re working, but then are pretty much busted once they’re not. White gas is plenty efficient for anyone’s needs, and burns at any temperature (whereas many mixes stop working once it gets down below freezing), so I’ve never stopped using my MSR Whisperlite Stove ($90), and don’t plan to. There aren’t many moving pieces, and they’re all easy to access and repair in the field, so even when it gets clogged, I know I can always fix it. This is a must when on a longer expedition, and provides some nice peace of mind on a weekend trip.
Non-Stick Anodized Aluminum Pots
I know, non-stick anodized aluminum sounds like something fancy; and that’s because it is. But it’s also awesome when made into camping cookware. It’s extremely light, tough as a bull’s horn, distributes heat quickly and evenly across its entire surface (and cools down quickly, too), and the non-stick surface allows you to leave the oil and butter at home. When I go out on my own, or with just one other person, I like using the MSR Quick 2 System ($100). If I go out with a group, I bring the MSR Flex4 System ($160).
Gore-Tex Patch Kit and Seam Sealer
A Gore-Tex patch kit paired with waterproof seam sealer will allow you to repair just about any ripped synthetic fabric, anywhere, any time. Rip your backpack or put a hole through your tent with your crampon (again)? Don’t throw it away. A simple $6 Gore-Tex patch and a $8 tube of seam sealer will be able to fix that immediately, and the fix will last. My gaiters are now more patch material than original fabric, and they still work great. Of course, a single waterproof patch kit and a tube of seam sealer might not last you your entire life, but they will help you significantly extend the life of some of your other, more expensive gear.