Dad’s best camping and backpacking gear
The winter during the pandemic may mean that Dad has been feeling a little sleepy. Now that the weather is getting warmer and warmer, he might want to go out as soon as possible. If your dad or father is the type who likes to hang out in the woods-maybe a few days at a time-we have some suggestions for Father's Day gifts. Whether he is an ultralight backpack madman or a comfort seeker for car camping, we all have it.
The Jetboil Flash is basically inescapable on the trail. Its lightweight, easily packable design and fast boil times make it attractive to backpackers. But the MiniMo is worth the extra money and weight. It’s only one ounce heavier, but the MiniMo’s wider, shorter cook cup is easier to handle. Plus it can actually simmer things, unlike the Flash. And let me tell you, dehydrated eggs are bad enough as is, even without burning them in what amounts to a coffee tumbler mounted on a jet engine. Trust me, this is one of the best upgrades you can make to your dad’s setup.
Buy Jetboil MiniMo at Amazon - $150
Leatherman Free series multitoolsLeatherman
The Leatherman Free series has been a staple of Engadget buying guides ever since it debuted in 2019. There are plenty of options out there when it comes to multitools, and many of them are great. But, the Free series was a serious game-changer with its one-handed access to every tool. Plus everything, including the knife, locks into place so you’re less likely to pinch or cut yourself. It even requires less regular maintenance and cleaning than older Leatherman like the Juice series which, while great, tended to collect lint and dust in every nook and cranny at an alarming rate. Your dad might not need every tool while hiking the Appalachian, but he’ll appreciate having options other than a knife or a rock.
Shop Leatherman Free series at Amazon
BioLite HeadLamp 330BioLite
After food, water and shelter, the next most essential thing on the trail is light. The Biolite Headlamp 330 is comfortable, bright and long lasting. It has both spot and flood modes, plus a red light for saving your father’s eyes at night. And, if you can get him the Extend Pack (which is unfortunately often out of stock), it also comes with a backup battery in case he needs to recharge on the trail, along with a light-diffusing stuffsack that basically turns his headlamp into a lantern he can hang from the ceiling of his tent or lean-to.
Buy Headlamp 330 at Amazon - $60 Buy Extend Pack at BioLite - $105
Sea to Summit X-MugSea To Summit
I love my old-school enameled steel camp mug. It’s indestructible and has an undeniable classic look. But, it also conducts heat like nobody’s business. I’ve burned my hands and lips on enough white hot cups of instant coffee to know they’re just not that practical. Sea to Summit’s X-Mug with cool grip promises to protect your little fingies from your boiling hot beverage. Plus, it collapses into a neat little puck for easy storage. Admittedly, I have not tried the Cool Grip model yet, but I’ve been using the company’s collapsible bowl for over a decade. And my hiking buddy uses the regular X-Mug, so I’m pretty confident in recommending Sea to Summit’s gear.
Buy X-Mug at Sea to Summit - $15
Therm-a-rest NeoAir XLiteTherm-a-rest
I skipped a sleeping pad on my first backpacking trip. I regretted it immediately. Therm-a-Rest pads are the industry standard. And the NeoAir XLite is pretty much smack in the middle of their backpacking lineup. It’s not the lightest or the warmest, but it’s probably the most versatile. The R-value (a measurement of insulating power) of 4.2 is good enough for three-season camping. And it packs down to about the size of a water bottle. This particular model has been around for a long time, and it will probably continue to be a staple of Therm-a-Rest’s lineup for years to come.
Buy NeoAir XLite mattress at Amazon starting at $112
Full disclosure: I haven’t tested the Enduro. Nor has anyone else at Engadget. But, we’re big enough fans of Garmin’s sports watches to feel comfortable recommending it. But why pick this particular one? Simple: battery life. Garmin says it lasts up to 80 hours in GPS mode, which is frankly absurd. If your dad likes to quantify everything in his life, including multi-day hikes, this is a pretty great way to do it. It not only has a giant battery, but also a built-in solar charger. Plus VO2 max estimates for trail runners, heat and altitude acclimation tools for the parent that’s into mountain climbing or desert hiking, and even navigation features to keep him from getting lost. And, once he’s found his way back to civilization he can snag a coffee at Starbucks using Garmin Pay.
Buy Enduro at Garmin - $800
Sawyer Squeeze water filterSawyer
More than even food or shelter, water is essential on the trail. But, dad can’t just go drinking from streams and ponds, nor can he carry enough with him for a multi-day trip. That’s where the Sawyer Squeeze filter comes in handy. There are tons of different ways to purify water, from old-school iodine tablets to boiling to pump filters. But a squeeze filter system is often the fastest and easiest to use. Sawyer’s are probably the best known for good reason — you can fill up the pouch and drink straight from the filter or use the to fill up a reservoir or water bottle. They’re not ideal for places where dad might be reduced to getting water out of shallow muddy springs or where viral pathogens are a concern. But they’re perfect for more developed and regularly trafficked trails.
Buy Sawyer Squeeze filter at Amazon - $35
Your dad will need a towel on the trail. Trust me. Maybe he’ll be lucky enough to find a shower. Or perhaps he’ll go for a dip in a lake. Or, maybe like me, he just sweats enough to drown a small animal. Regardless, an Ultralite PackTowl is an absolute must-have. They’re incredibly small and lightweight, yet seem to have unlimited absorption power. I’m pretty sure they’re actually a portal to another dimension where the water is stored. I have two that I take with me on every trip: one body-sized and the other a face towel that stays clipped to my shoulder strap for when I need to mop my brow.
Buy PackTowel at Amazon starting at $11
Snow Peak Titanium SporkSnow Peak
This should go without saying, but your dad needs a utensil to eat. Yes, even on the trail. And there’s nothing better than a good old fashioned spork to save space and weight. I’m a big fan of this titanium model from Snow Peak. The company makes a ton of great gear, but this simple and indestructible essential is probably my favorite. Plus, it comes in a handful offun shades like blue, green and purple in case your dad is known for his colorful personality.
Buy titanium spork at Amazon - $10
If your dad would prefer to burn his lips on real coffee, consider getting him an Aeropress for his adventures. This is, admittedly, a luxury when you’re backpacking. But, I’ve tried instant coffee, coffee “tea” bags, mesh coffee steeping contraptions, camping french presses and honestly, nothing makes better coffee with less cleanup than an Aeropress. You could go for the full-size model, but the Go version shaves off a few precious ounces, which could be crucial when trying to cut weight for a long trip. But, I actually bring the full-size version when I hit the trail and have had no problems.
Buy Aeropress Go at Amazon - $32
Goal Zero Lighthouse 600Goal Zero
Not every dad wants to strap three days worth of gear to his back and walk off into the woods. Some are perfectly content driving up to a campsite, pitching a tent and building a fire. For them the Lighthouse 600 is a great gift. It is, first and foremost, an LED lantern perfect for food prep, reading or even playing cards around camp. But, he can also use its 5200mAh battery to charge his phone or headlamp. And, if he does happen to sap all its juice it has a hand crank for recharging through manual labor, and an optional solar panel.
Buy Lighthouse 600 at Amazon - $70
Joby GripTight Action KitJoby
Obviously, part of the reason dad disappears into the wilderness is to escape from technology and enjoy nature. But I’m sure he wants to capture at least some of it for posterity. Dragging a DSLR or even a mirrorless camera into the woods is overkill, especially when he’s probably got a pretty good camera with him already: his cellphone. Jobby’s unique GorillaPod tripods are perfect for the outdoors. And the affordable Action Kit is pretty flexible. It comes with a Bluetooth remote, it can hold most phones or even a GoPro camera, and it has a cold shoe adapter for a light or microphone.
Buy Joby Action Kit at Amazon - $55
Lodge Cast Iron Cook-it-AllLodge cast iron
Look, if he’s driving up to the campsite anyway, there’s no need to fight with alarmingly thin steel pans or tiny fuel canister stoves. The 14-inch cast iron Cook-it-All from Lodge is the perfect campfire companion. It can be a dutch oven, a griddle or a skillet. You can even bake a pizza inside it. ( I’ll admit, though, that I’ve never considered baking a pizza while camping.) Cast iron is heavy and bulky, but it’s also damn near indestructible and holds on to heat for a long time, which is good when you’re dealing with a finicky campfire. Plus, if seasoned properly and treated with care, cast iron is reasonably nonstick. So, dad might even be able to make some sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast.
Buy Lodge Cook-It-All at Amazon - $150
BackpacksOsprey / REI Osprey Atmos AG 65 and Aura AG 65
It’s hard to suggest just one backpack for most people. But your dad probably probably has one of two goals: either shave every ounce possible or to preserve as much comfort as possible. If hefalls more in the latter category, Osprey’s Atmos AG 65 is easy to recommend. It regularly finds on lists of the best backpacking bags out there. At 4.5 pounds it's on the heavy side, but the Anti-Gravity suspension system makes it feel lighter than it is. It also helps keep your back cool and ventilated. It won’t stop your dad from sweating but it’ll at least make him a bit more comfortable.
The women’s equivalent of the Atmos is the Aura AG 65, which is slightly smaller and lighter, but has the same suspension system and lugging capacity.
Buy Atmos AG 65 at Osprey - $270 Buy Aura AG 65 at Osprey - $270REI Flash 55 Pack
If your dad is the type to sit and meticulously weigh out each bit of gear and food before a trek, REI’s in-house Flash lineup is a great option. The 55 is the largest version available and, despite having enough capacity for trips up to five days (and you could push it to a week if you’re stingy), it weighs just two pounds and 11 ounces. You can even shave off an additional seven ounces by removing a bunch of attachments like the top lid pack and the pockets on the hip and shoulder belts. I’ve been using an older model since 2010 when I tackled the Devil’s Path. It’s definitely past time to replace mine; the Flash series isn’t quite as resilient as some other company’s backpacks. But 10 years of reliable service is pretty good considering the $199 price.
Buy Flash 55 at REI - $200
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