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Camping gear roundup

Extreme gear: 12 high-tech must-haves for your outdoor adventure Add to ...

Spring is here, and that means vacation time is just around the corner. While a lot of people prefer to kick back someplace warm and sandy with a tall glass of something cool, some folks would rather hit the open road, waking up in a new place every morning with the promise of another day’s adventure before them.

I’m one of the latter.

This April, I’m walking the Camino de Santiago: a 780 kilometer backpacking trek which starts on the French side of the Pyrenees Mountains and ends in Santiago Compostela, Spain. It’s a long hike that, in order to complete it in the month’s time I’ve allotted for it, demands I pack light and travel far every day. Save a few toiletries, odds and ends and a change of clothes, this list of 12 hardware essentials is the sum of everything I’ll be schlepping along with me. No doubt, there’ll be a few things on my list that’ll serve you well on your own upcoming spring or summer adventures.

Everything collected here has worked great for me close to home, but how will it all hold up after a month of constant use on the road? I’ll let you know just as soon as I get back in the second part of this two-part review. (Part two is here, now.)

Powertraveller Power Monkey Extreme

Relying on access to an electrical outlet while travelling is for suckers, especially if you’re staying in hostels, where plugging your expensive smartphone or camera into a wall socket means exposing it to the wandering eyes of other travellers with potentially sticky fingers. The smart money’s on bringing a power source with you.

For this trip, I’ll be relying on Powertraveller’s Power Monkey Extreme 12v Rugged Solar Powered Charger. Waterproof, shock resistant and compact, the Power Monkey houses a 9,000 mAh battery that can be topped off by its included three watt solar panel or via a wall socket (but I’ll be leaving the charge cords and adapters needed for the latter at home). Using its 12V DC socket or 5V USB port, the Power Monkey can be used to charge a wide variety of hardware including tablets, smartphones, e-readers, GPS devices and cameras. So, basically everything I’ll be bringing along with me.

Garmin Tactix

The path I’ll be following from France through Spain has been safely travelled by pilgrims, traders and tourists for thousands of years. But that doesn’t mean I won’t get lost. To keep me pointed in the right direction, I’ll be relying on the Garmin Tactix: a GPS-enabled wristwatch designed for use by military and law enforcement personnel as well as anyone who’s life includes a bit of rough-and-tumble time in the great outdoors. Featuring high sensitivity GPS, a three-axis compass, digital thermometer and a self-calibrating barometer and altimeter, the Tactix is waterproof up to 50 metres, can store up to 1,000 waypoints and has the technology to guide me back to a pre-determined starting point, indicate where my next destination is or track my progress as I make my way through Spain. At the end of the day, all of the location data collected by my Tactix can be transferred to Garmin’s BaseCamp iPhone app or to a desktop computer.

Iridium Extreme Satellite Phone

The route I’ll be taking across Spain is safe and well travelled. But as I’ll be contending with mountains, rocky footpaths through Basque country, the occasional wild animal and my own clumsiness, having the means to communicate in an emergency is still a good idea. I could rely on a cellphone for this, but as I’ve experienced dropped calls in the comfort of my own home, relying on a mobile phone to call for help in the middle of nowhere just doesn’t feel safe. That’s where the Iridium Extreme comes in. It’s a ruggedized satellite phone handset that’s capable of making and receiving calls from anywhere in the world, be it the from top of a mountain, sitting on an airplane or at a cafe patio in Pamplona.

The Extreme weighs 247grams, is USB rechargeable, water, shock and dust resistant and boasts up to 30 hours of standby time and four hours of talk time. That’s more than enough battery power to allow for safety check-in calls for the duration of my adventure. What’s more, with a single push of the handset’s emergency button, the Extreme will broadcast my exact GPS co-ordinates and put me in touch with the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Centre, allowing me to ask for emergency assistance in English that’ll result in a local response from medical, fire or law enforcement personnel no matter where in the world I might be. That the Iridium Extreme is also capable of sending and receiving SMS messages, data tethering and receiving voicemail messages is icing on the cake.

LuxuryLite BigStik

Carry a 57 kilogram pack on my back up to 30 kilometres in a single day? Daunting. Doing it over sometimes slippery, broken or steep terrain? Dangerous. In order to stabilize myself and the load I’ll be carrying, I’ve chosen to rely on the LuxuryLite BigStik: it’s a lightweight, carbon fibre and aluminum walking stick that’s garnered a much-deserved cult following in the hardcore hiking community.

The BigStik weighs a fraction of the weight of a wooden walking stick of the same size, but is as strong as oak. Available in a number of different sizes and with a variety of different attachments including a smartphone bracket mount, cane top, rifle rest, prusik slide/lock hand strap, reinforced aluminum and resin tip and ‘Texas Toothpick’ self defence tip. Each BigStik is made-to-order, in my case, I opted for a 55” version, with a reinforced aluminum and resin tip, a prusik Slide/Lock hand strap that can be adjusted to various heights depending on my needs and a camera mount built into the top of the walking stick so that it can act as a monopod. Best of all, unlike other walking sticks and many trekking poles, the BigStik can be dissembling into a number of compact sections, making it a cinch to stow it in my backpack while I’m taking a train, going to the airport or settling in for the night.

Arc'teryx Altra 65 Backpack

Having a well-designed backpack to haul your life around in can mean the difference between experiencing an exhilarating adventure or enduring a painful death march. Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to have discovered the Arc’teryx Altra 65. Available in men’s and women’s configurations, the Altra 65 features a weight-bearing waist belt designed to move with the wearer’s hips even over the toughest of terrain, making for more stable load bearing and, when combined with the pack’s GridLock system adjustable shoulder straps, greater comfort. 

Having trained daily with the pack for the past few months, I can tell you this isn’t just hype: The Altra 65 is the most comfortable large-capacity backpack I’ve ever worn. The pack is constructed of lightweight 210D ripstop nylon and features a hydration bladder pocket, external kangaroo pocket for storing wet items or a jacket, two wing pockets and a pair of stretch mesh pockets on its waist belt, dual zippered pockets in the lid of the pack and a massive main compartment that can be accessed via an expandable drawstring collar or by unzipping the pack and opening it up like a suitcase. The latter makes it dead easy to pack or unpack large essentials like a sleeping bag or shelter without having to pull the rest of your belongings out first.

Sony Cybershot TX30 Digital Camera

As much as I’d love to be able to bring along my trusty NEX F3 mirrorless camera and collection of lenses along with me, their weight and the amount of space they’d take up in my pack make them a no-go. Instead, I’ll be relying on Sony’s point-and-shoot Cybershot TX30 Digital Camera to capture pictures and video while I wander the Spanish countryside. Compact and light as a feather, the TX30 is waterproof, dustproof and shock-resistant, so I’ll be able to pull it out of my pack and snap a picture no matter what the weather conditions might be.

With an 18.2 megapixel sensor, five times optical zoom and 10 times digital zoom, Magnifying Glass Plus macro photography, the ability to capture AVCHD 1080/60i video and even take stills and shoot video simultaneously, the TX30 provides imaging quality that most smartphone camera users can only dream of. Like all of the electronics I’m taking with me on this trip, the TX30 is USB chargeable, so there’s no need to carry a spare battery. And with a 32 GB MicroSD memory card jammed into it, I’ll be able to take photos for weeks on end without having to worry about running out of storage space.

Petzl Tikka R+ Headlamp

With days that’ll start before sunrise and sometimes finish after sunset, I’ll need a reliable source of illumination. For this trip, I’m hoping that the Petzl Tikka R+ fits the bill. A USB rechargeable headlamp, the Tikka R+ features an adaptive lighting system which adjusts the level of illumination being casts to change depending on how dark it is outside. With a lamp that can provide between seven and 170 lumens of light, the Tikka R+ can cast a beam of light up to 65 meters in front of its user, making setting up camp in the dark – or seeing your way down a wooded path in the early morning – a safe and well-lit affair. Aside from its reactive lighting mode, the Tikka R+ can also be set to emit three different levels of constant lighting as well as a red light, which can be used for map reading or in any other scenario where maintaining your night vision is important.

Arc’teryx Beta LT Jacket and Beta AR Pants

 According to a number of the guidebooks that I’ve read, the weather in Spain during April can vary wildly from region to region, but is invariably moist. It rains often in the spring and, as I’ll be outside most of the time, I’m bound to get wet. Fortunately, Arc’teryx has my back once again with their waterproof breathable Beta LT jacket and Beta AR Pants.

Available in men’s and women’s cuts and a variety of sizes and colours, the Beta LT Jacket is constructed from GORE-TEX Pro: a tough, lightweight variant of the well known waterproof-but-breathable fabric. Add to this the Beta LT’s taped micro seams, an adjustable, helmet-compatible hood, waterproof zippers and zipper garages designed to keep out rain and snow, and you’ve got the makings of a garment that’ll keep the wet off of me in a downpour but won’t weigh me down once I stuff it back in my pack. Despite its light weight and clean lines, the Beta LT still manages to incorporate a number of features that you’d typically expect in more robust coats: a laminated hood brim, brushed micro fibre chin guard, deep cut hand pockets with waterproof zippers, an internal chest pocket, die-cut velcro cuff adjusters, gusseted underarms, and a draw string bottom hem are all standard.

The Beta AR Pants are made from the same GORE-TEX Pro fabric as the Beta LT jacket, but the seat, knees and lower legs are reinforced with Keprotec – a protective, high tensile strength material often used in motorcycling clothing and workwear. In order to make them a good fit for hikers, mountaineers and other active sorts, the pants feature a built-in belt, gusseted crotch, articulated knees and zippers that run the length of the thigh to provide easy access to the pockets of the pants you’ll no doubt be wearing underneath your waterproof breathable layer.

Apple iPhone 5s

While I don’t plan on connecting to the outside world through e-mail, social media, texting or any of the other communications services baked into our daily lives, I’ll still be taking an Apple iPhone 5s with me on the road. Except for when I need to check in for a flight or book a train ticket, I’ll be leaving the handset in Airplane mode in order to avoid roaming fees, conserve battery power and dodge the scads of e-mail my job typically visits on me during the course of a day. But even with no Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity, the iPhone 5s is still a compact, lightweight powerhouse that’ll let me read a book, listen to some tunes on the trail, watch a movie on my flight home, keep track of my hostel reservations, translate the Spanish, French and Portuguese language signs I’ll encounter and keep a journal of my travels.

Outdoor Research Helium Bivy

 Outdoor Research Helium Bivy While I plan on spending most of my nights on the road in hostels or albergues, there’s always a chance that I might have no choice but to sleep outside. Heck, if the weather’s decent I may want to sleep outside. The Outdoor Research Helium Bivy is a 510 gram ultralight waterproof shelter that’ll provide me with the protection I need from the rain, wind and insects I might to encounter during a night under the stars. 

Just unroll it, slide a single flexible pole into place, set up a sleeping mat and sleeping bag inside and you’re in business, no groundsheet or pegs required. The Helium’s single pole holds up the roof of the bivy high enough to make sliding in and out of the shelter easy and prevents you from feeling claustrophobic once inside. On clear nights, campers can enjoy the night air while avoiding being eaten by mosquitos, ticks and other bugs, thanks to the Helium’s zippered no-see-um net closure. If you’re caught in a downpour, you’re still in good shape, as the Helium can be shuttered tight with a zippered door made of the same waterproof breathable Pertex material as the rest of the bag.

Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed

I tested five different traditional sleeping bags, ultralight mummy bags and camping quilts before settling on the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed as my go-to sleeping solution for this trip. Instead of zipping up around you like a traditional sleeping bag, the Backcountry bed comes with an integrated comforter that can be pulled up loose around you, tucked in for extra warmth on cold nights, or pushed off entirely when the night proves too hot to sleep covered up. Further ventilation is provided by a hassle-free baffle at the bottom of the bag, which allows you to stick your feet out when you’re feeling overheated, but stays sealed when you want to keep warm. And if you’re a side sleeper or prefer to snooze on your stomach, you’ll be happy to know that the Backcountry bed is designed to provide you with plenty of room for comfort. No more waking up in a tangled mess! 

No matter how comfortable a sleeping bag might be, it’d be useless to me if it’s too heavy to haul around along with the rest of my kit. Luckily, the Backcountry Bed only weighs 0.91 kilograms and can be compressed down to be just a little bit larger than a football, making it a welcome commodity in any backpack.
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