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Outdoor Gear Reviews, Tips & Adventure Stories to Inspire an Outdoor Life

Tag: Backpacking

What is Backcountry Camping? An In-Depth Exploration of Wilderness Adventures

back country camping at the top of a mountain

Imagine standing atop a majestic mountain peak, surrounded by untouched wilderness as far as the eye can see. The crisp air fills your lungs, and the serenity of the natural world envelops your senses. This is the allure of backcountry camping—the opportunity to immerse yourself in nature’s untamed beauty and embark on a wilderness adventure unlike any other.

Backcountry camping, also known as wilderness camping or primitive camping, takes outdoor enthusiasts beyond established campgrounds and into remote and secluded areas of nature. It offers an authentic and immersive experience that allows you to reconnect with the earth and find solace in the simplicity of the wild. In this article, we will embark on an in-depth exploration of backcountry camping, unraveling its definition, delving into its benefits, offering practical tips, and highlighting some of the most breathtaking destinations for your own wilderness adventures.

No matter if you’re an experienced camper seeking a new level of challenge or someone yearning to escape the confines of city life and embrace the natural world, backcountry camping opens the door to a world of exploration, self-discovery, and unforgettable moments. So, let’s embark on this journey together as we uncover the essence of backcountry camping and discover why it is an experience truly worth pursuing.

What is backcountry camping?

backcountry camping near lake
Backcountry camping emphasizes self-sufficiency, exploration, and a deeper connection with nature.

Backcountry camping refers to the practice of setting up camp in remote and undeveloped areas of the wilderness, away from established campgrounds and modern amenities. It involves venturing into unspoiled natural environments, often requiring hiking or backpacking to reach these secluded destinations. Unlike traditional camping, backcountry camping emphasizes self-sufficiency, exploration, and a deeper connection with nature.

Backcountry camping stands in contrast to front-country camping (car camping or RV camping), where campers can easily access campsites by vehicle and enjoy amenities such as electricity, running water, and designated campsites. In backcountry camping, you rely on your own physical abilities to access remote areas and must carry your gear and supplies with you.

Overlanding is a form of backcountry camping where specialized 4-wheel drive vehicles are utilized to access backcountry areas and campsites.  While dependent on vehicles, overlanding provides the benefits of car camping with the seclusion and remoteness of backcountry camping.

Backcountry camping has roots in humanity’s primal connection to nature. Throughout history, people have ventured into the wilderness to seek sustenance, spiritual enlightenment, and a respite from civilization. However, modern backcountry camping as a recreational activity gained popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as people began to appreciate the beauty and serenity of untouched natural landscapes.

Pioneers like John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, and other early conservationists were instrumental in advocating for the preservation of wilderness areas and encouraging individuals to venture into the backcountry. Their writings and philosophies helped shape the modern understanding and appreciation of backcountry camping.

Over time, advancements in outdoor gear, navigation technology, and environmental awareness have further refined and expanded the practice of backcountry camping. Today, it has become a beloved activity for adventurers seeking a deeper connection with nature and an escape from the pressures of modern life.

Exploring the Benefits of Back Country Camping

Connecting with nature

alone in the wilderness
Backcountry camping offers the opportunity to slow down, breathe in fresh air, and appreciate the beauty that surrounds you.

Backcountry camping provides a unique opportunity to disconnect from the noise and distractions of everyday life and immerse yourself in the beauty and tranquility of nature. Surrounded by towering trees, breathtaking landscapes, and the sounds of wildlife, you can experience a deep sense of peace and rejuvenation. The sights, sounds, and smells of the wilderness awaken your senses and offer a profound connection to the natural world.

In a world filled with constant noise and demands, backcountry camping offers a chance to escape the busy urban environment and find respite in the serenity of the wild. The absence of modern conveniences and technology allows you to disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with the simplicity of life. It’s a chance to slow down, breathe in fresh air, and appreciate the beauty that surrounds you.

Building self-reliance and resilience

Backcountry camping requires self-reliance and problem-solving skills. As you navigate rugged terrains, face unpredictable weather conditions, and make decisions about water sources and shelter, you develop a heightened sense of self-reliance and adaptability. Overcoming these challenges fosters resilience and a sense of accomplishment, boosting your confidence and ability to handle adversity both on the trail and in everyday life.

Backcountry camping often involves primitive camping techniques, such as building fires, purifying water, and setting up camp with minimal gear. These experiences allow you to hone essential survival skills and embrace your resourcefulness. Learning to make do with limited resources and finding creative solutions to unexpected situations can be empowering and foster a sense of self-sufficiency.

Seeking solitude and serenity

Backcountry camping offers a unique opportunity to experience solitude in its purest form. Far away from crowded campgrounds and popular tourist spots, you can find solitude in the vast expanses of wilderness. The stillness and silence of remote environments provide space for introspection, self-reflection, and a sense of peace that is hard to find in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Stepping away from the distractions of modern life and immersing yourself in nature can have a profound impact on your mental well-being. Backcountry camping allows you to disconnect from screens, obligations, and the pressures of society, giving you the space to find clarity, reduce stress, and gain a fresh perspective. It’s an opportunity to quiet the mind, practice mindfulness, and cultivate a deeper connection with yourself and the natural world.

By embracing the benefits of backcountry camping, you can embark on a transformative journey that reconnects you with nature, strengthens your resilience, and nourishes your soul.

Essential Gear and Preparation

Choosing the right equipment

backpacking in the mountains
Backcountry camping demands that you prioritize lightweight and compact options to minimize the strain on your body.

Selecting lightweight and durable camping gear is crucial for backcountry camping. Look for backpacking tents that are compact, easy to set up, and designed to withstand varying weather conditions. Consider investing in a quality sleeping bag that provides warmth and comfort while being lightweight enough to carry on long hikes. Additionally, research and choose gear appropriate for the specific environment you’ll be camping in, such as a sturdy backpack, hiking boots, and appropriate clothing layers.

Since you’ll be carrying your gear for extended periods, prioritize lightweight and compact options to minimize the strain on your body. Look for backpacking equipment made from lightweight materials without compromising durability. Opt for collapsible or foldable utensils, compact cooking stoves, and portable water filtration systems to keep your gear streamlined.

Backcountry camping requires a commitment to preserving the natural environment. Familiarize yourself with the Leave No Trace principles, which include practices such as packing out all trash, disposing of waste properly, minimizing campfire impact, respecting wildlife, and staying on designated trails. By adhering to these principles, you can help protect the fragile ecosystems you explore.

Safety considerations

Navigation tools and maps – Carrying a reliable map and compass, and knowing how to use them, is essential for backcountry camping. Familiarize yourself with the area’s topography, landmarks, and potential hazards before embarking on your trip. Consider bringing a GPS device or smartphone app as an additional navigation tool, but always have a backup plan in case of technology failure.

First aid kits and emergency supplies – Be prepared for emergencies by packing a comprehensive first aid kit. Include items such as bandages, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, blister treatments, and any necessary prescription medications. Additionally, carry emergency supplies like a whistle, signal mirror, emergency blanket, and a multi-tool to help you handle unexpected situations.

Planning and permits

Before setting out on your backcountry adventure, research different destinations to find the one that aligns with your skill level, preferences, and desired experience. Consider factors such as terrain difficulty, water sources, wildlife activity, and camping regulations. National park websites, hiking forums, and guidebooks are valuable resources for gathering information.

Many backcountry areas require permits to control visitor numbers and protect the wilderness. Research and apply for any required permits well in advance of your trip. Familiarize yourself with the specific regulations for the area you’ll be camping in, including camping restrictions, fire regulations, and rules regarding food storage and wildlife encounters.

By preparing with the right gear, prioritizing safety, and respecting the environment, you’ll ensure a smoother and more enjoyable backcountry camping experience. Remember, proper planning and preparation enhance your ability to immerse yourself in nature and make the most of your wilderness adventure.

backcountry camping in the mountains

Tips for Backcountry Camping

Tip #1: Choose Your Campsite Wisely

Look for a flat and level area to set up your tent, preferably on durable surfaces like bare soil or rocks, to minimize your impact on the environment. Consider proximity to water sources for convenience but ensure you follow Leave No Trace principles and camp at a safe distance from rivers and lakes. Look for natural features such as trees or boulders that can provide natural windbreaks or shade.

Some backcountry areas have designated camping zones or restrictions to protect sensitive habitats. Familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations of the area you’re visiting and adhere to them. By respecting these guidelines, you contribute to the preservation of the environment and the sustainability of backcountry camping for future adventurers.

Tip #2: Be Smart & Safe with Your Food

When venturing into the backcountry, choose lightweight and nutritious meals. Opt for lightweight, easy-to-pack meals that provide adequate nutrition and energy for your outdoor adventures. Dehydrated meals, trail mixes, energy bars, and dried fruits are convenient options. Plan your meals ahead and portion them into individual servings to minimize waste and save space in your backpack.

Proper food storage is essential to prevent attracting wildlife to your campsite. Use bear-resistant containers or hang food in bear bags away from your sleeping area. Dispose of food waste properly to avoid littering and to minimize environmental impact. Pack out all trash, including food wrappers, to leave the wilderness as pristine as you found it.

Tip #3: Be Prepared for Wildlife Encounters

Before you head out, educate yourself about the local wildlife and their behavior. Respect their space and observe from a safe distance. Avoid approaching or feeding wild animals, as this can disrupt their natural behavior and pose risks to both humans and animals. Familiarize yourself with bear safety protocols, such as storing food properly and making noise to alert bears of your presence.

Use bear-resistant containers to store food and scented items to prevent wildlife from being attracted to your campsite. Be mindful of your actions and avoid leaving behind any food scraps or strong odors that may entice wildlife. By practicing responsible wildlife management, you contribute to the conservation of these magnificent creatures and ensure their safety as well as yours.

Backcountry camping offers unique challenges and rewards. By carefully selecting your campsite, being mindful of food and waste management, and respecting wildlife, you can enhance your safety and enjoyment during your wilderness adventure. Remember, being a responsible backcountry camper ensures the preservation of these pristine natural environments for future generations of outdoor enthusiasts.

Some Popular Backcountry Camping Destinations

Yosemite National Park in California
Yosemite National Park in California

Yosemite National Park – California, USA

Yosemite National Park is renowned for its breathtaking granite cliffs, towering waterfalls, and ancient sequoia groves. With over 750 miles of trails, it offers a multitude of backcountry camping opportunities for all skill levels. From the iconic Half Dome and Yosemite Valley to the remote and serene Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite’s backcountry promises awe-inspiring adventures amidst its diverse ecosystems.

Notable Yosemite backcountry camping areas:

    • Yosemite Valley: Explore the heart of the park, camp near iconic landmarks like El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall, and embark on challenging hikes to the High Sierra camps.
    • Glacier Point: Enjoy stunning panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, camp at the Glacier Point Campground, and set off on scenic hikes to destinations like Sentinel Dome and Taft Point.
    • Tuolumne Meadows: Discover the beauty of Yosemite’s high country, with pristine alpine meadows, sparkling lakes, and granite peaks. Camp at Tuolumne Meadows Campground and explore trails like Cathedral Lakes and Vogelsang High Sierra Camp.
Banff National Park - Alberta, Canada
Banff National Park – in Alberta

Banff National Park – Alberta, Canada

Banff National Park offers an enchanting backcountry camping experience amidst the Canadian Rockies. Its pristine lakes, awe-inspiring glaciers, and rugged mountain peaks create a postcard-perfect setting. With over 1,000 miles of trails, adventurers can immerse themselves in the serenity of the park’s backcountry.

Notable Banff backcountry camping areas:

    • Lake Louise: Set up camp near the iconic turquoise waters of Lake Louise and explore nearby trails like the Plain of Six Glaciers or hike to stunning viewpoints like Big Beehive.
    • Skoki Valley: Experience a true alpine wilderness adventure by camping in Skoki Valley, surrounded by picturesque meadows and peaks. Hike to destinations such as Hidden Lake, Boulder Pass, and Deception Pass.
    • Assiniboine Provincial Park: While technically outside Banff National Park, this neighboring provincial park is a must-visit for backcountry enthusiasts. Camp near the majestic Mount Assiniboine, also known as the “Matterhorn of the Rockies,” and enjoy breathtaking alpine scenery.
Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Chile

Torres del Paine National Park – Patagonia, Chile

Torres del Paine National Park showcases the raw beauty of Patagonia, with its rugged mountains, turquoise lakes, and expansive glaciers. This remote and pristine park offers unparalleled backcountry camping opportunities for those seeking an unforgettable adventure in one of the world’s most breathtaking natural settings.

Notable Torres del Paine backcountry camping areas

    • Base Torres: Camp at the foot of the iconic granite towers and witness the sunrise casting a golden glow on these magnificent peaks. Hike the challenging but rewarding trail to the lookout point for an unforgettable view.
    • Valle del Francés: Set up camp amidst the dramatic landscapes of the French Valley, surrounded by towering granite walls and hanging glaciers. Explore the diverse trails and be rewarded with awe-inspiring vistas.
    • Grey Glacier: Camp near the stunning Grey Glacier and embark on a glacier hike or boat tour to witness the mesmerizing blue ice formations up close.

These popular backcountry camping destinations offer a gateway to extraordinary natural wonders and unforgettable experiences. Whether you’re drawn to the granite cliffs of Yosemite, the alpine beauty of Banff, or the untamed wilderness of Torres del Paine, these destinations will immerse you in the wonders of nature and create memories that will last a lifetime.

The Bottom Line

Backcountry camping is a doorway to exploration, self-discovery, and a deeper connection with the natural world. As we have delved into the essence of backcountry camping, explored its benefits, discussed essential gear and preparation, shared tips for a successful experience, and highlighted popular destinations, it becomes evident that this outdoor pursuit offers a unique and transformative experience.

By venturing into the remote and untouched corners of the wilderness, we escape the hustle and bustle of modern life and find solace in the serenity of nature. Backcountry camping allows us to disconnect from technology, reconnect with ourselves, and gain a fresh perspective on what truly matters. The rejuvenating effects of wilderness immersion and the opportunities for self-reliance and resilience contribute to personal growth and a renewed appreciation for the natural world.

However, it is crucial to approach backcountry camping with responsibility and respect. Adhering to Leave No Trace principles, practicing proper wildlife management, and following camping regulations ensure the preservation of these pristine environments for future generations to enjoy. By treading lightly and leaving the wilderness as we found it, we become stewards of the natural world, fostering its conservation and sustainability.

So, whether you choose to embark on a backcountry adventure in Yosemite National Park, explore the alpine wonders of Banff, or experience the untamed beauty of Torres del Paine, embrace the opportunities that backcountry camping provides. Immerse yourself in the tranquility of nature, challenge yourself physically and mentally, and let the wilderness guide you on a journey of self-discovery and connection.

As you plan your backcountry camping trip, remember to equip yourself with the necessary gear, prioritize safety, and thoroughly research your chosen destination. Preparation is key to ensuring a memorable and enjoyable experience. And above all, cherish the moments spent under the starlit skies, the encounters with wildlife, and the awe-inspiring landscapes that will forever leave an indelible mark on your soul.

Embrace the call of the wild and let backcountry camping be your gateway to extraordinary adventures, personal growth, and a lifelong love affair with the great outdoors.

We’ll See You in the Backcountry!

Looking to explore the backcountry with the benefits of car camping?  Check out our Beginners Guide to Overlanding.

Prefer the ease and access of camping closer to home? Learn all about Front Country Camping here.

We Tried 3 of the Top Freeze-Dried Backpacking Meals on Amazon

Top freeze dried backpacking meals on amazon
We brought freeze-dried backpacking meals along on outdoor trips we’ve taken the past few weeks to see how easy they are to prepare, how they taste, and how filling they are.

We recently ordered freeze-dried meals from the 3 top brands on Amazon and tested them each to see if freeze-dried food can be any good.  On a recent trip to the outdoors, we brought the meals along to see how easy they are to prepare, how they taste, and how filling they are. Here’s how they stacked up.

In our experience, meals just taste better in the outdoors. Cooking over the campfire while camping is always a memorable experience and car camping can provide the ability to bring an entire kitchen to prepare the outdoor meals of your dreams. But even when you are backpacking and short on space, you deserve a quality, hot meal once you settle in for the evening.

Backpackers are experts at balancing the most calories in the smallest amount of space. They burn thousands of calories each day trekking through the wilderness only carrying what will fit in their pack. Out of necessity, backpackers are kings of food creativity.

Luckily, the outdoor gods have provided a great solution for those venturing outdoors with limited space – freeze-dried meals in a bag.

We were curious if freeze-dried meals were any good.  Sure, they are convenient, but do they do justice to their home-prepared versions? We ordered meals from 3 of the top brands to find out. Within minutes of starting our search, we had a Cuban Rice Bowl from Good To-Go, Pad Thai with Chicken from Mountain House, and Beef Stroganoff from Peak Refuel headed our way.

A few days later, thanks to the magic of Amazon Prime, we had our freeze-dried meals in hand.  We also picked up a portable butane stove and a lightweight pot set to make our tests as authentic to the backpacking experience as possible. We already had a trip to the mountains planned, so we brought the meals along to review.

Good To-Go’s Cuban Rice Bowl

We arrived in the mountains just after dark, unpacked our portable stove, and fired it up. The instructions were easy to read on the back of the package and seemed straightforward. We quickly brought 550ml of water to a boil.  We tore open the top of the Cuban Rice Bowl pouch, poured in the hot water, gave it a quick stir and resealed the package. Per the instructions, we waited 12 minutes, stirred it again, and dug in.

Freeze Dried Backpacking Meal - Good To-Go Cuban Rice Bowl after hydrationHow it looked

Chefs often talk about how you “eat with your eyes first”. Most backpackers don’t care what their meals in a pouch look like, but we do.  So, here’s our visual review.

Our now-hydrated Cuban Rice Bowl looked a lot like we would expect a Cuban Rice Bowl to look.  The black beans, plantains, and tomato flakes provided a nice contrast with the rice.  It looked to have plenty of seasoning with the pepper and cilantro being readily visible. It was a bit more watery than we expected, but for a dehydrated meal, we’d rather have a little too much water than not enough.

How it tasted

Our first taste was filled with lime, pepper, and cilantro flavors – some of our favorites. It has a small bit of spice that really adds to the overall taste.  We could have used more, but as this is for a mass audience, a small amount is probably the right call. The garlic comes through – especially lingering behind in the aftertaste.  It’s not overwhelming so you won’t have to avoid speaking directly to your partner after eating this meal. All of the elements were hydrated well without any crunchy or chewy bits.  We were surprised not to find even a random chuck of plantain that was a tad tough.

This meal from Good To-Go has a ton of flavor.  The drawback to so much flavor is that the plantains, beans, and rice are a bit overwhelmed by it.  Every bit tastes exactly the same.  Nevertheless, we’d more than welcome a hot serving of this Cuban Rice Bowl after a long day outdoors.  In fact, the more we ate of it, the more we enjoyed it. This is a really good vegetarian meal with a lot of protein (30g in the pouch).

Mountain House’s Pad Thai with Chicken

We brought this pouch along on day-trip snowboarding.  At lunch, during a break from the slopes, we set our portable stove up on the tailgate of our truck in the ski resort parking lot. This meal called for only 325ml of water with a 10-minute wait time.

How it looked

Mountain House Pad Thai with Chicken - Freeze dried backpacking mealOpening the pouch after 10 minutes, the pad thai waiting inside was full of color. There are a lot of colorful vegetables in this meal – bell peppers, carrots, and green beans. Like the Cuban Rice Bowl, it’s more watery than a typical plate of Pad Thai. The noodles are cut small – probably to aid in the hydration process.  It only generally looks like Pad Thai, but it does look appetizing.

How it tasted

First of all, Mountain House’s offering smelled really good.  Tired from being on the mountain, we were anxious to dig in. The first taste yielded mild flavors, but it definitely tastes like Pad Thai. It has a good amount of chicken which you can taste in each bite. The small-cut noodles have a good texture and, like the Good To-Go meal, everything in this pouch has rehydrated nicely. Like you’d expect in a good Pad Thai recipe, the unique flavor of the fish sauce comes through in this version. It has a really good flavor that isn’t overwhelming.

As we finish the meal, we don’t find any unmixed bits at the bottom of the pouch, a sign that it’s mixed and rehydrated well. This is a surprisingly good meal – especially from a freeze-dried pouch.  We finish it all and are left wanting more.  This turns out to be our only real problem with this Mountain House Pad Thai – there isn’t enough of it.  While it claims to have 2 servings in the pouch, there are only 480 calories and 20g of protein in the entire pouch.  If this was shared between 2 people as it suggests, the 240 calories per serving it provides won’t get you very far.

Peak Refuel’s Beef Stroganoff

Having been pleasantly surprised by how good the first two freeze-dried meals were, we eagerly tore open the pouch of the Peak Refuel Beef Stroganoff.  Checking the instructions on the back, we were surprised to learn that this meal only calls for 178ml (6oz) of water – half of the water the Mountain House Pad Thai required and a third of the water the Good To-Go Cuban Rice Bowl needed. Only requiring 90 seconds or so to heat up this small amount of water,  this is the quickest meal of the 3 to prepare.

How it looked

Peak Refuel Beef Stroganoff Freeze Dried Backpacking MealAfter 10 minutes and stirring multiple times, what was looking back at us when we opened the pouch wasn’t good.  While the other meals were a bit watery, this meal was clumpy and dry-looking. The beef stroganoff was colorless and looked unappetizing. It looked the least exciting of the 3 meals and it wasn’t close. As a single clump, we couldn’t tell where the noodles ended and the beef started. Undeterred, we dug in.

How it tasted

Chefs must know what they talking about.  We were turned off by the appearance of our newly-hydrated beef stroganoff and the pain only continued as we took our first bites.  We do eat with our eyes, but food that isn’t good probably also doesn’t look very good.

In our opinion, Peak Refuel’s Beef Stroganoff wasn’t good. Its texture was dense and mushy seemingly lacking moisture. If we had a second pouch, we would try using more water in a second run.  Even with added water, we’d prefer to let someone else have the second run because the flavors of this meal also aren’t amazing.  The beef chunks are chewy and the salt in this recipe overwhelms everything else in it. The flavors did improve as we worked deeper into the pouch – a sure sign that it needed more water and more stirring. As we finished the pouch, we discovered some unmixed powder at the bottom.  Using such a small amount of water also meant that this meal wasn’t as hot – something that’s important to us after a long day on the trail. It’s edible, but now that we’ve seen how surprisingly good these freeze-dried meals can be, this one underwhelmed us big time.

Our Conclusions

We knew that freeze-dried backpacking meals are convenient. Heating up water and throwing it in a bag doesn’t get any simpler. But now we know that they can be really good too. We were also surprised when scanning the packages that are seemingly pretty good for you – made with simple and good ingredients.

At $13-15 per pouch on Amazon, these meals aren’t exactly cheap. But the combination of convenience, healthy ingredients, and solid flavor can make them a great value.

Our favorite was the Good To-Go Cuban Rice Bowl – at 1070 calories, it had the most calories per pouch of the meals we tested.  It also tasted really good.  We loved the flavors of cilantro, garlic, and pepper that lingered (in a great way) on our tastebuds after the meal. Its 31g of protein is a good amount – especially for a vegetarian meal.

The Mountain House Pad Thai with Chicken also tasted great, but with only 480 calories and a cost of more than $15, it’s the worst value in the bunch.

The Peak Refuel’s Beef Stroganoff‘s flavor didn’t compare well again the others, but with 810 calories and a whopping 41g of protein, those looking for the best price/gram of protein should consider it.



Have a favorite freeze-dried backpacking meal we should try?  Let us know below in the comments.


The Best Gifts for Outdoor Lovers in 2022

Holiday shopping for friends and family can be stressful. Finding the right gifts that will truly be appreciated can be a challenge. Fortunately, if your friend or family member loves the outdoors, there is a wealth of great gifts to choose from. Here are our recommendations for the best gifts for outdoor lovers in 2022.

Got a price range in mind?
Best Gifts Over $200  |  Best Gifts between $100-$200  |  Best Gifts Under $100  |  Best Gifts Under $50

Gifts over $200

Satellite Communicator

Satellite Communicators are a miracle of modern technology.  Giving someone one of these is giving them the ability to stay in touch and call for help when they are far away from home. It’s a gift the outdoors lover in your life will appreciate, but also it’s a gift to yourself as it’ll ensure they return home safely.

Our Pick: Zoleo Satellite Communicator

The Zoleo Satellite Communicator is a small and lightweight 2-way messaging device that really shines when you’re out of cell phone range. The Zoleo automatically uses the lowest-cost network to ensure your text, email, or emergency messages get out without costing you an arm and a leg. When in cell phone range, the Zoleo will use the network of a Bluetooth-connected cell phone to send and receive messages. When off-the-grid, the Zoleo will use a network of satellites to make sure your message is received when your life depends on it.

Note: the Zoleo requires a satellite subscription service that starts at $20.

Buy on Amazon

Portable Power Station

Portable power stations combine a battery, inverter, and various charging ports to give you power while on the go. They are an awesome way to keep your devices charged while camping or to serve as your off-grid power plant for lights and other electronic equipment needs. Solar panels can be added to keep your power station charged.

Our Pick: ECOFLOW 256Wh Power Station

ECOFLOW power stations are some of the most respected in the industry. With fast charging, you’ll spend less time waiting and more time using this unit.  It has LiFePo4 battery cells for extended life and can deliver 300 watts via its 110V outlets. At only 7.7 lbs and a built-in handle, the ECOFLOW is as portable as it gets while still delivering big power. It also comes with a 5-year warranty that proves it’s built to last.

Buy on Amazon

Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard

Paddleboarding great way to travel waterways while also offering a really good workout. Paddleboards are really big and traditional paddleboards can be heavy and hard to transport.  Inflatable paddleboards can be deflated, rolled up, and taken just about anywhere.  They typically fit even in a small car removing the need for expensive roof racks.

Our Pick: DAMA Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board

We really like the DAMA inflatable SUP.  It comes with everything you need including a bag, pump, leash and multiple paddle options. It even includes some items you don’t need, but are a pleasant bonus. The faux wood-grain design looks really sharp on the water and in our usage, the DAMA inflatable SUP feels sturdy and tracks well in the water.

The included backpack-style bag allows you to take this SUP to even the most remote waters.

View our full review of the DAMA Inflatable SUP

Buy on Amazon

Gifts Between $100 – $200

Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker

Bluetooth speakers are great – they allow you to take your favorite tunes just about anywhere.  But Bluetooth speakers with really good sound and true waterproof durability are the best for serious outdoor use.

Our Pick: JBL Flip 5 Waterproof Portable Speaker

Sure, there are less expensive bluetooth speakers on the market, but JBL is known for a long history of quality sound, and this speaker doesn’t disappoint in the sound department. You’ll get loud, dynamic sound with deep base.  The cylindrical form factor allows it to be stood up safely on its end or quickly stashed in a cup holder.  Battery life is great on the JBL, it’s charged via a usb-c cable, and you can pair multiple Flip 5s for an even bigger sound.

View our full review of the JBL Flip 5 Portable Speaker

Buy on Amazon

Lightweight Camping Chair

Whether backpacking or camping, its important to have somewhere to sit.  Camping chairs come in all shapes and sizes, but packability and weight are important factors to choosing a chair for the outdoor lover in your life.

Our Pick: CLIQ Camping Chair

The CLIQ Camping Chair is a marvel. Stylish and comfy, it al

so can be packed away to the size of a water bottle.  It’s extremely easy to pack and unpack on the go.  Throw it in a backpack and you may even forget it’s in there. In our time with the CLIQ chair, we’ve found all sorts of uses for it – sports games, weekends at the lake, and a quick extra backyard chair for guests.  This chair is the most versatile and practical camping chair we’ve seen.  It’s worth the hype and the price.

Buy on Amazon

Portable Projector

A video projector isn’t vital to exploring the outdoors, but if you’ve got one that’s portable enough to bring along, it’s can be pretty awesome to watch your favorite movies projected on the side of your tent. The key to choosing a projector for use in the outdoors is to find one that has a built-in battery so it can be charged beforehand and ready to go.

Our Pick: AAXA Technologies LED Pico Projector

The AAXA Pico Projector is a tiny workhorse of a projector that’s perfect for camping. Its built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery gives you about 80 minutes of viewing time which can be extended using a small portable power bank or power station.  It has built-in speakers for sound on board and has a 720p native resolution.  The AAXA accepts video input via mini-HDMI or composite video connections.  It also has a Micro SD port to allow you to play your favorite video with minimal effort outdoors. Rated at only 25 lumens, it’s not the brightest projector you’ll find, but it’s plenty bright to light up your campground for the whole family to enjoy.

Buy on Amazon

Gifts Under $100


Daypacks make carrying all the necessities possible while hiking.  Snacks, water, a first aid kit, sunscreen, & bug repellent are all mainstays of the daypack.  A good daypack is built to be practical, durable, and comfortable.

Our Pick: Osprey Daylite Daypack

Osprey builds some top-notch backpacks and the Daylite Daypack is one of them.  This pack is smaller than a typical backpack, but with its various pockets, it’s perfectly sized for multi-hour adventure. Available in 16 different colors, you’ll be able to find a Daylit Daypack that fits your style. This pack has 15L of storage, dual, side water bottle pockets, and is lightweight.

Note: Daypacks are meant to be smaller packs that make short treks easier and more comfortable.  

Buy on Amazon


Having the right tools when you’re outdoors can make or break a trip.  Even the simplest set of tools can be heavy and too unwieldy to want to carry off-the-grid.  Multitools are pocketknives or steroids – having multiple useful tools that fold up into a single small device.  Since you never what tools you’ll need when off the beaten path, a good multitool will equip you with plenty of options to appropriately tackle the task.

Our Pick: LEATHERMAN Wingman Multitool

LEATHERMAN invented the first multitool back in 1983. Their multitools are still the best on the market. The wingman has 14 tools to handle just about anything.  All tools can be opened with only one hand to allow for quick and effortless use. At only 3.8 inches long, the Wingman can be slipped into your pocket so you always have the tools you need on hand.  With a 25-year warranty, the Wingman should last a lifetime.

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Annual Activity Pass

Using public land often requires entrance or overnight fees. If the outdoor lover in your life spends a lot of time in National or State Parks, an annual pass is a great gift idea.

Our Pick: “America the Beautiful” National Parks Pass


US National Parks are some of our most beautiful and treasured lands. An annual pass saves you from having to pay between $10-$35 each time you visit a national park while giving you the incentive to get to more of them during the year. The “America the Beautiful” Annual National Parks Pass is valid for 12 months and provides access to more than 2,000 recreation areas managed by six Federal agencies, with up to 100% of the proceeds being used to improve and enhance visitor recreation services.

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LED Lantern with USB Charging

LED lanterns are completely different devices than the kerosene lanterns your parents used. Using small, energy-efficient LED bulbs, LED lanterns illuminate your outdoor space using a built-in rechargeable battery that some models also use as a power bank to charge devices.

Our Pick: BioLite AlpenGlow 250

The AlpenGlow 250 gives off up to 250 lumens of light and has 8 different lighting modes. Choose cool or warm white light or add a little color to your campsite with the AlpenGlow 250’s color modes.  This lantern brings some additional fun with its internal accelerometer.  Shake it and it unlocks additional modes – single side light, candle flicker, 1-color cycling, and multicolor party. It has a 3200 mAh rechargeable battery that lasts for 5 hours on high or 200 hours on low. It also has a standard USB output for charging phones or tablets.

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FRS Radios

Family Radio Service (FRS) radios came on the scene in the mid-’90s and quickly became ubiquitous on ski slopes nationwide. Initially designed for use by families, FRS radios provide a simple way for small groups to communicate outdoors.  FRS radios can be used to communicate across campsites, hikes, and any outdoor activity where separation of the group occurs. At Under $100 for a set of 2, FRS radios are a great gift that can come in handy in many different ways when exploring the outdoors.

Our Pick: Motorola T260 Talkabout Radios (2 pack)

Motorola Talkabout FRS radios are full-featured with 22 channels and 121 privacy codes, equalling 2,662 channel combinations to choose from. Use the included rechargeable batteries for up to 10 hours of use or use 3AA batteries for up to 29 hours. The T260 has 11 weather channels to stay updated with real-time weather conditions.  It also has a scan feature to discover which channels are currently in use. The clean profile and white/grey design of these radios make them stylish and fun to use. These radios can save you time, hassle, and possibly your life when you’re outside of cell service range and need to communicate with friends and family nearby.

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Gifts Under $50

Portable Coffee Maker

Exploring the outdoors usually involves some sacrifices, but you don’t have to give up a great cup of coffee while out on the trail. There are a number of convenient options to make that perfect cup of coffee while outdoors.

Our Pick: AeroPress Go Portable Travel Coffee Press

Great coffee can be made with a small, uber-packable device and the AeroPress Go is proof. The Aeropress Go makes 1-3 cups of coffee, espresso, or cold brew in just a minute. The size of an aluminum can, the Aeropress unpacks to hold coffee grounds and hot water over its built-in mug. The AeroPress Go includes 350 microfilters which help filter the grit out of your freshly brewed coffee. Considering its size, the quality of the coffee it produces, and its reasonable price, the AeroPress Go is the perfect gift for outdoors lovers who also love coffee.

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Insulated Cups

It helps to have a cup, mug, or some sort of drinking device when camping. With little space for an assortment of cups and an interest in minimizing trash, having your own cup is a good idea.  An insulated cup will keep cold drinks cold and hot beverages hot for longer.

Our Pick: Outward Goods 12oz Insulated Wine Tumbler

We’re a bit biased on this one. Our sister company, Outward Goods, offers an excellent insulated cup that works really well for camping. While it’s technically a wine tumbler, its insulated sides make it great for both hot and cold beverages.  The 12oz Insulated Wine Tumbler is available in 3 colors: black, white, and stainless and features the Outward logo.

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Portable Water Purifier

When far from home, having access to a clean source of water can be the difference between life and death. Having the ability to filter contaminants, bacteria, and sediment from available water sources can make otherwise undrinkable water safe to drink.  If you have friends or family that spend a decent amount of time away from civilization, you should consider getting them a portable water filter.

Our Pick: LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

The LifeStraw Personal Water Filter is a small device that removes bacteria, parasites, and microplastics from water. Its microfiltration membrane removes 99.99999% of waterborne bacteria and 99.999% of waterborne parasites. This ultralight and portable water filter can be used for backup hydration, emergency, or on-the-go needs. Its filter will provide 1000 gallons of clean and safe drinking water during its lifetime. The carrying case protects your LifeStraw making it easier to pack and stow without worrying about it being damaged. As an added bonus, for every LifeStraw purchased, LifeStraw provides a school child in need with safe drinking water for an entire school year.

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Solar Phone Charger

Phones and tablets have become important tools while out on the trail or at the campsite.  From playing music to wayfinding with GPS, phones play a significant role in keeping us both entertained and safe while exploring the wild. To use these tools, a phone has to be recharged.  Using the power of the sun, a solar phone charger is a great way to keep your phone charged and maybe even have some power left over for that Bluetooth speaker.

Our Pick: 42800mAh Solar Power Bank

Most of us are familiar with battery banks – the phone-sized (or even smaller) battery devices that we can plug our phones into when we’re low on battery, but not near an outlet.  Solar phone chargers are simply battery banks with a small solar panel attached – allowing the battery bank to be charged when left out in the sunshine. The 42800mAh Solar Power Bank isn’t a name-brand device, but with more than 4,800 Amazon reviews and an average 4.5-star rating, it seems to be a great little device for outdoor enthusiasts. The device has an IP67 waterproof rating and claims to be dust-proof – helping to make sure it lasts many trips. The small solar panel and large battery in this device mean that it won’t charge very fast using solar, but in an emergency, being able to generate power to charge a communication device is pretty key.

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Tablet/Ebook Reader

A tablet or an e-reader may not seem high on the list for outdoors lovers, but the ability to carry a whole collection of books, maps, and travel documents on a single device is pretty awesome.  We even use our tablet to hold the pdf manuals of all of our outdoor equipment in case we need to reference them.

Our Pick: Kindle Fire 7

The Kindle Fire 7 is a small-format, inexpensive tablet that can be carried on your outdoor adventures without worrying about damaging an expensive device.  Its 16GB of internal storage is plenty to store a number of your favorite ebooks, audiobooks, music, and pdfs.  Its “larger-than-a-phone” screen makes reading much more pleasurable and when using it for music or audiobooks, it frees up your phone for other, more important tasks.  Think of the Kindle Fire 7 as a cheap storehouse for any media and reference materials you want to bring along on your next trip, but don’t have the room for.  On ours, for example, we have knot-tying and insect identification books along with pdf maps and details of our areas of exploration.

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This holiday season, get the outdoors lover in your life something that will help them enjoy the outdoors even more. Any of the above items should make your outdoor enthusiast happy and grateful for the thoughtfulness of your gift.

Did we miss a gift that we should have included? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Review: Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator

Never have to worry about being out of touch while exploring off-the-grid again. With a satellite communicator, you can send text messages and location data to family and friends using a network of satellites to ensure you remain connected no matter where you are at. Our Garmin inReach review details both the device we use, the Garmin inReach SE+, and the Garmin inReach service plans needed for satellite connectivity.

The Verdict:

We like to travel where cell service is unknown – a bit more off the beaten path. With our inReach SE+, we can head off-grid without worry.  Knowing that you are always just a few button pushes away from help if something happens while in the wild, frees you from the anxiety of “what if something happens”. While the SE+ is an investment, the inexpensive service plans and the ability to pause your plan while you’re stuck at home make the inReach SE+ a more than worthwhile investment when we head outdoors. There are newer satellite communicators on the market that bring the initial purchase cost down and that have more developed features, but we like the ease of use and dependability of our inReach SE+ for hiking, camping, and coastal sailing. The SE+ is now an older device and at $400 is probably more money than you need to spend on a quality satellite communicator in 2022.



The build on the Garmin inReach SE+ feels solid and rugged.  Using the form factor of its line of handheld GPS devices, the SE+ is rubberized and waterproof.  With an IPX7 rating, the SE+ can be submerged in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. It’s relatively lightweight at 7.5 ounces and feels good in your hand while using.  It has a nicely sized 1.4″ by 1.9″ color display for messaging and for navigating its features. The SE+ has 6 buttons plus a directional pad on its front and a protected SOS button on its side for emergencies. On the back, it’s equipped with a removable belt clip that includes a carabiner attachment for hanging.

Battery Life:

Like any electronic safety device, keeping the batteries charged is a crucial element for a satellite communicator. These devices “ping” the nearest satellite on a regular basis to update your location and to check for any new incoming messages. How frequently you set the device to log your location and check for messages is directly related to how much battery life you can expect.

The SE+ is rated to provide up to 100 hours (approx 4 days) of battery life using the default 10-minute tracking mode. As expected, the rated battery life drops as logging intervals are changed.  Using 1-second logging provides up to 75 hours of battery life. The SE+ also has a 30-minute power save mode where the batteries can last up to 30 days.

In our usage, we kept the device set at the default 10-minute logging interval and found that 3-4 days of battery life is realistic.  If you like to check the device regularly powering up the screen each time, expect less time out of the batteries.  In any case, it’s important to consider your ability to recharge the device depending on the length of your trip.  If you’ll be away from power sources your entire trip, it’s recommended to set the logging interval to a less-often setting to ensure you’ll have connectivity when you need it.


Dimensions: 2.7″ x 6.5″ x 1.5″
Weight: 7.5 oz
Waterproof Rating: IPX7
Batteries: rechargeable internal lithium-ion
Charging Interface: micro USB


  • Interactive SOS feature
  • Send & Receive Messages vis SMS and Email
  • MapShare compatibility with tracking
  • Virtual keyboard for on-device messaging
  • Send waypoints to MapShare during trip
  • Send route selection to MapShare during trip
  • Connect with the Garmin Earthmate App for messaging, tracking, etc information

Service Plans:

Garmin offers 3 satellite service subscriptions for its inReach devices, all of which can be paid annually at a discounted rate or on a monthly basis (called “Freedom plans”) with an “annual program fee” of $34.95.

Safety Plan ($14.95/monthly or $11.95/month annually):
  • Unlimited SOS messages
  • 10 Text messages per month
  • Unlimited Check-in Messages
  • 10-min + tracking intervals
Recreation Plan ($34.95/monthly or $24.95/month annually):
  • Unlimited SOS messages
  • 40 Text messages per month
  • Unlimited Check-in Messages
  • 10-min + tracking intervals
Expedition Plan ($64.95/monthly or $49.95/month annually):
  • Unlimited SOS messages
  • Unlimited Text messages per month
  • Unlimited Check-in Messages
  • 2-min + tracking intervals

See full feature listings for each plan and compare at the Garmin website.

Since our travels are often sporadic throughout the year, we prefer the monthly “freedom” plans offered by Garmin.  A highlight of these plans is that freedom plans can be suspended at no fee when you won’t be needing service.  While your account is suspended, you won’t be charged a monthly fee, but will still be charged the annual $34.95 fee at the yearly anniversary of your account creation.

Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator for Sailing
Relying on our Garmin inReach SE+ while sailing off the coast of California.

What we like about the SE+:

  1. The ability to message home while far from cell service.  This is why satellite communicators exist.  using a satellite network, you can send messages and contact emergency services from anywhere on the planet.
  2. We love that we can message directly on the device if necessary (ie. our phone battery is dead), but prefer to use the mobile app for normal usage.
  3. We love the unlimited “check-in” messages included on all Garmin service plans.  This allows you to pre-set 3 messages on your Garmin account that can be sent without going against your monthly messaging total.  You can change these often and it makes for the ability to send many more messages back home than your plan typically allows.
  4. We love that we can suspend our Garmin inReach service when we’re not able to get outdoors and can easily be reactivated when we’re headed back out.
  5. We love the MapShare feature which gives us a website to share with friends and family.  Your MapShare page can be password protected for privacy, provides an easy way for loved ones to message you directly through the page, and displays real-time tracking data on your trip progress.
  6. We love the tracking, routing, and waypoint abilities of the SE+.  It’s great to be able to plan trip routes and waypoints ahead of time, sync them to the SE+, and have them in hand while off-grid.
  7. The Earthmate app is really good – giving you the full feature set and data found on the SE+ on your phone.  This allows you to hang the SE+ somewhere with a direct view of the sky and leave it there throughout your trip.
  8. It’s fun to be able to keep those back home updated with the tracking features of the Garmin website.  They know exactly where you are at all times.

What we don’t like about the SE+:

  1. Like other Garmin handheld devices we’ve used in the past, the menu and system interface isn’t great.  It’s clunky to navigate and find the features/data you’re looking for.  After some good usage, you get a feel for how to get around the system, but it’s not super intuitive. using the Earhtmate app for primary usage of this device solves this problem.
  2. The SE+ doesn’t have any maps on the device. Its big brother, the Garmin inReach Explorer+ has mapping capability on the device for an extra $100.  It is awkward to see your tracks and waypoints displayed on a blank screen without map reference behind them, but the EarthMate app allows you to download and use maps to display your data appropriately.  While maps on the device would be nice, we didn’t feel that the extra $100 was worth it – another reason why we prefer to use the EarthMate app with our SE+.


Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator
The design of the Garmin SE+ is solid, rugged, and fits well in hand.
Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator Menu
The SE+ menu isn’t perfect, but with some time, is easy enough.
Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator Tracking without a map
Tracking without a map on the Garmin SE+
Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator SOS button
The SOS button can be easily accessed in case of emergencies
Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator back
The SE+ has a belt clip and carbiner attachment on the back
Micro USB charging on the Garmin SE+
Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator Messaging
Messaging on the SE+ is simple using the virtual keyboard.
Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator for sailing
Using our SE+ while sailing off the coast of California.