Camping Gear Top Picks for Backpacking-Updated

Average: 2 (1 vote)

I have been involved in some "hardcore" camping in the last year. No, I haven't trail run the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. Haven't base camped at the foot of K2. No, I have done something far more dicey. Camping with kids my friends, that is where the action is. In my last few articles, I have talked about some of the challenges I faced camping with kids. To be clear, when I say "camping" I'm using it in a specific sense. . . people+tents+wilderness, preferably light on people and heavy on wilderness.Before my "Let's Go RV'ing" friends get up in arms, I think "campers" are a fine thing but a far cry from "camping". I think they bridge a necessary gap between "Holiday Inn Express" and backpacking but it isn't really my cup of tea. So, if you're looking for places to plug in, that's cool. Just not my thing. I'm looking to "unplug". 

That being said, I'm slightly too old to perch on a granite slab and live on beef jerky for a week. I enjoy some simple luxuries when I backpack. I have learned some hard lessons about what my son will and won't do as well as what he can and cannot carry. Having walked headlong into a few of those snares, I have a few items that really go a long way to making backpacking more enjoyable without necessarily breaking the bank. Below are three of my "favorite things". They are reasonable (as camping gear goes) but will pay dividends if you choose to hike with your kids.

Shelter: If you recall my first camping article (you can find it here, you will recall that my old standby Coleman tent was a real trooper. The problem is that it nearly broke my back carrying it. Between the weight and the length, it was a deal breaker to carry and pack. On top of that, anybody who tells you that a "2 person" tent is for two people should look into being a jockey. At 6' and....let's say...."not skinny", I needed more room and less weight (at least in the pack). The Nemo Losi 3p was just the ticket. This thing is LIGHT, with all the bells and whistles you're talking 5 lbs. In warm weather you can ditch the rain fly and come in at less than 1/2 of my prior tent. Best of all, you can set this up in the wind and rain in well under 5 minutes all by your lonesome (or with a "helpful" 8 year old). This tent has had no condensation whether I have used it at 90F or 32F. Rain doesn't faze it. Neither does wind. Light, spacious and looks great too. 

Food: If you've ever packed pots and pans and a camp stove on a camping trip you know it's a noisy, messy, bulky adventure. When you're back packing you just don't have space and time for that. Check out the Jetboil. Boils a quart of water in under a minute. Yep, under a minute. None of this "My GOD will it ever boil" you get with white fuel. No bulky tanks, no complicated set up. Its a thermal mug on a built in burner. Screw on a fuel cell and you're good to go. Best of all, it packs into itself. No more space than a nalgene. The insulation keeps the coffee/cocoa hot and protects your hands from hot metal. You can cook and eat out of one cup. If you're selfish, get a companion cup and don't share.

Comfort: Sometimes small luxuries pay off big in the wild. Here is one that is worth the weight. ENO Doublenest. Weighing in at a measly 22 oz, this hammock can hold 400lbs. On a summer night, this is all you need. Bag the tent and carry this (along with a mosquito net just in case) and you have an ultralight backpacking rig. If you are really into weight savings, look into whoopie slings. Yep, that is a family safe term. 

Check these out below. All great products from great companies. 


More to come.....


Update July 17, 2013: Just got back from a three day hike in the Smoky Mountains (Mt. Leconte via the Alum Cave Trail). A few more comments and some new gear finds from that testing. By way of background, there were 8 of us (4 dads and 4 sons) on this trip. Backpacking the whole way with dads hauling 40+ pounds of gear and sons hauling (on average) about 20 pounds of gear. Weight was a challenge and even though we culled a lot of gear, we had redundancies that should have been eliminated (like having 3 first aid kits). Lighter is better folks. The classics fall away at 6,500 feet.

On to the gear. First off, the Jetboil held up like a champ. I'm on my third trip on 1 can of fuel. It continues to perform beyond my expectations. 32oz of boiling water in one minute, even at nearly 7,000 ft of elevation. Hot cocoa in 1 minute for a group of 8 year olds who hiked 6.5 miles and 2000 feet of elevation gain  IN THE RAIN. Worked like a charm. We had two of these on our trip and they put the other stoves in to shame. By the 2nd night, "non" Jetboil stoves were stowed safely in packs. 

A new piece of equipment shined on this trip. The Katadyn Base Camp water filter. Unlike the classic back country pump filters, this one uses garvity to filter 2.5 gallons of water in 15 minutes. Water is life and this baby makes a lot of it. Anyone who has been away from convenient potable water has (or better have) packed a long a filter. Those things are nice, but the work that it takes to fill your camelbak is annoying, especially after a long hike. The Katadyn Base Camp does all the hard work. Simply fill the bag and hang it up. It looks a bit like an oversized IV bag. The bag opens up fully at the top, making it a breeze to scoop up 2.5 gallons and clip it to a handy branch (or shelter beam). My Katadyyn Vario (my former standby) never got touched on this trip (another 15oz I didn't need to carry). The Base Camp is smaller, lighter and produces good tasting water that you would expect from Katadyn, but without all the work. Check it out for your next group hike. 

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Kids and Camping v1.0

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So, when I was young, my father's idea of "vacation" meant loading up an Army surplus tent and a cooler of bacon and heading to the great white north which, in this case, was always the same place, Port Austin, Michigan. Not that Port Austin wasn't nice. It was. It had trails, and trees, and a Great Lake. Pretty much an idea spot. For CAR CAMPING. Not really my thing. I'm more of a "middle of nowhere, leave me alone" kind of person.

Fast forward 30 (or so) years in the future. I have my own kids and I want to introduce them to the wonders of the outdoors. Still, it would be nice if they actually enjoyed themselves. I want them to appreciate the wilderness that doesn't include pump stations, electrical outlets and owl shaped string lights. I want them to know the pride of carrying their gear, food and water in and leaving to traces while they are there.

Kids and Camping 2.0

Average: 3 (2 votes)

So, when we last talking "camping gear" I had left off with the "don'ts" or, more accurately, why the camping gear I had  (car camping gear that is) was not really suited for my more recent adventures in backcountry camping. My Coleman sleeping back and camp cookware have held up to 15 years of work and are very little worse for the wear and tear. That being said, they simply don't work for backpacking, let alone backpacking with kids. Any camping with kids is about creating a level of fun and safety (secondary to fun in their eyes). If the kids are burdened by too much gear, or if you spend all day setting up and tearing down camp, then the kids won't have a good time. This is Variation 1 on the old saying "if momma ain't happy, nobody's happy". A frustrated or bored kid will result in a frustrated and more frustrated dad and will end up only one more camping. 

Going to Summer Camp

Average: 4.2 (6 votes)

One way to conquer part of summer boredom is summer camp. Summer camps, when chosen properly, can provide wonderful experiences for your child that last a lifetime. Parents who do their research before the camp experience can rest assured as their child spends time away from home at camp.

Picking a Summer Camp

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One way to conquer part of summer boredom is summer camp.  Summer camps, when chosen properly, can provide wonderful experiences for your child that last a lifetime.  Parents who do their research before the camp experience can rest assured as their child spends time away from home at camp.

Road Trip Games for the Family

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Most Dads feel obligated to give our kids as much fun as possible every time we take them for long road trips. The point is to keep them fully occupied hopefully guaranteeing us smooth rides without all the whining and crying...and hopefully keeping our sanity as well.  Here are some fun activities and games to consider playing on long (or short) car trips:

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