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Go Outside: The Life-Changing Gear Edition
What is one piece of outdoor gear (big or small) that you love?
First things first, we’re not gear junkies. Going outside, for us, is about the experience, the fresh air, the company, the snacks — not who has the latest, greatest backpack, jacket or skis.
That being said, anyone who has spent time outside knows that gear can make a difference.
We have a friend who thought she hated hiking until she started hiking in appropriate footwear (turns out she loves hiking, she just hated having sore, blistered feet). As many have learned this winter, going outside in the cold is more enjoyable when you’re wearing layers that keep you warm. For years, Annalise tolerated a backpack that left her with bruises after multi-day trips. Getting a pack that didn’t leave bruises certainly made backcountry trips more enjoyable.
So, with the understanding that gear can make a big difference, we’ve been asking a range of people a very specific question about gear…
What is one piece of outdoor gear (big or small) you didn't think you needed but now you swear by and enthusiastically recommend to others?
Some of the people who answered this question have been going outside since before we were born. Others are relatively new to embracing (and enjoying) the great outdoors. We’ve been delighted by their answers, which we will detail below. Also, we’d love to hear from you! Let us know your answer by email or in the comments below.
“Honestly... I used to think hiking poles were a joke,” says a friend who is now a convert. In fact, he keeps two sets of poles in his car so he has a pair on hand to give to whomever he is hiking with.
A buff was the top pick for not one, but two people we talked to. “Boring choice but I didn’t have one until last year and now I don’t go anywhere without it,” said one of them. A buff is essentially a tube of elastic fabric that can be worn as many things including a neck warmer, a head band, a wristband, a hair tie and so on. We both carry a buff on trips year-round and agree they’re great.
Cailynn’s answer to this very important question is a $50 inflatable camping pillow. Cailynn used to think a 79g blow-up pillow was a waste of space and money when you could just lay your weary head on a puffy jacket or extra clothes packed in a stuff sack while camping and backpacking. As for the kinked neck from sleeping on those uneven clothes on the ground… that’s just part of the experience of camping, she told herself for more than a decade. But then, oh a whim, she bought this fancy camping pillow and her mind was forever changed. There is a better way.
This was another answer that was echoed by not one but two people we chatted with. Who doesn’t like having a dry spot to sit? With a foam pad, you always will. One friend said she was inspired to get a foam pad after a rainy backcountry trip, where every possible sitting spot was soaked. She now brings it on all snowshoe and hiking trips and pulls it out at breaks. While there’s many sitting pad options out there, do note that you don’t need to buy a pricey mat. Another friend said he uses a cut up old school sleeping foamy as a sitting pad, as do both of us. Annalise bought this $20 foam pad at MEC several years ago and cut it into several sitting pads, which she then gave to friends, who continue to bring them on hiking and skiing trips.
“Camping? Headlamp. Hiking? Headlamp. Lost something under your bed? Headlamp.” Enough said.
Annalise struggled to come up with one answer to this question but eventually settled on a $25 merino wool reversible beanie that she uses when skiing, running, biking, hiking and backpacking. Annalise is a big hat/ballcap/toque fan and didn’t think she’d use this beanie much when it was given to her as a Christmas gift by her kind and thoughtful sister Cailynn a few years back. However, she now uses it year round. It fits perfectly under a ski helmet, bike helmet or ball cap. And, it’s weight and size makes it easy to throw in a pocket and the perfect piece to quickly put on, on a windy summit, chilly run or cool night in a tent. The runner up? Her beloved backcountry hammock (which she will certainly rave about in a future edition.)
Having the right socks for the right activity makes a big difference, says a friend. Plus, good socks often go on sale making that $30 price tag easier to stomach.
We had never heard of this piece of gear, until we started asking the ‘what item do you rave about question?’ and a friend started raving about this. “It has changed my camping life,” she says, noting this mask and earplugs are the first item she packs when sleeping in a tent. Now Annalise knows what to get Cailynn for her birthday!
A friend swears by this jacket, so much so that he’s convinced at least four people to buy it, including Annalise. Now Annalise also uses it in every single season — it’s the perfect thin layer to protect your skin from sunburn in the summer, wind on runs, walks or bikes, and it’s great for sweaty cross-country skis. We are BIG fans of multipurpose outdoor items.
Our father loves to be prepared and packs literally everything in his backpack. The running joke when people on the trail see the size of his pack is that he has enough supplies to build a log cabin. Just last year, Cailynn was biking with him (for the day) on Highway 40 and strangers saw the size of his backpack and asked where he was spending the night! We were super curious to see what his answer to the important question of ‘what is one piece of gear you swear by’ would be, given this man loves to be prepared and pack for every possible scenario. While he admitted it was tough to pick just one item, he picked his off-the-back adjustable, free float suspension backpack, which makes carrying all that gear easier!
What is the one piece of outdoor gear (big or small) you didn’t think you needed but now you swear by and enthusiastically recommend to others? Let us know!
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