Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Bushcraft and Camping-Part 6

Overnight Camping


Overnight camping requires a lot more gear than a day hike. The items I mention here should be considered additional to the ones mentioned earlier for the day hike. If any of you have good gear ideas, please share them with us here. The ones I mention are just those that have come across my path.

Backpack-Our growing amount of gear will require a more significant backpack. Unfortunately, most backpacks cost quite a bit of money. I would hold off on buying one until you have finalized your other gear. What you carry will significantly effect what type of pack you want to get. However, we do need something in which to carry our gear on these first few trips. Many people resort to the military surplus ALICE packs. While they do the job, there is a better pack you can find in many stores, including most military surplus stores or simply by doing an online search. It is the Rio Grande 45L Backpack.


It is being currently produced, so it’s not surplus and costs about $30-$40. It can be purchased just about anywhere online. It is made from thick nylon, and has a rubberized coating on the inside. It has straps in the front which can hold your sleeping pad.


This is the pack I have been using for the past five years for my three season camping, and it has served me very well. It tends to ride a bit high on your back. To fix that, relax the shoulder straps so that the pack rests low on your back, and then bring the pack close to your back by tightening up the support straps at the top of the pack.


The pack has two side pockets and one on the top cover. It should be able to hold all of your gear for a three season overnight trip. It does not have a frame, but the back is stiff and well padded, with a comfortable hip belt.


It is one of the most comfortable packs I have ever used, and it has lasted me for years.

Item Weight Cost
Rio Grande 25L Pack 2lb 6oz (38oz) $30.00



Tarp-If you want to save money, I am afraid that a tent is out of the picture. A decent backpackable tent is already in the $100 range. There are some cheaper ones, but they are too heavy for backpacking. The solution is a reasonably priced tarp. I say reasonably priced because there are some you can find in hardware stored for $10. I would stay away from them. While you can do just fine with such a tarp, they are heavy and loud once put up. By the second trip you would have already bought a new tarp, making that $10 a waste. By buying a reasonably priced one of good quality, you can use it for a long time. The lowest cost one I have been able to find is the Equinox (Campmor) 8x10 Nylon Tarp. It will cost you about $40. It is by no means a top of the line tarp, but it will do the job admirably. In the picture above, it is being held together by two rubber bands. You should also bring a regular plastic bag in which to wrap it when it gets wet.

There are also several ways to pitch a tarp that will create a tent-like feeling. If however you insist on a tent, there are decent options in the $100 range. Of course as with most other backpacking gear, you will pay for the low cost with higher weight and bulk. The Kelty Salida 2 is a good choice, which will cost you $160.00 and weigh about 4lb 8oz. Many manufacturers have tent option in that price range with similar weights.

Sleeping Bag-The sleeping bag is one of the most important pieces of equipment that you will carry, as it is your primary shelter. It is the sleeping bag that will keep you warm without the need for a fire, and keep out the wind. All the other shelter components are just there to supplement the sleeping bag. You may have seen people recommend wool blankets as a low cost alternative for a sleeping bag, but that is not a viable option unless the weather is very warm. For the weight, wool blankets provide low amount of insulation. To match the insulation you can achieve with a 3lb synthetic sleeping bag, you will need over 10lb of wool blankets. You will also note that once you get that many wool blankets, they turn out to not be a cheaper option.

Unfortunately, there is no extremely low cost way to get around a sleeping bag if you plan on backpacking with it. There are however lower cost options. To begin with, avoid rectangular sleeping bags. While they are comfortable and often cheap, they do not provide the best insulation. You should look for what is called a mummy style bag, which will fit close to your body and preserve the most heat.


The shape aside, when looking at sleeping bags, you will notice two main types. One type uses synthetic insulation, while the other uses down insulation. Each type has benefits and problems, but the largest benefit we are concerned with here is the cost. Synthetic bags typically have an advantage in this category, especially when looking at top of the line products, but tend to weigh more.  Keep in mind however, that not all down bags are made equal. Down bags are rated by “fill”. A 900 fill down bag is top of the line and will cost accordingly, while a 500 fill down one, while providing the same insulation,  is not nearly as good in terms of weight and compressibility, and as a result can cost quite a bit less. In the end, we can find bags of both designs in the $100 price range, but they will have similar weight and compressibility. Which one will suit you best is up to you and is beyond the scope of this post. I think you will do fine with either one.  

For three season backpacking, I would aim for a 20 degree synthetic or low fill down mummy sleeping bag. That should cover about all of your needs. Keep in mind that some people get colder more easily than others, so if you know you get cold easily, take that into consideration. Some good lower cost designs include the North Face Cat’s Meow, which costs about $150.00 and weight 2lb 10oz, and the Kelty Cosmic Down, which costs $110.00 and weights 2lb 8oz (regular size). If you search a bit online, you can find both in the $100-$120 range. I am no expert on sleeping bag models, so speak to someone at the store for more details.

I know that with many of these items there is a temptation to want to move “up” to the next level in quality. My opinion is that the only place where you will see a significant increase in performance by doing that is with the sleeping bag. So, instead of buying that $30 knife, or the $15 water bottle, or the $65 tarp, take all that money and put it towards a better sleeping bag. It is well worth the investment.  

Sleeping Pad-You may have heard that a sleeping bag does not provide any insulation under your body because the fibers get compressed by the weight of your body. That is only partially true. A sleeping bag provides a good amount of insulation under your body. Even so, you will want some sort of a sleeping pad. This will make the ground more comfortable, and will provide additional insulation from the ground and moisture. There are a number of inflatable pads out there, but if you want the best performance for the money, go with a simple closed cell foam pad. The Thermarest Ridge Rest SOLite is a good example, that will cost you under $20. If you want to look online at Army surplus equipment, the surplus sleeping pads are very good value at about $5. There is a commercially available equivalent-the Blue Foam Pad, which will cost you just under $20.

Rope-In order to set up your tarp, and performs some general tasks around camp, you will need some rope. A good option is paracord. It is very strong, while being fairly thin. You can buy 100ft for about $4 at any outdoor supply store. Keep one long length (at least 50ft) to use as a ridge line for your tarp, and then about six fifteen foot lengths for the sides of the tarp. You should have a few extra lengths as well.

Item Weight Cost
Tarp 1lb 9oz (25oz) $40.00
Sleeping Bag 3lb (48oz) approximation $120.00
Sleeping Pad (Blue Foam Pad) 14oz $20.00
Rope (150ft) 12oz $8.00
Total 6lb 3oz (99oz) $188.00

Cooking Equipment


Pot-When you start staying out overnight, you will want to start cooking some of your food. Here I am talking about things like Ramen noodles and rice. For that you will need a pot. I believe that the best balance between cost, low weight, and performance is achieved by aluminum pots. My favorite one in this category is the  Open Country 2 Qt. Aluminum Pot. It cost $10.

If you need an extra container, a plastic Ziploc container works very well, and will let you store any left over food.

Stove-After you have been out in the woods for some time, assuming you practice, you will become accustomed to cooing your food on an open fire. Until then though, and even after that as a back up, it is good to have a small stove. There are many options and designs out there, but for three season backpacking, if interested in keeping the cost down, I would go with the Super Cat Alcohol Stove. You can make it out of a cat food can using just a hole punch. The can will cost you $1, and the hole punch $1.50 as Staples. It is a lightweight and easy to use option. Don’t forget to bring a simple windscreen made out of aluminum foil. It will significantly increase the efficiency of your stove.

You will need to carry some denatured alcohol as a fuel. I like the S-L-X Denatured Alcohol, which you can find at any hardware store. You can get a quart of the fuel for $5. To carry it, get a bottle that is around 10oz. I use a small Pepsi bottle which is 10oz (smaller than the regular bottle). The bottle of Pepsi will cost you an extra $1.

Don’t forget to bring a spoon. The is the one object for which I will not give you a price, because I know all of you have a spoon somewhere in the house.

Item Weight Cost
Pot 7.7oz $10.00
Stove (Super Cat) 0.2oz $3.00
Windscreen (aluminum foil) 0.5oz $0
Spoon (regular table spoon) 1.4oz $0
Fuel Bottle 0.7oz $1.00
Bandana 1oz $1.00
Total 11.5oz $15.00 ($17.00 with cost of fuel)

Water Purification-If you are going to stay out for an extended period of time you will have to purify water somehow. It is just impossible to carry sufficient amount to get you through the whole weekend. One way to do it, which is recommended very often by the “complete bushcraft kit for under $100" crowd is to boil your water. While it works, it is simply not a viable option. You can not be expected to stop by the trail and make a fire every time you have to refill your water bottles. I am also not a big fan of drinking hot water in the middle of the summer. If however your style of camping allows for this boiling method, it is a sure way to purify the water.

Another option that is sometimes recommended is small filters like the Aquamira Frontier Pro. The problem with those filters is that they do not filter all that much. In order to remove all parasites and bacteria, you need a filter that filters down to 0.02 microns. The above filter filters down only to 0.2 microns. It will remove some of the larger parasites, but most bacteria like Ecoli will get through. One way to compensate for that is to then use a chemical treatment like the tablets mentioned earlier. This will work well, but consider the cost of your total system. You will need two water bladders, one for dirty water and one for clean ($20 each), the filter itself ($20), and the tablets ($10). You have now spent $70 on the filter system.

There is an option that I prefer, and requires a lot less assembly and general playing around. For that money you can get yourself an actual pump filter like the MSR Miniworks EX ($80), or the Katadyn Hiker Pro ($75). They are both robust, well tested filters that will filter down to 0.02 microns and do it for a long time.


It is money well spent in my opinion, and I would not recommend that anyone go into the woods for an extended period of time without one, especially when just starting out. It is a heavy and expensive option, but it is the one I always go back to. Here is some info on a DIY Prefilter for the MSR Miniworks EX.

There are people who successfully use only water purification tablets for water treatment. However, if you are just starting out, I would recommend that you go with a filter. Using only tablets requires a lot of planning and knowhow, as well as precise timing.

Item Weight Cost
MSR Miniworks EX 17oz (with bag, sponge, and prefilter); 14.6 as advertised $80.00

Toiletries-You should also bring some other miscellaneous items like toilet paper and soap. Do not bring a whole roll of toilet paper and a bar of soap. Smaller amounts in a ziplock bag will do just fine. None of this should cost you more than $2.

Item Weight Cost
Soap 1oz $1.00
Toilet Paper 0.1oz $1.00
Travel Tooth Brush 1oz $2.00
Total 2.1oz $4.00

Tools-When it comes to tools, there is a bit of controversy. Many people insist that they are essential for anyone going into the woods. I personally do not believe that to be the case. Many people spend months in the woods with nothing more than a knife as a tool. With the above equipment, you should have no problems camping without any additional tools. That being said however, they can certainly make the stay more enjoyable, and allow you to take on projects which would otherwise be out of reach. I carry an axe and a saw because I like using them. If I am honest however, I can easily get by without them. Before you start spending any money on axes, saws and more sophisticated knives, make sure you have all the above basics well covered.  

Saw-Here you have to decide what size saw you want. A larger saw will generally cut faster, but will weigh more. A good small option is the Kershaw 2550X, which will cost you about $20. It is a very good folding saw. A good larger saw is the Trail Blazer 24 inch Take Down Buck Saw. You should be able to find it for about $25. If someone is charging you more than that, keep looking. Here is some info on Modifying a Trail Blazer.


Axe-If you plan on carrying an axe, I would strongly recommend that you learn how to work on one first. You should have no problem taking a completely dull and damaged axe and bringing it back to working condition with minimal tools. If you can not do that, I say you can do just fine with a saw and a knife. If however you want an affordable axe, there are two that I would recommend. The first is the Husqvarna Hatchet. It will cost you $40. You will most likely have to sharpen it, but it is a great value for the money. For a larger axe, I would recommend the Council Tool Boy’s axe, which will also cost you $40. You will again have to do some work on the edge, but it is one of my favorite axes currently on the market. Fiskars also offers a good selection of axes which are affordable and ready for work out of the box.   


Sharpening Stone-If you are going to be in the woods for any extended period of time, especially if you have an axe with you, you will need a sharpening stone. I like stones that do not require water or oil to operate. I use the Fallkniven DC4 stone, which is not cheap at about $27. If you look around you can find better values, although I do not know enough about them to say more than that. Make sure your stone has a course and fine side. The fine side should be very fine, as that is how you get that razor edge.

Item Weight Cost
Bahco Laplander 6.2oz $20.00
Trailblazer Saw 1lb 5oz (21oz) modified $25.00
Husqvarna Hatchet 2lb 3oz (35oz) $40.00
Council Tool Boy’s Axe 3lb (48oz) $40.00
DC4 Sharpening Stone 2.7oz $25.00

The weight of your tools will depend on your choices. The lowest weight option with the Husqvarna Hatchet and the Bahco Laplander saw weighs 2lb 11.9oz (43.9oz). The heaviest option with the Trailblazer Take Down Buck Saw and the Council Tool Boy’s Axe will weigh 4lb 5oz (69oz). I have included the weight of the DC4 sharpening stone in the calculations, but you should make an effort to find a cheaper stone, even if it is heavier.

As always, don’t forget to bring food. In the next post I will try to link to some information on backpacking food, as well as techniques for using the above gear.  

You may also want to bring an extra t-shirt and an extra pair of socks just in case. Do not go overboard on the extra clothing. You do not need to change your clothes every day. You’ve been camping-people will understand.  

I strongly believe that the above gear is more than adequate for a comfortable three season trip into the woods. I have cut weight and cost where possible, but have attempted to preserve all the items that an average backpacker would expect to have on a weekend trip.  

1 comment:

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