Our Camping and Backpacking Gear

We are putting together a list of our camping and backpacking gear.  We will eventually have reviews of these and other popular items.

Gregory Denali 100 – Men’s Backpack

I bought this backpack at the beginning of 2016.  It has since been with me on camping trips to Yellowstone, Isle Royale and Shenandoah.  If you are a man looking for an all purpose bag that has enough capacity for a week or more on the trail, but is light enough for a weekend camping trip, then this is a great choice.

This was my first non-school backpack purchase.  The reviews were excellent but I was concerned that it was overkill.  After all, this isn’t a cheap backpack, even at an REI garage sale, and it is on the larger side.  I was concerned that I would later decide I needed a lighter one for weekend trips.  However, I haven’t regretted the purchase yet!

The only problem I’ve had with the pack is that it enables overpacking.  It is easy to load it up with weight that you will regret when you get a few miles down the trail.  On our 5 day trip to Isle Royale, it was too bulky and heavy to easily lift and sling on to my back so we used large rocks, picnic tables and even a few downhill slopes to help get the pack up to my back.  I have no complaints about the performance of the pack when it was on my back, though.

This isn’t the type of bag that you can just sling over your shoulder and go when it is fully loaded.  The weight is simply too much for one shoulder.  It will leave marks.  The waist straps also make it awkward as they give the bag extra wingspan.  But they function just fine when they are used as intended.  I did add a little extra padding with a sweatshirt over my shoulders when fully loaded, but no complaints.

The Denali 100 has plenty of pockets, access points and outside the bag hooks.  The straps make it easy to add items externally. There is even a good spot to carry my broken down fishing poles securely.

Sleeping gear

REI Half Dome 2+ Tent and Footprint

We received this backpacking tent as a gift at the end of 2015.  It is easy to setup, even for newbies, and weighs just under 5 pounds. It has now been with us for overnights in five national parks.  There is plenty of room on the inside for two people and all of our backpacking gear, but not a lot of extra space when everything and everyone is inside. There are handy pockets throughout, making it easy to organize what you need handy. It comes with a handy carrying case, which has two cinches on the side to keep it all tightly contained.  The only major drawback to the tent is that you can’t stand up in it – but that is common with tents for backpacking.  The tent also got a small hole in the bottom after about three weeks of use.  Unfortunately, many of the tent pads at the national parks are gravel so we were not surprised.  We were occasionally setting up the tent after dark, so we couldn’t always easily see or remove sharp stones and sticks in advance.

REI Lumen Regular – Men’s Sleeping Bag

I got this men’s synthetic mummy sleeping bag from REI before a trip to Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone when it was supposed to regularly dip below 30 degrees Fahrenheit at night in mid-May and possibly even snow.  The bag definitely kept me warm throughout the night, even when it snowed.  I am six feet tall and the regular fits perfectly.  It can be a little rough getting in and out of the bag when it is fully zipped up, but that also allowed me to stay warm so I didn’t mind too much.  For a pillow, I put a small stuff sack into the head of the mummy bag.  This allows me to keep the pillow in place throughout the night.  The sleeping bag compresses into a compression stuff sack so it can be taken on backpacking trips.

REI Lyra Regular – Women’s Sleeping Bag

We got this women’s synthetic sleeping bag from REI before our trip to Rocky Mountain, Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, because we needed something with a temperature rating in the low 20s, below the expected nighttime temperature of 27* at one point. We decided to buy synthetic bags not only because Rob is allergic to down, but also because they are generally more affordable and function better if they get wet. My feet were a little cold each morning when I woke up, but the rest of me was toasty warm! I brought a travel neck pillow to sleep on, and cinched the sack up tightly to create a little haven in the cold May weather. The sleeping bag compresses into a compression stuff sack, so it can be taken on backpacking trips. It weighs about 3 pounds, and the regular was a decent height for my 5’10” frame, and would probably be sufficient for someone slightly taller as well (don’t be shy, REI is awesome about helping you make sure it fits before you buy!).

Klymit Static V – Inflatable Sleeping Pad

This is a full-sized lightweight sleeping pad that inflates in 10-15 breaths.  We used two of them for a total of more than two weeks in 2016.  They inflate fast, pack up fast, and fold down into a reasonably sized bag for backpacking (about the size of a Nalgene bottle).  The pads look rather thin when fully inflated, but have allowed us to get a good night’s sleep after a few long days on the trail. They are ergonomically designed to provide support at the most important spots of your body, whether you sleep on your back or side. Most critically during those cold nights at Yellowstone, they provide more than adequate insulation from the cold ground – we never once woke up cold from the bottom up. They also remained inflated throughout the night.

Before we got these pads, we went on an overnight camping trip to test our gear and it was miserable, using just foam mats.  I am simply too old to sleep on the ground anymore.  These sleeping pads make it possible to do it without destroying my lower back. The two individual sleeping pads in the tent were interesting as they could shift throughout the night. We plan on trying the double wide one soon, so that we can see if that works out better.

Alps Mountaineering Compression Stuff Sacks

We ordered two different sizes of these stuff sacks, and own one in medium and one in small. Either sleeping bag (Lumen and Lyra) will fit in the small, and we used the medium for the other sleeping bags and then a few clothes on top. The compression sacks are well constructed, with sturdy stitching and conveniently located D rings for connecting to backpacks or other gear. It is easy to shove items in (don’t fold for a stuff sack) and pull the tie tight. Pull the cover over and tighten the straps evenly on each side until the sack is half its previous height.


Vasque Men’s Mindbender Trail Running Shoes

I have a difficult time finding great shoes because of wide feet. At an REI garage sale, I bought this pair of trail running shoes for occasional hiking and have been very happy with them. I wore them for approximately three weeks last year.  They are not the most durable shoes. Our Isle Royale was adventure roughed them up a bit. They are now missing a portion of the tread near the heel.  They also won’t win any beauty awards because there are plenty of pulled threads and scuffs.  But I will continue to wear them a bit longer because they are so comfortable.


Canon Powershot SX60 Digital Camera

Our phones work fine for standard pictures but aren’t great for wildlife photography and don’t capture quite enough detail in landscape photos to truly capture the moment.  After comparing photos from our cell phones taken on a trip with those taken on a borrowed amateur digital DSLR, we decided an upgrade was necessary.  We wanted something that was capable of taking photos of bears and other wildlife from a distance but was also light enough to carry into the backcountry for a week.  We ended up going with the Canon Powershot SX60 and love it.

There are plenty of long zoom digital cameras on the market these days.  We went with this one because we were able to get it at a discount (refurbished) and it was the style of choice for bird photographers.  They raved about it.  We had a hard time choosing between the older model (SX50) and the current model (SX60) based on reviews, but ultimately decided that we would go with the newer one for a relatively small price increase.

The long lens is wonderful.


Coleman Xtreme 5 Wheeled Cooler

We bought this 50 quart cooler in Denver in mid-May for a ten day national park adventure.  It was more affordable than other options and promised to keep ice up to five days in temperatures up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  It definitely proved worth the money and can hold several days of food.  My memory is a little fuzzy, but I think we only filled it with ice twice.  The second time, we bought a block of ice (rather than crushed/cubes) and it was still solid (just smaller) when we emptied the cooler.  The cooler easily fit into bear boxes at Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton and Yellowstone.  If you are going to keep it in the car, just remember to ask the rangers whether it is safe to do so or not.  In RMNP, the ranger informed us that bears would destroy a car to get to a cooler because they know what they look like.  We didn’t encounter any bears, so we flew home with the cooler as one of our checked bags.  The wheels are extremely convenient.

Water Filtration: LifeStraw, Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System and CamelBak All Clear UV Bottle

Our backpacking trip on Isle Royale involved daily filtering once we ran out of potable water from Rock Harbor.  Water filtration on Isle Royale is essential because the water can be contaminated with Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm and other harmful organisms. Rangers recommend boiling water for two minutes, or filter through an adequate water filter (pore size of 0.4 microns or less). To ensure that we didn’t get sick, we also ran all of our water through the CamelBak All Clear UV bottle before filtering it.  The UV isn’t completely effective at eliminating risk there, although it would be sufficient in other locations with different microbiological contaminants to make water potable. We would probably never rely on the UV alone simply because the water that we were cleaning occasionally had a fair amount of sediment. However, the UV is a great alternative to iodine or boiling everything, and only takes 60 seconds.

It takes longer, but the dual system allowed us to be confident that we had done everything that we could to make our water safe. The LifeStraw and Sawyer Mini handled the sediment effectively.  We would use the Sawyer filter to filter clean water into Nalgenes and other water bottles, which we designated for “clean water” the entire trip and never used in a lake or stream. We kept the LifeStraw bottle full of UV filtered water and generally drank a bottle or two a day using it.  It worked fine but the straw doing the filtering does make it slightly tougher to drink from the bottle.  Halfway through a hike under the hot sun, we preferred the pre-filtered water from the Sawyer Mini to the LifeStraw.  But we had no issues using the Lifestraw and it was more convenient than the Sawyer to not have to pre-filter.

MSR PocketRocket Backpacking Stove

Prior to Isle Royale, we had only camped at campsites with fire rings, access to fresh local firewood, and water for extinguishing. Very few sites on Isle Royale have a fire ring, so we needed to branch out for this trip. The PocketRocket is incredible simple, just the stove and a fuel canister (sold separately). It comes in a small plastic container that keeps is safe from snagging or bending in your bag. Screw it on the top of the fuel, extend the pot-supports, and turn on the fuel while applying a match/lighter. It lights quickly and supports the tea kettle we were using on it (below) to heat water for our dehydrated food and coffee. There are definitely fancier brands that block the wind better, but this was a simple intro to stove camp cooking. It is very simple to put together, use, and disassemble. Stay tuned for other brands we try soon!

Sea to Summit Kitchen Gear

I can’t say enough good things about Sea to Summit’s innovative and rugged kitchen gear! We brought a few pieces on several trips, including the X Bowl and Kitchen Sink. We bought the X Pot Kettle for Isle Royale. Everything was collapsible, and both the X Pot and X Bowl were made from strong silicone, with a metallic base on the pot and a hard plastic on the bowls that doubled as a cutting surface. We used the bowls as both bowls (when extended) and plates (when collapsed). The kitchen sink was perfect when we were doing dishes, allowing us to collect gray water for disposal away from our campsite or in dish washing sinks. Everything is lightweight and sturdy, and we’ll use it for many trips to come.

Kuissential SlickDrip Collapsible Silicone Coffee Dripper

If you need your morning java, this is a great way to bring it on your camping trips! Its a collapsible dripper, about 3/4″ high when collapsed. Grab some cone #2 filters (especially unbleached) and a small sandwich bag of coffee, creamer, etc. While your water is boiling, set up the system on top of your coffee cup by expanding the SlickDrip and inserting a filter and a scoop of coffee. Slowly pour the water in, being sure not to fill it too much (which could cause collapse). In a few minutes, you have a steaming cuppa joe! I also like the concentric circles on the bottom that help it sit on any cup. So far, on any given windy day, we never had one tip over or blow off, and we’ve used it carefully and it has never collapsed, even partially.

GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mugs

We picked up two of these at REI, drawn to the handles, as well as the short profile and snap-closure lid. It fits very well with the Kuissential SlickDrip coffee drip. We can sit around the campsite drinking coffee in the early morning sun, then pack up, throw the mugs on a carabiner on our bags, and head out. The plastic mug also slides out of the fabric siding, making it easy to wash and dry. The lid snaps securely closed, with no leaks experienced thus far. Though it is short, they hold about two “cups” of coffee. I like the low profile better for the coffee drip, and believe it is more secure in the wind than a tall skinny travel mug.