Hit the Trail, Amigos! Gearing Up for the Great Outdoors

A Trestles Elite Eco 20 Sleeping Bag…..

Perfect.

(And again, I get no commission from anyone – so far; though maybe I should reconsider that. I just promote things that I like, because I like them.)

*

I have more than a little experience wilderness camping, and in all seasons; but only with my very old, very low budget gear. I know nothing about better quality gear. Word from a reliable, trusted friend, is that Marmot makes good quality durable sleeping bags that are still reasonably priced.  

And he recommended not getting a 4-season bag, that is seldom used in winter, and too hot for three of four seasons; but instead, a good 3-season bag, that you can slide a second bag over top for winter camping. Makes sense to me, from my experience as well.

(I’ve winter camped with two cheapie sleeping bags, one inside the other, and was fine. One good one, plus a cheapie over it for winter, and I’ll be golden.)

The Marmot staff pick seems perfect – for Canada to Argentina, and beyond. Cool! The Trestles Elite Eco 20 is even better.

Unfortunately, Marmot doesn’t ship to Canada. But… Fortunately, that means you Canadians will support a local outfitter store by buying there.

Green Canoe Outfitters is my favourite. Mountain Equipment Co-op is, of course, awesome too.

*

 

Gearing Up: A Few Helpful Notes

Knowledge is power. Bacon was right about one thing, at least.

People are afraid of wolves, coyotes, snakes, bugs, bears…the flu. Our ability to assess danger rationally in modern, techno-entranced, alienated society is near zero, it would seem. But unless you do something stupid: like keeping food or toothpaste in your tent (bears will investigate anything with a scent that just may conceivably mean edible items), or feeding bears, or trying to pet bear cubs; or you’re in grizzly country, rattlesnake country, or polar bear territory, in the desert, or British Columbia or the far north; your chances of being attacked by dangerous creatures are nearly zero – in the wilderness, that is. 

The city is far more dangerous than the wilderness. Bad drivers can kill you! Even if you’re just crossing the street! Or the smog and pesticides will give you with cancer, or the stress will give you a heart attack. 

Get out of the city! Don’t follow the lost herd. Think for yourself. Eat organic, lower stress, exercise, and don’t believe the hype!

Most dangerous of all, statistically, are obesity and poor diets, poverty and malnutrition, pharmaceuticals, and cars. Covid is no more dangerous than the flu, the figures now confirm. Yet the memmings panic on cue, like Pavolv’s dogs, and stay rigidly in denial of the really big dangers: environmental disaster, pollution, war, poverty, obesity and fascism.

(See my essays, Reality Check, and Danger & Delusion)

Don’t be manipulated by fear-mongering media or elites who use fear to their advantage. Stay calm, boost your immune system naturally, with real food, exercise, sunlight, love and joy, and question everything.

Above all, it’s what you put in your mouth, as in, “food-like substances” which really should not be ingested, which are the biggest danger.

Budget camping gear can work just fine. The backpack and sleeping bag I bought when I was 18, have lasted me 35 years, and have travelled the world, across Canada and the US, Mexico and Central America, Europe, India and Nepal; and have seen long periods of back woods camping, plus three tree planting seasons of rough use in Northern Ontario, Alberta and B.C. The backpack needs some repairs, but both are still going strong.

(A new Marmot bag is for comfort in colder weather, now that my old sleeping bag is finally showing wear.)

Tents don’t tend to last so long, unless you spend more on better quality. But my inexpensive 2-person and 6-person Outbound tents from Canadian Tire have performed extremely well so far – even in strong gusting winds and torrential rains. So unless you have your heart set on a higher end tent, which are definitely worth the investment, but a bit pricey for many people; I’d recommend Outbound. 

The same holds true for backpacks. You can spend $400 on a beautiful, rugged, durable, well-designed backpack, and it’s probably worth every penny, if you consider you could potentially use it for more than three decades, as I did with my old backpack, travelling overland through 20 countries on four continents, plus tree planting and bush camps, plus being bounced around by numerous airline baggage handlers. What’s $100 a decade for a good backpack? Nothing. A good investment, I’d say.

But if that’s not in your budget, then do know that a $100 Woods backpack from Canadian Tire will also be beautiful, rugged, and well designed, and will likely last a long time – especially if you wisely invest in a camping gear repair kit.

(Yes, I do love Canadian Tire, too. One, it’s Canadian. Two, it has almost everything that’s cool: camping gear, bicycles, hockey gear, outdoor gear, car stuff, gardening supplies, and nearly every tool you could ever need. Ok, so it does’t have albums and books – but nearly everything cool. Three, my Dad’s fix all, build all, repair all, reno all, tool up store, was always Canadian Tire. And best of all, it’s where my grandma took me and my sister when she felt it was time to buy us new bikes. How can I not love it?)

Another item that is worth spending a bit more on, is a good camping mattress.

Not an air mattress, which is fine in warm weather, but uncomfortably and also dangerously cold in three seasons; not an open cell foam pad, because they absorb water like a sponge; not closed cell foam, because they are typcally too thin to do much good – though there are exceptions; not fancy memory foam home mattresses or mattress toppers (which work well in campers and camper vans, but not in tents) other than for use in warm, dry conditions, because most will, again, soak up water and dampness like a sponge, and be uncomfortable when it is warm and rainy, and literally deadly when it is cold and damp.

What’s left? Bamboo mats, if you are a very rugged Zen type, ultra-minimalist, or traditional Japanese; or sheep skin, if you’re going to be camped in one place, and not moving about other than for day hikes; or the one compact, light weight, well-insulating, water-resistant camping mattress I know of (having in this case, with regard to camping mattresses, done zero research, which is absolutely the opposite of my norm): the camping mattress my veteran wilderness trekker and outfitter at Green Canoe Outfitters recommended – the Nemo Cosmo Air R 20, I think it is called.

It’s incomarably more comfortable than all of the camping mattresses I’ve used my whole life. It’s actually more comfortable than my mattress in the house! And most importantly, it does a great job of keeping the cold and dampness of the ground from going into your body and your bones. Again, that means safety, and not just comfort.

But yes, if you’re going to spend a little extra on anything else in terms of camping gear, make it a good 3-season sleeping bag. That can mean the difference between being comfortable, or being miserable – and if you’re camping, hiking or mountaineering at high elevations, or any time other than summer, when cold or wet conditions – or most dangerously, a combination of both – could spell hypothermia; a good sleeping bag could mean the difference between being alive, or being dead.

So, listen to the Boy Scouts – in life generally! – and, Always be prepared!

Invest in good gear, then hit the trail!

Remember you don’t need much: tent, tarps, sleeping bag, camping mattress, backpack cover the main essentials. Used, budget gear works too. Then it’s just small things, like flashlights, etc., and of course food, water, and clothing for the weather.

Nature is the greatest healer, the great stress reliever, the great tonic of youth, and the solace and the boon of the weary as well as the joyful.

Get outdoors, I say; and enjoy the glory of nature!

JTR,

August 6, 2020

 

Post-Script:

Other important notes on enjoying nature – without dying:

Hypothermia is the biggest danger. That means cold water, cold weather, or the most under-estimated danger: damp cold.

Dress for the weather, not the mall! Use layers, add or remove layers, adjust for heat and perspiration BEFORE you are roasting or soaked in sweat, be alert with cold waters, and know how to be outdoors safely in all weather.

*

Knowledge is power.

(Bacon was right about one thing, at least.)

People are afraid of wolves, coyotes, snakes, bugs, bears…the flu. Our ability to assess danger rationally in modern, techno-entranced, alienated society is near zero, it would seem. But unless you do something stupid: like keeping food or toothpaste in your tent (bears will investigate anything with a scent that just may conceivably mean edible items), or feeding bears, or trying to pet bear cubs; or you’re in grizzly country, rattlesnake country, or polar bear territory, in the desert, or British Columbia or the far north; your chances of being attacked by dangerous creatures are nearly zero – in the wilderness, that is. 

The city is far more dangerous than the wilderness. Bad drivers can kill you! Even if you’re just crossing the street! Or the smog and pesticides will give you with cancer, or the stress will give you a heart attack. 

Get out of the city! Don’t follow the lost herd. Think for yourself. Eat organic, lower stress, exercise, and don’t believe the hype!

Most dangerous of all, statistically, are obesity and poor diets, poverty and malnutrition, pharmaceuticals, and cars. Covid is no more dangerous than the flu, the figures now confirm. Yet the memmings panic on cue, like Pavolv’s dogs, and stay rigidly in denial of the really big dangers: environmental disaster, pollution, war, poverty, obesity and fascism.

(See my essays, Reality Check, and Danger & Delusion)

Don’t be manipulated by fear-mongering media or elites who use fear to their advantage. Stay calm, boost your immune system naturally, with real food, exercise, sunlight, love and joy, and question everything.

Above all, it’s what you put in your mouth, as in, “food-like substances” which really should not be ingested, which are the biggest danger.

*

In the wilderness, if you know how to avoid heat stroke (lots of water and shade, and wear a hat! Wide brimmed!), dehydration (drink lots of water, especially when winter camping, when the air is dry), and hypothermia, then you have the biggest risks covered.

Stay warm and dry, or, at least plan for how to deal with getting cold and damp. 

Never sleep in the clothes you wore during the day. There is always moisture from even slight unnoticed perspiration, which on a cold night, could spell hypothermia. Wear bed clothes in your sleeping bag for cold weather camping, and change into them inside your sleeping bag.

Five layer water-proofing is smart: 1. a good water-resistant back pack; 2. a water-resistant shell to go over the backpack; 3. water-resistant stuff sacks for gear; 4. silicone or other water-proofing for additional protection on all three layers; and 4. clear, heavy duty, large plastic bags to put stuff sacks into, before putting them in your pack. It might be three layers of redundancy, but in the wilderness or on extended trips, it may prove a very smart precaution.

Cotton clothing is death in winter. It’s great for summer – other than the ecocidal aspect of industrial cotton production; but spring, fall and winter, cotton can literally kill you. It retains zero thermal insulation when damp with even slight perspiration. Never use it other than in summer.

Leather, oiled with mink oil, is the best outer shell; or waxed or oiled hemp for warm weather. Choose either one for boots, pants, shirts, vests, jackets and hats.

Synthetics kill the planet, as does cotton. Unless it is recycled plastic or cotton that your gear is made of, it is a planet killer. I’m still working on the transition. It takes time to switch, unless you are rich. But this is the direction we need to move in:

Hemp, silk, wool, bamboo, leather, natural rubber, and fur for extreme cold – this must become the new gold standard, in terms of a list of choice materials for all clothing, footwear and outdoor gear, along with recycled, re-used and reclaimed materials.

(Yes, I am making an exception for a good sleeping bag, because staying warm and dry is a safety and survival issue, and I can’t afford down – and I don’t think down is justified if it supports factory farming! Free range down or recycled fibre synthetics are the direction we need to move.)

Silk is the best long underwear, top or bottom. In case you snicker, know that the Canadian military uses silk long underwear – because it is the best for staying warm and alive in extreme cold, when combined with layered wool over top. Scout out second hand stores for inexpensive silk and leather shirts, jackets and pants. For wilderness gear, these are worth more than their weight in gold.

Bring a toque for possible cold weather. (Yes, I am Canadian, eh…. That means a warm winter hat). And remember, again, that cotton in winter is death; and synthetics are not only a planet killer – they also generally have very little thermal insulation value. There are four types of warm winter hats: fur, wool, wool, and wool. Take ur pick.

Bring a wool sweater if there is a chance of cold nights. It doubles as a pillow, too. Put a shirt over it if it’s scratchy. Or get alpaca or marino wool, cashmere or mohair, if you want soft and warm both, and want to invest in something that is useful, warm, and also gorgeous.

Good boots are a must. Summer, fall and spring, any good hiking boot will do – preferably leather, and keep them oiled. Doc Martins are great. Blundstones I like even more: durable, leather, no laces, good grip, and versatile: you can go for a fancy dinner, then leave afterward, or during, if need be, to head for the woods. I love my Harley Davidson black, knee-high, calvalry style, classic motorcycle boots, as well. For winter, Kodiacs, or something like them, are the best.

(Winter requires snow shoes in most places in Canada and the Northern US. Winter clothing obviously is needed as well. Otherwise, basic 4-season gear is fairly complete in this list here.)

Bring a rain hat and rain gear!

My Barmah Aussie hat, I love. It’s crushable, can be stuffed into a pack, it’s waterproof, super-durable, blocks the sun and rain… Perfect. (People tell me I look like Clint Eastwood, or Crocodile Dundee. That’s fine by me. I love those films.)

Oiled leather or oiled hemp trench-coats and pants are best. But do bring something for rain gear!

Remember wide brim hats for sun, as well! And UV protection shades for your eyes. Ye must look groovy in the woods! And you need to protect your eyes. Not Raybans. Cheap sunglasses. Cue the ZZ Top, and hit the road!

Or Parliament, if you prefer. Also very cool.

JTR

Post-Script #2:

Ok, I’m very excited about getting back into (short or long) wilderness treks, after TOO LONG a hiatus.

Essential core gear, and some extras:

(Nice list for newbies – and no disrespect! And a reminder for veteran trekkers, with maybe some new ideas, even!)

Good sleeping bag

6’x6′ tarp – important for under a tent (or to wrap around a sleeping bag for use without a tent)

Tent (optional, but very nice to have!)

12’x12′ or bigger tarp to cover tent (optional but wise – protects tent and gear from UV damage, wind, snow, hail, dampness and rain, and provides extra storage and sitting areas)

Backpack (or duffle bag)

Camping mattress

First aid kit and manual – the SAS survival manual, St. John’s Ambulance First Aid, and Where There Is No Doctor, are three books that are extremely valuable to have. Tom Brown’s Wilderness Survival guide is smart to have, carry and study, as well.

Compass and maps, signal mirrors and whistles

Food, water, toiletries, medicine kit

Clothing for any weather you might expect, plus some you don’t expect

and you could add:

More of Tom Brown’s field guides to: Wilderness Survival, Urban Survival, Wilderness skills for kids, edible wild foods…and more

Portable water purifier – Travel Berkey, Sport Berkey, and/or Big Berkey (depending on size and weight considerations) are far and away the best. Don’t buy anything else. And do use this in the city and country, wilderness or “civilization”, to protect from toxins and pollution, and not just bacteria or other such wee beasties. Never use bottled water again, please. It’s destroying our world, and your health.

Camp stove – Whisperlite, or something similar; or a one or two burner propane stove, depending on whether you are car camping in a campground, or are going backwoods, back country, boondocking, or mountaineering, in which case weight is an important consideration. If it is a long-term campsite, then you might consider a small wood burning, folding camp stove, ship’s stove, or Hobbit stove.

Cook set / mess kit: no aluminum, teflon or copper – they are poison. Stainless steel, ceramic, or cast iron, only. The latter for cooking on a fire. One small pot, one medium pot, and one large or small cast iron pan if you like, and you have your cookware. A small bamboo cutting board and a bush knife, cutlery, and enamelled steel plates, bowls and mugs, cloths for washing, towels for drying, Dr. Bronner’s all purpose soap, fire starter, stuff sacks…and a spade for bathroom excursions (bury and cover it up), cover all of the kitchen and bath essentials that I can think of, off the top of my head, plus a few niceties.

Flashlights and radio: pocket LED; headlamp LED; wind-up LED; solar battery charger, ideally, and a solar/wind-up AM/FM/SW radio with flood lamp, would be very good to have.

Bush axe (hatchet) & folding saw are very useful items!

Water skins, bees wax candle lanterns and oil lamps are good to have. Use extreme caution, for the sake of your safety, and to prevent wildfires. (Bees wax only: regular candles are petrochemical poison.)

Small wax stick or candle for making zippers run smoothly.

Camping gear repair kit, glasses repair kit, mini sowing kit, small roll of duct tape (will fix tents or rain gear temporarily), GPS, snare wire, fishing nets and fishing kit (just in case) – all these are worth bringing, though they do add weight.

There are many things that could be added. This list plus the list above will be much more than sufficient get you going.

Peace to all. Respect nature, yourself, and one another. And enjoy!

Take only photos and memories, leave only footprints. And have fun!

JTR

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