This list grows directly from a 12-day road trip that my wife and I took last August, driving north from Washington, D.C., to Acadia National Park—along with stops and detours to NYC, Cape Cod, Camden, and Portland, Maine. It included lots of day hiking, an insane amount of lobster consumption, loads of micro-brews, and staying in accommodations that ranged from a bare-bones B&B to car camping. In addition to these items, we always travel with a few kitchen essentials—a solid chef’s knife, cutting board, food thermometer, and a handful of spices. Between that and the seven items on this list, you can handle any sort of cooking/camping experience you might encounter, from pitching a tent to bedding down in a primitive cabin.
1. Yeti Hopper 40, $400; 2. Primus Firehole 200, $175; 3. MSR Alpine Deluxe Kitchen Set, $55; 4. Stanley Adventure Cook and Brew Set, $25; 5. BioLite BaseLantern, $100; 6. Black Diamond Iota Headlamp, $40; 7. Snow Peak Atsu Japanese Hatchet, $226.
Nathan Borchelt is a gear-obsessed travel writer and adventurer whose collection of shoes, backpacks, jackets, bags, and other “essential” detritus has long-outgrown his one-bedroom apartment (and his wife’s patience).
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Yeti Hopper 40
Yeti's bomber ice chests that can withstand a bear attack, but we went the largest-volume "soft" cooler because it fit perfectly on the floor of the back seat, where it housed beer and food and lobster (which so much more than mere "food") for days on end. And it also fit under the bed when we got home. Designed to carry 36 cans of beer along with ice, the cooler comes with 1.5 inches of ColdCell foam insulation, a leak-proof HydroLok zipper that locked the cold in for days, a big shoulder strap, and loads of lash points and handles. The only real problem: fighting the creeping paranoia that you'd fall victim to the rash of Yeti thefts. So no, we never left the cooler in the car overnight.
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Primus Firehole 200
Cooking in the grand outdoors can be as simple as wrapping potatoes in tin foil and tossing them into the fire. But it can also be a whole lot more. The easy-to-light, easy-to-transport Firehole stove gives you two burners underneath a stainless steel grate strong enough to handle everything from backpack-friendly pots to heavy cast-iron Dutch ovens. It blazes with 12,000 BTUs, with an average boiling time of three minutes, but you can simmer garlic under controlled heat to make the perfect shrimp scampi, and the twin windshields that flank the stove also double as prep space.
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MSR Alpine Deluxe Kitchen Set
Gourmands will no doubt travel with their own chef's knife—but this kitchen set gives you everything else you'll need, including a foldable plastic cutting board, cork screw, a pot strainer/cheese grater, a dish brush/scraper, a folding spoon, a folding spatula with a serrated edge, two squeeze bottles, and a dish towel, all of it packed into a semi-rigid zippered case. And for the non-professionals, you also get a great 4.5-inch 440-series high-carbon stainless steel Santoku-style knife housed in a ventilated plastic sheath. Better still, the kit is very lightweight, so it'll perform just as admirably in the backcountry.
MSR Cascade Designs
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Stanley Adventure Cook and Brew Set
Rather than anchoring its mesh strainer on a thin piece of metal, this 32-ounce French press filters the grounds via a melt-resistant nylon cup with a vented bottom that nestles inside the 18/8 stainless steel pot. Heat the water in the pot by tossing it on the stove or over the fire, mix in the grounds, rest, and press, and pour. Salvation.
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Available now as pre-order and shipping this November, my prelim exposure to the BaseLantern was impressive, especially considering one of its primary features (controlling the lantern by phone app via Bluetooth) wasn't available when we hit the road. With brightness that tops out at 500 lumens, the lantern offered ample, clean white light to all our dish-washing endeavors, with a battery length that burned for five hours on high (and 54 on low) and two stainless steel folding legs that let me hang the thing off a branch or perch it on our picnic table. I can't wait to play with the variable color and dim selections when the free app drops later this fall.
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Black Diamond Iota Headlamp
On the opposite side of the lighting spectrum, the Iota keeps things simple—which is just what you want in a head lamp. The rechargeable light fits in the palm of your hand, one of Black Diamond's lightest and smallest. But it still emits enough light (up to 150 lumens) to let you navigate the trail, campsite, or darkest woodlands, with a three-hour burn time and three settings, including bright, dim, and strobe.
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Snow Peak Atsu Japanese Hatchet
Fire wood was easy to find in Maine thanks to copious roadside bundles for sale (on the honor system) around Acadia. But finding the right kind of wood you need to start a fire proved more challenging, especially since most camp sites had been picked clean of kindling. Truth be told, my version of the Atsu is older, but they both boast the same construction: a big forged-steel blade and a solid maple handle. The two-pound hatchet diced the dry cord wood in a heartbeat, proffering a variety of pieces suitable to build a raging bon fire. Camp without the Atsu or some other kind of ax, and you might have to suffer the indignities of using a Duraflame. One caveat: wear gloves when using to save your hand from unexpected blisters, the great bane of all axes and hatchets.