When not picking apart stoves as Gear Institute’s resident Stove Expert, Craig Rowe spends his time as a backpacking guide for Wildland Trekking out of Flagstaff.
Guiding is great work. You get to share the places you love with people who have never seen them; and most importantly, you don’t have to peer over a cubicle wall to see the great outdoors. You’re right where it happens.
While outfitter generally let guides use company gear, I’ve grown attached to a few items of my own that I can’t leave behind.
The Mountain Hardwear BMG 105 backpack is a hoss. It holds an SUV’s worth of stuff and I can’t seem to damage it. The inside includes a separate but detachable sleeping bag chamber, hydration sleeve, and small gear pocket. Guides always end up carrying extra items for the guests—stuff that goes above and beyond group and personal gear—and I’ve found the square footage very valuable. When not crammed full, the BMG 105 offers good compression options to take up the slack space.
If you need to turn the moonless, ink-black night of Coyote Gulch into a tanning bed, minus the UV damage, the Light & Motion Solite 250 headlamp is your light. Headlamps become a security blanket for guides because you may end up at camp late and often need to head out early. The Solite’s easy conversion to a standing lantern helps a bunch when cooking, as does its ability to lock in the off position to avoid accidental battery drain when packed.
My Klymit Static V pad is the most comfortable bed for the weight I’ve ever used. I’m also a big fan of the Thermarest Z Lite because of its simplicity. However, in terms of sheer comfort and portability, the Static V rocks. Because of it, I actually have to set a wake-up alarm on trips.
Coffee. Tea. Oatmeal. Dish Washing. Face washing. There’s always a need for hot water, and no other stove will give it to you faster than the MSR Reactor. I carry the fuel-flexible Kovea Booster +1 (full review to be published soon) or the super proven MSR Whisperlite for meals, but mornings and evenings are for the Reactor.
With 75 pounds on my back sometimes, trekking poles are vital. Black Diamond’s Z-Pole models are collapsible, lightweight, and double as sturdy supports for my Equinox Myotis tarp. When not needed, they fold away and stay strapped to my pack until they are required again. Like all trekking poles, they’re great in first-aid applications. However, the Z-Pole tech is even better because they can be folded to make a more secure, smaller splint.
Banks Fry Bake Expedition Bake Set is big and heavy but it’s the best piece of backcountry cookware available. Sometimes, I don’t even cook with it—I just use it as a serving platter. The tough pan bakes pizzas and fries bacon. What else does a human need?
Down jackets are just too light and too warm to ever leave behind and I’ve worn the First Ascent Downlight StormDown Jacket in April on breeze-chilled nights in Havasupai and in mid-summer on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. In terms of price and quality, First Ascent’s water resistant down is one the market’s best options.
Guided backpacking trips often take us to a base camp for a couple days of exploring; in which case, the Marmot Kompressor Plus daypack is essential. It stuffs into its lid but when deployed, the Kompressor Plus holds plenty. My first-Aid kit, group lunch, hydration needs, and a small shell all fit easily. It’s very light at 12 oz., secure on my back, and super affordable.