I love outdoor sports every bit as much as the sports played in arenas and stadiums, so to optimize my excursions into nature I am always on the lookout for the latest technology. Here I will go through some of my favorite pieces of camping gear, whether it be for backpacking, car camping, or Boundary Waters-ing.
One piece of advice I will offer is to not be afraid to spend more money for top-end gear. In my experience I have found that having a bomb-proof tent or indestructible backpack is well worth the extra cash. And the best part about buying quality camping swag? Resell value. Case in point: way back in 1998 I bought a $375 North Face Nebula two person tent. It was expensive, especially back then, but I used that reliable nylon fortress on countless adventures for twelve years and was then able to sell it for $125 on eBay. So essentially I rented that tent for $20 per year. I did the same with an Arc’teryx Bora 80 backpack that I bought for $350, used for a decade, and then sold for $100. If you take good care of these quality items you can squeeze years of adventures out of them and people will still pay you good money for them years later.
Let’s get to some of my favorite gear currently in my arsenal.
Tent: Three years ago I waited for the annual big spring sale at REI (you get a coupon for 20% off any one item) and bought a Nemo Losi. I cannot endorse this tent strongly enough—I love it. To begin with, the walls and ceiling of the tent are all mesh screen. This allows plenty of airflow and you can even take midday naps in it, something impossible to do in most other tents which act as sweltering greenhouses when exposed to the summer sun. If there is no rain in the forecast, you can keep the rainfly off at night at stare at the stars as you drift off to sleep. Simply outstanding.
The Losi is simple to set up, comes with a convenient stuff sack that rolls up neatly, and when it is raining, I swear the rainfly could repel a tsunami when fastened and tightened properly. It also has plenty of mesh pockets inside for storage of personal items and the doors on both sides zipper open wide to allow easy entry and exit. For $35 you can get a lightweight footprint, which will extend the life of the floor of your tent, and for an extra $40 you can get a Pawprint, which is a soft fabric sheet that snaps onto the inside floor of your tent, holding your sleeping pad(s) in place while further protecting your tent floor. A marvelous innovation and worth every cent.
The next recreational masterpiece is my Kelty camp chair. I know you can pick up a camp chair at any department store for $10, but allow me to present my case for upgrading to the Kelty.
First of all, it is comfortable as hell. With a padded backrest, adjustable backrest angle, and wide armrests, you don’t just sit in this chair, you luxuriate in it. In addition to comfort, it also has plenty of storage space. On either side of the seat are mesh storage pockets and each armrest has a wide cupholder/storage space that can be adjusted to hold a can, bottle, or even bigmouth Nalgene bottle. To top it off there is a bottle opener attached to one of the armrests, which, if you enjoy sipping a cold pale ale while lounging around the campsite as I do, is just pure genius. The chair folds up neatly into its own carrying bag that has a shoulder strap for easy transport and an additional storage pocket.
And this fireside throne isn’t just for car camping, it is also perfect for canoe trips. There are BWCA purists who only bring the absolute essentials on a canoe trip. I am not one of those purists. I can’t fathom going into the Boundary Waters without my camp chair. I went without once and sat on logs and rocks for four days, which, unsurprisingly, were a pain in the ass. Also, the shoulder sling on the Kelty’s carrying case makes it exceptionally easy to portage with and the chair itself is not monstrously heavy anyway, so it doesn’t weigh you down even on the longest of portages. And once you settle in after a long day of fishing, the Kelty will cradle you in its soft nylon arms like the big, stinky, unshaven baby you are. Priceless.
The final piece of camping comfort I will endorse today is the Exped SynMat 7 Air Pad. (Look at the first picture in this post, Ursa is laying on the air pad.) Over the years, I have progressed from an egg-crate foam mat, to a thin Therm-a-Rest air pad, and now to the Exped for the last 5 years, and the evolution of these mats has been akin to upgrading from a horse-drawn buggy to a Range Rover.
This air pad can fundamentally change the way you camp. To wit, the Exped, when inflated, is thick enough so that no part of your body ever makes contact with the ground underneath, so you can pitch your tent in places with roots or rocks and have it make no difference as you slumber soundly all night. This is a huge advantage when choice tent sites are not available, such as if you run into aggressive weather and are forced get off the lake in a hurry and improvise a campsite, or if the other tent-friendly campsites in an area are all taken you can settle for the more “rustic” site with no reservations about your comfort while sleeping.
This pad has an ingenious air pump that is built into the mat itself. You just unroll the mat, open the intake valve, and use your hands to press up and down on the integrated pump, kind of like performing CPR on a squirrel (without the mouth-to-mouth part). It will take a good 3-4 minutes to fully inflate the pad, which I’ve inexplicably heard some exceptionally lazy people complain about, but after your first night on the pad you realize that as you’re pumping up this mat you are filling it with caressing nighttime comfort, and not just air. When time comes to break down camp, you just open the one-way valves on the end of the mat, fold it into a narrow strip, roll it up, and slide it back into its own bag. When packed up this mat is about the size of a football, so it takes up very little of your precious pack space.
I imagine pads such as this one are even more advanced by now, and I see Nemo has started producing their own, which are most likely outstanding. But I will use my Exped for a few more years before selling it on Ebay where I will receive the down payment for my next top-end air pad. It’s a great way to go.
These three items have all added significantly to the comfort of my camping adventures, and will do so for years to come. I’ve been in tents that leaked, on sleeping mats that didn’t allow for much sleep, and gone without a good camp chair, and the discomfort in these situations subtracted from the overall satisfaction with my wilderness journeys. (Especially the leaky tent, yikes!) But now that I have graduated to high-tech gear, I have arrived at a comfort to discomfort ratio that enhances any outdoor adventure. Life in the wild has become even more sublime, something I didn’t think was possible.
If you have any favorite camping gear that has elevated your outdoor enjoyment, by all means let me know about it in the comments section. I am always on the lookout for the next great technological advancement. I’ll leave you with one last picture to stoke your camping appetite for this upcoming summer, provided winter ever ends.