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Since I moved to the woods to begin my new life as a person with the potential, at least, to quietly contemplate nature and develop useful physical skills, I’ve been forced to reckon with the fact that most of the stuff I previously accumulated to pursue the weekend versions of those goals is either broken or just kind of sucks. The book detailing various stops along the Appalachian Trail was absolutely fucking useless when I found myself on a section of said trail unable to find the next marker; the hiking bag I bought with one of my first paychecks at 16 had been destroyed by a friend in Mexico (you know who you are); leggings intended for the combination of athletics and leisure might as well be a pair of sheer pantyhose in the face of even the most basic elemental threat.
So recently, I’ve been forced to do inventory and replace many of my once-aspirational items with their more suitable counterparts, a process that hasn’t been kind to my bank account, but which I can rationalize by thinking wistfully about all the things I’m not spending money on in the Big City, like Bahn mi or beer-shot combos or outings with friends. The first thing to go was the tent, one of those three-point Tensile hammock getups which was a nice stunt for car camping but neither comfortable nor light enough to take on a serious trek. The person I’ve begrudgingly fled civilization with and I settled on a Nemo Hornet, which weighs less than three pounds and remains cozy even at an elevation of a few thousand feet, surrounded by late-spring snow. Ever-committed to the chill, though, we got a second Eno hammock. The first one, picked out of an L.L. Bean discount bin several years ago, goes pretty much everywhere we go and I can think of no other product that provides such a high pleasure-to-pack-space ratio. I think I might like to be buried in mine.
My ancient discount hiking boots were basically in tatters and I needed something properly waterproof, with all the muck of a northern spring, so in the fugue state of a person Googling “best waterproof hiking boots” from the middle of a field with soaking wet feet I ended up with Timberland Wedge mid-height boots, which have served me well, in that my feet are now always dry. At the local hardware store—a cornucopia of various gears—I replaced a long-lost headlamp with the Milwaukee version and picked up a light for my idiot dog’s collar so I wouldn’t have to wonder whether coyotes had enticed him deep into the woods to meet his end.
A pick-up order at an REI an hour’s driver away got me a new hiking pack which I will tell you in all honestly simply Gets the Job Done, as well as a Camel Bak and some surprisingly appetizing dehydrated curries and gumbos from Good to Go. I climbed a goddamn mountain with them. I didn’t die. It was great. All these new purchases aside, though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention something I bought years ago that has turned out to be one of my favorite pieces of camping gear—a Stanley getup that fits a french press, a bit of coffee, a cooking pot, two mugs, and a thermos into a bafflingly small package. It’s pretty neat.
Some of my favorite recent purchases, however, are a little more for vanity and comfort than hard nights in the woods. I’ve coveted a Fabric Horse fanny pack for years, and I finally bought the slimmer version along with a side pouch for easy access to tools and/or drinks. I’m the kind of person who will lose things if they aren’t physically strapped to her body, so it’s saved me time in the amount of rummaging I have to do and it’s the ideal size for going on a day hike or just kicking around the woods. Since nearly everything I wear is tight and black and fantastically ill-suited for physical labor I’m also investing in some Red Ants work pants, made in Montana. Every woman I’d heard from adores their stuff.
I also bought a Yeti tumbler in dusty blue that was on sale. It keeps my cocktails cold and my coffee hot and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It fits nicely in the Fabric Horse pouch, too, which was especially useful during the month or so I was trekking out to a plot of land where I’d decided to start a vegetable garden. You know what shit I bought that I deeply regret? A few days of rental time on a Mid Tine Tiller from Home Depot, which I foolishly believed would be enough to break up a rather large plot of rocky land. After a week of torn-up hands and a deep-seated sense of shame, I just called a guy down the road who owns a tractor. I’m generally stubborn about these things but the man made all my problems go away for under 100 bucks.
During the past five years, I’ve amassed an embarrassing amount of camping gear, which began not-so-coincidentally around the time that Donald Trump announced his intentions to utterly ruin our lives. Correlation sometimes is causation!!! Since then, all I ever want to do is flee to the woods or to the desert as often as humanly possible and, because I’m not a dirtbag, as comfortably as possible.
What I’ve since realized is that once you start buying outdoor shit, you will constantly feel the need to buy more outdoor shit, and pretty soon, one room in your entire apartment has somehow become a very expensive shrine to REI. Now that spending time outdoors is one of the safest activities we can reasonably do with other people, I’ve been making some purchases with an eye towards small group trips. I’ve been using this Jetboil MiniMo stove for the past few years on solo trips, and while it’s great, I decided to buy a two-burner propane camp stove for (socially distant) outings with friends. I ended up buying the Camp Chef Everest stove, and while it’s pricier than other similar stoves, it seems so far to be incredibly sturdy. Plus, my friend who is a chef used it recently, and he approved. During REI’s recent sale, I finally upgraded my old camping chairs by buying two of these lawn chairs, which are also nice enough to use at home, and on a whim added this low folding table. The chairs and the table are pretty bulky, so they’re really only good for car camping, but can’t you picture them around a campfire, with another human at least six feet away?
For me, I also got a new pair of hiking boots—the Vasque Breeze AT Mid GTXs, give me that sweet, sweet ankle support!—and tested them out on a very wet, muddy hike this past weekend, and they kept my feet nice and dry.
I found the hike through AllTrails, and I finally decided to upgrade to the Pro account when an annual membership went on sale recently. I’m a baby and am scared of getting lost, even on a well-marked trail, so it was worth it (for me) for the ability to see where you are on the trail, even when you don’t have cell service.
The most expensive pandemic purchase I’ve made is this Eddyline Sandpiper 130 kayak, which I bought because 1) it’s pretty (don’t worry, I too am judging myself harshly!), 2) the cockpit is large enough for my very bad dog Frankie to come along with me, and 3) the hatches are big enough for me to throw a weekend’s worth of gear in them to go kayak camping with my aforementioned very bad dog. I haven’t gotten the kayak yet (it’s on backorder) but I’m already planning where I want to take it for its maiden voyage. The Adirondacks, here we come! Because I would like for Frankie to remain alive, I also got this Ruffwear dog life jacket, aka the “ultimate in canine flotation.” I also belatedly realized that I need a way to transport the kayak, so I whispered an apology to my financial planner (aka my sister) and bought a Thule roof rack system and this kayak rack.
I would be derelict in my duty to Jezebel readers to not share a purchase that, while made pre-pandemic, has made hanging out in the great outdoors so much more pleasant—and that is my Luggable Loo, a glorified bucket with a toilet seat on top. Car camping somewhere without a toilet? Hanging out in your yard with friends and you don’t want them to use your bathroom indoors? These are all times the Luggable Loo comes in handy and saves the day. You don’t need to buy the pricey “Double Doodie” bags that Reliance sells for the Loo; I’ve found that cheaper alternatives work just as well. Trust me when I tell you that of all of the items I’ve bought in the past two years, this portable toilet is number one (ha... ha... but also, no lies!).