Best Camping and Hiking Stuff
I have to tell you that i LOVE technology. I have been backpacking and camping for over 10 years and have gone through countless gadgets as well as various types of gear. I realize now that there is a good balance between buying the best stuff and buying too much stuff. Technology (mostly materials and fabrics) are not supposed to enhance your experiance of the outdoors. That is a marketing ploy. What it does for you is simply increases your level of comfort and allows you to prolong your experiance. Once you realize this, you can draw your own line as to what is too comfotable (plastic red wine glasses perhaps?). My line is simply not being cold at night and staying safe. While i do not count each ounce, i do not haul up my whole apartment. Look at my list to get a good idea of what i think is the best.
For most food, all you need is a spork. A spork, if you did not know, is just a spoon and fork in one. You may remember them from elementary school. Light My Fire is a company that makes nice sporks out of both plastic and Titanium. They are both great, but i get a bit worried that the plastic one would break if you do not pack it properly in the backpack. So, i am recommending their Titanium Spork. If you do not go camping often, then simple plastic spoons and forks, which you can get for free at your favorite fast food place, would do fine.
There are a bunch of bowl and dish options out there. There is plastic, rubber, titanuim, steel and many others. For me, the size and durability of these things matter a bit more than the weight. I went through several different types of bowls and finally found ones that i really liked. Sea to Summit makes a bowl, plate and mug which are collapsable. This means that they are ultra easy to pack into your backpack. The bottoms are made of sturdy plastic and the extendable tops are rubber. I never thought that this would last, but they are all very durable and work like a charm.
For poles, i really think that there is no substitue for cork handles. They feel good and have the right amount of give as well as grip. As for the pole itself, Black Diamond makes really nice carbon fiber ones. Carbon fiber does not dent, which is something to worry about with telescoping metal poles. It is also extremely light and yet durable. If you do not want to spend much money, downgrade to aluminum, but i would still get the ones with cork handles.
In my experience, Gregory makes the best backpacks. They are expensive, but you are paying for the research and the materials. Once you have walked with a full load, you will understand. Choose the size that you think you need. They also have a really nice selection for female backpackers. I recommend the Baltoro 75 for backpacking more than 2 days.
Nalgine is still king of water bottles. I really fell in love with their 32oz glow in the dark one. It gives off a faint glow at night. Just enough for you to be able to find it in a dark tent.
I used filters for a while and then switched to UV sterilization pens. They are very simple to use and are very small and light. You really only need a filter if the water is extremely muddy (never in my experience). SteriPen is the best company in this category. I especially love the Freedom pen which you can charge via USB as opposed to carrying batteries around. If you are going for longer than a week, then choose one with batteries.
Backup Water Purification
Always carry Iodine tablets with you as a backup to any purification plan. They are tiny and will always be there when you need them. They take a while to work and the water does taste funny, so i only save them for emergencies.
Hydration packs are really the way to go for drinking on the go. All the companies in this area are really good and there is not that much difference. I recommend the Platypus Big Zip because its closure system (like zip-lock bag) is compact and makes it easy to pour water into the top.
Yes, there are many mechanisms to light fires. I used several and they all work. However, there is nothing like the simplicity of matches. Match technology has really advanced over the years and now you have matches that can even light in heavy rain and burn much hotter than their household cousins. I like the UCO Stormproof Match Kit because it comes with a set of amazing matches, a light waterproof container and a bit of tinder. It is the type of thing you can rely on every time you need a fire.
If you have a spark, you would need tinder. Depending on where you are and in what season, tinder may be hard to find. There are quite a bit of chemical and natural solutions out there that you can buy. My favorite is Light My Fire TinderSticks. Those are pieces of special wood which light up quickly and then burn very hot for a long period of time. They are all you need to set a log on fire in almost any climate. They are also all natural.
Pillows are a luxury. But i really love my camping pillow and think that it is well worth the weight. My pillow is the Therm-a-Rest Down Pillow. Accept no substitutes.
Sleeping pads are essential if you are sleeping in cold conditions or if the ground is very hard. Which means you really should have one. I recommend to get the warmest lightest one that you can afford. I have been using the Thermarest NeoAir Xtherm pad and have been really happy with it. My previous pad was also a Thermarest but it was heavier and less insulating than the Xtherm. I could comfortably sleep on this pad at home if i had to give up my bed.
Headlamps choice has a lot to do with comfort and simple convenience features like tilt and brightness control. The best one that i have used is the Princeton Tec Apex Pro. It is expensive, but well worth the price. I like the strap that goes on the top of your head and the counterweight on the back. It makes for a very comfortable lamp for nighttime hikes.
I always carry an extra light and it has come in handy many times. I love the Petzl e+Lite for emergencies. It is tiny and comes in a red plastic case.
There are a bunch of tents out there and choosing the perfect one would depend on exactly what you are doing, when, and with whom. The Marmot line of tents is overall very good and i would recommend that you look at them first. For most normal trips i would recommend the Marmot Limelight 2 person tent. The tent is very light and easy to put up. Even with the mesh, it is still fairly warm inside.
The sleeping bag is the most important part of camping. Do not skimp on the sleeping bag. Remember that the temperature ratings on bags are not related to comfort at that temperature. Choose a temperature rating that is well below the expected temperature outside. I have tried many sleeping bags and my favorite, by far, is the Mountain Hardware Phantom 0. This sleeping bag has an amazing comfort range. I have been comfortable at 14F and in 60F and it just came down to how much i zipped it up. It is fluffy 800 fill down and packs into a really small sac for backpacking.
For cooking, you would want a stove which boils water fast and is easy to put together. Jetboil has a neat system where the burner, stand and fuel tank fit into a can. Once assembled it becomes a sturdy unit which lights even when it is very windy. At the same time it boils water noticibly faster than any other stove because of the fins at the bottom of the can.