11 Vet-Tested Pieces Of Gear You Won’t Want To Camp Without (And 1 You Definitely Do)

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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.

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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).

A cast-iron skillet

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.

A woobie

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.

Solid boots

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 filter

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.

Camelbak

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!

A hammock

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.

An E-tool

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.

A decent backpack

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.

A decent waterproof lighter

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 sleeping pad

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!

Whiskey

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.

BONUS: An MRE

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

Just kidding!

A big stereotype surrounding U.S. service members and veterans is that they are defined only by their military service, from buying "Dysfunctional Veteran" t-shirts to playing hard-boiled, high-octane first-person shooters like Battlefield and Call of Duty (we honestly have no idea where anyone could get that impression).

But the folks at OSD (formerly called Operation Supply Drop), a non-profit veteran service organization that aims to help troops and vets connect with each other through free video games, service programs and other activities, recently found that most of the gamers they've served actually prefer less military-centric fare like sports games and fantasy RPGs.

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Joel Marrable (Laquna Ross via CNN)

Dawn Brys got an early taste of the crisis unfolding at the largest Veterans Affairs hospital in the Southeast.

The Air Force vet said she went to the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur last year for surgery on a broken foot. But the doctor called it off because the surgical instruments hadn't been properly sterilized.

"The tools had condensation on them," recalled Brys, a 50-year-old Marietta resident. The doctor rescheduled it for the next day.

Now the 400-plus-bed hospital on Clairmont Road that serves about 120,000 military veterans is in a state of emergency. It suspended routine surgeries in late September after a string of incidents that exposed mismanagement and dangerous practices. It hopes to resume normal operations by early November as it struggles to retrain staff and hire new nurses.

The partial shutdown came about two weeks after Joel Marrable, a cancer patient in the same VA complex, was found covered with more than 100 ant bites by his daughter. Also in September, the hospital's canteen was temporarily closed for a pest investigation.

The mounting problems triggered a leadership shakeup Sept. 17, when regional director Leslie Wiggins was put on administrative leave. Dr. Arjay K. Dhawan, the regional medical director, was moved to administrative duties pending an investigation. Seven staff members were reassigned to non-patient care.

The only question for some military veterans and staff is why the VA waited so long. They say problems existed for years under Wiggins' leadership, but little was done.

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Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney takes questions during a news briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 17, 2019. (Reuters/Leah Millis)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's withholding of $391 million in military aid to Ukraine was linked to his request that the Ukrainians look into a claim — debunked as a conspiracy theory — about the 2016 U.S. election, a senior presidential aide said on Thursday, the first time the White House acknowledged such a connection.

Trump and administration officials had denied for weeks that they had demanded a "quid pro quo" - a Latin phrase meaning a favor for a favor - for delivering the U.S. aid, a key part of a controversy that has triggered an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives against the Republican president.

But Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, acknowledged in a briefing with reporters that the U.S. aid — already approved by Congress — was held up partly over Trump's concerns about a Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer server alleged to be in Ukraine.

"I have news for everybody: Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy," Mulvaney said.

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