14 Essential Tools for the Great Outdoors—Frozen or Thawed

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Before you know it, the winter freeze will thaw; snow birds will return from their warm retreat; bees will bumble and flowers will flourish. Campers, fishermen, trail runners, hikers, and the like will emerge from hibernation to resume their outdoorsy activities. Elsewhere, the winter is just setting in, which means that skiers, mountaineers, ice fishermen, and hunters are gearing up for their outdoor recreation. Before hitting the dirt (or the frozen lake), this is an opportune time to add some essential gear to your travel bag or daypack.

To help equip yourself, or the nature-going person in your life, we’ve put together a list of essential tools and useful gadgets that are sure to be appreciated any time of the year.

GPS

Many of us enjoy diverting from the beaten path. But there is no sense in blazing a new trail if you don’t know where you are going—or your way back. Not every trail is clearly marked, and those National Parks maps have a way of leaving you puzzled. For these reasons, and many others, a handheld GPS is crucial.

When purchasing a GPS, important aspects to consider include: waypoint markers, data storage, form factor, and computer compatibility. Bushnell offers two user-friendly and budget-friendly GPS options that feature all of the aforementioned functions.

Both the Back-Track D-TOUR GPS and HuntTrack GPS Compass weigh a featherweight 6 oz and feature a self-calibrating digital compass, 48-hour data log, waypoint markers, thermometer, and altimeter, and each runs on three easy-to-find AAA batteries. The Back-Track GPS stores up to five way points, and the HuntTrack GPS can store up to twenty-five, adding an extra layer of versatility over the Back-Track. At the end of your trip, select the stored location and the units will display the direction and distance to your destination. All data can be displayed in imperial or metric units, and stored data can be transferred via USB to your Mac or Windows computer for later reference or Google Maps integration.

With the addition of a barometer to the thermometer and altimeter, the HuntTrack is optimized for hunters and hikers to provide crucial environmental data useful for determining elevation change, dramatic weather changes, and optimal hunting times. Sunrise/sunset and moon-phase information is also accessible, as well as an Animal Activity graph with 12-hour history and forecast. The key to any successful hunt is anticipating where to find your quarry, and the additional info provided by the HuntTrack can aid in planning when game will be most active and where they are likely to be—and whether the weather will be in your favor, or if you should just stay warm in the cabin.

Flashlight & Headlamp

One of the best options in the headlamp market comes from one of the best manufacturers in the business—SureFire. SureFire flashlights are mainstays among professionals across numerous industries, including the military and law enforcement agencies. Rugged construction, reliable performance, long life, and user-friendly design—that’s SureFire. Their Maximus Rechargeable Variable-Output LED Headlamp embodies those characteristics at a relatively budget-friendly price.

The Maximus’s variable output settings make this headlamp as versatile as it is bright. On the 500-lumen maximum output setting, the Maximus can illuminate your campsite; on the 1-lumen minimum setting, the Maximus makes a great map light. One of the unique features of this headlamp is its variable-output dial, a deeply knurled knob that allows you to adjust the brightness anywhere from 1 to 500 lumens. A long-life SOS beacon setting can also be activated with a single touch.

A waterproof magnesium housing enables the Maximus headlamp to be both durable and lightweight. The SureFire Maximus thrives in harsh conditions; it is waterproof to a depth of three feet. The housing also has a tilt range of 90 degrees, allowing you to put the light where you need it most. It's also comfortable to wear, thanks to its no-chafe, fine-weave headband and moisture-wicking Breathe-O-Prene forehead pad.

Another unique feature is a rechargeable battery system, capable of providing up to 1 hour of continuous output at 500 lumens (70 hours at 1 lumen). A fuel gauge on the headlamp gives battery-charge status. The included rechargeable battery can be charged using a wall-type AC outlet or 12V DC vehicle power—both AC and DC chargers are included.

For campers, a good flashlight is a must. Period. A good flashlight is bright, reliable, durable, and—most of all—useful. One of the most useful items a backpacker or camper can have with them is a headlamp, a hands-free flashlight.

The Fenix Flashlight HP05 LED Headlamp has features that will satisfy the needs of most recreationalists. The digitally regulated LED provides a consistent output level—up to 350 lumens of bright white light, as well as three other brightness settings and an SOS strobe mode. For nighttime illumination inside the tent or around the campsite, the HP05 has a red LED that won’t disrupt your dark-adapted vision—a great feature for bedtime reading.

The HP05 has an aluminum housing that is IPX-6 waterproof compliant, allowing this headlamp to shrug off rain and snow with ease. Included with the HP05 is an adjustable, moisture-absorbent dual head strap. And the light is mounted on a tilt mechanism that allows beam placement to be adjusted within a range of 60 degrees. For additional convenience, this headlamp can be powered either by NiMH rechargeable AA batteries or standard AA batteries.

The Maglite Solitaire LED Flashlight is a classic keychain light. It fits everywhere and will last (almost) forever. On a single AAA battery, the Solitaire can produce up to 90 minutes of continuous illumination, and its 37-lumen LED light source has an adjustable beam width that’s visible up to 60 yards away. Like the other Maglites you know and love, this little one also has a weather-resistant aluminum housing that is anodized inside and out, for years of corrosion-free performance.  

The solitaire comes with a keychain leash and is also available in Silver, Blue, Gray, Red.

 

Multi-Tools

In terms of utility and potential, a Multi-Tool speaks for itself—and nobody makes them quite like Leatherman. Who knew that a single handheld multi-tool could turn almost any guy or girl into a latter-day MacGyver? Scissors, flat head screwdriver, Phillips screwdriver, bottle opener, blade, ruler, file… imagine the possibilities! Leatherman makes products that last; we recommend the Sidekick Multi-Tool and the Micra Multi-Tool. Both are form-meets-function icons that feature stainless-steel construction, spring-loaded tools, and a 25-year warranty.

The 14-tool Sidekick Multi-Tool measures less than 4" long when closed and it is outfitted with needle-nose pliers, wire cutters, 2.6" straight and serrated blades, three screwdrivers, saw, ruler, and more. Included are a replaceable pocket clip and a nylon carrying sheath.

A more compact option is the 10-tool Micra Multi-Tool, which measures a minuscule 2.5" long when closed; it is packed with scissors, tweezers, nail file, 1.6" blade, three screwdrivers, ruler, and bottle opener. The Micra comes with a key-ring attachment. Included is a replaceable pocket clip and a nylon carrying sheath.

Portable Power

To keep your devices, camp light, and bug zapper juiced while in the great outdoors, a portable power unit is a must. Today’s systems are lighter and more efficient, making them much easier to bring along than previous portable power options. Keep your digital gear powered and ready for action, thanks to these compact solar panels and power packs.

Brunton’s Power Essentials Kit is an all-in-one solar power kit that includes a solar panel and rechargeable lithium-polymer battery. The Power Essentials Kit was specifically designed for charging USB-powered devices, such as a camera, GPS, or tablet. The included solar array is water-resistant and has a rubberized protective shell. The solar array has five panels that output 5V, 1A. This kit also comes with one of Brunton’s Inspire rechargeable batteries, which has a capacity of 3200 mA and also outputs 5V, 1A. The entire kit folds down to a mere 4.5 x 9 x 1" and weighs less than 21 oz.

Brunton’s Hydrogen Reactor Portable Power Pack is a new addition to the portable power landscape. It is a solid-state, eco-friendly power pack that requires no recharging—simply replace the rechargeable Hydrogen Core Cell (included) and keep on charging.

Since it generates power through a chemical process using naturally occurring elements, there are no harmful chemicals or byproducts. Since it doesn’t require conventional charging, this is an ideal option for emergencies and extended stints away from AC and DC power sources. This innovative power pack outputs 5V, 2A via standard USB cable. The Hydrogen Reactor is also relatively lightweight and compact, weighing only 8.5 oz with a 5 x 3 x 1” footprint.

The Hydrogen Reactor is also available in Orange and Yellow.

GoalZero has made an impressive splash in the portable power market, thanks in part to its lineup of portable power options and compact solar panel arrays.

The Sherpa 50 Portable Power Pack and the Bottom of Form Sherpa 100 Power Pack offer a Li-NMC rechargeable battery, multi-voltage charging, simultaneous charging and power output, fused circuitry that helps protect high-current devices like a laptop, as well as a battery gauge that displays the input/output of the power pack. Each of the power packs can be fully recharged in three hours.

One of the standout features of the Sherpa series power packs is that they can be chained to other Sherpa power packs to increase the battery capacity for extended run time. Included with each power pack is a 110V AC power adapter; they can be recharged via AC power, 12V DC power, or solar panels.

The Sherpa 50 Portable Power Pack has a 5200mA battery capacity, four power outputs, dual-USB output, and weighs 1.2 lb.

Alternatively, the Sherpa 100 Power Pack features an 11V, 8800 mA rechargeable battery, five power outputs, dual USB, and weighs 1.9 lb.

To complement the rechargeable batteries mentioned above, we recommend the Boulder 15 V2 Solar Panel and the Boulder 30 Solar Panel. The Boulder series solar panel is available in 15W and 30W configurations; both are compatible with all Goal Zero rechargers. Several of these solar panels can be connected in series using an included chaining cable, maximizing your ability to soak in the sun. The Boulder 15 V2 and Boulder 30 are both built on a weather-resistant aluminum frame and have scratch-resistant tempered glass protecting the solar cells.

A helpful accessory for your portable power rig is a tripod that will enable you to position the solar panels toward the sun. This is especially clutch early and late in the day when the sun is close to the horizon. GoalZero’s folding tripod is specially designed for this purpose; it is compact, height adjustable, weather resistant, and capable of accommodating up to four Boulder 30 Solar Panels.

The tripod head rotates 360 degrees and has an adjustable pitch angle that furthers the precise alignment of the panels. Spiked feet help anchor the tripod to firm footing, and tie-down points on each leg let you attach straps (included) for additional stability in windy conditions.

Waterproof Digital Camera

Most of us will end up bringing a digital camera along on our outdoor adventures. Chances are that your smartphone or point-and-shoot camera isn’t the least bit weather resistant, which is why a waterproof point-and-shoot camera can be a valuable addition to your backpack. A valuable addition to B&H’s waterproof camera stable is the new Ricoh WG-4 GPS Digital Camera. This tough little camera combines durability and image quality in a compact body.

In addition to its waterproof seals (rated to a depth of 45 feet), the WG-4 is also cold resistant, dustproof, crushproof and shockproof. Complementing the rugged construction is a built-in GPS module that automatically records location data useful for geo-tagging and travel logging. GPS data can be viewed in real time on the camera’s 3.0" LCD screen. Additionally, an array of built-in sensors provides a digital compass; barometric pressure, altitude, and water-depth gauges.

On the technical side, the WG-4 features a 16MP 1/2.3" backlit CMOS sensor capable of capturing high-resolution photos as well as 1080p Full HD video. Ricoh paired the sensor with its latest image processor, which allows continuous full-resolution shooting at 1.5 fps and an impressive 12-14 fps burst shooting at lower-resolution settings. An especially noteworthy feature is the camera’s high-speed video setting, capable of recording at 120 fps in 720p HD resolution.

The WG-4 has an f/2-4.9 4x optical zoom lens that captures 25-100mm equivalent focal lengths—suitable for wide-angle landscapes and telephoto shots. An ISO 6400 sensitivity setting and ISO Shake Reduction also make the WG-4 well-suited for low-light photography and shooting at a telephoto focal-length range. A ring of six LED lights surrounding the lens enables bright close-ups and balanced lighting for macro imaging.

The WG-4 digital camera is also available in a blue finish with black trim.

All of the outdoor gear mentioned above will be thoughtful and useful gifts for your nature loving friends and family members—or yourself. Day or night, rain or shine, summer or winter, these outdoor tools have the potential to make good times great—without weighing you down too much. For more options and specifications, check out these categories on the B&H site: GPS, flashlights, portable power, multi-tools, waterproof cameras.

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I have a Leatherman "Surge" and a Leatherman "Super Tool". I wear one or both all the time and end up using one or both of them just about everyday of my life for 20 years. They are my "go to" tool box at home, when fishing, boating, traveling or on a photo shoot. It's amazing what I've accomplished with them at times. They are lifesavers for sure.

Very informative & well written article.

Way to go!

One point to remember about multitools; if you get one for everyday use, make sure you have at least one blade & one screwdriver opening outwards (ie that you can deploy with the pliers folder, without having to pry the whole tool open) otherwise it's goinna be a pain. If you ride a bike, it's a must in the saddle pouch.

I have the Leatherman Micra.  The Leatherman Micra is compact and handy and designed for keychain use -- my Micra came with a key ring, not a pocket clip and nylon carrying pouch.  A bigger tool might be more useful for outdoor recreational use.  I have the Wingman instead of the Sidekick, because I have more use for the scissors that the Wingman has in place of the saw blade on the Sidekick.  Both have the knife blade that can be opened with one hand and locked without opening the pliers.

very usefull