Sunday, November 9, 2014

Favorite Gear and Food

Below I'll detail some behind the scenes information on gear and food gained from 5 months and 13,000 miles on the road.

Matt's Favorite Backcountry Gear

I could go on and on about everything from tents, packs, hardware, sleeping bags, and every article of clothing. But these are the things that really shined this summer:

Helinox Chair One - This. Thing. Rocks. I've never before cared to carry the extra weight of a chair, preferring to use a log, rock, or where required, my bear can. I thought about getting one of those contraptions that converts your sleeping pad into a chair, but was worried about popping my pad with the extra wear. I also looked into "crazy creek" style chairs, but figured that the extra weight wasn't worth it to just sit on the ground. Then I found the Helinox Chair One (REI makes their own version).  Total game changer. Full size camp chair comfort at just over a pound. I don't bring it on hardcore mountaineering trips when every ounce counts, but it's my new best friend on more leisurely backpacking trips.

Olympus TG-2 camera - I appreciate all the positive comments on many of my photos from the summer. I feel that I didn't do a whole lot more than show up in some awesome places with a decent camera - nature did the rest. But you need a camera that you're willing to take up to the summit or across the river. I've always said "the camera you have with you is worth more than the $2,000 DSLR in the car." Enter the TG-2. Waterproof and shockproof, I'm not concerned to take it anywhere and it always rides in my hip belt pocket, thru rain, snow, and scrambles.

Garmin Oregon 600 GPS - Learn to use a map and compass, period. But once you do, I think it's worthwhile to invest in a top quality GPS. I upgraded from an older Garmin this summer and was blown away. Touchscreen and integrated maps, which is probably the biggest benefit. A lot of GPS units will give your your position, but the ability to immediately reference that on the screen plotted against a topo map makes navigation a snap. It saved my bacon by helping me find a safe pass to cross in whiteout conditions in Denali. Save your money on the "t" versions and just get free topos from

MSR Windpro II - I have a number of stoves. For economical cooking on my tailgate I used an MSR Dragonfly & white gas. For super fast and easy "boil water" type cooking I use a Jetboil. But if I had to keep only one stove, the Windpro would be it. It uses isobutane canisters for ease and convenience - I prefer to light it with a firesteel instead of a lighter. But it solves a couple of the weaknesses of canister stoves, namely poor cold weather performance and stability problems, by using a remote fuel line. You can flip the canister over in cold weather to supply the stove with liquid fuel and it has a lower center of gravity. However, if I was in the market for a new stove I'd look at the MSR Universal. It combines features of the Windpro with the ability to switch parts and burn white gas. Just don't lose the accessory kit.

Arcteryx Squamish Hoodie - Yep, it's expensive. And when you get it in the mail you think "I paid all that money for this flimsy little thing?" But it's worth it. Every penny. I probably wear this jacket 8 out of 10 days. It's the perfect outer layer to cut the wind or shed a light sprinkle. It's not a hardshell, but how often do you wish you just had something to make a cool breeze feel a little more tolerable, protect from the sun or bugs over a t-shirt, and not overheat while doing something hard. Just throw this on over your base layer and you are good to go. I like the version with the hood - if you don't want to wear the hood, flip it to the inside of the collar and down your back. It'll disappear and you won't even feel it's there. The jacket is super thin, but I had no durability issues at all.

Platypus Hydration System - I prefer Platypus hydration bladders over Camelbak for a few reasons. One is simplicity - no complicated connectors or valves to freeze or jam up. In camp you can swap the hose for a standard cap to easily pour water for cooking and cleaning; and you can put the bladder in your sleeping bag to keep it from freezing at night without worrying that the hose will leak. But best of all, Platypus also makes their own filters, I have the Gravityworks 2.0, turning the bladder into a true "system." I can fill up the dirty reservoir, plug the filter outlet straight into my drink tube, and refill my bladder without removing it from my pack - and no pumping is required. Check it out.

Trekking Poles - If Noah and Flan read this I'm sure they'll call me a pansy. But I'm a trekking pole evangelical, spreading the word of improved stability and reduced joint pain to the hiking masses. They give me confidence on sketchy terrain, snowfields, and loose rock. And they are worth their weight in gold for crossing streams. I probably would have drowned in Denali without them. Take your pick on brand or style, doesn't really matter. I prefer cork grips for comfort and I think "antishock" is a bunch of marketing hype.

Salomon Quest 4D GTX Boots - my trusty hiking boots gave up the ghost somewhere in the North Cascades. After 7 years of dedicated service, I gave them a proper burial in an NPS trashcan. Needing some new boots pronto, I headed to REI and got the Salomon Quests. Man they feel good. Right out of the box, with zero break in I took them on a 47 mile backpacking trip with no issues. I don't know of a better endorsement than that. I waded an ankle deep stream in Utah for 4 days with no leaks in the Goretex. They'll make you feel like a wilderness ninja, ready to sprint up mountains and leap raging rivers.

Matt's Road Trip Essentials 

I really enjoyed driving around in my little pickup and parking next to RVs for the night. While they are busy getting 3mpg, I'm cruising around at 26mpg and have pretty much the same comforts. Bed - check. Shower - check. Laundry - check. Cooking - check. Toilet - no, but public restrooms are easily come by and you also have the woods. Below are some of the gear that made my truck feel more homey and help me sustain months of travel without becoming totally gross.

Helios Pressure Shower - Fill 'er up and set 'er in the sun and you have 5 gallons or so of luxuriously warm water for showering. The best part of the Helios is that is is powered by a foot pump instead of gravity. You aren't dependent upon finding the perfect tree in a private area (shower in your swimsuit if you can't find privacy). And you have better control over the flow from the nozzle, so your water lasts far longer - I'd have enough for 2 quick showers and some dishes.

Scrubba Wash Bag - This guy is expensive and I'll admit that I haven't fully recouped my investment quite yet. There are probably cheaper ways to do laundry. But the Scrubba is pretty genius; it's a dry bag with a flexible washboard built in. Just fill it with clothes, campsuds, and water then go to town. Dump the dirty water and refill to scrub again for "rinse cycle." Out come clean clothes with no mess and efficient water use. Line dry. No laundromat required.

Outback Oven - I did all of my cooking on the same stoves and cookware that I use in the backcountry. I didn't see the sense in investing in a separate set of gear - keep it simple. The Outback Oven is light enough to bring along on a leisurely backpacking trip and turns any camp stove (white gas models with external fuel tanks work best) into a baking machine. I'd make corn bread, chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon rolls, and brownies; the options are nearly limitless. The smell of brownies wafting thru camp or hot cinnamon rolls to go with my morning coffee really blur the lines of "roughing it."

Reliance Aquatainer - At 7 gallon capacity, this guy was essential for desert road tripping. I could fill up at a campsite and then be set for 3-4 days, giving me more freedom. It's not a flashy cool piece of gear but I used it multiple times a day.

Favorite Camp Food

I invested a lot of time before the trip dehydrating a variety of foods for the backcountry. But I quickly realized that I may have gone overboard on some things and too little on others. In the future I think I'll focus on drying a smaller variety but larger quantities, picking ingredients that are more flexible across a number of dishes. I strongly recommend a dehydrator for anyone interested in liberating themselves from the misery and expense of a complete freeze-dry existence. 

Most all of my recipes follow an easy formula, just requiring me to pick and choose a few things out of each category for a variety of tasty and nutritious meals. 

Starch - quick cooking carbs that won't use too much stove fuel like couscous, instant potatoes, minute rice, ramen, or pasta. Angel hair cooks fastest. Real rice takes FOREVER. 

Protein - dried beans or ground beef, a pouch of chicken, salmon, or tuna. I tired to dry ground sausage for more flavor but it was difficult to dry because of the extra oils

Vegetables - dried mushrooms, peas, carrots, and bell peppers became my go-tos. Dried onions are readily available in the store. My experiment with dried kale had mixed results; I should have completely separated the leaves from the stalks. The stalks never fully rehydrated, remaining has hard little twigs in the final dish. But the leaves were crispy and pulverized easily into a highly nutritious powder. 

Flavor - salt, pepper, olive oil (carry in a small bottle), parmesan cheese, hot sauce, soup mix, any number of premade spice packets from the grocery store, dried tomato sauce (it becomes like leather)

Smoked Salmon Pesto - couscous, smoked salmon packet, Knorr's pesto spice mix, olive oil, dried mushrooms, dried tomato sauce (optional)

Chicken Alfredo - angel hair or linguine pasta, Knorr's alfredo spice mix, olive oil, dried mushrooms, chicken packet, parmesan cheese

Matt's Classic - couscous, dried tomato sauce, olive oil, parmesan cheese, dried ground beef, dried peas, dried carrots, dried onions, dried mushrooms, kale powder

TexMex - minute rice, dehydrated beans, hot sauce, Knorr's fajita spice mix, dried bell peppers, dried onion, chicken pouch (optional), crushed taco shells (optional)

Shepard's Pie - instant potatoes, dried ground beef, split pea  or onion soup mix, dried peas, dried carrots, parmesan cheese, kale powder

Belize Rice and Beans - After a trip to Belize in 2008 I became enamored with this staple of the local cuisine. I recreated it using minute rice, dried beans, dried onions, and coconut milk (canned or powder)

Dried fruit - Store bought stuff usually has too much sugar and chemicals. I had my best success with home dried apples, pears, pineapple, and banana. Kiwi and strawberries are tasty, but less tolerant of any mistakes in the dehydrator and seemed like less bang for my buck when it came to comparing final product to prep work. Dried blueberries were a welcome addition to oatmeal and pancakes, but trying to make my own raisins, cranberries, and dried apricots was not worth it. 

Don't forget a cooler to pick up a 6 pack of all the unique microbrews from across the county. 

And tortillas are awesome. Might be my new favorite way to eat PB&J.