My 5 Must-Have Camping Gear Items

I was catching up the other day with a friend who I hadn’t seen since April and we got to talking about our summers. He asked me what my favorite trip was and I had a hard time choosing. For some reason it feels like I haven’t gone anywhere, which is frankly not true at all. I’ve gone around the globe.

From the Dalles to Sweden to the San Juans to Montana, summer of 2017 has been one for the record books for me. I slept outside more than I have other summers, did more multi-night camping trips, and pushed myself further.

Rolling into our dream spot on the Deschutes River in May

Rolling into our dream spot on the Deschutes River in May

All of this camping gave me a great opportunity to get really really familiar with a few pieces of gear that are now in my pack every time I go camping.

There are some pieces of gear that rotate depending on whom I’m going with, the weather, and how I’m getting there. These include my stove, sleeping system, and tent. If it’s super nice out with no rain in the forecast, I might forego a tent and sleep on a ground cloth. If I’m with my boyfriend, we’ll take the bigger tent and big stove. If it’s going to be cold and I’m going solo, I’ll take the insulated pad, warmer sleeping bag, and tiny stove. All sorts of variables going into picking these things.

But there are a few specific pieces of essential gear that absolutely must come with me EVERY SINGLE TIME. This is regardless of weather, destination, or company:

1.       Fozzils Folding bowl/cutting board combination

This bowl/cutting board combo is exactly what it sounds like. Folds up into a bowl, lays flat for a cutting board. I *think* it comes in a 2 pack, which is perfect for prepping on one, and then eating in the other. For any weight weinies reading this, each bowl is 1.4oz (40grams), so pretty damn light for a cutting board & bowl!

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2.       GSI Drip coffee maker

This is another folding contraption, and while there are fancier ones out there, this GSI Collapsible coffee maker does the job perfectly. Collapses super small, never retains odors/colors/stains, easy to use with a variety of filter sizes when I inevitably forget one and have to borrow from somebody.

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3.       Black Diamond Headlamp

Just like the coffee maker, there are fancier versions of this out there, but I arbitrarily picked the $20 headlamp a few years ago at REI and have been happy with it ever since. The battery lasts forever, it’s easy to operate, dims when I want it to, goes to red light for reading/not blinding people. Overall, just a functional headlamp.

4.       Paradox baselayer

Underwear are particular for every person. Wool underwear are like underwear, just longer, and more people see them, at least if you go camping with me. So, take this recommendation with a grain of salt. I absolutely LOVE my Paradox baselayer from Paradox that I got at Costco four years ago. They’ve got a few holes in them from embers around the fire and have been on countless trips. But goddamn do I love them. Perfectly soft (even from the first wear) and just the right weight that they’re great as a single layer on warm nights, or as a base layer on cold nights.

5.       Ditty bags (Waterproof and non. I have both.)

The secret to enjoying camping is staying organized. Knowing where my snacks are when I get hungry, socks are when my feet are cold, and Tylenol is to beat the hangover before it starts is the magic that keeps me coming back. Staying organized also makes packing and unpacking a breeze. The only way I’m able to do this is with ditty bags. I use these for everything – food, clothes, underwear, toiletries, bike tools. Everything.

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So what are your go-to pieces of gear? (Also, sorry for the ads/affiliate links. I’m trying it out- let me know any feedback. Also, you should buy from a local shop and not Amazon, but if your'e gonna buy from them anyway, use these links and I'll get a very very very tiny %.)

To Take the Lane or Not – Rural Road Conundrums

I’m lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest, where great rural roads are a quick ferry ride away from downtown Seattle. Depending on the ferry, I can go from my doorstep to relatively quiet rural roads in under an hour. Not bad for the fastest growing city in the US with a metropolitan population of more than 3.5 million people.

Riding these roads is usually pretty uneventful, if not downright serene. Many of my favorite routes to close campsites (see this post for a quick rundown) have great shoulders for riding bikes on, and some even have dedicated bike lanes.

I get bored with the same destination over and over, however, and often find myself exploring new roads and route. These routes come to me from a variety of places – creeping on randonneuring maps, zooming in on Strava friends’ routes, and crowdsourcing. I’ll often fall back on the Washington State Gazeteer I invested in last year, which is always the most helpful in figuring out actual routes.

The challenge with these rural and suburban roads is that often they lack critical infrastructure that makes the kind of riding I like to do safe and comfortable. Sure, it’s legal for me to ride my bike there, but is it actually safe?

Bike train climbing up and out of Seabeck

Bike train climbing up and out of Seabeck

I’ll give you an example- the route to Scenic Beach State Park. This park is 18 miles from the Bremerton ferry terminal, which for many people (especially weekend warriors and bike camping beginners), makes for a pretty good distance bike camping destination. The route even looks pretty benign on Ride with GPS and Google Maps- a few decent hills, and only one road named “highway.”  (Caveat- there is an actual highway option on route 3, which actually does have shoulders, but I don’t recommend it.)

Google Maps suggested route to Scenic Beach

Google Maps suggested route to Scenic Beach

The actual ride to get out there though is a frightening mix of blind uphill corners, long climbs, and narrow shoulders. (Another caveat, it starts out with these signs through Bremerton, which quickly transition into “Watch out for Cyclists, in Memory of XXXX”)

These signs are the best

These signs are the best

I have Scenic Beach as a recommended spot on my list of spots within an hour-ish of Seattle, but might need to edit the description a bit. The last time I rode out there this summer I was white knuckled with fear the entire time I climbed up Northlake Way, a long, slow, twisting climb with no shoulders. As cars came up behind us, I could hear them swerving around us, as they didn’t know we’d be in front of them going so slow, nor was there a safe space for us to ride off to the side.

Notice the speed limit and shoulder conditions. Where would you ride?

Notice the speed limit and shoulder conditions. Where would you ride?

So on rides like this, what do you do? Obviously, safety is paramount, as there are already far too many bike/car collisions. Also, I think it’s important to recognize our vulnerability on the road as cyclists, as we are by far the softest thing out there.

With those in mind, here is how I handle situations where I don’t have a bike lane, limited shoulder to ride on, or poor road quality:

I am as assertive, yet empathetic to road users as possible, while still taking up as much space as is possible and safe for myself. Often, this means riding just to left side of the white line (in the car lane), or sometimes, even taking the full lane. I try and wave to drivers who slow down for me, pull over when climbing in a pullout to let cars who are going slow behind me to pass, and in general, be a cooperative road user. As somebody who drives (occasionally) it can be very frustrating to see what appears to be a selfish person on a bike. I try and avoid that situation, smile at drivers, and yet still take the lane.

I also recognize my position of privilege in making this statement. I am a white woman in the USA. I do not look threatening while on a bicycle. I go slow. I am fat. Most car drivers look happy and encouraged to see me on a bicycle and more often than not, I get encouraging remarks from them. (Another post on that on another day.)

I’ve ridden with men before who get honked at, yelled at, and things thrown at them. Their experiences touring/traveling in a rural area is way different than mine, so I can’t really offer any advice for that.

Gals at the Dalles

There's something about rolling hills, farms and open prairie that just does it for me. I absolutely love it. Add gravel roads, cows, a challenging climb with a screaming descent, the opportunity for dispersed camping and you've got my perfect ride.

Two years ago, I was introduced to the Dalles Mountain 60. This route is typically ridden in one day on the second Saturday in March, with whoever shows up. When I did it in 2016, a mixed bag of cyclists showed up, but primarily roadies with really fancy bikes and spandex. Most people seemed ready to test their mettle on this early season ride and go as fast as possible - up and over Dalles Mountain, down Maryhill Loops, and over Old Moody Road. Scenic photos be damned, they were going for King of the Mountain!

My style of riding is quite different. I'm in it for the journey- photos, fun stops, and whatever may come my way. The problem with doing this ride in early March, however, is you're battling daylight. It's a long, challenging ride with some decent elevation gain. If you don't hustle, you won't make it back to the city before sunset and it gets COLD and DARK out there. 

So after my first experience in the Dalles I knew that I wanted to go back. I was in love with the scenery and wanted more, but wanted to do it on my own terms. And that's how Gals at the Dalles was born.

If you've ready my blog post about my trip last summer with Komorebi Cycling Team, you know about the magic that is biking with all women. So I'm not going to rehash that, but suffice it to say, I was intentional in planning this trip to be all women.

I put the call out on social media that I was doing this trip to Oregon, open to rad women, gave them the route, and to meet at Holstein's Coffee on Saturday the 20th at 10am. In the end, 18 women ended up making the trip to Oregon - 2 from Montana, 2 from Oregon, and 14 from Washington! A pretty damn good turnout!

One challenge going into this ride was fighting my internal voice that kept saying "You're too slow to lead a ride like this." And on some levels, it's true. For the climb up Dalles Mountain (the first 16 miles of Day 1), I was the slowest. But, that doesn't mean I couldn't lead in other ways. To combat this internal struggle, I did the following:

  • Made sure everybody else was as prepared as possible to ride ahead with the route, cue sheets, and knew specific details (like where to get water)
  • Made it abundantly clear that there was no expectation for the group of 18 to stick together
  • Enjoyed my own pace and rode my own ride

My plan totally worked and I was pleasantly surprised when at mile 37, we came down a huge hill after Stonehenge (seriously, there's a full size replica of Stonehenge in the middle of Washington) to find the whole group! I have no idea how long they'd just been hanging out eating lime salted cucumber (you can read about that here on Adventure Cycling) but it was the BEST SURPRISE EVER!!

From there, we rode the final 5 miles into the Deschutes River Recreation Area where we had staged a car with all of our camping gear and a cooler with cold LaCroix and beer. After loading up our bikes, it was a stunning ride 8 miles down the Old Rail Trail to a dispersed camping site for the night.

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Day 2 started with a seriously stupid number of flat tires on the sharp gravel, luckily most of them easily fixable. We only had to boot one tire but it proved to be a good learning experience. Eventually we all made it off of the Rail Trail and back onto the main Dalles 60 route, where Old Moody Road awaited us. 

I think this road should be called Old Moody Mountain, and I honestly think it's the hardest part of the entire trip. This road is like a freaking wall and it's all gravel and so steep. Once we finally conquered that, it was smooth, beautiful riding all the way back into the Dalles.

Ending back at Holsteins Coffee we all collapsed onto the patio in the 95 degree heat. Happy, exhausted, accomplished. And excited to do it again next year?

p.s. This time, I took 600+ photos, and who knows how many the other women took. To see a small selection, search for the hashtag #galsatthedalles on Instagram!