Camping & Hiking

Despite (or possibly because of) the fact that I spend much of my work and hobby time in front of computer screens, surrounded by technology, I tend to enjoy getting outside and spending a weekend going low-tech.

Over the years I've gone camping in every season, and slept outside in everything from a tent to a quinzee to improvised survival shelters. I can confirm that yes, you can sleep in a lean-to in -30C temperatures and survive the experience unscathed.

Within the camping community there is some contention between two groups (or "camps" if you'll pardon the pun): the ultra-lightweight crowd and the luxury crowd. One one extreme you have people who will pack every item they think they might need, and are willing to carry extra weight to improve their comfort. On the other end you have people who will go to great lengths to shave every unnecessary gram from their loads, cutting off map borders, removing unnecessary straps from backpacks, etc....

To say that everyone falls neatly into one category or the other would be disingenuous. I, personally, identify somewhere in the middle. I don't like carrying more than I need to, but I also wont spent great amounts of effort to lighten everything, or spend twice the price on a tent that's only 20g lighter.

The following are a few items that I carry with me whenever I'm out camping. Some items will vary depending on the season and how long I'm planning on being out.

Always-Carry Items

These items I carry with me on everything from a day-hike to a week-long trip, and generally will carry them regardless of the season.

Multi-Tool/Folding Knife

It should come as no surprise that a knife ranks at the top of this list. Knives are one of the most useful things, good for helping to make a fire, set up a shelter, opening packages for dinner, cutting bandages, etc, etc...

My standard knife to carry is the Leatherman Wave. It's heavy, but given the number of functions I've used on it in the field, I'm happy to sacrifice the weight. The pliers are great for lifting lids off hot pots and doing in-the-field stove maintenance, the straight blade and wood saw are good for fire-building, and scissors are a great addition to your first-aid kit.

My secondary knife, which I will sometimes carry instead of the Leatherman, is the CRKT M21-04. It's a robust folding knife, with a blade that's sufficiently thick that you can actually batton with it. (I don't recommend you do this with a folding knife, but you could do it in an emergency.) It's not as versatile as the Leatherman, but it's a better blade in my opinion.

First-Aid Kit

Another no-brainer for any camping trip. My first-aid kit is a fairly stripped-down kit with your standard assorment of bandaid sizes, gause bandages, alcohol swabs, pain killers, immodium, and the like. For longer trips a SAM Splint is a good addition.

Duct Tape

As anyone who's ever lived knows, duct tape is the universal tool. Mythbusters has shown you can even make a boat out of the stuff.

Rather than carrying a whole roll of tape (which is a large, awkward item to carry), I prefer wrapping several meters around a credit card-sized piece of cardboard. It's flat, so it fits in your pocket/backpack more easily, and it still gives you enough tape to use in an emergency.

Rain Jacket/Shell

The weight of the jacket varies with the season, but I always carry a waterproof shell with me. My current go-to jacket is the MEC Hydrofoil, though I have previously owned a Mammut jacket that is no longer in production.

Typically for a shell I look for something very thin and light; the idea here is that this is the outermost layer to protect you from wind and precipitation, not to provide warmth. The jacket should be loose enough you can wear a layer or two of fleece underneath, should you need insulation.

If it's especially cold I'll go for a slightly heavier, warmer shell. (I have a Helly Hansen jacket I've used for years as a winter jacket when paired with a couple of fleece sweaters underneath that's ideal.)

Boots

You've got to wear something on your feet, right? If you're hiking, a good pair of boots is always worth the investment.

Ever since I was 15 my favourite boots have been Scarpa SL boots. I am currently on my second pair, having outgrown the pair I got as a teenager. They're great leather boots, but heavy. If/when I get a new pair of boots, I am strongly considering getting a pair of synthetic boots. They may be slightly less durable, but wearing heavy leather boots while walking for 8 hours through the woods does make your legs tired eventually.

Overnight Items

These items get used on overnight trips, but not on day-hikes.

Sandals/Camp Shoes

Just like you need a good pair of boots while hiking, it's never a bad idea to have a pair of something more comfortable to wear at the campsite. A pair of cheap sandals is perfect in my experience; they're light enough to not be cumbersome, but comfortable, and they don't generally care if they get wet, should you need to wade through swollen rivers. (And yes, I have had to change into sandals mid-trail to wade through water on a few occasion.)

For winter trips, rather than sandals I opt for insulted booties like these.

Sleeping Bag

A good sleeping bag is essential for camping. I use a three-season Sierra Designs bag, rated to -7C. It's relatively lightweight, synthetic-filled (down sleeping bags tend to interact poorly with my allergies, even though they're warmer), and fairly comfortable as far as sleeping bags go.

As much as I would love to have a dedicated winter sleeping bag, such things are very expensive. Therefore in the winter I layer two three-season sleeping bags, one inside the other. If you do this, make sure your outer bag is big enough to fit the inner one without compressing all of the insulation, though!

Tent

Picking a good tent that you like is difficult and time-consuming, but ultimately worth it. Think of it like buying your backcountry home.

For winter camping, or summer camping in a group of 3, my tent of choice is the Eureka K2-XT. It's a heavy tent (ours is almost 20 years old, and is lighter than the current generation, but still heavy), but it's fully four-season with enough room inside for three adult men to sleep fairly comfortably. It's close, but not bad.

For summer camping

Situational Items

These are items that I will occasionally carry with me under specific circumstances, but are not part of my standard camping equipment.

Kukhuri

Okay, I'll admit it, I have a thing for knives. And I'm an especially big fan of the Nepalese Kukhuri (sometimes spelled "kukri").

The kukhuri is a traditional tool from Nepal and neighbouring regions in Asia. It's a large, heavy knife with a forward-curving blade. It's heavy enough to be used like a small axe or hatchet for chopping and splitting wood, but can also be used like you would use any other knife.

The kukhuri I own is the 10" Panwal Dotted from Kukhuri House Handicraft Industry, located in Kathmandu, Nepal. It's a heavy, thick piece of steel, that does an admirable job of chopping. However, it's far too heavy for me to want to ever carry it on a long trip. Its use is limited to basecamping and day-trips where I am specifically expecting to process wood.

Parka

If you're camping in the winter in Canada you basically need a decent parka. Some might argue that simply living in the Canadian prairies between December and March necessitates owning such a garment. My parka is the North Face Vostok. It's super warm, both for camping and waiting for the bus in Winnipeg in January.

Note that even if it's cold enough to warrant a parka, I still pack a the lightweight shell mentioned eariler; parkas are great for sitting around at camp, but as soon as you start moving or working you quickly get very warm and need something lighter to prevent you from getting soaked in your own sweat.

More coming eventually