I was cleaning up my attic the other day. It’s part of my fall routine — ending the season by putting the summer gear away and bringing out all the paraphernalia for the upcoming cold-weather camping season.
It’s not the most joyful chore. After all, it’s a sign that the days of morning dips in the river and catching a suntan while paddling across a wind-swept lake are over. It does have its advantages, however. You get to do a checklist of the camp gadgets you purchased earlier in the season, and decide if they were worth the money or not.
From my experience, here are the 10 best camping items of 2013 — gear that I truly enjoyed packing along:
This had to be one of the worst seasons for biting insects. I was out for 52 nights in total and I can only recall a few days in late September where mosquitoes weren’t a nuisance. I’m so glad I purchased Eureka’s latest bug shelter — VCS 13. I chose to get the smaller version (310 cm x 395 cm) and it was perfect for my solo-hiking trip and the two-week canoe trip I completed in Algonquin Provincial Park with my buddy Andy.
This sleeping mat was a little pricy, but worth the charge on my credit card. The NeoAir XLite is beyond lightweight and stuffs down to the size of a water bottle (or smaller). It also provides extra support and warmth by recycling and conserving body heat. It was definitely a step-up from my older NeoAir; and according to my tent-mates it doesn’t give off that squeaky sound like other mats do when shuffling around through the night.
This is my all-time favorite soft-shell layering jacket. It provides breathability and durability. The best part is the jacket is well constructed — very stretchy and comfortable. It’s a great wind-resistant layer and more water-resistant then expected. I wore it at home just as much as I did while camping.
I didn’t think I was a hammock camper. Suffering from Benign Positional Vertigo I thought the act of sleeping in a confined shelter that sways back-and-forth with the slightest breeze would bring on the spins for sure. Problem was, I found myself heading on a hiking trip where there were no trails and no campsites. It was an old-fashion bush walk in northern Ontario where my best bet for setting up sleeping arrangements would be to strap a hammock tent between two stubby jack pine trees. The trip was a success. The Scout hammock was surprising comfortable, very versatile and easy to set up. The double floor made for a great sleeping mat sleeve and kept pesky mosquitoes from piercing their proboscis through to gather blood at night. It also prevented me from getting a chill from below — a known problem with hammocks.
I’ve used Goal Zero solar chargers since their introduction a few years back. I think they’re the best recharging gadget on the market. They’re also constantly introducing new products — another reason I like them. This year I picked up the new Switch 8 Recharger. It’s a great ultralight and compact way to charge up any USB-chargeable device. I used the Switch 8 with the Goal Zero Nomad Solar panel and got a full charge in just four hours. It was perfect for my camera (Sony NEX 5-R), GPS, SPOT Locator Beacon and satellite phone.
Sad but true: I went through two bottles of this stuff in the earlier part of the season. The bugs were insane at times and by mid-June I began to appreciate winter camping even more. Problem is, I don’t like overindulging in bug repellents. I find them greasy and smelly (and I can’t imagine an overdose of DEET is all that good for you). But Ben’s it less oily and stinky then other brands, and is very effective keeping the bugs away. My preference, for the size and compatibility, are the Ben’s 30 1.25-ounce pump or the Ben’s 30 Wipes.
My daughter had her five minutes of fame. She joined me on CTV’s Canada AM, being interviewed on family camping. Two seconds into the interview and the host asked my daughter what her dad was really like on a canoe trip. Yikes! Her response was that it took over an hour for me to put my new tarp up — the Nemo 12’x12’ Transform Tarp. She was right. This thing had so many bells and whistles that it took me quite awhile to string it up. But when I did, I was very impressed. The bonus is that it can be used as a regular tarp but also has cleverly placed zippers to “transform” the tarp into a pyramid shelter. I guess it could have been worse. On the way home my daughter listed some other tidbits of information she was thinking of sharing, including the fact that it takes me way too long to poop in the woods.
I’ve heard a few people complain about Keen’s boots having too wide of a fit. It’s true that they’re exceptionally wider at the toe than most boots — but that’s exactly why I love them. I bought the Glarus simply because of the fit. This all-leather traditional looking boot is solid. They not only survived the almost 70 km of portaging I completed while taking on Algonquin’s Meanest Link this season, but they also continued to excel on the numerous trips I did after. They’re lightweight but rigid, saving me more than once from a nasty twisted ankle.
I picked a bag of these fire starters up at The Canadian Outdoor Equipment store in Mississauga, ON. Never heard of them before, but they were cheap and extremely lightweight. I ended up using them more than I thought I would. It was a wet season and these things would get a fire going even when soaking wet. I was very impressed. The product is made from wood-fibre material — it looks like what you’d see stuffed in a case of wine. A coating of paraffin wax keeps them waterproof. Not sure why they’re not being sold at every outdoor store. I ended up buying an entire case last time I went back to The Canadian Outdoor Equipment.
I’ve already mentioned the WoolPower brand quite a bit in previous blogs — but for good reason. This brand offers an excellent high-performance thermal layering system. The material is a combination of polyester (to maximize wear resistance) and fine Merino wool (a soft and crimpy wool, perfect for wearing next to the skin). It also holds up to 80 per cent air, an excellent way to trap body heat. The key ingredient is that the permeable material also allows body moisture to escape, keeping you dry and toasty warm. This season I combined a base layer Crewneck 200 with a mid-layer Zip Turtleneck 400. The merger was perfect.