Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dan Crane’s Backcountry Gear Gift Ideas

For those who have yet to finish their shopping this gift-giving season and are still struggling for ideas for the Adirondack backcountry enthusiast on their list help is now here. From backpacks to sleeping bags and hiking boots to tents, the choices available are enough to send even a seasoned backcountry expert running to their computer for hours of frustrating research. To shed some clarifying light on this situation here are some ideas for relatively inexpensive gifts that hopefully will make the whole process a little less daunting.

Every backcountry adventurer needs the basic navigation tools of map and compass. Although there are numerous different types of compasses to choose from the Silva Ranger 515 CL has been my go-to compass for over 10 years. This compass is one rugged piece of equipment that has always pointed me in the right direction. Other than some worn off print on the bottom and a slightly frayed lanyard, my Silva Ranger compass remains as reliable as it did when I first purchased it.

The Ranger 515 CL has an adjustable declination so it can be set based on the area you are currently exploring. The split-sighting mirror gives superior accuracy when navigating to distant landmarks. And the clinometer provides for measuring angles of inclination too. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price for this outstanding compass is $55.

Backcountry light sources range from flashlights to headlamps. I prefer headlamps since it is often necssary to have your hands free while doing activities in the dark. With the many headlamps on the market it can be difficult to decide which would make a perfect gift for a backcountry explorer. Hopefully I will be able to shed a little light on this matter.

My current headlamp is a Petzel e+LITE Emergency Headlamp. Although this tiny light is marketed as an emergency headlamp I currently use it as my primary light anytime from mid-spring to mid-autumn. This light is super-lightweight weighing only 27 grams with batteries. It runs on two lithium watch batteries which last anywhere from 35 to 45 hours depending on the intensity of light.

The e+LITE provides 5 different modes including economy, maximum and pulse in white light, and economy and pulse in red light. Although the distance of light and the lack of a focus are disadvantages over traditional headlamps, the lightweight more than makes up for them. Plus there is a 10 year guarantee.

Integral Designs’ Silcoat Backpack is a perfect daypack to bring along on extended trips where reduced weight is paramount. This small daypack weighs a mere 4.5 oz. and can do double-duty as a stuff sack. The pack is made from lightweight silicone-impregnated nylon and features 2 webbing shoulder straps and a removable 1” polyester webbing belt. The manufacture’s suggested retail price is $50.

This pack can be used on those days where a short hike from a base camp is planned and a full pack is just too much to carry. But be careful, this pack is not recommended for loads exceeding 12 lbs, for carrying sharp objects or bushwhacking through dense spruce/fir forests. I often carry this pack for those occasions where I might take a short day hike and would rather not haul my main backpack.

Sleeping pads can be an important part of one’s arsenal of sleeping equipment. Finding a lightweight alternative can be difficult since it often requires giving up on comfort. One of my favorite sleeping pads is Texsport’s Pack-Lite Sleeping Pad.

This sky blue sleeping pad is extremely lightweight, weatherproof, water resistant, full length (20” x 72”) and made from closed cell foam (3/8” thick). If you find full-length pads to be an unnecessary luxury then it can easily be trimmed down to the appropriate size. The best feature of this pad is its incredible low price of only $10.99.

The only downside to the Pack-Lite Sleeping Pad is its really bad out-gassing. I would seriously suggest you set it out in a well ventilated space for a few days before using it.

In the years when I first started venturing into the Adirondack backcountry I carried a large hunting knife. After many trips where I typically used it only to cut food wrappers I could not rip apart with my teeth I finally realized the foolishness of carrying such a heavy knife.

Now I carry the lightest Swiss Army knife available in the Victorinox Classic Swiss Army Knife. This knife weighs only 1 oz. and includes a small knife, scissors (for those tough food wrappers), toothpick, tweezers (for first aid purposes), fine screwdriver and nail file. Although this knife comes in black, green or red, I would strongly suggest the red color as it stands out on a dark forest floor the best.

In my early days of backcountry exploration I not only carried a large hunting knife but multiple Nalgene bottles as well. Now I have replaced them with some lightweight alternatives.

One lightweight alternative to a bulky water bottle is a 1 liter Platypus collapsible bottle. These bottles are extremely lightweight (0.8 oz) and are fully collapsible. The collapsible feature is handy since as you empty the bottle it takes up a less room in your backpack.

I have noted some concern from skeptics about the water bottle being punctured but in the 10+ years I have had them leak only along the upper seams (and this was most likely due to wear of leaving them unattended while attached to my gravity filter multiple times). Plus they are BPA free and lined with taste free plastic.

Although it might be difficult to imagine around this time of year but spring will be here before you know it. And with spring in the Adirondacks comes the most dreaded of all biting flies: the black fly.

The best way to be prepared for bug season is with an OR Deluxe Spring Ring Headnet. This headnet contains a steel ring for holding the netting away from your face yet it only weighs 2.2 oz. This headnet is colored black to minimize interference with vision. And this headnet is no-see-um proof too. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price for this headnet is $18.

Every backcountry adventurer needs at least a single towel for those occasional bathings. The MSR Packtowl Ultralite is the lightest, most compact microfiber towel on the market. It weighs next to nothing and folds up to a very small space. These towels come in 4 different sizes from x-large to small to meet all your drying needs. This towel soaks 4 times its weight in water and then easily wrings out almost completely dry.

By rolling up your wet backcountry laundry in this towel and wringing both of them together the towel absorbs a vast amount of water. This can significantly reduce the amount of time necessary to dry out your favorite hiking clothing while out in the field.

Hopefully these ideas will help those still struggling with that hard to buy for backcountry explorer on their gift list. Or at the very least, you will know what NOT to buy me since I already have all of the products described above.

Happy Holidays!

Photo: Inexpensive miscellaneous backcountry gear by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at

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Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.

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