What clothes, boots, knives and backpacks does the editor of an adventure travel site fall back on when he's feeling intimidated? This is the best of the best, the stuff I took with me to go camping with Bear Grylls, and how it performed. Not all of it survived.
Bear's dressed like a cartoon action hero, but which of us do you think has on the better equipment? Hint: it's me.
I mentioned in the first article about camping with Bear that I was told literally nothing about where we were going or what we might be doing. I had little idea what weather we might face or what challenges might be thrown at us. I did know I wanted to travel light — one outfit — and that I'd both be in front of a camera and doing the normal travel stuff with airports and whatnot. So, I thought long and hard about what gear I should wear and take with me and arrived at the stuff you see here.
Pants: Makers And Riders 3 Season Weatherproof Commuter Jean ($US209)
I'm putting these first for the simple reason that they're a holy grail item. A waterproof, breathable, stretchy, rugged activewear pant that's cut like my favourite pair of jeans.
What makes 'em so good? Well, they're made from Polartec Neoshell, a new fabric that lends the pants most of those attributes. They're far from the first pair made from it, but are the first I'm aware of that are cut for solid, casual, street looks rather than snowboard bibs or mountaineering overpants.
What's Polartec Neoshell? It's simply the most breathable totally waterproof fabric on the market, totally stopping wind and rain at its surface, while allowing an exceptional amount of outwards ventilation and heat/sweat shedding. On top of that, it's extremely durable, pretty abrasion resistant and if you ever do manage to get it dirty (you won't), you can just throw it in the washing machine, then the dryer.
It didn't rain heavily during this trip, but I did submerse myself above the waist in a cold river multiple times. Even after being submerged, the pants showed no signs of soaking through (they were wet, but didn't retain any water) and dried almost immediately. Seriously, even after that top shot, they were bone dry within 10 minutes.
They also survived abrasion from rocks and ropes without a single sign of wear.
Makers and Riders has managed to assemble that material into a pair of "jeans" that looks good enough to wear day-to-day in the city, but performs as well as anything outdoors. Win.
Jacket: Westcomb Apoc ($US500)
Made from the same material as those pants — Polartec NeoShell — the Apoc is an "all mountain" jacket designed to work equally well whether you're climbing, skiing, hiking or doing anything else. Unlined, the jacket is extremely light — just 482 grams — and packs down to around the size of a grapefruit. NeoShell is four-way stretch to facilitate freedom of movement and the Apoc accentuates that with a generous cut through the sleeves and shoulders, enabling you to reach overhead without restriction and without dragging the jacket's bottom above your waist. The inherent breathability of NeoShell is also maximized here with full pit-zips, designed to facilitate vigorous, sweaty activity while keeping you dry, even in driving rain.
Down Jacket: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer ($US320)
I've seen others describe this jacket as "like wearing warm air." I can't do any better. It weighs under 200 grams and can be compressed down to the size of an orange, but is filled with 800-fill goose down, so is incredibly warm. MHW stuff is, inexplicably, cut for Santa Clause-like body shapes, so I also had this tailored to fit me properly through the torso. Being able to carry so much warmth, so easily, is a huge advantage to any outdoorsman, making it a no-sacrifices decision to clip this to your belt or throw it in your pack on even the off chance that you might need it. I did, temperatures plummeted unexpectedly at night and the BG sleeping bag I was issued was unable to cope, so this is what kept me warm and enabled a couple hours' sleep.
Shirt: Mountain Hardwear Frequenter Flannel ($US70)
Warm and rugged like a cotton-based flannel, but made from a synthetic material so it breathes better and doesn't soak up water or sweat. This is again an item that stood up to some of the worst abuse, yet showed no signs of wear and attracted no dirt; I wore it home on the plane. It also dried out quickly after being soaked in the river and even though it fits correctly in the shoulders and chest (I had the torso tailored for a slimmer fit), it allowed enough freedom of movement for climbing.
Sweater: Patagonia Merino (N/A)
My general gear philosophy is to save up and buy a quality item once, rather than waste money on cheap stuff multiple times. I bought this sweater 10 or 12 years ago and have worn it on virtually every cold trip I've taken since. It's been above the arctic circle, across Siberia and helped keep me warm on countless motorcycle and backpacking trips. I've never washed it or cared for it in any way and it remains my first go-to mid-layer for initial insulation. It now has a nice scent of campfires, but doesn't smell of man stink at all.
Gloves: Mechanix Original Glove ($US21)
Your hands are an awesome combination of extreme fragility and utter necessity. These gloves are designed to protect them from cuts and abrasion while retaining good tactility and augmenting grip. An easy, light addition to any outdoor gear setup that can save you a lot of bloodshed and swearing. I also wear these while working on bikes and cars, for the same reasons.
Base Layers: Icebreaker Everyday Long Sleeve Crew ($US60) and Oasis Leggings ($US90)
Made from Icebreaker's 200-weight merino, I was able to wear these bases throughout the trip. They were able to regulate my body temperature throughout physical training in 15C temps and helped keep me warm on a night reaching the low teens. Throughout, they remained odour-free, held their shape (providing some compression to ease muscle soreness) and dried quickly after being soaked. That is to say they worked flawlessly.
Undies: Icebreaker Anotomica Boxers ($US35)
I was unimpressed with these. Sure, they wicked some sweat and dried quickly after being soaked, but they didn't hold their shape and provided virtually no support; crucial when wearing a harness and doing things that might cause your dangly bits to be twisted or caught. Laugh all you want, but I'll be going back to my proven solution for long-term, one-item underwear comfort: a Speedo.
Socks: Icebreaker Mountaineer Expedition ($US23)
Warm when it's cold, breathable when it's not and featuring a lot of cushioning, these kept my feet comfortable even underwater.
Sock Liners: Generic Silk (N/A)
I've had these for years and they're finally worn out, following a little unexpected melting while drying around the campfire. Silk sock liners stay tight to your foot and are very thin, allowing your main sock to slide over them, which prevents blisters. They also provide an additional layer of warmth and wicking, accentuating those two qualities in your main socks. These have a little silver thread in them, said to help cancel odour. I've had these for five years or more.
Boots: Merrell Wilderness ($US300)
Well, these are toast. Walking through water for two days, then getting a little too close to a hot fire while trying to dry them out has caused the leather to swell and set in an odd shape and delaminated the outer soles from the midsoles. Their shape changed enough that they wore into my ankles enough on the second day to draw blood and leave wounds that are still healing a week later.
That's a shame, because I love their classic looks (Merrell's made these in Italy since the early '80s) and the very stiff Vibram soles provide incredible traction on loose surfaces. I think this trip was the last time I'll try and wear classic-style leather boots somewhere challenging, athletic shoe-style boots for me from now on. Running, jumping and climbing in these was unnecessarily difficult.
Insoles: Superfeet Grey ($US40)
I'll give you some advice: ditch the stock insoles in any of your boots immediately and replace them with these Superfeet items. A high volume, supportive insole, they cushion shocks and provide more support for your arches, heel and even lower back. You will feel the difference.
These are topped with merino wool, meaning they help regulate temperatures inside your boot (in both cold and hot weather) and paired with merino socks, will keep your boots odor-free. Promise.
Hat: Filson Wool Skull Cap ($US36)
Softer than most other skull caps, I've had this thing for years and it still holds its shape and insulates like new.bh
Pack: Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 South West ($US310)
Chris left all his stuff in my attic while he's travelling around the world and I stole this pack from his stash. Don't tell him. Made from Cuben Fibre — stronger than Kevlar and totally waterproof — the 55-litre pack weighs just under a kilo. That meant total weight on my back never exceeded about 5kg at any point through the trip, and most of that was water.
Being waterproof and incredibly strong/abrasion proof meant that the clothing I wasn't wearing was totally protected throughout even submergence and gave me one less thing to worry about. I could pinch the pack on ropes, rub it on rocks and catch it on tree branches without a care.
Because the South West is also incredibly comfortable, it's our opinion that it and its HMG peers are simply the absolute best packs money can buy.
Knife: Vulture Equipment Works Cholera ($US190)
Excuse the old picture, I just sent this thing off to Rush Customs to have a new carry mechanism made for it. Nothing wrong with the OEM one, I just wanted something that carries a bit lower.
We didn't have any major cutting or chopping needs this trip, but it was nice knowing I had such a solid, versatile knife on my hip regardless. And it worked great trimming melted rubber from melted insoles and digging a splinter out of a knee.
Everyone that borrowed the Cholera throughout the trip remarked on how nice it felt in their hand and how much control they had over it considering its size and heft.
First Aid Kit: Adventure Medical Kits Sportsman ($US45)
I've had this thing forever and have since mostly replaced its stock equipment with stuff tailored to my own needs, including a snake bike kit, SAM splints, Quick Clot and other trauma gear. Still, it's a nice, compact, rugged kit as stock and as good a basis for your own build as any. Half the stuff in here is now dedicated to Wiley repair (Benadryl and shears) and it still holds it all comfortably. The only thing I used during the trip was the Crazy Glue, not to seal a wound, but to re-attach my boots' soles. I never go anywhere without it.