Outdoor magazines landing in my mailbox recently have been laden with product reviews, buyer's guides and seasonal gift lists to appeal to even the most hardcore gear-heads - and that focus on stuff got me to musing on some of my favorite outdoor gear.
Some is on the high-tech end; most is not. But each of these items plays an important role in outdoor safety and/or comfort, and they all have a way of enhancing an outdoor adventure.
Such compilations tend to be personal, and it's unlikely one person's favorites would be exactly the same as those of someone else. See if any of the items below are on your list of preferred gear.
This is a sampling, and by no means comprehensive.
-- Wool socks. Nothing beats a warm, dry pair of feet on a long hike. I find wool does a fine job in all seasons. Pack an extra pair in your pack to change into at your turn-around point on a day hike and you'll be amazed at how energizingly fresh feet can feel. (Synthetic socks are available for those who may not be fond of wool.).
-- Compass. It's nothing fancy, but it's an indispensable piece of navigational gear (used in conjunction with a map), and you don't have to worry about battery life.
-- Maps and hike-planning programs and apps. I still favor paper maps on the trail. But hike-planning programs and mobile apps can be useful in getting information on trail locations, distances, as well as terrain before setting out.
-- Candle. I'm no Luddite. I carry a headlamp and extra batteries when I hit the trail. But, years ago, a reader suggested a candle as an essential piece of outdoor gear, and I've added it to my essential items kit. It provides light; it can be used to warm liquids in a metal container; its flame can be used to keep rope or cord ends from fraying; it doesn't have bulbs that break or batteries that wear out, and it's more efficient to use a candle to start a campfire or survival fire than several matches.
-- Bug net. A nylon head net that covers the head, face and neck is likely the lightest item in my pack - and I'd still carry one if it weighed much more. It's a backpacker's BFF (best friend forever) when the mosquitoes and blackflies come calling.
--Rain pants. These are just as essential as a rain jacket when you're heading into the backcountry. Wearing waterproof tops and bottoms will enhance your comfort and safety when hiking.
-- Sleeping pad. The cushioning and insulating properties of a sleeping pad make it a key item for overnight trips. An insulating pad is useful for day hikes, too, especially in winter. It can provide protection from the cold if you stop to sit for a rest or a snack in snow country.
-- Insulated water bottle carrier. A warm jacket for my water bottle, this useful item helps to keep my drinking water in a liquid state during frigid outings.
-- Swiss Army knife. There's nothing like having a tool kit in the palm of your hand when something needs to be cut or fastened or opened.
-- Bandanna. How many uses can you find for a colorful square of fabric? Here's a start: kerchief; handkerchief; neckerchief; headband; potholder; napkin; coffee strainer; signal flag; sling. I usually bring more than one. Obviously, you wouldn't use the same bandanna for all of these purposes simultaneously.
These are just a few of my favorite things. If you're heading out for a hike, be sure to bring such essential items as a map and/or guidebook, compass, flashlight or headlamp, jackknife, whistle, first-aid kit, plenty of water (at least two quarts per person per day), high-energy snacks, matches or lighter, and a first aid kit and repair kit.
Also, wear clothing that will keep you warm, dry, and sheltered from the wind. Clothing should be worn in layers and should be made of wool or synthetics that can transport moisture away from the body. Gloves or mittens and an insulating hat are must-haves for mountain travel in any season. Cotton holds moisture and doesn't insulate when wet, so it is not recommended.
Travel in winter months, above treeline, and/or in avalanche terrain requires additional preparation and gear. Lists of essential items for backcountry travel can be found online at hikesafe.com.
Rob Burbank is the director of media and public affairs for the Appalachian Mountain Club in Pinkham Notch. His column, "Outdoors with the AMC," appears monthly in the New Hampshire Sunday News.