I grew up camping across Southwestern British Columbia through all four seasons. Family camping trips though the Kootenays as a child, winter camping as a Scout, and real roughing-it camping in my late teens and early twenties. These days I’m a family camper myself, sharing my love of the great outdoors with my children - as my parents did with me.
My Camping & Hiking Kit
Over the years I’ve tried, tested, and amassed a well-rounded backpack full of camping and hiking must-haves. Although none of this is top-of-the-line gear, it has served me extremely well. Everything in my current kit is and has been in use on multiple trips into the wild and used on numerous occasions.
1. Lone Pine’s Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Rockies
This is easily one of my favourite books. I’ve read it countless time, and it’s been on plenty of adventures. It’s a big book to carry in your backpack - but it’s a real gem and a constant source of knowledge. Through this book, I’ve been able to build up a working knowledge of useful plants - both delicious and unpalatable. It’s helped me create some soothing backwoods brews, some tasty smoking mixtures and some fun campfire cooking experiments.
More recently I’ve picked up its companion Edible & Medicinal Plants of Canada (to get my edibles fix for the rest of the Country), and although useful, it’s not nearly as comprehensive (obviously) as it’s more specific sibling.
2. Leatherman Fuse Multitool
Best tool in my kit - hands down. This multitool has been with me for at least 12 years. It holds a unique collection of tools, it makes for a pretty handy tool to have around the house, but it really shines in the outdoors. This tool has shaved hundreds of pounds of kindling, its hooks from dozens of fish faces, pulled pots of boiling water from the fire, carved cooking sticks and spears, trimmed rope, opened hundreds of cans, and has seen four different provinces and over a decade of constant use. If it broke - I’d buy another the next day. Luckily Leatherman has a 25-year parts warranty.
3. Ruko Nylon Handle Survival Knife
I got this piece for my 17th birthday. I’m now 30, and it’s still going strong. It’s a pretty cheap knife - at around $50 - but it’s durable and strong enough to make firewood if you don’t have a hatchet. The handle is a touch nylon and has some nice battle scars, but the grip fits very nicely in the hand, and it’s got a strong hilt. Great for smashing open nuts or crushing leaves for your tea!
4. Black Diamond Headlamp
Alright, I’m starting to feel old now. This headlamp is still chugging along with 9 years of use. The batteries seem to last forever on low light - easily a couple hours nightly over a few weekend camping trips, with little or no drain with disuse. It provides a pretty powerful light, with 3 different modes; bright, less-bright, and blinking. It’s been dropped numerous times but it’s a true beast. It’s definitely a little large and heavy by today’s headlamp standards, but it does its job well.
5. Marmot Minimalist
Living on the West Coast merits a pretty good rain shell. After a few months of research (5 years ago) and poking around for deals, I came across the Minimalist. Weighing in at less than a pound, it’s super light, Gore-Tex Paclite enforced, very comfortable, has a great range of movement, it’s got PitZips (I hike warm), and most importantly - it’s waterproof; It got me comfortably through several West Coast winters warm and dry.
After about 4.5 years, the sleeve cuffs have started to come apart, and it’s waterproofing has been reduced significantly - even after a couple re-treatments. Overall I’m pretty impressed, but I’m leaning more towards a Patagonia rain shell due to their incredible warranty.
6. Mountain Equipment Co-op 60L Backpack
Although seemingly generic, this backpack is quite light, comfortable, and well-designed. It has some great features, including the placement of its pockets, a flexible water bottle pocket with waterline exit (for your Platypus or Camelback system), industrial zippers, adjustable packing area, compression straps, and aluminum reinforcements.
This beast has been to a few different countries with me and on several hiking excursions. I would position it more geared towards outdoor backpacking than travel due to the straps and doo-dads on the exterior, but it’s also pretty well-suited as a checked bag once you cinch all the straps, and wrap it up.
I’ve got to hand it to MEC for their product longevity and toughness; this thing has been tossed and squished, dropped and dragged, and it still looks new.
7. Katadyn Hiker Pro Microfilter
I’ve been carrying this with me throughout my adventures over the last 5 years. Although I’ve only used it a handful of times - it’s definitely redeemed some potentially dead-end camping excursions. I’ve tested it in some pretty dire circumstances, including extracting water from swampy stagnant mud puddles, with great results.
Notably, it takes a while to actual pump/filter enough water to gather enough to quench your thirst, but there are some tricks I’ve learned to smooth out the sometimes tedious process of extracting drinkable water.
First, I always keep a kerchief as part of my kit, which I use as a preliminary filter to at least clear the substrate (you know, the floaties and dirt).
Second, once you’ve pumped and filtered enough water, be sure to let it sit for about 5 minutes to let any gasses dissipate. This will remove a lot of the unpleasant smells and results in a better-tasting refreshment.
Overall, this is a great piece which I always carry with me. I never know when I’m going to need it, but when I do it can be a lifesaver!
8. Hotcore Odyssey Sleeping Bag
Initially, this purchase was a compulsive one, as I was planning a backpacking trip and running low on time, so without much research, this sleeping bag was purchased. 13 years, 3 continents, and 6 countries later, this bag is still kicking.
I’ve used this sleeping bag in a number of climates from tropical to sub-zero and it’s done it’s job well. On the plus side, it’s super light, very durable, and packs quite small, but although it’s rated to -10°C, it’s only suitable down to about 2 or 3°C.
Just over the last couple weeks, I pulled the zipper too hard and warped some of the [plastic] teeth. This happened on the bottom side, so I can no longer zip it up. For now, it will make a fine quilt, but I think for the small price of $80 CAD this bag was easily worth it.
9. Therm-a-rest Z Lite Sleeping Sol Mattress
Another compulsive purchase which most definitely ended up worth every penny of the $45 CAD I paid for it. Since there are few downsides to this piece of kit, I’ll start with the negative; It’s a little bulky but can be easily folded and strapped to the outside of your pack.
Extremely comfortable, very light, and quite insulating, this mattress did the trick. I opted for the 3/4 version, as it was a little smaller, and I sleep on my side, so my hips need the padding. The pad is thick enough to get away with sleeping on some pretty rough terrain, and with a groundsheet, or in a tent it fared just fine.
10. Fiskars Chopping Axe
For years, I carried a Fiskars chopping axe in my backpack. It’s very light for its size, so all you’re essentially carrying is the axe head. When you’re ready to set up camp, the weight was always worth it. Firewood duty becomes a breeze when you have a sharp beast like this in your kit.
Best of all, it’s an invaluable tool for splitting wood for the home fireplace. It’s easy to sharpen and is beefy enough to withstand a good amount of abuse, and still hold an edge.
My only gripe with this axe is its size - but that’s on me. Not an ideal backpacking axe, but it did the trick - especially for shorter stretches, and at-home splitting. I think my next purchase will be a smaller version of this very chopping axe.
11. My Custom Tool/Emergency Kit
12. 8’ x 10’ Blue Poly Tarp
This piece of kit is an absolute classic. Campers from all walks of life - from minimalists to glampers - swear by this blue wonder.
It’s incredibly affordable, light, packable and versatile. I’m sure these things save lives. I’m sure hardcore backpackers carry something that’s half its size and weight, but the sheer number of uses make this tarp a must-have for any casual camper.