Creature comforts 

Nonessential items our writers can’t do without

Pillow stuff sack

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In an era when shedding every possible ounce from one’s pack is en vogue, there’s one item I refused to give up: my pillow stuff sack. Given the physical output required to trek for several days at high elevation in rugged terrain, sleep is critical to physical prowess. For me, the key to a sound snooze is a soft yet supportive pillow. Others might opt for an ultralight nylon compression-strap stuff-sack, but I carry a Moonstone fleece-lined one that came with a down sleeping bag I acquired in 2004, just before the brand disappeared. I stuff my down jacket into my cherished stuff sack, fleece-side out, put my head on my pillow and slide into deep slumber. The next day I awaken refreshed and ready for another 10-miler.

(Note: Moonstone sleeping bags have been reintroduced by Columbia Sportswear, but without fleece-lined stuff sacks. Pillow stuff sacks are available from REI ($11.50) and Therm-a-Rest ($21.95). (Lisa Densmore)

GSI coffee press

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  • Chad Harder

Whether relishing a Blodgett Canyon sunrise from your portaledge or lounging late at a Forest Service lookout, no morning ritual provides more satisfaction than sharing a pot of full-bodied java with a friend. Sure, methods like cowboy coffee and single-serving filters weigh almost nothing and work in a pinch. But coffee lovers insisting on a premium backcountry brew to kick-start the crew can do no better than the simple and proven coffee press.

Jetboil’s ingenious Flash Java Kit Personal Cooking System is the lightest available, but it can heat only water, not food. That’s why I prefer the larger GSI press for both quality of brew and the some-for-everyone quantity it produces. My GSI is an older model made of Lexan (still available in the 50-ounce size from Amazon for $39.95), but if Lexan’s BPA issues freak you out, don’t worry. The newer GSI coffee presses are BPA-free and available in both 30-ounce ($29.95) and 50-ounce ($39.95) sizes. (Chad Harder)

ExOfficio boxer briefs

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My mom buys my underwear. Well, she did for the first three decades of my life, and that was a problem. Before anything from a trail run or a multi-week backpacking trip, I’d pull on the same Christmas-present cotton boxers and prepare for the worst—chafing, stank and swamp crotch were an inevitable part of my outdoor exertions.

Now soggy loins are a thing of the past, thanks to space-age underpants. I switched to synthetic briefs on a whim, dropping an unprecedented (for me) $30 for a pair of ExOfficio’s Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs. After my first road trip to Moab, I would’ve spent double. The boxer briefs survived nine straight days and 175 miles of mountain biking through the desert Southwest. That’s one pair and gallons of groin sweat, and I still felt fresh as a daisy (a daisy crammed down my pants, but still). Now they’re all I wear, every single day.

And the best part is when you’re wearing just your spandex-y underpants while standing arms akimbo, it’s hard not to feel like Superman. I bet his mom bought his underwear too. (Dave Reuss)

Chaco sandals

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  • Cathrine L. Walters

After a long day on the trail under a heavy pack, nothing feels better than getting to camp, peeling off my sweat-soaked hiking boots and slipping into a pair of Chaco sandals. I can almost hear my feet breathe a (sour) sigh of relief as I wiggle my toes in the crisp mountain air while the life rushes back to them.

Not just any sandal will do—Chacos have soft adjustable straps that can loosen to the brink of sliding off, making room for swollen feet or a pair of fresh socks. Their aggressive Vibram sole aids in rock-hopping and log-jumping and gathering firewood. Meanwhile, heavy boots get a rest next to the campfire, drying out from the day's big adventure.

Chacos are also a savior when crossing swift streams. The straps cinch down, securing the sandal snugly while thick soles protect the foot from sharp rocks. Once you’re on the other side, keep them on for a while. They also make an incredibly comfortable alternative to hiking boots—so long as there's not too much scree in your path. (Cathrine L. Walters)

Travel journal

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For almost 10 years now, I’ve treated my backpack more like a bug-out bag than a piece of weekend-warrior equipment. The essentials remain nestled in there at all times, part of a grab-and-go mentality that’s allowed me to at least dream of hitting the trail the moment the 5 p.m. whistle blows. My camp stove, first-aid kit, headlamp, duct tape—they never leave the pack for more than a few minutes. Neither does my travel journal.

I’ll probably get shit for suggesting that a journal is essential. And as a 16-year-old on his second weeklong canoe trip in Ely, Minn., I thought it a fairly silly concept. My crew had cameras and the steel-trap memories of youth. Writing it down seemed redundant.

I have yet to fill every page in that cloth-bound tome, but it’s won a hallowed space in my pack. Today, its pages tell of pictographs on Darky Lake, morale breakdowns on Elk Mountain, nightmarish heat in Idaho’s Hells Canyon, and trout caught on a green drake up Rock Creek. My dad would argue that a travel chess set is the essential nonessential, having hauled one through canoe country and badlands alike. I’ll stick to that years-old travel log, the running list of where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’ll eventually be. (Alex Sakariassen)

Garmin GPS

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I didn’t think I wanted a GPS until my wife bought me a Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx (starting at $299.99) about five years ago. Now that I’ve got one, it goes everywhere I go. Not a whole lot smaller than a compact camera, the Garmin’s a load, but it’s also loads of fun. I can quickly figure out my precise location in the field, plus download the recorded track afterward and do all kinds of tinkering with it. The mapping software also comes in handy for pinpointing obscure trailheads in the comfort of my office, before I’m out searching on abandoned fire roads. And my purpose-built Garmin crushes those iPhone GPS apps, which exhaust the battery in about an hour once they get out of signal range. Has my GPS ever saved me from getting lost? No. But it makes getting from here to there an indispensably electrifying process. (Matt Gibson)

MSR MugMate

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My MSR MugMate has gone on every single trip I have taken since I shelled out my $18 years ago—and it’s never let me down. Many of us recognize coffee as an essential item for any trip. Our cowboy forefathers proved, however, that fancy French presses are not. This simple filter weighs in at 1 ounce and disappears for storage inside my travel mug. The cute little black tabs on the side of the filter securely hold the filter in the cup so all you have to do is fill it with your favorite coffee grinds, pour in some hot water, and let it steep. Simple, effective and durable, this filter has become an essential component of my every adventure. (Robin Carleton)


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