It took about six months for us to research and acquire all of the camping gear we have with us on this RTW trip. With space in our backpacks at a premium, and weight being critical, it was a task we didn’t want to rush. Fortunately for us, our research paid off. We made some great choices, and we benefit every day from advances that have been made in super-compactible and ultralight backpacking and camping gear.
Define Your Goals and Make Comparisons
OutdoorGearLab was our go-to website for camping gear comparisons. You can do a RTW trip without camping, of course. But our plan of attending various Burning Man regional events around the world meant it was a necessity for us, unless we wanted to spend a lot of money renting RV’s. Plus, we’ve been able to spend time in some really cool places that we would not have been able to enjoy without good camping gear. OutdoorGearLab helped us to clearly identify our needs and select the best camping gear for us.
Home Sweet Home: Your Tent
When it comes to camping gear, the first item most people will think of is a tent. Your tent, your home, is the primary piece of gear for camping. We spent months researching various two and three person tents. The people at REI probably got tired of us coming in and setting up some of the contenders. We considered going with a three person tent to allow extra space for keeping backpacks and clothes in the tent while sleeping. This makes those items more secure and more protected from the elements. But because of space and weight constraints we went with a two person tent.
We did have some must-have features. Our tent had to be freestanding, and it had to have plenty of vestibule space to offset the lower interior space a three-person tent would have had. It also had to have two doors, so we could enter and exit without disturbing each other.
There are many great choices out there, but in the end we went with the Nemo Dagger 2 Person Ultralight Backpacking Tent. It has a lot of great features including our must-haves. We also got the footprint to go with it to protect the ultralight floor, and the gear loft which provides some overhead storage. It’s very low-profile so it handles high wind very well. It’s got 31 square feet of floor area, and a large combined vestibule area of 23 square feet for keeping our backpacks and other supplies that won’t fit inside sheltered from the rain.
The Best Sleeping Bags We’ve Ever Owned
Sleeping bags can be really difficult to travel with because of their bulk. In the past, to have a bag that can handle cold temperatures and be ultra-packable was a difficult order to fill. Packable backpacking bags that were rated for very cold weather were still somewhat bulky and took a lot of backpack space. We read countless gear reviews and considered many options.
We finally took a chance and ordered some custom-made goose down bags from ZPacks. They have options on bags rated from 10 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. We went with 20 degree bags. ZPacks does not stock bags. They custom-make bags for each order based on your height and shoulder width. We never thought we’d spend that much money on a sleeping bag before, but it has been well worth it. By carrying the bags in compression sacks, they don’t take up nearly as much space as a “regular” packable backpacking bag. We also had them made so they can be zipped together as a double bag, but we don’t really utilize this feature. The bags are mummy-shaped bags and doing that just doesn’t work as well with them as it does with conventional sleeping bags.
They have also come in handy in a few places we’ve stayed where there was an extra charge for linens as well as when we’ve crashed on the floor in the homes of new friends we’ve made along the way.
Our Camping Gear Always Includes an Air Mattress
There really is no reason to ever camp without an air mattress if you want to be as comfortable as you can. Whether camping in the back of a truck, or on a long-distance backpacking trip. In the past, this meant extra bulk and weight though. Not any more. Ground pads are still the go-to for many people. However, new advances in materials and designs means there are now air mattresses available that are just as light and even less bulky than ground pads.
The choice that out-shined all others in various gear reviews we read was the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir series. We went with the XLite model and have been very happy with them. In a compression sack, two of these take up less space than one sleeping bag or the tent. They are very comfortable and durable. We did puncture one of them at The Borderland burn in Denmark when using it directly on the ground, but the supplied patch kit was easy to use and has held perfectly.
Pillows are an Optional Part of Camping Gear
Backpacking pillows are very lightweight, but they can still take up a considerable amount of space. There are some inflatable ones out there. We haven’t found those to be that comfortable. A lot of people just use a rolled up fleece jacket or other clothing item as a pillow. A small pillowcase full of clothes can be used as well.
We opted to go with Therm-A-Rest’s stuff sack pillow. It works like a normal stuff sack, but the interior is soft brushed polyester. Turn it inside-out and fill it with something soft. We usually stuff them with our fleece jackets, which makes for a reasonably comfortable pillow.
A Tent Without Stakes Can End Up Being a Tumbleweed
If you’ve camped enough you’ve probably seen someone’s unstaked tent rolling away in the wind. Stakes are typically metal or plastic and can be heavy and/or bulky. As much as we love our Nemo tent, the included stakes were not that great. As is the case with pretty much all tents. What we wanted were stakes that were lightweight, good for different ground types, yet strong. Aluminum or titanium stakes tend to be the best choice to fit that bill. There are quite a few options out there. After weighing them, we ended up with two different stakes.
Our main stakes we use are MSR Groundhog stakes. We like these for a few reasons. They are made out of very strong aluminum. They have a y-shaped design that makes them really strong. And they have reflective pull loops that make them more visible at night, so we reduce toe stubs and have an easier time removing them from the ground.
Our other stakes are Heckmann 9″ titanium stakes. They are very lightweight and longer than the 7.5″ Groundhogs. They bend easier than the Groundhogs, but are better in the sand because of their extra length.
Our tent uses a minimum of 4 stakes to secure it, and 6 more to fully stake out the rain fly. To fully utilize all of the guyline loops requires 4 more, for a total of 14. We have 8 of the Groundhogs and 6 of the Heckmanns. We’ve only used all 14 of them at once when we were at Fuego Austral in Argentina. It was extremely windy the whole time, and we were glad to have the full 14 stakes. Combined with our low-profile tent we had a very secure setup.
Mess Kit, Stove, Mugs and Utensils
We debated about bringing any kind of mess kit and stove, and weighed several options. These can be bulky and heavy, and we weren’t sure how much we’d use them. There are quite a few choices out there, and we looked at several of them. In the end, we’re glad we have these items.
We ended up with some Snow Peak items. A compact titanium cookware set, a couple of titanium mugs, two titanium sporks, and a titanium alcohol stove. We almost brought a gas backpacking stove but decided against it. The alcohol stove is basically just good for heating water. As we learned the hard way while camping at Fraser Island in Australia, cooking is difficult because you can’t regulate the flame and the thin titanium cookware heats up very fast.
Our stove will burn several types of alcohol; but it’s not always easy to find the best alcohol for it, which is denatured alcohol. (This is especially true in countries where English is not the first language.) The stove works well with grain alcohol, too. Rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol burns very dirty and will cover everything with soot.
The sizes of the items we purchased fit together very well, and they all embed into a compact package. We end up using these items quite often. Sometimes in hotel rooms as well.
Very Happy Overall
Even though it took us many months to research and compile our camping gear for this trip, we are very glad to have it. It gets used quite a bit and has opened up options to us that we would not have otherwise. There are so many choices for camping gear these days, and the gear keeps getting better all the time. What are some of your favorite pieces of ultralight backpacking gear?