Story and Photos by Reuben Bolieu
We all love to talk about the cool gear—sharing our gear selection with friends and comparing notes. It’s also fun reading articles about the next best thing to reach the outdoor industry, while considering all the ways we can put it to good use. But what about the mundane gear that we take for granted? The unsung heroes of our backpacks? The small necessities that we really don’t think much of, until we need them.
In this article we will take a look at some of the items that may not seem worthy of discussion, until you find yourself in the wild places without them.
To me a sturdy, reliable pair of leather gloves is an indispensable, basic requirement for a Bushcraft trip or survival pack. It is amazing how much I depend on leather gloves when camping and just woods bumming for the day. I use them for wood gathering, cooking and wood preparation and have even reassembled hot logs, coals, hot rocks and pots with the help of this handy pair.
I have used leather gloves on the tops of my shoes as a pillow on many backpacking trips. They have served as knee pads when working on projects, as well as some small amount of insulation when sitting on cold rocks and logs. They, besides my knife and possibles pouch, are my constant companions, always taken on firewood gathering expeditions or when cooking over a fire.
Any task requiring natural shelter building is always made easier with a pair of leather gloves. Grabbing deadfall and rummaging through debris for shelter poles can encounter all sorts of sharp things that may put a serious damper on the situation. This also goes for working with sharp bamboo and saws; they both have a way of cutting me worse than a knife, and much more frequently. Leather gloves prevent that by giving a certain level of temporary superpowers, making hands immune to heat and sharp abrasive things, momentarily, until wearing off!
I don’t favor any specific brand of leather gloves and am currently using a brand from Amazon.com called Olson Deepak. They are made of cowhide leather and are still going after two years—during which time I have used artificial sinew and Kevlar to repair them, as well as patches of Gorilla Tape.
I suggest getting them a little larger for winter use. I usually have a very thin pair of fleece gloves from fall to summer, that I wear under the leather cowhide gloves for insulation, as leather is a cold conductor.
Leather gloves are a serious piece of gear for me, and others, definitely worthy of the unsung camp hero’s badge!
Yet another item that is rarely talked about—but is one the 5c’s of survival—the metal container. While this item isn’t as multi-functional as gloves or a bandana, there is an industry devoted to outdoors cook pots.
Although I’ve used many various expensive titanium, aluminum and stainless-steel containers, I’ve often modified Foster’s Beer cans to be a super lightweight alternative. Like any gear, it all depends on the situation and the trip. However, as of 2018 I have gravitated towards the Uberleben Kessel Pot.
The HD 304 grade stainless steel is very easy to clean and is still rust free after two years of constant use outdoors. The Kessel has two features that make it stand out over other cookpots: a curved metal handle (previously wrapped with paracord on the original model) that can be hung from a support stick and a wooden lid lifter. These two features alone offer more than just a standard pot with lid and bale. But, to add to its usefulness, it also has a pour spout making it a kettle as well.
I first started using the Kessel in the winter months and found the angled handle to be ideal for scooping up snow to melt for hydration and cooking. Like any metal container, it can be put directly over flames or placed directly on hot coals. The ease of hanging and handling it sold me.
What took this pot over the edge was the wooden lid lifter. It was wide enough to use as an impromptu cutting board, while the shape of the lid caught any food, keeping it from rolling off.
I took the Kessel on a bush trip in the Philippines and it was one of two cookpots used on the trip. It served as a rice maker, stew pot for pork adobo and water kettle for morning coffee. The Uberleben Kessel is in my semi-permanent camp as I write this.
A reliable bush pot is a must-have item for camp and survival, as the ability to boil water or wild game it vital. This is one of the hardest items to make in the outdoors, out of natural materials, so when selecting one, chose wisely!
Better known as the camp accessories multi-tool, the bandana is something I always keep in my cargo pants pocket or possibles kit. The idea of having a square, cotton or silk cloth carried on your person has been written about for well over a decade, by prolific outdoors writers—and for good reason.
In 2015, I flew to Venezuela for two expeditions. One was to Angel Falls (the highest waterfall in the world) and the other to summit Mount Roraima, which borders Brazil and Guyana. Both were protected territories.
Mount Roraima is the highest of the Pakaraima chain of tepuis, or plateau, in South America and a regular sized orange cotton bandana was my most used item, along with footwear and a backpack.
The bandana was orange for visibility if needed for signaling, as well as to be able to find it if dropped—especially since it rarely was put away. It served as a face protector from the harsh sun and bugs that were flying straight into open breathing, tired mouths, emerging through the jungle canopy towards the top.
It was a headband, sweat rag, wash cloth, toilet paper and face shield from the elements—in that order! With the many, sandy, gritty puddles it was easy enough to find a place to take care of business, and quickly use the gritty sand and water to clean it off. With the sun exposure and wind, thin cotton dries very fast. The hardest thing was finding privacy with seventeen other Brazilians and a handful of porters all on the trail. Needless to say, I became very familiar with the cotton bandana.
While in the Amazon Rainforest in Peru, a bandana was better than a hat, due to the thick canopy of shade. It was used to wet and cool down victims of heat related illnesses, as well as wear on our own head to cool ourselves off. It also served as a sun protector when on the rivers and tributaries. It was a bandage, potholder, washcloth, water catch on hammock lines and stage one of water filtration.
I don’t use, or know of, any designer brands of cotton bandanas, as we all sort of just end up with them, such is the case with me. However, along the lines of accessories that have value and are also multi-use items are Merino Wool hooded neck gaiters and Kerchiefs from North X North.
Merino is an active fiber that regulates changes in your body’s temperature in order to keep you comfortable longer, regardless of activity level or conditions. All of their items do the work of a bandana and also have more tailor made uses as garments for all weather. I have used the Kerchief and neck gaiters in Mexico, Scandinavia and Russia, as well as Alaska, and Canada. Their neck gaiter and hooded neck gaiters are a constant in my pack for woods, travel and everyday living.
The bandana is a true unsung hero of camp, one item—countless uses!
A backpack is an essential no-brainer on a camp trip. However, a small, super lightweight pack can be multi-functional as a stuff sack for cooking or bedding gear, then be used as a summit or exploration pack from base camp.
I recently became acquainted with Sylvansport gear, namely their Hacky Pack. It’s lightweight, durable and capable of carrying a day’s worth of gear. It holds two water bottles in the side mesh pockets, includes a hidden back pocket stash and a hydration bag slot. The pack quickly transforms into a 4-inch ball when not in use, making it more portable.
The impressive 4-ounce weight is what caught my attention. I have used Gossamer Gear backpacks for about fifteen years, because they had the lightest backpacks I could find. I have used several, but always used the ones that were 4 to 8 ounces, empty, on long trips. The Hacky Pack, from Sylvansport, is 4 ounces but not as large as the Gossamer Gear counterparts.
I was surprised how much I could fit inside the Hacky Pack for day trips, and I could see this as my summer overnighter backpack—easily. The websites says the capacity is forty pounds but I couldn’t find forty pounds worth of overnight summer gear, let alone that much for a day trip.
The Sylvansport Hacky Pack is compact and functional. For those who want to get their pack and gear weight down, I would recommend this pack, as larger packs tend to get filled—meaning more weight to carry.
Keeping the essentials close and easily accessible is the goal of the Hacky Pack. Besides, what other pack can you have a game of trailside hacky sack with?
These are my picks for gear that goes underappreciated, hardly getting the praise that knives, stoves, hammocks, guns and tents do—to name a few.
These unsung heroes make life in camp, and on expeditions, that much more bearable and smooth. In my opinion these are the little things that make the trip better and more enjoyable. These are the true camp heroes in my book! K&G
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Leather GlovesBrand: OLSON DEEPAKMaterial: Cowhide LeatherClosure Type: Pull OnPattern: Cut Resistant, Oil Resistant, Puncture ResistantWeight: 4.5 OuncesMSRP: $12.99
Bush PotBrand: Uberleben Kessel PotMaterials: HD 304 grade stainless steel, Natural hardwood grab handleFinish: Polished exterior for easy wipe down of soot and debrisCase: Waxed duck canvas bag (YKK zipper and carry handle)Capacity: 1.1 liter (37 fluid ounces)Weight: 16 ouncesMSRP: $44.00
Bandana/Neck GaiterBrand: North X NorthMaterial: Superfine jersey knit Australian merino wool (290 gsm/21 micron)Size: 26 inches x 10 inches (66 centimeters x 25 centimeters)Weight: 3.8 Ounces (108 grams)Style Type: Hooded Neck GaiterMSRP: $35.00
Hacky PackBrand: SylvansportMaterials: 100% Nylon fabricExpanded: 18 inches x 12 inches x 8 inchesCollapsed: 4 inches ballCapacity: 14 litersCarrying Capacity: 40 PoundsWeight: 4 OuncesMSRP: $39.95
North X Northwww.NorthXNorth.co
ÜberlebenNorth X NorthSylvansport
Adventurer, writer, photographer, gear designer and survival instructor for Randall’s Adventure & Training, Reuben has spent most of his life hiking and backpacking through the wildernesses of the world. He has traveled abroad in extreme environments, from Alaska to the desert heat of Egypt – as well as the humid conditions of Southeast Asia and South America. He continues studying primitive survival techniques, construction and uses of knives and edged tools from places such as: South America, Australia, Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, and numerous countries in the South Pacific and Scandinavia. Reuben has published many articles on survival, knife and tool use, woodcraft, shelters, and remains a lifetime student of survival.
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