SealLine EcoSee Clear Dry Bag

I have never found a fully waterproof backpack that had the fit and features of more general purpose non-waterproof backpacks. So I ended up getting this clear SeaLine dry bag to slip inside my backpack. I got the clear one because I thought I would pull it out of my pack but I find I rarely do that. I use it more like an internal liner or sleeve inside my backpack. Another benefit of this is I also use it inside my commuter bike bag when pedaling to work in the rain.

-- Rob Ray  

SealLine EcoSee Clear Dry Bag
$20 – $100, depending on size

Available from Amazon



MSR Universal Canister Stand

One of the major problems with most liquid propane gas stoves is that they are inherently top-heavy. Coupled with the inevitable lack of flat terrain while camping, it’s only a matter of time before they are accidently knocked or tipped over. At the very least you’re looking at a colossal mess and potentially losing a meal; at the very worst you could be severely scalded or start a fire. These problems can be preempted by choosing the most level cooking surface as possible and using a canister stand in conjunction with your stove.

The best model I have found is the “Universal canister stand” from MSR. Design and operation is dead-simple: unfold the legs into the tripod position, place the rim of your LPG canister under the appropriate set of fixed hooks (outer hooks for 230-450g canisters, inner hooks for 100-130g canisters), and slide the third spring-loaded hook into place. The stand will drastically reduced your stove’s potential to tip over and safely allows cooking with large/tall pots, even on sloped or uneven surfaces.

Other LPG stove manufacturers do offer their own branded canister stands but they are made of plastic, which is nowhere near as durable or reliable as metal. They also have shorter legs than the MSR model, which compromises the stability afforded. At around $12 street price and backed by a lifetime warranty, this accessory should be a no-brainer for anyone who owns a LPG stove.

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-- Nabhan Islam  



Trek Light Gear Bindle Backpack

I love bags. I have backpacks, briefcases, messenger bags, hip packs, go bags, bust out bags – you name it, I have it. My wife and I have inadvertently started collection of eco-friendly grocery tote bags much like the Envirosax (reviewed on Cool Tools). Seems like every event or street fair we go to is selling them for cheap. But then I came across the Bindle Pack from Trek Light Gear.

The benefit of this bag over ANY grocery tote bag is three-fold. Firstly, it zips closed. I hate that when I put down the other eco totes, any items in it will spill out. Secondly, it is a fully-enabled backpack, so it is much more comfortable to carry your things. Thirdly, the Bindle Pack has TWO additional pockets, a very handy interior pouch to hold smaller items like your keys or phone and a zippered side pocket – I always wondered why the makers of those eco totes never added an additional small pocket for sundries.

The Bindle Pack is made of parachute nylon material. Accordingly it is very light and very strong. Although rated to carry 40 lbs. I have loaded mine up with up to 60 lbs. with no problems. Each Bindle Pack has a zippered main compartment, a handy interior pouch and an additional zippered side pocket to keep all your items organized and easily accessible. The Bindle Pack will fold up to an incredibly small 3″W x 3″H x 2.25″D when folded and expand to a sizeable backpack 10″W x 15″H x 6″D when in use (just under 15 liters or about 4 gallons by volume). Unbelievably, it only weighs 3 oz. True its not as big as an IKEA bag (reviewed on Cool Tools), but it is a LOT more portable.

I plan on buying multiple packs, leaving one in each of our cars, and hooking them at the doorknob of each door to remind us to take them. Lastly, TrekLightGear has partnered up with Be The Change Volunteers and for every backpack sold, they will deliver school supplies to one student/child around the world.

 

-- Alastair Ong  

Trek Light Gear Bindle Backpack
$33

Available from Amazon



Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior Backpack

When I’ve travelled for extended periods I have found that packing is not unlike stowing gear on a small boat. Life on the road is much easier when everything is in its place and there is a place for everything. My favorite bag for packing light, long-term travel is the eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior.

 

It is a well-designed bag that can be used as a standard soft-sided suitcase or converted into a backpack. Multiple pockets allow for keeping everything organized. Outside pockets can be compressed or expanded depending on the use. A padded hideaway laptop storage area protects a computer but also allows for easy access.

 

The bag measures 19.5″ x 14″ x 9″ so it’s fairly airline friendly. The exterior is durable polyester with heavyweight zippers that can be locked together using a single lock.

 

When researching bags for a two-month trip I considered Rick Steves Convertible Carry-On and the Osprey 46. I found this eBags model best fit my needs.

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-- Philip Meier  

eBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender Convertible
$90

Available from Amazon



Apocalyspork

A spork may be a simple thing, but this one is handmade in the U.S. from medical-grade titanium that is recycled from military and aerospace scrap. It’s lightweight and virtually indestructible. I’ve had it for two years and suspect that it will not only outlast me, but my children as well.

Why titanium? It’s lighter, but stronger than steel. Titanium is also rustproof, hypoallergenic, and bacteria-resistant.

The handle also contains a bottle opener, an oxygen bottle key, a 0.325 inch hex nut key, and a 0.25 inch hex nut key.

-- David Stewart  

Full-Size Apocalyspork
$44

Manufactured by American Kami



T-Reign Retractable Gear Tethers

I use the T-Reign gear tether to keep my stuff within reach and ready for use. I received a gear tether as a gift and quickly had to order a couple more for other uses. I keep one for my EMT shears clipped to a D ring in a cargo pocket. The shears are ready for immediate use and if they’re dropped they retract right back to where I can find them again without looking. I have another for my GPS and a third with a case for my digital camera.

Made in the USA they have a strong kevlar cord which after a year of continuous use is not fraying or showing signs of wear.

My sons are in the army and both use these to keep critical tools and gear secure and available when on duty.

-- Charles Kinnear  

Available from Amazon



Petzl Zipka 2 Headlamp

I’ve used this headlamp for several years. Petzl has been producing high-quality headlamps for decades and Zipka has the same amazing quality. Whenever I backpack I always carry my Zipka with me, it’s super useful even indoors when you’re looking for things in a dark and don’t know where the light switch is.

The beauty of Zipka is its retractable cord, which makes the headlamp way more compact than any other headlamp I’ve seen on the market. That way I don’t need any additional case for the lamp as it doesn’t end up tangled with all my other stuff in the backpack.

-- Peter Fabian  

[This new model has four LEDs. Earlier models had two or three. — Mark]

Petzl Zipka 2 Headlamp
$20

Available from Amazon



4AA Pack-Away Lantern

During a recent 27-hour-long power outage, we rushed out to find emergency lighting. While most people grabbed the biggest lanterns they could find, we centered on these handy Pack-Away Lanterns. They touted long run-times on 4 x AA batteries (20 hours on low and 8 hours on high), and they delivered!

We clipped three to our dining room light to provide plenty of light for card games. Then, we used one of the lanterns to provide overnight light for our cat that is scared of the dark (a true fraidy-cat!).

The lanterns are small, and the top pushes down for packing and storage. I throw one in my backpack any time I head to an event.

There’s a wire loop/handle at the top that folds flat, and a small clip that can attached to the handle. The clip could be used for attaching the light almost anywhere, like the inside of a car hood, a beltloop, or chandelier.

-- Steve Simpson  

Coleman 4AA Packaway Mini LED Lantern
$22

Available from Amazon



The Essential Wilderness Navigator

How not to get lost. Of all the many books teaching you navigation skills, this one is the best all around. It teaches you how to find your way using any of these: hints in the terrain, sun, stars, maps, a compass, or GPS (coordinates alone are not enough). Clearly illustrated, pragmatic, broad, and up-to-date. I actually like getting “lost” occasionally, and this manual has helped me always get back home.

-- KK  

The Essential Wilderness Navigator
David Seidman, Paul Cleveland
2000, 173 pages
$12

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

How To “Get Found”

Well, now you’ve done It. You’ve been daydreaming, seeing the sights. You’ve turned a corner and realized you haven’t a clue about where you are. Fifteen minutes ago you felt yourself hesitate at a junction; 10 minutes later you didn’t recognize an obvious landmark. You were merely disoriented then, but now you’re lost. You can’t figure out how to retrace your steps; everything looks the same, nothing seems familiar. OK, now what are you going to do?

The first thing is to stop. Don’t keep on walking and making the situation worse. Admit that you are lost and that it’s probably only going to be a small inconvenience, not a life-threatening episode. Calm yourself. Sit down, have a bite to eat, clear your head, and begin looking for clues. Try to remember where you have been during the last half-hour. Envision the last point where you were sure of your position.

Look around for features that might provide a reference. If nothing registers, but you think that you are not far from somewhere familiar, start navigating from scratch. Identify a landmark, or make one, for your current position so you can find it again. Head out from there to explore a little at a time, returning if you are unsuccessful.

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6 miles: Large houses, small apartment buildings, and towers can be recognized.

2 miles: Chimneys stand out, windows are dots, and vehicles can be seen moving.

1 mile: People look like dots and trunks of large trees can be seen.

1/2 mile: People look like posts and larger branches on trees become visible.

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You followed some logical route (at least, it seemed so at the time) to get where you are, so there is a chance of finding your way back. But if you start wandering aimlessly about, you may lose even this thin thread of connection. You may become not just simply lost, but profoundly lost – and there is a difference.

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BioLite CampStove

I’ve had this amazing camp stove for about 6 months now, and it lives up to the hype (which in this case is saying a lot). First off, it burns wood. No need to bring fuel of any kind, you can run the stove off twigs and leaves, or a stick or two, which can be collected off the ground almost anywhere. Burning wood is normally very inefficient and smokey, but the BioLite has a secret weapon. It uses a small thermoelectric generator to create a bit of electricity which is then used to power an internal fan. The fan blows air into the fire chamber creating perfect combustion from regular wood, or any dry or almost dry biomass. The resulting fire is hot, and clean. There is literally no smoke; it doesn’t even leave black soot on the bottom of your pans! Once the fire is started (which takes about 2 minutes) you can pack the combustion chamber with wood, and when that wood catches, a vortex of flame will leap 6 to 10 inches above the stove. Put a pot on it, and it will boil water faster then anything short of an industrial kitchen stove top.

As if that were not enough, the internal generator creates enough excess electricity to power a USB plug on the side of the stove. It’s strong enough to power an iPad or iPhone. Getting a complete charge takes some time (longer then cooking dinner) but the stove provides such a nice open flame that it’s like having a campfire, so I just keep feeding it and enjoy the flame until whatever I need charged is done.

The stove breaks down into two parts (power unit and combustion chamber) and once cool, the power unit fits inside the combustion chamber for compact storage. It is light and rugged. I use the stove on motorcycle trips and it’s perfect for overnight campsites, or heating a lunch on the side of the road.

Looking at reviews on the internet, I have seen some criticism of the stove for it’s weight. Fair enough, it’s not really a super light backpacking stove, but for me the benefits of not carrying fuel and the “greenness” of burning biomass make it preferable to a traditional camp stove. Add to that the ability to power USB, and this thing becomes truly over the top amazing.

My only issue with this stove is that it can be tricky to regulate the heat. The fan has two power settings (low/high) which helps but even on low the stove burns wood pretty hot, so it can be tricky if you just want to simmer.

I’ve noticed that they have started selling a grill top accessory which I don’t yet have, but is very high on my wishlist.

-- Mickey