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3 Backcountry Camping Kits, Tested in the Tetons

The backcountry is calling.

Henry Phillips

In Yellowstone, we camped with friends. Their site boasted showers and electricity and all the comforts you don’t need out in the woods. But in venturing into the Tetons, it seemed fitting to, as David Foster Wallace wrote, “get away from already being pretty much away from it all” — go totally off-the-grid and spend some time in the backcountry. We hiked into a remote site on Bearpaw Lake, the literal end of the dirt-packed road.

Let’s say this about backcountry camping: it’s worth every “sacrifice” made, what with no bathrooms or electricity or running water. Our site, with a nearby stream’s trickle, a view of Bearpaw with the Tetons behind and really, nothing else, was the spot, more than any other, that we felt away from it all. There’s getting away, and then there’s truly, completely getting away, and sometimes, the only thing that slows the inner clock, keeps the mind at bay, and allows you to focus on life directly in front of you is setting up camp, deep in the woods, without anyone or anything around.

That also changes the gear necessities, so what we brought with us was strategic. Bears roam these parts, and they like food — so it had to be compact, sealed and able to fit in a bear box. We’d be hiking in and hiking out, so weight was at a premium and we limited comforts to the minimum (for NYC folk). And, the weather forecasted rain, so we needed layers that could protect against inclement weather. Here is the gear that endeared itself to us in the backcountry.

Overpacking Encouraged

It’s Okay to Indulge Off the Grid


Mystery Ranch’s Sphinx Pack ($299) has two torpedo pockets plus storage in the head cover, so it didn’t matter that I’d overpacked; its full-length zipper makes everything inside accessible; its suspension system is comfortable and easy to adjust. Topo collaborated with Tenkara Rod Co. for a 12-foot rod that collapses to 20 inches, though this fisherman had initial problems with the knot he needed to tie fly line to rod tip (it’s trickier than it looks). The Petzl Tikka RXP headlamp ($100) is the best in the business for its price, and it dims, brightens and changes beam to fit the situation. Its low setting is perfect for scribbling notes in a sturdy waterproof notebook ($13) inside the Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 2 DP tent ($450) (not that any moisture’s getting through the capacious rain fly), and then for shifting from my adventure to Hemingway’s. Once I switched the Petzl off, I settled into a pillow of air ($45), and grabbed a good night’s sleep. – Chris Wright

Simplicity in Everything

Less Is More, Right?


Simplicity is key in the backcountry. I kept things streamlined with the Boreas Trava Tent ($330) and the Boreas Halo Pack ($290), which highlight tasteful design as much as practical utility. The tent boasts high-strength stakes that didn’t bend with excessive rock pounding, and a simple, single pole over the top for quick setup (note: sleeping two people in here would be generous, at best). The 75-liter pack offers ample storage and allowed me to strap the tent, chair and sleeping bag outside, leaving space on the inside for emergency gear, a change of clothes and food for three grown men. Columbia’s OutDry Jacket kept me dry and warm when the rains came (and they did come), and is packable enough to stuff in a corner of the pack on the way out. The Helinox Chair ($100) may seem like an unnecessary luxury in the backcountry, but being a hair over two pounds and extremely compact, it offered more value than it took away in inconvenience. Finally, for a good night’s sleep, Sea to Summit’s Comfort Plus Insulated Mat ($200) gave a double layer of cells for ample cushioning and plenty of space for my large, exhausted frame. – Matthew Ankeny

Carry and Capture

Hauling Camera Gear and Comforts


On the technical side of things, I carried the Leica Q ($4,250), Mamiya 7II and Canon 5Ds R ($3,899), along with a suitably compact Manfrotto 190go! ($200) with a Manfrotto 054 ballhead ($170) that kept things steady when the sun faded. All of this managed to fit inside F-Stop’s Loka UL ($199), which is probably the closest I’ve come to finding the perfect camera bag. As far as non-camera equipment goes, I avoided overly minimalist gear in favor of a bit more comfort or capacity once we arrived at our backcountry halt. MiiR’s vacuum-insulated Howler bottle ($40) kept 32 ounces of water chilly for a whole day (despite a serious learning curve on the flip-top). Black Diamond’s Storm headlamp ($50) and Gerber’s Gator Premium knife ($121) were both welcome luxuries in camp. The centerpiece of the kit was the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 mtnGLO tent ($450) paired with the Nemo Nocturne 30 ($330). The Copper Spur offered a ton of room, shockingly easy setup and a cool little addition of integrated LED lights for late-night reading. And the Nemo wrapped and nestled my frame for lush comfort and steady sleep. – Henry Phillips

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