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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Prof. Hike: The 10 (Un)Essentials

Gear, gizmos, and doodads you never should buy

by: Jason Stevenson, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Backpacking and Hiking

Don't let retail seduction stretch the 10 essentials. (Jason Stevenson)
Photo by 10_essentials_445x260
Don't let retail seduction stretch the 10 essentials. (Jason Stevenson)
Shop smart so you can buy more of what you need (like this sweet tent). (JS)
Shop smart so you can buy more of what you need (like this sweet tent). (JS)

 
Have you noticed the chill in the air? It means down jackets instead of rain shells and 15°F sleeping bags instead of 45°F. It also means watching your mailbox bulge with holiday catalogs tempting you to splurge on outdoor gear. Like a red-tailed hawk plummeting toward a napping cottontail, the glossy photos of shiny, new, tricked-out gizmos torpedo our defenses and make us covet extraneous gear we don’t need. Your plastic fork and spoon were perfectly fine until you spotted a shiny titanium spork for only $19.95. Before you know it, you’ve bought six of them! 
 
Resisting the temptation to buy more gear, I realize, is like trying to stop a glacier from advancing. Plus, our beleaguered economy needs more consumer spending, not less. But here’s my anti-splurge argument: If you spend all of your funds on unnecessary gear, you won’t be able to buy the stuff you actually need. Every time you look at those five titanium sporks you never use, you’ll realize why you can’t afford a solo backpacking tent. So as the holiday retail onslaught builds, here’s my best defense: the 10 outdoor items you never should buy.
 
1. Hefty knifes/multi-tools
The size of your equipment matters, but in the opposite way than you first thought. When camping or backpacking, any tool that does the same job as another—but is smaller or lighter—is automatically better. Because of their “bigger is better” attitude, knives and multi-tools often add unnecessary ounces. Here’s a simple rule. If your knife could be menacingly brandished in a movie (think Crocodile Dundee), it’s too big. Likewise, if your multi-tool has more than one cutting blade, a metal file, or weighs more than five ounces, it’s better suited for your glove compartment than your backpack. Above all, if you’re looking for a tool for backpacking trips, try not to drop $1,400 on this “Mother of All” Swiss Army knives, which features 87 tools and weighs almost three pounds. Trust me, despite its indisputable coolness, it won’t fit in your pocket. (Now, for car-camping, that's a different story.)
 
2. Nonbreathable rain pants
If the goal of foul-weather gear is to keep rain away from your body, then nonbreathable rain pants succeed. But if the goal is to keep you as dry as possible, then they fail. As Backpacker senior editor Shannon Davis puts it, “Your sweat will soak you as much as if you got rained on.” Hiking is a strenuous activity, and the heat produced by your churning legs will quickly rise to sauna-like temperatures if there’s no way—either via wide vents or a breathable membrane—for it to escape. So if rain pants are on your holiday shopping list, spend the extra $50 for the waterproof-breathable ones. If you’re still deciding, check out this Backpacker Forum discussion and these polls on the pros and cons of waterproof layers. 
 
3. Snakebite kit
None of us can tell the difference between a rat snake and a gopher snake, but somehow we’ve all learned to cut an “X” over a snakebite before sucking out the venom. But first aid techniques gleaned from B-grade Westerns aren’t always accurate, or hygienic. Wilderness medicine experts now advise against the “cut and suck” technique to treat snakebites. Making incisions around a bite, they claim, damages skin and introduces infection. Plus, a study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine demonstrated that the leading commercial suction device doesn’t work. According to the study, three minutes after eight human subjects were injected with radioactive fake venom (sign me up for that test!), the suction device removed less than 2 percent of the liquid from the affected tissue. For more effective snakebite treatments, consult Backpacker’s Medicine Man.
 
4. Torch lighter
I like fire as much as the next ex-Boy Scout. But I’m also practical. So a windproof torch lighter that generates a 2,000°F plasma flame sounds cool, as long as my buddy shells out the $50 to buy it. To light stoves, campfires, and the occasional bottle rocket, I prefer the generic Bic lighter, which costs about $0.50 at gas stations from Ohio to Kathmandu. Besides the 100-fold cost difference, here are three additional reasons to favor low-tech ignition sources. First, although a storm-proof torch light might work in hurricane conditions, most stoves or fires you’re trying to light aren’t going to. So unless you’re planning a dinner of crème brulée, a torch lighter will be a lonely spark in the storm. Second, Murphy’s Law dictates that small expensive gear is the first to get lost. Third, when flying, you can pack common lighters in your carry-on baggage, but torch lighters are still banned from all luggage. If a torch lighter is still on your holiday wish list, consider this alternative: The Soto Pocket Torch adapter transforms any rectangular lighter (i.e., not an oval-shaped BIC) into a jet-powered torch, and it won a 2010 Editor’s Choice Award.
 
5. Candle lantern
Abraham Lincoln learned to read and write by scratching the alphabet on hickory bark under the glow of a tallow candle. Impressive? Yes. But Abe was a whip-smart lad, and if Eli Whitney had invented the light-emitting diode (LED) instead of the cotton gin, I bet the Lincoln family would have been first adopters. Yes, candle lanterns are nostalgic, but LED headlamps and lanterns won’t make blind you or burn down your tent. My favorite lightweight camping lantern is the Black Diamond Orbit, which runs on four AA batteries and features a push-button dimmer. Disclosure: Black Diamond gave Prof. Hike one of these nifty lanterns for free. 
 
6. Light My Fire Grandpa's Fire Fork
The MIT-trained engineers at Light My Fire, Inc. probably spent several days locked in a dreary conference room refining their designs for this camping innovation. Formulas for thermodynamics, tensile strength, and heat transfer were tossed about before Dr. Jeff, the maverick of the group, remembered a home-spun wire contraption he saw in the 1957 Disney movie, Old Yeller. Or maybe he just had a creative grandfather. Either way, the result is Grandpa’s Fire Fork, a 0.6 ounce stainless steel marshmallow and hotdog roaster that’s “destined to become a modern classic.” Too bad, then, that prehistoric cavemen beat Light My Fire, Inc. to the marketplace with a renewable product with millions of years of positive reviews that can be fashioned by anyone, but especially three-year-old boys. It’s called a pointy stick. As for me, I prefer the stick.
 
7. Weather radio
The radios designed for outdoor enthusiasts don’t stop at AM/FM. The one I saw in a recent gear catalog was solar-powered, hand-crankable, and featured a built-in LED flashlight. I wondered if it was edible, too. So, if you’re a fan of apocalyptic zombie movies or Mayan calendar prophecies, you should purchase this radio for your underground bunker. You don’t want to miss your daily dose of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. But if you’d rather sleep in a tent than a fallout shelter, check the forecast at weather.gov before you leave for a hike, pack the proper equipment, and spend the $50 you saved on a foot massage.
 
8. Lensatic compass
Most hikers use a compass to answer basic navigation questions like “Which way is north?” “Which direction am I heading?” and “What is the bearing of that peak?” A lensatic compass can also answer the question: “What magnetic azimuth should I fire my artillery strike on the enemy encampment?” This device, also called an engineer’s compass, differs from a baseplate compass by having a flip-top lid, a sighting wire, and a pivoting lens. Plus, instead of a floating magnetic needle, the entire dial of a lensatic compass rotates. So if armored combat isn’t on your weekend itinerary, you can use a regular baseplate compass. It should be adequate for most navigation tasks like orienting a map, shooting a bearing, and triangulating your position. Just be sure to purchase a baseplate compass with an adjustable declination, especially if you don’t add or subtract well in your head.
 
9. Snowshoes
OK, before you winter-lovers stake me to the ground with icicles and dump powdery snow down my neck, just hear me out. I love snowshoes. I own a pair of snowshoes. But I’ve worn my snowshoes twice in the past five years, including a post-blizzard trek to the post office. Yes, I had great ambitions when I purchased my snowshoes back in 2003. Before buying them, I even rented a pair for a December hike in New Hampshire. But unless you live in northern New England, Alaska, or find powdery snow like a gray jay targets trail mix, your snowshoes probably will collect more dust than miles. 
 
Yet every holiday season, outdoor retailers advertise snowshoeing as a winter alternative to running and biking. Since it’s too icy to run or bike, their catalogs imply, just strap on snowshoes to exercise in this evergreen-dotted winter wonderland. The reality is that snowshoes are tools like crampons and trekking poles, not exercise vehicles like running shoes and bikes. Only a precious few people actually snowshoe for exercise, and most of them live in Boulder, Colorado, and have a VO2 max close to Lance Armstrong’s. Remember, we dislike those people.
 
What's more, the cost of a new pair of snowshoes is approximately the same as a new tent, sleeping bag, or backpack. And while you can bring any of those three items on most camping and backpacking trips, you can only justify snowshoes for a narrow range of winter conditions—at least eight inches of new, powdery snow. Nevertheless, snowshoes have become as specialized and technology-driven as athletic shoes. This winter you can buy a pair designed for a left-handed, 165-pound woman with double-jointed ankles. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but not by much. And while product diversification and innovation are generally positive steps, I’m not sure snowshoeing is the winter cure-all for everyone.
 
10. Mombasa Mosquito Net Body Suit 
I’ve been to Mombasa, and I don’t recall anyone in the coastal Kenyan city wearing this ankle-to-head, polyester, no-see-um mesh body suit. In fact, if someone wore this outfit in Mombasa, they’d probably be mistaken for a giant meshy bug and quickly squashed. I don’t see how this bug suit could be 1) Practical, or 2) Comfortable. Of course, Minnesota and Maine residents should tell me if I’m off-base. This might be your state uniform from June to August.
 
Did this list stimulate your gear neurons? Respond, criticize, and suggest your own “don’t buy” items in the comments section below. 
 
—Jason Stevenson
 


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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star

ALL READERS COMMENTS

John
Jul 09, 2014

"Gear, gizmos, and doodads you should never buy"

Who is the author to presume to tell us what we should and should not buy? People do a lot of different types of backpacking, and consider different things important. The Multi-Tool that the author claims we should never buy, for me, is a necessity any time I go outside. The author presumes to tell us we should never buy snow shoes. I live in Canada, where snow are as common as tennis shoes. By telling the readers what they should and should not ever buy, you are assuming there is only one "right" way to go backpacking. This article would not have been so presumptuous if the author claimed these were items "you might not need" or "items to reconsider".

Just my $0.02

Dave
Jun 14, 2014

This article was not very realistically informative, it is just trying to be funny with too many exaggerations.

Corey Swinburne
Mar 20, 2014

This list is refreshing for my sanity. This is a perfect opportunity to add "cellphone", "gps" and ideally, "ipod". And for mountaineers: my dad was a tech. mountaineer in his day, and he laughed when i showed him my new helmet. He described helmets only being really needed for vertical climbing, people didn't use them for general mountaineering or caving. Another thing he (gracefully) made fun of was my trekking poles. I guess in his day, if someone needed a walking stick, they fashioned a walking stick :-)

Corey Swinburne
Mar 20, 2014

This list is refreshing for my sanity. This is a perfect opportunity to add "cellphone", "gps" and ideally, "ipod". And for mountaineers: my dad was a tech. mountaineer in his day, and he laughed when i showed him my new helmet. He described helmets only being really needed for vertical climbing, people didn't use them for general mountaineering or caving. Another thing he (gracefully) made fun of was my trekking poles. I guess in his day, if someone needed a walking stick, they fashioned a walking stick :-)

Corey Swinburne
Mar 20, 2014

This list is refreshing for my sanity. This is a perfect opportunity to add "cellphone", "gps" and ideally, "ipod". And for mountaineers: my dad was a tech. mountaineer in his day, and he laughed when i showed him my new helmet. He described helmets only being really needed for vertical climbing, people didn't use them for general mountaineering or caving. Another thing he (gracefully) made fun of was my trekking poles. I guess in his day, if someone needed a walking stick, they fashioned a walking stick :-)

Corey Swinburne
Mar 20, 2014

This list is refreshing for my sanity. This is a perfect opportunity to add "cellphone", "gps" and ideally, "ipod". And for mountaineers: my dad was a tech. mountaineer in his day, and he laughed when i showed him my new helmet. He described helmets only being really needed for vertical climbing, people didn't use them for general mountaineering or caving. Another thing he (gracefully) made fun of was my trekking poles. I guess in his day, if someone needed a walking stick, they fashioned a walking stick :-)

Corey Swinburne
Mar 20, 2014

This list is refreshing for my sanity. This is a perfect opportunity to add "cellphone", "gps" and ideally, "ipod". And for mountaineers: my dad was a tech. mountaineer in his day, and he laughed when i showed him my new helmet. He described helmets only being really needed for vertical climbing, people didn't use them for general mountaineering or caving. Another thing he (gracefully) made fun of was my trekking poles. I guess in his day, if someone needed a walking stick, they fashioned a walking stick :-)

Corey Swinburne
Mar 20, 2014

This list is refreshing for my sanity. This is a perfect opportunity to add "cellphone", "gps" and ideally, "ipod". And for mountaineers: my dad was a tech. mountaineer in his day, and he laughed when i showed him my new helmet. He described helmets only being really needed for vertical climbing, people didn't use them for general mountaineering or caving. Another thing he (gracefully) made fun of was my trekking poles. I guess in his day, if someone needed a walking stick, they fashioned a walking stick :-)

Corey Swinburne
Mar 20, 2014

This list is refreshing for my sanity. This is a perfect opportunity to add "cellphone", "gps" and ideally, "ipod". And for mountaineers: my dad was a tech. mountaineer in his day, and he laughed when i showed him my new helmet. He described helmets only being really needed for vertical climbing, people didn't use them for general mountaineering or caving. Another thing he (gracefully) made fun of was my trekking poles. I guess in his day, if someone needed a walking stick, they fashioned a walking stick :-)

Corey Swinburne
Mar 20, 2014

This list is refreshing for my sanity. This is a perfect opportunity to add "cellphone", "gps" and ideally, "ipod". And for mountaineers: my dad was a tech. mountaineer in his day, and he laughed when i showed him my new helmet. He described helmets only being really needed for vertical climbing, people didn't use them for general mountaineering or caving. Another thing he (gracefully) made fun of was my trekking poles. I guess in his day, if someone needed a walking stick, they fashioned a walking stick :-)

Brian Kennedy
Sep 20, 2012

I agree with most of these statements. I have experienced the benefit of the weather radio, but no, I wouldn't spend the $50 for it. Even then, it would probably stay in my car. As far as the lensatic compass is concerned, I was in the military, where I worked, you guessed it, as an engineer. I carried my old lensatic because it was what I was familiiar with and it was what I had. Last year, I enrolled in a graduate program in Outdoor Education where my professor made me go spend the extra money on one of those plastic ones with the clear base because my lensatic "was not good enough." I get what was said about the multitool, although I think it was poorly stated. Basically, what I took from that is that a simple Leatherman or Gerber is fine, but keep it reasonable without the 72 extra tools that no one uses save the $50 and get the $25 multitool instead of the $75, 72 tool behemoth.

Markert
Jul 11, 2012

Thanks for wasting my time with the Crocodile Dundee clip...I loved it!

But wait a minute. Why are we supposed to not like those Boulder folks? If I recall, Backpacker is located in good ole' Boulder.

Jim in California
May 30, 2012

You mentioned the Soto lighter as having won the 2010 Editor's Choice Award.

That award was poorly given.

This is my experience with the Soto.

As I write this, REI, no longer carries this item.

At sea level, the Soto operated perfectly. But up at 10,000 feet, no way. What was most surprising, is that when needing this during a heavy rain storm, we tried to light the Soto with the flame from another lighter....and I am reporting that the Soto WOULD NOT LIGHT!

When we came down from altitude, to Mammoth Lakes, elevation @8000, the Soto still would not light. Taking off the cap, and activating the plunger, there was no spark.

Getting back home to Anaheim, elevation @140, the Soto lit properly. Taking off the cap, and activating the plunger revealed a very feeble spark.

Attempting to light the Soto with the flame from another lighter (140' altitude), I am reporting that the Soto, again, WOULD NOT LIGHT.

The problem is obviously with the piezo electric system. Perhaps if the Soto would use a flint based lighting system, it might work.

The Soto is too unreliable, as for me, most of my backpacking is in the High Sierras.

The Soto will be returned to REI.

blake
Dec 26, 2011

i find a use for me multi tool almost every time i go out.

Orion
Jan 11, 2011

Well regarding the multitool on a backpack trip. Most multitools these days weigh about the same as a knife or maybe just slightly more. For a survival situation I would say that a multitool would be better than just a knife. You could use the pliers to pick out thorns, or use it to bend small pieces of metal into an emergency fishing hook. Use the file to create a small pile of shavings to help start a fire or help create a spear. Scissors to help open bandage packages or packages of food. Can opener to do the same thing.

Lighter? Well maybe a bic but I would still prefer matches.

Radio? Well maybe it would be nice to tune in a radio station to listen to if you are stuck in a tent while it's downpouring or a blizzard where you can't move. It could also give you an uplift in mood if you are in a survival situation. The front panel could be used as a reflective surface to signal help with or if your voice is horse from calling for help it could help locate your location in a survival situation. Could you do without it?? Yes...but if you don't mind the extra weight then why not?

Ethan
Jan 08, 2011

Yes, Well I do live in Northern New England, Northern Maine actualy and snowshoes and snowshoe trails are found everywhere, and are thought manditory for any winter camping. Also the a torch lighter with our windy and wet climate is 100% better than a bic, and way quicker.

BushSniper
Nov 29, 2010

I would highly caution against not bringing a muli-tool on overnight trips. I bring mine on even short hikes. Unless your legs tremble and give out just from getting out of bed the minimal weight of a multi-tool is not even noticable. Their might be a metal file on it that may not be useful but small price to pay for the can opener, knife, saw blade and pliers. I can't even list all the uses I have found for my Leatherman multi-tool. I would never go outdoors without it.

Also, I would also highly caution against a bic lighter. They are garbage, they get damp and dont work. I would recommend water/windproof matches kept inside of a waterpfroof match box with striker. Bic lighters are the definition of "you get what you pay for." They are cigarette lighters, not intended as a reliable fire source outdoors in the wind, rain, snow, sleet etc. How many times have you seen smokers huddling around eachother on a sunny day with 5 knot winds trying to get that stupid bic lighter to ignite their cigarrette (very dry tobacco and very dry paper).

mcraw4d
Nov 27, 2010

I would have to disagree about carrying a light weight weather radio under the the following conditions. 1) Within range of a NOAA stations and know the station IDs 2) Backpacking in an area known to have to have sudden changes in weather despite forecasts.

I've carried an REI candle lantern for 20 years and would not leave without it in cold weather. It doesn't have batteries that get zapped by the cold and while if may not provide heat, it gives me a psychological feeling of warmth. Where leave-no-trace was mandated, several of them put together have provided for a psuedo-campfire to sit around and chat in several group outings.

Trevor
Nov 27, 2010

The only disagreement I have is over the multi-tool. I always go with my dog and I always left the leatherman in the Jeep. That is until Keen decided she had to have a closer look at a porcupine!! You NEED pliers to get ALL the quills out. If I had the leatherman we probally wouldnt have had to bushwack our way out and hitch hike to the jeep

Mike
Nov 27, 2010

Which one of our comment card carrying peanut gallery enthusiasts missed the memo that this is the "UN" essential list??? I don't know about you, but the majority of my backpacking good times are done in the ABSENCE of three+ feet of fresh snow!!! I think this article hit right where it needed to. Stop hording unused crap and stick to the basics.

Realist
Nov 19, 2010

For all the brand name-emblazoned never-worn or used things littering my basement from various must-have lists I have read many places, I am surprised to see the radio appear here. I do mostly solo trips and often go days without seeing a soul or a bar on a cell phone, and would probably leave most other 'essentials' at home before my $25, 3 oz with 72-hr AAA battery, AM/FM/WX walkman that tells me when to change plans when a forecast that looked lovely when I left online suddenly is calling for dangerous or time-wasting conditions. In addition, solo 16-hr long winter nights occasionally call for some AM from NYC or CHI or local FM or other breaks in the silence to break the chill now and then.

Mark
Nov 15, 2010

I guess the biggest disagreement is about the snowshoes. I say, just don't pay retail! I found mine at a bargain clothing retailer (no kidding) and waited until they were on super clearance. Result was a tag of $30 instead of regular suggested price... I bought a pair for the old lady, too!

cossatot2stepper
Nov 14, 2010

Most of my hiking/camping is along rivers where I spend a great deal of time fishing. I also backpack into the mountains to hunt. I take my multi tool (gerber diesel) with me everywhere every day. It is always on my belt. It is my fish gut knife, my pot gripper, my tweezers, my scissors have been used numerous times for first aid where cutting that stuff with a plain knife would have not been possible. Everything else being equal, a reasonably sized multi tool is worth the extra weight. But then again, my camping style is towards comfort and convenience not light weight.

GBrown
Nov 11, 2010

1. The knife thing is true, I only use my 3.5" blade to cut rope and possibly cut up dinner.
2. When it comes to rain pants, just get a good hard shell jacket and light weight nylon pants, they dry fast and are light even when wet.
3. "As you can see it cuts as it sucks" "It definetly does suck" -Wayne's World.
4. Ever heard of matches, they even come in water proof flavors
5. LED is the way to go.
6. The Grandpa's fork is awesome and much better than just a stick. I can roast a hot dog with no worries of it falling off my Grandpa's fork while my brother in law lost 3 dogs off his normal stick.
7. Who needs a radio while hiking, aren't we trying to get away from the world. But the radio referenced is on my X-mas list, going into my 72 hour kit.
8. I have never even used a compass while hiking, but I carry a basic compass just in case.
9. Unles you know you are going to be snowshoeing all the time, rent or borrow them.
10. two words-BUG SPRAY

Zach Leifson
Nov 11, 2010

Funny article! Have to disagree with the part about the Light my Fire grandpa's fork. I LOVE mine! I feel like a rock star every time I get mine out around a camp fire, and everyone wants one after seeing it. Beats getting little bits of wood a dirt in my marshmallows, and is light enough to justify bringing it along.
Guess I will second guess bringing my multi-tool, but it has been nice to have in case I need to make adjustments on my treking poles. Probably not worth the extra weight though

Anonymous
Nov 10, 2010

A) I don't think that knife will fit in my glove compartment and B) there have been several hikes where that mosquito suit would have saved a lot of scratching. I like the candle lanterns for the backyard

Anonymous
Nov 10, 2010

I like my candle lantern on winter trips. Be smart about where & how you hang it.

Morgan
Nov 09, 2010

Great article! Like most responses, I agree with much that was said, but disagree with a few. I'm an avid snowshoer. Winter backpacking has become a favorite of mine as well. Living in Utah and 15-20 minutes from more than a dozen trail-heads, affords me ample opportunity to get out regularly and justify the expense. Like Nate G. I have a pair of MSR shoes and have been very pleased with them... I always take my Leatherman Classic, comes in very handy, like the time my brother in-law dropped his "Grandpa's Fire Fork" in the hot coals and I used my Leatherman to get it out... I have to admit, I have bought in to some of the "got to have its" and oooh look it's .0001 grams lighter than the cheapy one you already own. But for the most part, while my gear is good, I bought most of it either slightly used or at a certain retailers, members only gear sales... And a BIC lighter is an essential. Try some cotton balls soaked in rubbing alcohol for a cheap and reliable fire starter. Works about as good as anything else out there and can double for wound care as well.

Eric
Nov 08, 2010

That is the biggest knife I have ever seen!

John
Nov 08, 2010

I am not so sure I agree with the snowshoe thing or the bug suit part. I have seen Forest Rangers and other Adirondack Guides wearing bug shirts in May and June ... a real life saver let me tell you! All in all a lesson learned from a Navy SEAL friend years ago was this ... "There are guys who cut the handles off their toothbrushes to save weight. I eliminate ALL non-essential gear and then ... when I am all packed ... the top of my pack becomes home to one essential piece of comfort gear." My friend's "mega multi-tool" was mouthwash and small packets of alcohol wipes.

Jacky
Nov 07, 2010

Ok, I absolutly love my multi-tool. Its not the biggest or badest, but I have used everything on it at least once, from the pliers, knife, screwdrivers, and yes, the bottle opener. Some people I know (they don't bring it through the park though) even carry machetes for cutting down cats claw. I guess your list should match your enviroment. As a post script though, the bug suit is just to funny. Has anyone actually bought the thing?

Mark
Nov 06, 2010

Click on the link for the huge Swiss Army Knife. Seriously, it's hilarious! Could you imagine trying to actually use it? At $1400, it's the ultimate gag gift from the guy that can afford anything to the guy that has everything else.
I love my snowshoes. I go hiking with them about once a week in winter (Reno, NV).
Multi-tools rock! Lensatic compasses painted with tritium, too.

MattG
Nov 06, 2010

Everything in the article was agreeable, except for the bit about the snowshoes. In the Adirondacks (where I do all my hiking) it's not just a good idea, it's also mandatory after a certain amount of snow. If a ranger catches you on a trail without them, you'll get turned back or fined.
Not to mention the fact that some peaks will have at least 3 feet of snow come mid-January. Without snowshoes you would be floundering around and putting postholes everywhere.

Bartholomew Brown
Nov 06, 2010

1. I have never needed my knife on any backpacking trip. But if you are going to bring a knife, bring a big one. A tiny pocket knife will not help you if you get attacked by a bear. My knife is huge and menacing. If I need to hunt an animal, a bigger knife is indeed better.
4. The lighter they showed in the video had a regular flame; it wasn't a torch lighter.
6. Grandpa's Fire Fork looks neat. It only weighs .6 oz., so why are they against it?
10. That mosquito suit is hilarious. I'd love to see the reaction you'd get wearing that thing.

mmm
Nov 05, 2010

Great article! Very funny and well written!

nanci
Nov 05, 2010

as a resident of the north I can't agree about the snowshoes, here it's either xx-skis or snowshoes december to march, or I'm post holing through snow sometimes up to my armpits-though why'd you'd bother with snow less than 2 feet deep I don't know

Hikergeek
Nov 05, 2010

I would agree with most of these, but strongly disagree with the remark on the multi-tool. I own a classic Leatherman. I have taken it with me on every camping trip for the past 11 years and it is very useful, mainly because of the full size needle-nosed pliers! I agree that a large knife is nearly useless (found this out in the military). You will end up slicing off a finger before you get that stubborn bag open. I carry my Leatherman in my glove compartment as well, and it has served a variety of uses - even opening a sandwich container bought at a gas-station when nothing else would. By the way, I own a lensatic compass and I like it better than a normal hiking compass (own one of those too), but then I was trained on how to use it in the military, so perhaps that is the difference.

I own a simple weather radio (it is ONLY a weather radio) that I bought at a Bass Pro Shop. I'm sorry, but I have taken it along on week long car trips and find it very useful in finding out exactly what the weather conditions are going to be so I don't try something stupid like hiking up Mt. Washington when there is a bad storm heading that way. I find it nearly impossible to get weather when I need it, for the area I'm in, when I'm away from home for an extended period of time. I do not own a smart phone, my computer stays at home, so the weather radio, as far as I'm concerned, is a cheap form of insurance. I travel by myself so I have to be extra careful and tend to be conservative when outdoors.

MrRedwood
Nov 05, 2010

My only minor disagreement: I'm going to keep my absurdly heavy multitool (the Wave) because it has a small but very usable saw blade. I solo a lot, and I want a tool that can cut down tree limbs or such to make splints or crutches. So far, this roughly one-pound multitool is the lightest that has a tolerable saw blade.

Chad
Nov 05, 2010

Another example of not knowing your audience. i am an overweight Canadian who uses snowshoing as an exercise. In fact, a couple of winters ago i broke virgin trails more than a dozen times, less than 1 minute from my door, and i live in the city. True it's a large park in the city limits, but still, a dozen times and just across the street.
As far as the snake bite kit - i guess i am truly not the audience for Backpacker writers. This is abundantly evident with the lack of trails suggested in my neck of the woods - Algonquin park - 23 hour drive; gatineau park - 20 minute drive; Adrirondacks 2.5 hour drive. Really no readers of Backpacker in this neighbourhood?
Other than that, great article.

Jade Dance
Nov 05, 2010

1. I love winter hiking/snowshoeing.
2. Snowshoes are the way to go for any offtrail action, but
3. truthfully, my hikin buddy and i did a fat heap of snow hiking last winter and i rarely felt like i wanted snowshoes. We both wear strap-on traction (yaktrax, in our cases) and that works fine most of the time for our Front Range of the Rockies hiking.
But then
4. my other frequent hiking buddy is a big guy, so he just postholes like crazy, and needs snowshoes.
So...
5. I'll grant you the snowshoes if you don't LIVE someplace that gets lots of snow. But if you do, it's really a case by case. I mean, you prob wouldn't get much use out of my "Dammit, my period started 3 days early!" kit, either...

Oh and ziplocs are THE BOMB!
Happy hiking!

High Altitude Wanderer
Nov 05, 2010

READ THIS BEFORE you buy a Soto Pocket Torch. It does not work at altitude. I bought it, took it home, played with it, worked fine. Threw it in my pack and went up to 9,000 ft. It wouldn't work, period! Check the reviews on it at REI.com, you will see a lot of similar reviews. If you live in Ohio or Florida, this is the tool for you. It should be illegal to sell it in Colorado.

Capt. Red Beard
Nov 05, 2010

Ahhh... To those who love the snow:

I agree with both sides of the argument; snowshoes, or no snowshoes? Sure if you live somewhere it snows a decent amount, and you already have all the 3 season gear you need. Get a pair! But for most of us buying snowshoes are terribly impractical.

Lets take a look at an example- If the average pair of snowshoe runs about $200. And you have the chance to really need them(needing the float to prevent sinking in +8-12in of fresh unpacked powder snow) at most you may get 10 uses per the 4-6mo that those very specific conditions exist. Costing about $20 per use; $10 the next, and so on. To me that still seems like a stretch for actual use. Only then, using them that much, would it begin to be worth it.

If you still think that you will use them that much, buy them at REI and find out. If you dont use them that much take'em back. No harm in that. Even give them two seasons see how much you really use them.

I believe what the author is trying to convey is this: The $200 you might spend on snow shoes will probably get much, much more use if spent elsewhere.

Winter gear is great, I am working on putting mine together too. It is so much more practical to spend your hard earned dollar on something you can use more first. Then after that gear is covered, go for the snow shoes. I love snow shoeing. My favorite time of year to be outdoors is winter.

A great alternative to solve both concerns about the money spent and owning snow shoes is this - make your own. I did this last winter, and it worked out great! There are tons of DIY, and MYOG(Make Your Own Gear) videos, and instructions online. I made some with wood from an apple tree I trimmed in the fall. A simple frame, some string and cloth are all you need. This can be a fantastic project that is NOT difficult. It is also very satisfying, and great for the planet. Also I would bet $$$ that your home made snow shoes will be way lighter then almost any that are commercially available.

Happy trails to all, whatever you choose!

Capt. Red Beard
Nov 05, 2010

Ahhh... To those who love the snow:

I agree with both sides of the argument; snowshoes, or no snowshoes? Sure if you live somewhere it snows a decent amount, and you already have all the 3 season gear you need. Get a pair! But for most of us buying snowshoes are terribly impractical.

Lets take a look at an example- If the average pair of snowshoe runs about $200. And you have the chance to really need them(needing the float to prevent sinking in +8-12in of fresh unpacked powder snow) at most you may get 10 uses per the 4-6mo that those very specific conditions exist. Costing about $20 per use; $10 the next, and so on. To me that still seems like a stretch for actual use. Only then, using them that much, would it begin to be worth it.

If you still think that you will use them that much, buy them at REI and find out. If you dont use them that much take'em back. No harm in that. Even give them two seasons see how much you really use them.

I believe what the author is trying to convey is this: The $200 you might spend on snow shoes will probably get much, much more use if spent elsewhere.

Winter gear is great, I am working on putting mine together too. It is so much more practical to spend your hard earned dollar on something you can use more first. Then after that gear is covered, go for the snow shoes. I love snow shoeing. My favorite time of year to be outdoors is winter.

A great alternative to solve both concerns about the money spent and owning snow shoes is this - make your own. I did this last winter, and it worked out great! There are tons of DIY, and MYOG(Make Your Own Gear) videos, and instructions online. I made some with wood from an apple tree I trimmed in the fall. A simple frame, some string and cloth are all you need. This can be a fantastic project that is NOT difficult. It is also very satisfying, and great for the planet. Also I would bet $$$ that your home made snow shoes will be way lighter then almost any that are commercially available.

Happy trails to all, whatever you choose!

Thinkerer
Nov 05, 2010

Bonus points for Emailing this article around along with a review of gadget laden knives and other gear...

Capt. Red Beard
Nov 05, 2010

Ahhh... To those who love the snow:

I agree with both sides of the argument; snowshoes, or no snowshoes? Sure if you live somewhere it snows a decent amount, and you already have all the 3 season gear you need. Get a pair! But for most of us buying snowshoes are terribly impractical.

Lets take a look at an example- If the average pair of snowshoe runs about $200. And you have the chance to really need them(needing the float to prevent sinking in +8-12in of fresh unpacked powder snow) at most you may get 10 uses per the 4-6mo that those very specific conditions exist. Costing about $20 per use; $10 the next, and so on. To me that still seems like a stretch for actual use. Only then, using them that much, would it begin to be worth it.

If you still think that you will use them that much, buy them at REI and find out. If you dont use them that much take'em back. No harm in that. Even give them two seasons see how much you really use them.

I believe what the author is trying to convey is this: The $200 you might spend on snow shoes will probably get much, much more use if spent elsewhere.

Winter gear is great, I am working on putting mine together too. It is so much more practical to spend your hard earned dollar on something you can use more first. Then after that gear is covered, go for the snow shoes. I love snow shoeing. My favorite time of year to be outdoors is winter.

A great alternative to solve both concerns about the money spent and owning snow shoes is this - make your own. I did this last winter, and it worked out great! There are tons of DIY, and MYOG(Make Your Own Gear) videos, and instructions online. I made some with wood from an apple tree I trimmed in the fall. A simple frame, some string and cloth are all you need. This can be a fantastic project that is NOT difficult. It is also very satisfying, and great for the planet. Also I would bet $$$ that your home made snow shoes will be way lighter then almost any that are commercially available.

Happy trails to all, whatever you choose!

Mark
Nov 05, 2010

I love my bag liner. I have an old down bag (about 20 years old now!) that I use for most of my trips and having the bag liner keeps my body oils off the bag thus extending the life of the bag. It seems to have worked so far.

Mark

Amber
Nov 05, 2010

With regards to Joe and bag liners - my 35 degree bag is just over a pound and my silk liner about 4 ounces. I will take the less than $175 that I paid for both together, and the fact that they stuff smaller than a football, over larger, heavier, and more expensive bags any day! As long as I am not camping on snow over 11,000 feet they are perfect for long trail hikes from the Tetons to Ecuador. I will agree with your other non-necessities, though.

Nate G.
Nov 05, 2010

Major disagreement on the snowshoes. Winter camping has become my favorite. No bugs, No people, water everywhere, and all my favorite gear stays clean. Also life seems a little slower in the winter and it is easier to slip away, no kids sports, yardwork projects etc. I snowshoe every Saturday with my cycling club with a range of people from the 72 year old patriarch of the group to Lance Armstrongish V02 max, pain loving muscle heads. Fun is had by all and it keeps us off our butts all winter. Similar to the 20 dollar spork though I started with 1 nice pair of MSR shoes and now own 6 MSR and 1 Red Feather as I had to be the supplier to all my friends who could not justify the cost to their wives. I did have fun reading your article I would just challenge you to give snowshoeing another try. Nate

ZEEMADMAN
Nov 05, 2010

(1)The Extractor Snake Bite Kit works great on Mosquitoe Bites if You get to them right away. You can see the Venom coming out as a Clear Liquid and the Bite does not Swell Up. So You just wipe it off and it's gone! Good Magic. (2) I also Recommend the Blast Match Very Highly! I Prefer the Old One that takes two hands, but they make a New One that's spring loaded & only needs one hand to use. It does indeed make a Blast of Sparks that will work even after it's been dropped into the water. Well worth the 20 to 25 Dollars. I own several and stuff them into My Sleeping Bags, and Every Coat I own in a Zip Lock Bag of course! REI stocks them. (3) The Other MUST HAVE ITEM is a SPOT. They range in price from $150.00 to $500.00. They will be Spotted by 2 or 3 of the 36 Satellites within about 15 minutes after You Activate It. So if You've Broken Your Leg, Arm, Come Cown Deathly Sick, Gotten Hopelessly Lost, Malled by a Bear, been Caught in a Blizzard this Device Will Bring Help. So it might be Pricey but how much is Your Life Worth to You? I would not Venture from Civilization without one! Some places will Rent them to You. But I'd rather My own! (4) The Last Miracle Item? Zip Lock Bags. From Quart all the way to 2 1/2 Gallon(Hefty) And the Zip Locks Big Bags 2X and 3X. They will keep Coats and Blankets Dry in a Flood. They can be used as Canteens too! Stick some extras in Your Pockets! Put a bunch of them inside a Zip Lock Bag! A Garbage Bag or two can be turned into a Poncho with only a few cuts! Put out Your fires & pack out Your trash! And let's be Careful Out There!

Scott I
Nov 05, 2010

I'll add to what Brian said about the Adirondacks and snowshoes, except not only are they necessary from a practical viewpoint, but in some parts of the ADK's they are mandatory, and you could get a ticket for not wearing them.

Brian
Nov 05, 2010

I agree with just about everything in the article EXCEPT the comments about snowshoes. In the Adirnodacks during the winter, showshoes are a must. I've never regretted bringing my snowshoes along, but I have regretted leaving them behind -- even on short day hikes. Conditions in New England and Upstate New York during the winter are such that you only have two choices: put away your tent and pack for the winter or buy a pair of snowshoes.

Scott
Nov 05, 2010

A whole category of unessential gear that gets overlooked is that of (often "free") containers and cases. With sweatshop labor building most of what we see in catalogs such frills are cheap to add, so most gear comes with zip up bags, drawstring pouches, padded doo-dads and all kinds of other zipped and tugged and tabbed accoutrements (the latest seems to be "Get a strap & carabiner with every item"). Regift those and use ziplocks to save pounds of needless fabric, plastic and webbing.

Gene
Nov 05, 2010

A note in defense of the Extractor snake bite kit: while the Annals of Emer Med article states its poor performance removing snake venom, I know from personal experience that the Extractor works wonders for yellowjacket stings. While I rarely encounter poisonous snakes in southern Appalachia (where I live and do most of my hiking), those darn yellowjackets are everywhere. i don't go hiking in the summer without it, and use it at least once every season when stung by yellowjackets

RB Jones
Nov 04, 2010

I agree mostly except a small metal file can come in handy sometimes for cleaning up a dull knife. If for nothing else, to file down toenails. I have one of the LED candle lanterns, too. But the candle ones give off a nice warm glow. I admit, I left the non-electric one at home on the last trip, though, due to weight.

Things most people don't need on a backpack trip:
Zero degree or lower sleeping bags, unless you're headed for one of the poles or like to snow camp in Minnesota in the winter.

Any fancy coffee brewing device. Now that Starbucks has a half-decent instant coffee, you don't need to tote the mini espresso machine around with you.

One of those dorky hats with a neck flap attached to it. Buy a wide brimmed hat and wear a bandanna if you're worried about burning your face and neck.

Camp chair. That's what they make logs, stumps and the ground for.

Joe
Nov 04, 2010

Bag liners for warmth, not worth it unless you just like a different feel spend the extra buck and get a better bag.

Joe
Nov 04, 2010

Bag liners for warmth, not worth it unless you just like a different feel spend the extra buck and get a better bag.

Terence L.
Nov 04, 2010

Great article, I had quite a few laughs as I read through, until I got to the bottom. Let me be the first winter-lover to steak you to the ground with icicles. I would have to say that snowshoeing would have to depend on A) the person and their interest. and B) geographic location. Last season I started with a cheap pair of off brand shoes and loved it. So, this season I got a pair of MSR evo ascents. My motivation for snowshoeing was that I didn't want to quit hiking just because there was snow on the ground. Living in Washington state, our snow fall can dramatically vary from year-to-year. There is usually enough to go snowshoeing even when the snowboarders and skiers are depressed. On another topic I would like to add a piece of useless techno gear to your list. I bought a solar charger for my cell phone and took it on a couple of backpacking trips so I could use the Backpacker GPS tracker app. The application is great however, it drains battery in just a few hours. I tried the solar charger on my first trip and it didn't charge my phone at all. I got it home and did every thing by the instructions (which was the same thing I was doing out in the field) and every thing worked fine. I took the charger out on another trip to see if it could redeem it's self and it failed again. Good thing REI has a good return policy,because that was $70 well waisted.

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