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After months spent stuck hibernating from the cold of winter, there are few better ways to celebrate spring and summer than packing a bag, rucking in the wilderness, and communing with nature — along with fire-cooked meat and some adult refreshments. But as any good grunt knows, not all pieces of gear are created equal: straps break, fabric tears, and some tools just aren’t reliable enough to get the job done.
We asked our community of veterans about the gear they rely on for a good old-fashioned camping trip. Here are their top picks (with a few suggestions from the many veterans on our staff).
Camp Chef 12 Seasoned Cast Iron SkilletAmazon
Unless you’re planning to only eat s’mores during your sojourn in the woods, a skillet is essential for prepping that sweet, sweet grilled meat that the body needs to survive. For your sake, T&P; vets recommend the Camp Chef 12 Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet for easy handling and durability.
The woobie in action
Do I really need to explain all the ways that this nylon poncho liner is way, way more than just a nylon poncho liner? No, but Angry Staff Officer can and will: “It can be used as a blanket, pillow, shelter, hammock, camo hide for concealment, jacket liner, seat cushion, mattress … it is remarkably resilient to extreme heat and cold, dries quickly when wet, and most importantly, can be squished up into a tiny ball that takes up barely any room in your rucksack and adds virtually no weight.”
If you don’t already have one, you can score one for a (relative) steal at on Amazon.
The Salomon FORCES Quest 4D hiking bootSalomon
Unless you spent your military career flying UAVs from the comfort of your gaming chair, a good pair of boots may the most essential piece of gear in a service member’s inventory. And frankly, that applies even after the service — I can’t begin to tell you how many civilians I know who have gone hiking in Chuck Taylors and hated themselves.
T&P; readers swear by the Salomon FORCES Quest 4D hiking boot and “assault shoe” that the company says “support free-fall airborne and rappelling/fast rope operations” and “can take you up mountains, or through the door on target.” As long as it fits firmly into someone’s ass, I’m game.
Sawyer MINI Water FilterSawyer
I don’t care what your commander said: You cannot survive on bourbon alone. Thank God for the Sawyer MINI Water Filter, the two-ounce, palmable filtration system that can produce up to 100,000 filtered gallons of water before copping out. This is the most solid investment you’ll make today, and it has applications far beyond avoiding bacterial meningitis from woodland puddle-drinking.
The Unigear Tactical Hydration Pack Backpack 900DUnigear
I mean, clearly, although the Unigear Tactical Hydration Pack Backpack 900D is a fantastic, lightweight alternative if you want to eschew the brand-name Camelbak. For what it’s worth, one T&P; reader suggested that each Camelbak come with 2 liters of orange juice and vodka at a minimum. Have fun getting the smell out!
ENO SingleNest HammockENO
Portable hammocks can be hit or miss, but the ENO SingleNest Hammock is the perfect lightweight bunk for the weary explorer. At just over nine feet long and four feet wide, the SingleNest doesn’t just provide a cocoon of actual comfort — the entire apparatus shrinks down to the size of a cantaloupe for easy packing and transport. Add in the woobie and holy f*cking sh*t I’m never waking up again.
The Gerber E-toolGerber
If you didn’t get a chance to bring your trusty entrenching tool home from war, there’s always the Gerber alternative complete with a serrated edge.
Osprey Aether Ag 85 BackpackOsprey
If you’d rather not take up all that space on your sexy, sexy back with a 2-liter bag of Screwdriver, a good pack is essential. T&P; readers swear by the Osprey Aether Ag 85 Backpack, the mega-durable, versatile pack with a peripheral frame for a comfort rucking experience.
Also: Even you, king of the mountains, need a bivy sack. The vets at T&P; recommend the ALPS Mountaineering Compression Stuff Sack, which isn’t just cheap but relatively easy to handle compared to other bulky containers.
Not your style? There’s always an L.L. Bean bag with your initials stitched into it.
The Windmill Delta Stormproof LighterWindmill
Sorry, but f*ck your Bic and f*ck your Zippo. If you want a fire-starting tool that won’t cop out during a light drizzle, go with the Windmill Delta Stormproof Lighter which, at just two ounces, is guaranteed to produce 30,000 ignitions even against winds of up to 80 mph. Fire good. Fire strong.
Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol Ultralight Foam Backpacking MattressTherm-A-Rest
I will not camp without one of these, hammock be damned. We highly recommend the Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol Ultralight Foam Backpacking Mattress, which is designed to retain heat during those cold summer nights. Plus: Your back!
A flask, dummy
We won’t tell you which brown liquor is best (yet), but you should at least invest in a nice flask to store it in. And if this insanely durable titanium whiskey flask is a bit out of your price range, at least grab something with an American flag on it.
Say what you will about the presentation, but that's a lot of food in a tiny package.U.S. Army photo by Gary Sheftick