6 Awesome Christmas Gifts For The Backpacker

Christmas is just around the corner. Here are my top five gift considerations for the backpacker on your Christmas list.

Christmas is just around the corner. As we enter the holiday season, Thanksgiving is next week. We all know that the day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday; that first official day of Christmas shopping. As we consider what to purchase for our backpacking friends, here are my top five gift considerations for the backpacker on your Christmas list.

The Warbonnet Outdoors Traveler Hammock

The Traveler Hammock by Warbonnet Outdoors is a simple, no frills, end-gathered design. This hammock is a lightweight packable solution to your hammock needs. It was designed for people on the go. It will fit conveniently in your multi-day backpack, emergency kit in your car, or in the saddlebags of your motorcycle. You can check out my full review of this hammock accompanied by a video review at the following links:
Warbonnet Traveler Hammock Written Review
Warbonnet Traveler Hammock Video Review
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Warbonnet Traveler Hammock Purchase Links:

Sigma 3 Survival School Store

Warbonnet Outdoors

Columbia PFG Storm Rain Jacket (Packable)

Raingear in a backpack can occupy a lot more space than a person might expect. Packable raingear is the best solution for saving space in your pack if you are anticipating rain. The best rain gear that I have discovered is the Columbia PFG Storm Rain Jacket. This jacket packs into its own pocket so it’s easy to carry and always ready. Moreover, Columbia’s PFG line of clothing are designed for the fisherman with UV protection infused into the fabric of their shirts, pants, and headgear. However, they are great products for backpacking also. This a bonus for those spending time outdoors on the trail. The PFG Storm Rain Jacket is a great compliment to the PFG line and is a great solution to your raingear needs as a backpacker.

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Columbia PFG Storm Rain Jacket (Packable) Purchase Link:

Columbia Outdoors

Amazon.com

 

Tilley LTM6 AIRFLO® Hat

The Tilley LTM6 Airflo Hat is a wonderful piece of head gear. I personally own one and use on the trail. It is a lightweight brimmed hat with a storage pocket on the inside crown. It also has UV protection integrated into the fabric of the hat. Additionally, the rain repellant qualities of the hat fabric also gives it some buoyancy in water.

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Tilley LTM6 Airflow Hat Purchase Link:

Tilley

Amazon.com

MSR MugMate Coffee/Tea Filter

There are many backpackers that love to brew and drink coffee while out in the backwoods. After setting up your campsite it is nice to sit and enjoy a fresh hot cup of coffee. MSR has produced a unique and versatile reusable coffee/tea filter for backpackers. It is the MugMate Coffee/Tea Filter. This reusable filter fits and stores in almost any mug or cup. It features two side tabs that suspend MugMate in hot water for effective steeping.

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MSR MugMate Purchase Links: 

MSR.com

Amazon.com

Leatherman Signal Topo Multi-Tool

Leatherman always produces a quality multitool. The Leatherman Signal Topo Multi-Tool is another quality product from Leatherman. This tool features a stainless-steel blade, needle-nose/regular pliers, wire cutters, screwdrivers, saw, awl, can/bottle opener, carabiner, safety whistle and a fire-starting ferro rod. Stainless-steel construction provides years of dependable service. Moreover, each tool is heat-treated to optimal hardness for its function. Additionally, it has a diamond-shaped sharpener that allows you to sharpen the knife blades while on the trail.

 

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Leatherman Signal Topo Multi-Tool Purchase Link:

REI.com

Amazon.com

Garmin inReach Mini

The Garmin inReach Mini is an awesome device to meet your emergency communication and location solutions. Garmin sets the industry standard for GPS devices and emergency communications that are accessible to the average outdoorsman. This small, rugged, lightweight satellite communicator enables two-way text messaging using the 100% global Iridium network (satellite subscription required).

The inReach Mini comes with a lot of features to enable your emergency communications. Trigger an interactive SOS to the 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center (satellite subscription required). You can access downloadable maps, U.S. NOAA charts, color aerial imagery and more by using the free Garmin Earthmate app and compatible devices. An optional inReach weather forecast service provides detailed updates directly to your inReach Mini or paired device. There are basic and premium weather packages available at an additional cost. You can send and receive inReach messages through compatible Garmin devices, including connected wearables and handhelds.
NOTICE: Some jurisdictions regulate or prohibit the use of satellite communications devices. It is the responsibility of the user to know and follow all applicable laws in the jurisdictions where the device is intended to be used.

 

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Garmin inReach Mini Purchase Link:

Garmin

Amazon.com

Hiking Tip # 1: The Survival Knife

January 28, 2017

survival-knife-comparisonIn the beginning of my hiking and backpacking journey, it became clear that there is a definite controversy surrounding “survival” knives. Despite this, everyone seems to agree that a good survival knife is an essential item for backpackers. There are many good resources to access regarding learning about survival knives.  I have experimented with some of the survival-type knives marketed over the years and for me the key word is versatility and practicality when it comes to carrying fixed-blade knives. The defining question on fixed-blade knives is how such a knife will be used in the field. For me, the term “survival” knife is a definition for a purpose or an application of the knife. That means that the intended purpose of the knife is for it to be the one all-purpose knife that you will rely on exclusively in the field to save your life should you get lost or separated from your gear.[1]  Also, you must understand there are many categories of survival: combat/tactical, wilderness, urban, water/sea, jungle, mountain, desert, medical, emergency, etc. There are knives available for each of these survival categories.

Therefore, a person needs to define what kind of use they want to get out of a fixed-blade knife. Is the knife going to be used primarily around the campsite or bivouac to build shelters, process meat, process wood, build snares or traps, cook, etc.? Will the knife be used for hunting, fishing, camping, or self-defense? While serving in the U.S. Army, I found that there is such a thing as having too much knife (i.e. cumbersome and impractical). Lugging a long-blade knife around your waist and the only chance you get to use it is when you open an MRE (Meals, Ready to Eat) is my definition of too much knife. Moreover, there is a big difference between using a knife to survive in a combat environment and using one to get you through the wilderness (i.e. bushcrafting, big game hunting, or a through-hike on the hiking trail). For those who practice wilderness survival and bushcrafting as their primary activity, then the type of fixed-blade knife that they will use and recommend is well defined.  For those less inclined to practice woodsmanship or bushcrafting, then there seems to be more variety of fixed-blade knives from which to choose. To determine what one needs for a survival knife, there are some basic characteristics that are universally accepted by outdoor experts that define a good survival knife.

First, the knife must be full tang. Full Tang means the knife blade and handle tang are formed from a singular piece of steel.  The tang is the part of the knife upon which the handle scales are attached.  The knife tang should extend to the bottom of the handle and not taper into the handle as in a “rat-tail” design.  Some knives marketed as survival knives have a hollow handle molded, bolted, or welded to the blade. This makes the knife vulnerable to cracking and breaking at the joint where the blade and handle meet. When I first learned about this difference, I quickly discovered that you get what you pay for. Most hollow-handle survival knives that are inexpensive fall into this category. However, in recent years, there has been some significant improvements on the hollow-handle knives and some people are starting to recommend them as a useful knife.[2]

The second characteristic of a good survival knife involves blade thickness. A good survival knife needs the blade thickness to be between 3/16 of an inch to 1/4 of an inch. This provides a solid and durable blade that will last if you properly take care of it. Other sources will have additional considerations. However, I found that if you find a knife that meets these first two specifications then the other recommended characteristics for a good survival knife will fall into place.

Some other points of argumentation that one will find in the literature or online concerning survival knives are about the type of metal the blade is made from, the grind of the cutting edge, blade coating, and the edge of the blade spine. Again, this is easily worked out if one has a good idea of what they want the knife to do in the field or on the trail. If you are a hiker or backpacker that likes to do bushcrafting while you are outdoors, then your preference in a survival knife is going to be a bushcrafting knife with all the accepted characteristics (90° blade spine, no serrated edges, Scandinavian grind cutting edge, 5 to 6-inch blade made from 1095 High Carbon Steel with no coatings). If you are a camper or a hiker just out for a couple of hours or spending the night in a prepared bivouac and you are carrying your tent, stove, and food, then there are a variety of options available to you for a good fixed-blade knife.

There is one knife that is the exception to these general considerations.  It is the Morakniv® Bushcraft Survival Knife. Most of the experts agree that this is the best knife to possess if you are on a budget or as a secondary knife in your kit. It is not full-tang and its blade is just under 5 inches; however, it meets the other criteria that bushcrafters and outdoorsman are looking for in a knife. If you are a hiker or backpacker and do not want to spend a lot of money on a knife, but want a good, solid, reliable knife, the experts agree that the Morakniv® Bushcraft series are the best knives.

Finally, a short comment on serrated edges. There is much ado regarding a knife blade with a serrated edge and one without. For me, it is a matter of preference and being able to answer the question that I mentioned earlier, “What is the purpose of your knife”? If you want to cut down on weight in your backpack and are interested in carrying only one knife, then a knife with a serrated edge may be a viable option. The serrated edge provides some versatility with the ability to saw small diameter limbs or materials such as plastic. If you are going to carry a good multi-tool (e.g. Leatherman® Sidekick or Gerber® Diesel), then I do not think you really need a knife with a serrated edge. The multi-tool already gives you the capability to saw things. If you expect to process wood with a saw-type tool, then I would recommend carrying a decent folding limb saw to round out your basic tool needs as a backpacker.[3]

It must be remembered that many of the knives being marketed as survival knives are actually tactical knives designed for military use with some cross over applications in law enforcement. The serrated-edge tactical knives provide soldiers and field medical personnel the ability to cut through MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment) gear and armor plate carriers when rescuing or rendering medical aid to an injured or wounded service member.  Commercial stainless steel fine-edge knives are not as efficient at cutting though military-grade Cordura® material as the Berry Compliant tactical knives with serrated edges. Tactical knives are very attractive and inspire confidence, but they have little application in a non-tactical environment. Additionally, most of these tactical knives have the serrated edge near the hilt of the knife which is the most important cutting surface of the blade for notching other carving and cutting tasks that require more hand dexterity and precision. The tasks become more difficult if you are trying use one of these serrated tactical knives to cut notches in limbs or carve out a slot in a small piece of wood for a trap or fire-making kit. So, consider carefully what you are going to need a survival knife to accomplish before purchasing a knife that looks awesome but is useless to meet your needs.

So, have fun, do some shopping, and once you are settled on the knife that meets your needs, exhaust its use.  See you on the trail!

[1] Dave Canterbury, “Knives JMHO”, Wilderness Outfitters, YouTube®, accessed December 14, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpNQS6CX7FA&index=2&list=PLZLagqylZ3j4VEKfSuM-2jZrwsh689YSs.

[2] Jack Richland, “Rambo Survival Knife”, Black Scout Survival, YouTube®, accessed December 15, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8YR-YmGFiw.

[3] The basic tool needs for backpackers: fixed-blade knife, folding blade knife, multi-tool, and folding saw; a small camp axe is optional.