Outdoor Gear: What to Buy & What You Don’t Need
By Mike Jerrard
When it comes to outdoor gear there is no shortage of products to choose from before heading out on your next big adventure. There are some products that can be extremely beneficial but many are overpriced gimmicks.
To me, getting outdoors is about getting away from our modern day world and its conveniences. By simplifying what you bring on your outdoor excursions you can get back to the basics of nature and have a much more enjoyable time.
Here are my top tips when it comes to purchasing gear and what you can give a miss.
Products I Recommend
GPS or Maps
Even the most knowledgeable hiker can easily get lost and although it may not put you in peril it can screw up your travel schedule and make you late should you get lost. Having at least some guide to help you get back is a must as you can easily get distracted when photographing wildlife or simply getting lost in nature which is kind of the point of being outdoors. So go ahead and get lost but just make sure you can find yourself when you’re ready to come back to the modern world.
Water Proof Bag Cover
I have needed this on so many occasions for my camera equipment while photographing in the outdoors. You pay a lot for your camera equipment so keep it safe when the weather hits. Bringing ziploc bags for things like your wallet and phone are also a great idea.
I always throw in a pair of compact binoculars wherever I travel, simply because they come in handy on so many occasions and take up very little space. Of course birdwatchers can’t live without a pair of good binoculars but any traveler can benefit from having a pair in their suitcase. They are wonderful for cruises, especially when it comes to whale watching, and are fun to have at sporting events such as horse racing. Binoculars are a must for wildlife safaris and are a cheap way to do some nighttime stargazing without having to manage a bulky telescope. Binoculars are the perfect option for those travelers who aren’t into photography or aren’t equipped with large expensive telephoto lenses.
Having lived in Florida, these were extremely handy especially when it comes to the protection they can offer from snake bite…just make sure they are branded as being snake proof. Gaiters can do everything from keep your lower legs from scratches and injury to keeping your feet dry. I also recommend always bringing a a spare pair of socks should your feet get wet. Nothing is more uncomfortable than a long hike in wet socks.
I find one of the biggest drawbacks of camping for me and many is when it comes time to use the bathroom. Call me spoiled, but I have yet to learn the art of squatting. I also don’t exactly like having to dig a hole to give my deposit a proper burial. Unless you are traveling in a fancy RV with a traditional bathroom, you have to resort to doing your business in the woods or even worse having to use a communal drop toilet. I have yet to experience a bearable drop toilet, both in terms of the lack of cleanliness and for the awful stench.
The perfect solution to avoid all these problems is to bring along your own private camping toilet. Portable camping toilets are easy to use, rather inexpensive, and are most importantly environmentally friendly. Some portable toilets are simply a glorified bucket with toilet bag, while the best camping toilet is one that uses chemicals with little to no water and may even have an electric flush and toilet roll holder built in. Depending on the size of the toilet and how many people are using it, the best camping toilets can last nearly a week without having to be emptied.
Packing a portable camping toilet is a much more sanitary way to camp and is perfect for those with IBS or anyone who tends to use the bathroom frequently. It’s important to note that many bush camps, especially those in reserves or national parks, require you to have a portable toilet in order to stay there.
They definitely won’t ever start a fashion trend but you will thank yourself for having a fly net when it is needed. In places like Alaska, Australia, and the tropics, flying insects can really ruin your outdoor adventure. You can get head nets or full jackets that can keep those annoying flies and mosquitoes from cutting your travels short. The looser the fit or more mesh that doesn’t make contact with your skin the better.
Voltaic Solar Backpack
I have yet to try out one for myself but these backpacks have had great reviews. Based in New York, Voltaic makes some really exciting backpacks that use solar power to charge everything including your phone, laptop, and digital cameras. They are outfitted with many adapters (some optional) that will leave you never without the availability of power. I give them props as well for being a very earth friendly company using recycled products and reducing waste as much as possible when it comes to manufacturing and shipping their products.
Products To Avoid
Camelbak Water Bottles
There are times when this product may be useful such as if you are in a long distance bike race where you need to stay hydrated but have no time to fiddle with a bottle but for your average hiker it i completely unnecessary. There are so many components that can break or become faulty and I have yet to encounter a person who has not had a leakage story. Add to this the fact it is an effort to clean and that it can cost upwards of $100+, it is definitely a product to pass on. Settle for an ordinary water bottle with the least amount of features that can break.
Photo By: Atomic Taco
There are many people out there that swear by using these. They can be a great aid if you are scaling a large mountain and have physical ailments such as a bad back, but I have seen more people burdened by having to carry them. For photographers they can become a huge nuisance trying to set them down when photographing a subject especially if you are carrying a tripod as well. I have climbed many hills and mountains including Kilimanjaro and have never had the need for poles.
I know nothing is sexier than a bright colored $2 poncho that comes conveniently shrink wrapped in a tiny square. It looks like something that you should just get to throw in your pack just in case. You will never use it though and even if you do they will not do the job of keeping you dry. If you plan to wear one while hiking through dense bush you will soon find yourself getting snagged on every limb. Fork over the money for a nice dependable rain jacket or simply embrace the rain.
Maybe they can be useful at times but there is just something about the sight headlamps which makes me shake my head. I can understand if you are in a situation like cave diving where you have no free hands and need light but that is about the only situation I will excuse for someone wearing a light on their head. Get a simple flashlight and you won’t annoy all your friends every time you look in their direction.
Specialized Camping Equipment
Stores have dedicated aisles to tons of non essential camping junk that although is branded very well is never practical. From special camping cutlery and dishes to water proof matches that cost upwards of $10 pack, most of the gadgets you find in the camping section will be highly overpriced. You can literally find everything you have in your kitchen branded as camping which somehow doubles the price of what you would normally pay for the same item found in the regular kitchen section.
First Aid Kit
I can already hear the gasps of why I would say to avoid a first aid kit but hear me out. I definitely recommend being prepared for an emergency and a first aid kit can be extremely useful. I would however avoid the generic branded first aid kit and make your own specialized kit for what dangers you may face on the outdoor journey you are taking. There are many items in a pre-made kit you are very unlikely to ever use and many items which could save your left which they leave out. An emergency kit for someone hiking the wilds of Alaska should be different from someone hiking in the Everglades. There are different dangers and therefore different items you may find yourself needing. You may also find yourself paying a lot more money for a pre-made kit than if you were to but the items included individually.
August 6, 2016
It’s interesting that you suggest getting away from modern conveniences by reducing gear like ponchos, but then suggest carrying a backpack that can charge your laptop and cell phone. Obviously everyone’s needs are different, but I tend to leave the things that need charging behind on hiking trips (or bring a small extra battery for things I do carry, like the camera). Meanwhile, trekking poles (which, for me, provide a lot of stability on uneven surfaces and keep my bad knees from hurting so much on long downhills) and a headlamp (which allows me to wipe my butt without dropping my flashlight down a latrine) are on my must-carry list. To each their own!
August 6, 2016
Thank you for your comment. I agree with you that everyone’s needs are different, this list is just using my experiences. Many non recommended items such as the hiking poles can come in handy for people with physical ailments which I said in the article.
As a wildlife photographer I may be biased when it comes to products such as a solar powered charging backpack, but capturing and sharing my experiences of the great outdoors is my main goal when hiking and exploring.
August 17, 2017
Hey thank you so much for posting this great guide! I am a frequent trekker so this guide was of great help to me
March 9, 2018
Good tips. Especially opting to go for a more tailored medical kit. It’s funny how people assume they will be just fine with all the generic items they have. The solar backpacks are one even I need to try soon. I’ve seen power banks which you place over backpacks but this one looks way cooler.
January 3, 2019
What kind of snakes does Alaska have?
March 13, 2019
Thanks for sharing the awesome information about outdoor products you recommend and products to avoid for the big adventure. Special I like your recommended product snake proof Gaiters, it’s very important and helpful for while you go for a big adventure in forest track. But I do not agree with you to avoid the Rain Poncho, yes you are right we will face a lot of difficulties while walking, but if rain is coming while walking at that time, we need some protection for facing the rain, I think that’s why we need some protection like rain poncho or something else its alternative.
March 20, 2019
Nice blog. Very important things are mentioned here to take it with you. Getting a pair of binoculars is very important for us to capture the beautiful planet.
June 13, 2019
If you are traveling with an RV it would be smart to have good materials and equipment in it.
July 10, 2019
gaiters are so useful for wading through various types of terrain, yet none of my hiking buddies use them, i have no idea why.
August 9, 2019
Solar backpack? That’s fantastic!
September 6, 2019
Yeah, I agree with you!! Buying camera equipment is much expensive so make sure while you are on traveling you have a waterproof bag cover so you can safely keep your heavy equipment. Thanks for such a useful article!
September 19, 2019
It’s is a good idea to bring a portable toilet, goes with the other tips you shared. Such a useful article, I hope you keep posting I’ll bookmarked your page for more updates.
November 5, 2019
Never leave the house without checking those valuable things needs when camping. Funny how you able to lift a portable toilet. But, you need it badly.