Thursday, December 04, 2008

Camping gear - what worked, what didn't

I'm getting pretty close to the "perfect" camping gear, but here's what worked and didn't for last week's trip:

First, the stuff that worked well:

  • Kelty Light Year +30 sleeping bag: When I washed it in down wash, it got fluffier and warmer. Huh, imagine that. It worked fine for the temperatures that I encountered, the coldest of which was about 40F. Indeed, my biggest problem was overheating.
  • Coleman portable LED lantern: This is the small flat 2-LED one. It hangs up in my tent via its little lanyard hook and provides plenty of light to read by.
  • SVEA 123 gasoline stove: This is a classic design dating to the 1950's. Unlike the modern gasoline stoves it has no pump or anything, just a wick inside the tank to carry gasoline up to the area near the jet where it can get vaporized. In the colder windier temperatures it was a bit of a pain to get primed because the jet stalk has to get heated up hot enough to vaporize gas before it'll do the dirty deed, but really, it only has one moving part -- the flame adjustment knob -- so it's not as if it could get broken or anything. Some kids got out there without anything to cook their weiners on, so I let them use my frying pan and the SVEA and it worked fine for that too.
  • Snow Peak titanium pot and mug. These nest and are very compact and durable. I used the pot to heat up things like canned chili, the mug to heat up water for freeze-dried dinners and hot chocolate.
  • Petzl Tikka XP head lamp: I had some battery issues (see below) but the headlamp itself was a trooper, lightweight and plenty of light for what I needed.
  • Fenix P2D flashlight: This flashlight is almost small enough to carry on a keychain, yet is extremely bright when you need some extra light on the subject beyond what the TIkka XP headlamp can put out. The downside is that the lithium batteries that it uses are expensive if you don't buy them in bulk from a wholesaler like I did, and they don't last long at full brightness. But then, it's not as if I run this flashlight at full brightness for very long anyhow -- the TIkka XP is my normal light source when not in the tent.
  • Tarptent Rainbow tent: This is one well sorted little tent. It looks small on the outside, but inside it has plenty of room for one person and some miscellaneous gear scattered around. It's well ventilated (to the point of draftiness) but you can use jackets or other gear to direct the draft away from you if that's a problem and in warmer weather, you want that draft to keep you from overheating. There are gear loops in exactly the right place to hang up your little LED tent lantern to either read or light up the interior of the tent while setting up your sleeping pad and bag, and the roof is plenty high and wide to sit up and exit the tent without bumping the wall or top of the tent. The semi-freestanding setup (with the two trekking poles) saved my bacon at one campsite where there was slick rock beneath an inch or two of soil, and all in all it's just a very well designed and well-sorted little backpacking tent with no weaknesses that I have thus far discovered.
  • 2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited: Simple as dirt. Reliable as dirt. Goes anywhere sensible. Has plenty of room to haul gear and supplies for a 1 week trip without being overcrowded, unlike the short-wheelbase Jeep. Isn't outrageously long and wide like the new 4 door Wrangler.
  • REI storm-proof matches. These things work where nothing else does. High wind, rain, you name it, these things sneer at it and will get your lantern or stove lit.
  • Camelbak "double hump" day pack: This is just big enough for a 100oz water bladder and essential supplies (e.g. spade and T.P. as well as a first aid kit!). Much more convenient than carrying a conventional day pack and water bottles.
Things that did *not* work out too well:
  • Phoenix "wind-proof" butane lighter. More like, "flame-proof" -- I could rarely get a good flame out of the thing, especially when there was any wind (so much for "wind-proof"!). Mostly I ended up using my REI matches to light my stove.
  • Generic 1-mantle propane lantern: To be fair, I think the problem is with running low on propane, but it would stay lit for a while, then poof to an orange glow rather than a bright white glow. It worked fine on previous trips. I'll have to try it with a new propane cylinder.
  • Energizer AAA 1000mah NiMH batteries: They're worn out and no longer hold a charge yet I've only charged them maybe 50 times max. Bummer. My Tikka XP would only run a couple of hours per set of batteries before the little green "need new batteries" light started flashing and the headlamp itself started getting dim. I had two sets, I had to recharge them every day (my Jeep has an inverter and I brought the recharger with me of course). Time to toss these and get some new batteries.
  • Wal-Mart blue foamy sleeping pad combined with Therm-a-Rest Prolite 4: The Wal-Mart foamy was used mostly to insulate the feet from the ground, but was always trying to roll back up and was hard as a rock under my feet. Next time I haul along my nice thick full-sized Therm-a-Rest air mattress and quit trying to be fancy with the sleeping pad. I might have to use the Wal-Mart foamy + Prolite 4 setup when I'm motorcycle camping, but my Jeep has plenty of room for the big air mattress, so I might as well carry and use it.

Finally, food that worked out well:

Note that I try all of my food before I carry it into the field, so I had good luck with everything I ate. Some highlights:

  • Dennison's Hot & Chunky Chili on pita bread, topped w/Cheeze-Whiz: Pita bread carries well. Top it with chili and some Cheeze-Whiz(tm) after a hard day of hiking and you have the food of the Gods. Note: Needs a dash of Tapatio hot sauce, but not as much as you'd think.
  • Beef Stew freeze-dried entree': Once again, add a dash of Tapatio. This is comfort food for the soul on a cold and windy day.
  • Cajun Red Beans & Rice, Ham, and Sausage MRE: Mmm. Not available in the current MRE meals, alas. Once again, a dash of Tapatio (or the included Tabasco) does it good.
For my December trip I'll take the thicker sleeping pad and the REI Sierra Dome tent, which is more airtight and better suited for cold windy weather as compared to the drafty Tarptent at the expense of being big, bulky, and much harder to set up than the Tarptent (which is ludicrously simple to set up -- stake out the four corners, stake out the two "beaks" which really aren't all that critical, and you're done). Oh well, it was cheap ($89 at REI Outlet).

-- Badtux the Camping Penguin


  1. My list?

    Hotel room. Period.

  2. I've had that Cajun MRE, I liked it too. I was disappointed when I heard it had been removed (and the Jambalaya, which is also good).

  3. Me and the kid are addicted to Tapatio.

    Not addicted to the desert or camping, or motorcycles, but happy to read how much you enjoy them :)


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