Everyone who treks into the great outdoors, whether to camp, hike, mountain bike, backpack, climb mountains, hunt — or perhaps search and rescue or backcountry tactical ops — has gear they consider essential or desirable and has a wish list of what they might like to acquire.
As an avid outdoorsman, former deputy sheriff and acknowledged "gear geek," I have spent a lot of time in the great outdoors; both personally and professionally. I know everyone will be carrying the usual gear for fire, water, shelter, rain gear, sunscreen etc. However, it may be time to rethink what you carry. In this age of technology, there are some pretty interesting things out there that will provide an upgrade for your capabilities without adding significantly to your pack loadout.
Here are 10 cool items I have had the pleasure of working with that will make your next outdoor adventure more productive, safer and more enjoyable.
1. The SPOT Unit
This unit goes with me on any adventure; from 14,000 ft. peaks here in Colorado to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. If you carry only one piece of emergency communication gear, take the SPOT unit. It works when your cell phone won’t. Send your location out to friends to let them know you are okay, send out a help message if you need assistance or send out an SOS for a full blown emergency rescue. You can also connect to social media and let your friends and fans know where you are. I have tested it all over the Western U.S., from the Grand Canyon, to the mountains of Mont. and in the mountains of Colo. It works! Learn more
2. Garmin Tactix GPS Navigator + ABC Watch
This is a very cool, low profile piece of gear that is packed with features from Garmin. Designed with input from military groups, it can be worn as a conventional watch but this one has GPS capability, with the ability to record tracks and 1,000 waypoints and find your way back along your track if you get turned around in the boonies. It also has compass, altimeter, barometer, temperature, and optional fitness measurement functions if you want to record heart rate, foot speed, distance covered etc. for hiking, running or climbing. It has special features such as tide tables, and jumpmaster functions if that is your theater of operations. You can also use it to control the new VIRB cameras from Garmin and turn them on and off remotely with it. It is built to be extremely rugged and take a lot of abuse. I have used it for only a short while and I like what it can do while being able to wear it on my wrist and keep it relatively low profile. Learn more
3. Onxmaps HUNT sofware
What this software program does is work with your GPS unit and computer to provide landowner information, private property boundaries, BLM, Forest Service and game management unit boundaries along with road and trail updates yearly. Know where you are in relation to private property, BLM, Forest Service etc. It's priceless if you are a hunter looking to avoid trespass penalties or figure out a way to access and hunt a section of land. You can also mark waypoints, trails, bedding areas, feeding areas, scrapes or camping areas. I use this for hunting and scouting for big game and I find it invaluable when roaming the backcountry and figuring out private and public land boundaries. Learn more
4. Globalstar Satellite Phone
This is one of the items I wish I had with me when I took a near fatal spill off a dropoff up by Rabbit Ears pass near Steamboat Springs, Colo. Global phone technology has come a long way and phones have become smaller, more reliable and significantly cheaper. Stay in touch, call for help, call in a guide with horses after you put your elk down 15 miles back in the middle of nowhere or call from the top of a mountain or bottom of a canyon and just say hey. At 7 oz., this is a small phone with big performance. Be sure to check out the phone and services available. This technology is becoming more affordable. Learn more
5. Kifaru pack, shelters, and stoves
Used by spec ops personnel and serious back country hunters, you could literally carry whatever you could fit in one of their packs, regardless of weight, as long as you are physically able to carry it. Made entirely in the USA, these are some of the most rugged packs I have ever used as well as being some of the most comfortable for carrying weight. Their tipis are super light and come in a variety of sizes. I have stayed in them, warm and dry, when conditions were cold and inhospitable. They redefine camping and make it a positive experience for everyone. Their backcountry stove packs amazing warmth for surprising light weight. We had 42 people seated inside the 24 man tipi one year at the annual rendezvous in Colorado. With two arctic stoves going, we were warm, dry and in good spirits on a cold night in the mountains. Learn more
6. Western Mountaineering apparel
If you want some of the lightest, most compressible and warmest for weight sleeping gear and clothing, look to these folks. I have used their flash jacket, vest and meltdown jacket along with one of their sleeping bags. The jacket weighs about 8 oz. Sleeping bags weigh anywhere from about 16 oz on up. I combine the sleeping bag with the jacket and get a lower temperature range without having to carry more bag than I need. When it gets chilly out, nothing beats down for warmth without the weight. Even in rainy weather in Colo., I use a down jacket with rain gear. If I was spending time in really wet country, I would use synthetic. However, you can’t beat down for warmth without the weight penalty on cold nights in the backcountry. Learn more
7. REI Sahara Convertible Pants
After years of wearing cotton, wool and other synthetic alternatives, I elected to try these out this year. I have to tell you that I normally hate nylon long pants. They rub and catch on my knees when climbing and they are loud and crinkly. This pair of pants is the exception. They are comfortable to wear, extremely light but tough and easy to walk uphill or downhill in. Did I mention they were light? They also convert to a pair of shorts without having to sit down or take your boots off. They have a softer feel to them and are not as loud as far as noise when walking. I will be using these for hiking and climbing mountains as well as high country hunting this year. Learn more
8. Glock 29 with Pearce Grip Extension and optional KKM Barrel
The Glock 29 is a 10mm powerhouse that I purchased recently to fill in a gap in my performance firearms collection. What I wanted was a small, powerful handgun for backcountry use that didn’t weigh much and was easy to conceal and carry. The Glock 20 is the full size gun in 10mm, and, while fairly light, it is still bigger than I wanted. The Glock 29 is smaller, but with the addition of the Pearce grip extension; you get additional purchase for your little finger on the grip for added controllability. By adding the KKM extended barrel; which they will trim to your specs, you can have a very compact 10 mm with the same ballistics as the Glock 20. Now you can go from backcountry wear to urban wear with the same gun. As a bonus, you can get an additional .40 S&W barrel for it and shoot .40 caliber loads from it as well. Recoil in 10mm, while stout, is surprisingly controllable and that is attributable to the Pearce grip extension in part.
9. REI Camp Bed Sleeping Pad
If you really don’t look forward to camping in a tent because you don’t sleep well then take a long look at the REI Camp Bed. It is as comfortable as your bed at home; maybe even more so.
With 3.5 inches of cushion and an insulating R value of 7, I have slept in the open air at 10 degrees on it and been very comfortable. Being self-inflating, you can open the valves, let it open up on its own while you prepare dinner, and, if you choose to, blow it up just a bit more and then close the valves. It’s been around a while and is probably the single best pad I have used for base camping. Put it on top of a cot inside of a six-man tent so you can stand up in the morning and you may have found a new lease on life. Learn more
10. MSR Micro Rocket or Pocket Rocket Stove
At just 2.5 oz. the Micro Rocket may just be the world’s lightest isopropane powered stove. I have a pocket rocket which is just a ½ oz heavier and I can tell you that they perform. Pair it with their 1 liter Titan titanium pot, the aluminum pot holder and use a piece of aluminum foil for a lid instead of their pot lid and you have a superlight cooking system that weighs just under 7 oz. plus the weight of a lightweight isopropane fuel container. Even my jet boil at 12 plus oz. without the fuel cannot compare weight-wise. At 10,000 to 12,000 feet and higher, every ounce counts. Learn more