Few experiences can make you more critical of a piece of gear than using it for two weeks straight. At the end of August, I took a 17 day trip through New England, camping for most of the time in New Hampshire and Maine. Some gear flew with us there, more was purchased after landing, and the results were a mixed bag. While we had tested most of our gear on 3 and 4 day camping trips, by the second week I had gear that I loved and gear that I couldn’t wait to throw off the nearest cliff.
By far the most expensive piece of gear purchased for this trip was the Exped Megamat Duo 10; and I call it expensive even though we bought it at almost half off at an REI Garage Sale. If you’ve never seen one before, it’s a foam filled, self inflating sleeping mattress the size of a full size bed. If you have a significant other, it eliminates the terror of reaching for a snuggle and falling into the crevasse that is the space between normal sleeping pads. It’s also one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept on bar none, and I’ve always put sleep as one of the highest priorities for camping comfortably. Since it’s practically the same dimensions as a full size bed, you can get a cheap, perfectly fitted set of sheets from Walmart for $17 instead of spending the $65 the manufacturer is asking.The downside, of course, is it’s “packed” size is still enormous but we were still able to squeeze it inside of our checked luggage.
Another purchase which came through in spades was a tarp to keep the rain off while cooking and eating. The Noah's Tarp by Kelty comes in three sizes (I have the medium 12’ size) and did a great job of shielding us from some epic downpours in several different campgrounds. It’s also easier than ever to rig up a tarp tautly, and without opening your Boy Scout manual to relearn all of the knots you forgot. Instead, pick up a set of the Night-Ize Figure 9s to quickly secure the corners of your tarp and tighten it up nicely. No bowlines, no trucker hitches, no overtightened knots making you just cut the cord because you’re tired of trying to take it apart. Spend the extra $15 and it takes your tarp from something that’s a hassle to take up and take down (which causes it to stay in it’s stuff sack), to the only dry space you can find to not make cooking dinner a soggy chore.
And speaking of a soggy chore, I hate cleaning and doing dishes. Vacation to some people means paying for meals and letting someone else deal with the mess; I’m not rich enough to bring my own catering crew out into the woods, so I get by doing as little as I can while still being clean. All but one of my meals were actually cooked directly over the fire; all that was required was some aluminum foil and an even bed of coals. The cooked food was then dumped into a GSI Lexan bowl and eaten with a Guyot Designs Spork, which is the longest spork I’ve found. That’s especially important if eating dehydrated meals in pouches that usually leave your fingers dripping in food. At the end of every meal, the clean up was 1 prep knife, 1 cutting board, 2 sporks, and 2 bowls. Water bottles don’t need to be cleaned often....right?
A piece of gear that we bought there, and actually returned because we hated it so much, was an Ozark Trail 20 qt cooler from Walmart. Now, the good thing about the cooler is it’s rugged, available it dazzling colors, kept ice for days, and has a latch system so tight it’d probably keep out grizzly bears. The only drawback, which was so bad it made us return it before the trip ended, was there wasn’t a drain plug. For a $90 cooler, even if it’s a knock-off a $250 Yeti, give me a drain plug so I don’t have to tip the cooler over every 8 hours in an attempt to stop the melted ice from soaking my food. Based on this experience, the larger coolers that have drain plugs are probably great alternatives to Yeti (I personally have a 65qt RTIC that I’ve been thrilled with), but stay away from the smallest hard-shell cooler because it’s awful.
Good gear doesn’t always mean expensive gear: it’s gear that works best under tough conditions, and fits into your system as a whole. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some hammocks to test to see how easily you can nap in them.
Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.