I’m a bit of a gear junkie. As such, I’ve gathered a collection of stuff. It generally works out after a trip that some of those things you carried into the backcountry, you end up carrying back out without ever having used them. Maybe you didn’t need your rain gear this time. Or it didn’t get quite cold enough for the fleece. And there are some things that you carry that you hope you never use, such as a distress beacon, the emergency divvy shown above, bear spray or that tourniquet.
After each trip I make an assessment of what were my most essential pieces of gear. What worked? What didn’t? What was not even used? When it comes to gear assessment, it usually boils down to this – is it worth the carrying weight? Recently I’ve noticed in my collection of stuff a sub-collection of really cool gadgets that I thought would be really useful on the trail, or that I just had to have, which I no longer even take with me anymore. Here are my top 10 cool pieces of gear that I just had to have and that rarely, if ever, see the trail anymore.
Honorable Mention) Spice holder – This compact little guy holds three spices of your choosing, two of which are usually salt and pepper. Individual salt and pepper packets work pretty well instead. I generally prepare my own food so I don’t need to carry a lot of extra spices. But we’ll see; this one might make a comeback.
10) Emergency Survival Pack – A signaling mirror, emergency blanket, compass, fire starters, sparker, duct tape, whistle, safety pins, hook, line and sinker all in a waterproof pack the size of your hand? Pretty cool. This one is nice to throw in when doing a day trip in the backcountry, but all of these items are already accounted for when doing overnight backpacking.
9) Hammock- A hammock as main sleeping shelter might be good. As a resting place, in addition to the tent your carrying, not so good. I took this to Isle Royale for down time in base camp. Problem was we didn’t have a base camp and were always on the move or staying in shelters. Great for base camp or primary shelter, not so much for backcountry relaxing only.
8) Protein Powder Cans – One time in the dessert I didn’t have a food cannister and there were no trees to hang a bag on. As a result, critters chewed threw my new, heavy duty, waterproof bag (not sure why I took this to the desert). Now I have a collection of plastic protein powder jars that I felt would make good food cannisters in certain situations, because they are much lighter than a bear cannister. But the situation for their use is fairly specific: you’re not in bear country and there are no trees to hang a bag. In other words, you are in the desert. So I have used these on the occasional desert trip and the varmints haven’t chewed through them yet. At least they didn’t cost me anything.
7) GoPro- I “bought” a GoPro as a work anniversary gift several years ago. It is lots of fun and I’ve used it while mountain biking in the Ozarks and to capture four days on the Mineral King Loop in stills taken every 60 seconds (see Videos page). But it takes some extra batteries to capture recurring stills or to do significant video, so it’s not as handy for backcountry trips.
6) Large tarp- Years ago I bought a nice Kelty tarp to use as a dining fly and gear tent. I thought the bigger the better, right? I was temporarily forgetting the bigger, the heavier. I used it initially back in 2012 and threw some gear under it. I don’t believe I took it again until last year to Isle Royale National Park when I planned on using it as a base camp dining fly. Problem was the same as with the hammock; we didn’t need it.
5) Sam Splint- This one falls into the I-hope-I-never-need-it category. I picked up this pliable, lightweight, and versatile splint after completing wilderness first aid training years ago, and carried it on all my trips. At some point I realized I may never use it, and if I ever need a trail splint I could make one out of something. I stopped taking it.
4) Handheld GPS – Also a work anniversary gift, the Garmin Oregon 450 GPS was kind of heavy, and I didn’t think it very intuitive to use. And frankly I just prefer a map and compass so after one trip the Oregon has been sitting in a drawer. GPS units have come a long way since then and I now have GPS on my watch (also a work anniversary gift) that I use as backup navigation. Note: I’ve just realized a couple things: a) I always pick outdoor gear for my work gifts, and b) I’ve been working there a long time.
3) Assorted Lights.
Crank light by LL Bean– This is small and fairly light and doesn’t need batteries. It has a small solar charger and a hand crank to generate some light. I used it while hiking in the dark in Zion National Park and it worked well enough. The problem is that it’s not hands-free like a headlamp, or as bright as one, and therefore unnecessary.
Inflatable light – This device has a solar charger and is collapsible/inflatable so it is lightweight. Problem: not bright enough for good lighting so more of an ambiance light, and I’ve not had many romantic dinners in the backcountry.
Handlamp/lantern by Joby- This head lamp snaps into a casing that turns it into a lantern. Cool idea, but in practice it made for a bulky headlamp and a not-so-great lantern.
2) Foldable Saw- I think I have been on one trip where 1) open fires were allowed, and 2) I couldn’t find any small, downed limbs that I couldn’t break. Just not worth the weight. Note: I also tried a wire saw on that same trip, and had it actually worked, would have been worth its weight.
1) Scrubba washing bag- This bag is a portable, packable washing machine. Basically a thick bag with a washboard feature and an air vent, you put your dirty socks in with a little soap and water. You push out the air and scrub. Replace the dirty water with clean for a rinse cycle. It actually works pretty good, but here’s the thing: I like to carry one change of clothes in case I get wet and I’m rarely on a trip long enough that I need to wash clothes, or have an additional change. Maybe if I were thru-hiking, but I doubt many thru-hikers would recommend carrying the extra weight of a wash bag.
TBD: My latest gear gadgets: collapsible cup, cutting board, lid light for water bottle. These are my latest gadget purchases. I think I’m slowing down. I’ve taken these on my last couple trips, so far I’ve used the collapsible cup multiple times for coffee, the lantern light maybe once, and the cutting board twice. We’ll see if they become mainstays or make the list.