Every so often I acquire a new piece of gear that has such a big impact on the way that I camp, that I’d never go back to the old way. A few examples of where I’ve experienced this before include:
- Water Filters. No more carrying too much water, boiling water for drinking, or using terrible tasting water purification tablets.
- Thermarests. If you’ve never had to use solid blue foam pads, be grateful!
- Ultralight Tents. Okay, reaching back here, but I really did camp and hike with an old fashioned, green canvas tent “back in the day!”
Changes in the last few years may not have been as dramatic, but there have been fantastic additions to my kit that I think everyone should consider.
|Solar Power: Charging While Paddling|
My career and my hobbies have always revolved around tech of some kind or other. As a result, trying to stretch every last milliamp out of the batteries and powerbanks I took with me into the backcountry grew into a fine art. iPhone display on full? Turn it down low. Camera image stabilization on when you don’t need it? Turn it off, etcetera, etcetera. While I made it work, it was a pain.
Before heading on a long backcountry trip in Northern Ontario last summer, I decided to give a solar charger a try; the prices had come down and the weight was reasonable, so what the heck. Wow, did that work out well! It was super easy to roll out my charger and put it to work whenever the sun was out, or while making lunch, or paddling across a lake, or simply setting up camp.
|Charging in Camp|
All I needed was a few good hours of sunlight and I was able to recharge my phone, camera batteries, and keep my LED lantern topped up.
Being able to have virtually unlimited “battery power” while traveling was a huge luxury! I stopped worrying about using up batteries and just enjoyed my equipment the way it was meant to be enjoyed.
About ten years ago I heard about twig stoves and how easy they were to make. So, I picked a set of instructions off the ‘net, found myself a tin coffee can and proceeded to make one for myself. It worked; it burned twigs and wasn’t too hard to keep going once you got the hang of it. The problem was that it was large, awkward and prone to giving small cuts and aberrations to the operator - me! As a result, it was fun for a few days, then it was rarely used again.
|My Old Homemade Twig Stove|
Fast forward a decade and I saw many twig stove designs in use by a fair number of popular YouTubers. After watching them in use, I decided to get one of my own. There are plenty of options to chose from, and I’m sure they all more or less get the job done. Some are more expensive, some are larger, some claim to reduce smoke. I picked one and ran with it. The result? I’m hooked!
If you like campfires, you’d love twig stoves. They effectively provide a small confined space, with good ventilation, in which to build a fire, and they provide a surface on which to rest a pot. Instead of burning a manufactured fuel which you have to purchase, you simply use the twigs you find lying around you at virtually any campsite. It’s cheaper, more satisfying, and you’ll never run out of fuel. Sure, it makes the bottom of your pots black, but that’s a small price to pay for the freedom the twig stoves offer. Get one!
|Boiling Water for Morning Coffee with Modern Twig Stove|
I used to own two hammocks, one made of thick canvas, one heavy braided cordage. While fun for occasional use car camping, they were impractical for backcountry use. As a result, I was never drawn to the “allure” of hammocks that seemed to overcome many of my peers.
At the beginning of summer of this year, I was sent a promotional hammock by a fine craft beer brewing company. It was thin, light and came with its own straps. I tried it at home in my backyard. “Hmm, this is comfortable” I remember thinking. It was so small bundled up, I decided to take it on a short, three night canoe trip. Bingo, I was hooked! I can now have it up in under three minutes, and it can be used for either sitting in or laying prone. What a luxury after a long day of paddling!
|Hammocks: The Good Life!|
From that trip onwards, that hammock has been on every backcountry trip I’ve made. Well worth the few ounces it adds to my pack!
|Peaceful Place to Read|
Honourable Mention: Air Mattress Pump & LED Lantern
A couple of years ago I bought a new, ultralight thermarest for winter camping. It’s one that has a crazy high insulating value (R=6.9), and uses a “pump bag” to fill it up. Using the pump bag is kind of slow and tedious, so I decided to purchase one of those small, battery powered air pumps to get the job done.
|Small but Mighty!|
I bought one that also doubles as an amazingly bright camp light, illuminating at one of three levels (40, 160, or 400 lumens). The highest setting, 400 lumens, is equivalent to having 400 candles lit in your tent. Crazy bright! I rarely use mine beyond the 160 setting.
|Makes a Great Tent Light|
Winter Campers, Take Note: I see some people blowing air into their thermarests to inflate them. While that can result in mold and mildew inside your pad over time, it’s even worse to do in the winter - the moisture in your breath freezes inside the pad, significantly reducing its insulating value. So if you don’t have a battery powered pump, use the bag that came with your pad; don’t blow it up manually!
I hope my experiences and learnings provide some positive impact on your camping choices, or at the very least, give you some ideas for future gifts for your loved ones!
Oh, one last thing: I personally purchased every item noted in this article, with the exception of the hammock, which was a promotional gift. I've written this article for general interest, not to sell specific items or to earn any kind of commission (I should be so lucky)!