The Backcountry Essentials of One of Our Toughest Testers

The Backcountry Essentials of One of Our Toughest Testers

VT Viking 

The gear you carry with you into the wild is what helps you adapt to the elements and terrain. Its purpose is to not only prepare you for your time out there but to also maximize your experience. Over the years I have come to rely on particular pieces of gear that I can bring with me on simple hikes, camping trips, and multi-day excursions. I tend to lean towards gear that is easy to maintain in the field and when it comes to electronic devices, I prefer gadgets with rechargeable batteries whenever possible.

Building off of my Everywhere Carry Pouch article that was posted on Gear Institute awhile back, the following is a list of some of the tried and true gear I carry when I step away from society for a little while and wander into the woods or up a mountain.


There are two schools of differing thought when it comes to backpacks – “bigger is better” and “small and light is the way to go”. In reality, for most of us a pack should fall right in the middle of those two ends of the spectrum. The right pack should be easy to organize and have features that allow you to adapt to your situation; such as lashing points or tie down straps. When choosing a pack, I recommend that you have all of your other gear selected first so that you have a better idea of the volume and type you need.

5.11 Tactical Ignitor
This 2200 cubic inch top loader adapts to different adventures by allowing the user to add-on different accessories to the MOLLE webbing that covers the front of the pack. Made from ripstop polyester, the main compartment opens down the whole front of the pack allowing for easy access and organization – even on the move. Great for 2-3 day trek into the unknown.

Carry Water

Porting in a day’s worth of water with you is always a good rule of thumb, but bringing a water filter along is important too. Not only does it keep your pack weight down, but it is also a great item to have if you unexpectedly find yourself in a jam while out in the wild. I also recommend bringing a water bottle for mixing up food, drinks, and for extra storage.

MSR MiniWorks EX
The MSR MiniWorks EX can pump out a liter of water a minute and is completely field maintainable. On its own it can remove 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.9% of protozoa, allowing you to pump from some of the most questionable puddles in times of need. This pump has been around for almost 20 years with very little change to its design, which is a testament to its effectiveness and durability.

CamelBak Antitode 100oz Bladder
I’ve used a lot of hydration bladders over the years, but CamelBak has consistently offered the most durable and easiest to clean ones. I recommend 100oz because it’s enough to extend past a day’s worth in certain conditions, and may offer a little extra water when prepping a meal without an alternate water source.

Carry Chow

Whether you stop to prepare your meals or eat on the go, calories, fat, protein, and carbs are the most effective sources of energy on the trail. At night, I like to cook a grand dinner over an open fire but during the day I like to make my meals quick and easy.

JetBoil “Original” Cooking System
I’ve used my JetBoil Original Cooking System at home – at work – and at play for more than ten years without ever needing to replace any parts. With the ability to boil water in less than 90 seconds, it keeps the prep time down and gets the food into my system quicker.

Note: At some point in the past few years, JetBoil discontinued this particular model. Their “Flash” is comparable to the original.

Munk Pack
These squeezable oatmeal pouches provide a good balance of fat, fiber, carbs, and sugar. They’ll fill you up for a couple of hours on the trail, which allows you to stick to a relatively normal diet routine without throwing your system into shock. Being in a pouch, they can be consumed on the go with zero prep time.

Epic Bars
These bars, which are available in beef, bison, chicken, or lamb, are packed with fat, calories, carbs, and protein that keep your body fueled when bagging peaks or hiking long trails. I highly recommend the Beef Habanero Cherry Bar or the Bacon Bar.

How can millions of hikers be wrong? This stuff is like gold while out on the trail! I make mine with almonds, Craisins, granola and M&M’s.

Carry ARS Saw  MMA

Besides multitools and knives, adventures in the wild usually require you to step up your tool game and add on some implements you generally wouldn’t carry. A quick note on knives: I do recommend you carry a folding knife and a larger fixed blade knife. Just trust me, and make it a habit even in everyday life.

ARS Pruning Folding Turbocut Saw 210DX
A while back a friend of mine whipped an ARS 210DX Folding Saws out of his pack when we were building a lean-to for a night on the mountain. We were sheltered within an hour. Not only does the unique design of the blade make quick work of branches, but mine hasn’t dulled after 5 years of serious work.

Outland Equipment Multi-Mission Axe 1901
I like tools that can perform multiple functions exceedingly well, and the outland Equipment MMA 1901 is a prime example of that. Made from S7 steel and featuring a hatchet head, hammer, and pry bar – you can do something simple like collecting wood for a fire or something complex like building your dream cabin with it.

Sea to Summit Alloy Pocket Trowel
You should always bury your organic waste, more to prevent attracting animals than a common courtesy, and the Alloy Pocket Trowel is small, effective, and easy to clean. Dig. Squat. Bury.

Carry Protection

Being prepared is never a bad thing, especially when you’re living and playing in the animal kingdom. Contrary to folk-lore, bear bells and bear spray are questionable at best, so sometimes you need to up the ante. Just remember to be discrete and check the rules and regulations if you’re in a state or national park.

Helpful tip: Some State and National parks have restrictions against bear spray, oddly enough, so anything more potent might be restricted as well.

Remington 597 HB .22 Long Rifle
I personally rely on a Remington 597 .22 long rifle with a heavy barrel and iron sight. My goal isn’t to take down big game, so this caliber is perfect for me. Additionally, if I do find myself in a situation where I need to defend myself I can. It’s easy to break-down and clean and has a magazine capacity of 10 rounds.

Pocketshot Slingshot
A modern take on an American Classic, the Pocketshot Slingshot is an awesome alternative to a rifle in the woods and allows you to choose your ammo – from the recommended steel ball, to a rock on the ground, or even an arrow.


I’ve personally found that navigational devices that require a signal from a cell tower or satellite are not 100% reliable, so I like to go old school – sort of. I always take a map with me, but I also rely on a watch that can function as a compass, altimeter, and barometer which gives me all of the information I need to get through a day out there.

Casio G-Shock Mudmaster GWG-1000
This easy to use watch has been appropriately named the “Mudmaster” because it’s almost impossible for mud, water, dust, or other items to get past the stout outer case. Additionally, the Mudmaster GWG-1000 is lightweight, solar powered and functions as a compass, altimeter, barometer, and thermometer too.

Suunto Core
I relied on the Sunnto Core for almost ten years before it finally bit the dust. Not only did it function as a watch, altimeter, and barometer, but it had this crazy Storm Alarm feature which effectively alerts you to a significant drop in pressure that can signal a change in weather.

Carry Electronics

Though most of us head to the wilderness to try to escape for a little while, communication is key when you’re in the backcountry. There have been some recent innovations in technology that may allow you to use your cell phone in areas that you generally wouldn’t be able to, but one tried and true piece of equipment that rarely fails is the Walkie-Talkie.

Helpful Tip: if you’re in a park with a ranger station, let them know you’re heading out and ask them what channel they use on their radios in case of emergency.

Midland GTX1000VP4
Midland boasts a range up to 36 miles on their waterproof GTX1000 model, which comes in a two-pack. Features include: NOAA Weather Alerts, an SOS siren that sends out a distress signal, and even private channels.

Energy to power your gadgets is a essential thing for most of us living in the modern age. By having the right solar panel, and storage devices you can be prepared for extended periods of stay with Mother Nature, while also eliminating the need for disposable batteries.

Princeton Tec Apex Rechargeable
A few years ago, in an attempt to cut down on disposable batteries, I began using the Princeton Tec Apex Rechargeable headlamp and have never turned back. It features multiple illumination settings and comes with an extension cable that allows me to attach it to the shoulder strap of my pack or suspend it above me in the hammock.

Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Recharging Kit
The combination of the Venture 30 power pack and the Nomad 7 solar panel from Goal Zero provide enough power to get through a few days and nights. Both are super-resistant too harsh weather conditions, and I can usually charge my head lamp and phone a couple of times before needing a recharge of its own. The Venture comes with a standard USB and Mini-USB cable.

VT Nook Shot

For extended stays in nature, you need to make sure you stay clean. You don’t need to plan on a full shower, but washing down your feet, armpits, and crotch are a good idea, as sweat, dirt, and other bacteria can do some nasty long-term damage to your body. Additionally, take care of those pearly whites. You may find your soul mate on the trail and you don’t want to have any Ramen stuck in your mug.

Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Pure-Castile Liquid Soap
Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Pure-Castile Liquid soap is an organic concentrate which can be watered down and used for cleaning your body, mouth, clothes, and everything else. Available in eight fantastic flavors, I would recommend Almond for all over use, but have found the Peppermint to be the most effective in keeping mosquitoes away. Fair warning however: no matter what they smell like, they all still taste like soap.

Packtowl Personal
Some of the gear I rely on has been with me for years. One article is my Packtowl Personal microfiber towel which I’ve had for more than a decade. Available in multiple sizes and colors, the quick drying Packtowl can sop up liquid and debris and then hang from your pack to dry.

Your frame of mind plays a huge role in everything you do in nature where you’re not cushioned by modern conveniences. For solo adventurists, it’s even more critical – as your mind can be your own worst enemy.

Vapium Summit
The Vapium Summit is a compact and durable vaporizer built to be used in all weather conditions. It’s very effective, easy to maintain, and a single charge can last you up to a week of use. When it runs out of juice, it can easily be recharged by its mini-USB port.

A Good Book
Sometimes, when you’re out getting lost, you need to get lost – and what better then a good book? Here are a couple of trail friendly gems that I’ve read over and over:

Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen
Temple Stream” by Bill Roorbach
A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson

VT Penny Shot

There are little bits of gear – like Duct Tape – that you end up finding about through trail mates or even in trying to get yourself out of a certain situation. In most cases, they add a layer of convenience to your journey, but in others they could be life saving.

Webbing Sling
A good sling of sewn webbing that’s around your height in length can be used for hundreds of different applications from a clothesline to a makeshift harness

Solas (Safety of Life at Sea) Tape
Solas Tape is one of the most reflective things in the world. I’ve seen it used as trail markers for years, but it’s also great when you need to locate crucial gear in your pack or at camp at night. This stuff could be the difference between life and death if you’re in the unlikely situation where you or your party needs to be rescued – as it can be seen from an uncanny distance when light is shone on it.

Zip Ties
Zip Ties are almost as crucial as Duct Tape on the trail. I prefer reusable zip ties on the trail if I need to put up a quick shelter for the night or from a storm.