Great camping gear can make all the difference in whether I’m motivated to go camping or not. And I admit I’m even more motivated to actual go camping when I, A) have a good place to camp that isn’t on a campground with numbered slots and, B) can find everything I need without turning my house inside-out.
I still don’t of any company that makes a self-loading backpack, so the organization part is my burden to bear. But for all the other stuff I need for a camping trip, where is some great camping gear I used on my latest camping trip to the Arizona Rim Country.
Therm-a-Rest ProLite Self-Inflating Mattress
I never considered using a self-inflating mattress until I got the paperwork for attending the Aboriginal Living Skill School class called The Provident Primitive. It turns out an inflatable mattress is not just for cushioning your carcass against the ground – it also creates a barrier between you and the cold ground. The school staff recommended a Therm-a-Rest, so I went to REI to grill the staff about which one. As usual, the REI staff members were helpful -- and they had a 25-percent of sale on Therm-a-Rest gear. The sales dude recommended the Therm-a-Rest ProLite. Done!
But how did it work? I was skeptical when I first deployed it. Will this skinny ProLite thing really be worth the trouble? After a night of the best sleep I ever had in a tent, the answer is -- this is a great camping gear. I should’ve bought one years ago. It turns out this is my second piece of Therm-a-Rest gear – I’d been using a Therm-a-Rest pillow on my travels and camping trips for years. It’s another one of those items that seems way too flimsy to be effective, yet somehow works way beyond its weight and bulk. I had a bit of sticker shock when I learned that the Therm-a-Rest ProLite sells for about $125. After just one night sleeping on it, I get it. Worth the clams, or bones, or whatever you call them.
ESEE-4 Camping Knife
A little more than a year ago, my brother came to visit with his two kids in tow. Well, my then-8-year-old nephew took one glimpse at my old Schrade camping knife. With its handle cut from an antler and old-school looks, he decided it was the coolest thing ever. Since my brother – his dad – gave me the knife, I had no choice: I coughed it up for the nephew to use during his Boy Scout adventures.
Which left me a knife short: I set out researching knives, and stumbled upon ESEE Knives. American made, decently priced -- but impossible to find in Phoenix (That, my friends, is Phoenix in a nutshell: You can find all sorts of big-box crap here, but just try walking into a store and finding something like an ESEE knife.). I ordered an ESEE-4 (with a 4-inch fixed blade) online, hoping for the best. What I got is one helluva solid chunk of metal with textured grips. This knife has heft. It can chop, it can whittle, it can slice. I used it to chop a nearly forearm-thick branch in record time with no discernible effect on its edge. I didn’t need to gut or skin anything this time around, or build a hut from Â … but I feel assured that it would be up to the task
I guess I owe the nephew one for forcing me to get a new camping knife. Or better yet, I’ll have to talk to his dad about getting him an ESEE-4 for an upcoming birthday. It seriously whoops that old Schrade knife in all sorts of ways, and I think a Scout winding his way up the ranks would dig it. Great camping gear, no doubt about it. I’ve seen them starting at $75.
After using the ESEE-4 for awhile, I started using a great technique called batoning to split larger chunks of wood. The blade on my knife, which is a clip-point blade, is not as good for batoning because the back edge isn’t all flat. If you plan to baton, be sure to choose the Plain Edge version.
Swedish FireSteel 2.0 magnesium fire starter
Well, when I head to the Aboriginal Living Skills School, the Swedish FireSteel 2.0 will have to stay home: The school staff considers it contraband for the Provident Primitive class. As well they should. This crazy, compact little fire starter makes it almost too easy to get a blaze going.
Since campfires are off-limits in most of Arizona at the moment, I only used it to crank up our MSR WhisperLite camp stove. That’s OK – I love eating freeze-dried food while camping, for some reason. And it leaves a way better taste in my mouth than the possibility of torching millions of acres of forest. Anyway -- the Swedish FireSteel 2.0 is great camping gear that should be in everyone’s pack. It provides a big spark with every strike. It’s about $20. If you think that’s overpriced for such a small gizmo -- well, saving money won’t keep you warm when you’re trying to light a fire with wet matches, cheapskate.
I’ve since used the Swedish FireSteel to start many fires, from campfires to lighting up a charcoal grill. You’ll need some good tinder with some fine stuff on top to get it going. I’d also advise scraping a few shavings of your FireSteel on top of the tinder.
I also swear by my The North Face sleeping bag and tent (The Cat’s Meow and Rock 22, respectively). But I’ve been using them a good long time, while these other items are much newer to me. Still, check them out if you need other great camping gear.