You saw the adventure touring checklist we put together while we were prepping for the trip. It was long, many people laughed. We used just about everything on that list. Here’s how some of our favorite items performed on the trip to Labrador.
Michael Moore once posited that Americans are so obsessed with guns because they’re scared. And that’s exactly why Grant and I took this flare pistol along, we were scared. Of bears.
Ever since we got into that fight with a black bear in the Adirondacks, we’ve become paranoid campers. Every time a fox or a raccoon or a porcupine comes stumbling through a campsite at night, we’re freaking out that it’s another bear that has completely lost its fear of humans. Labrador has the largest bear population in North America.
Since we live in New York and can’t really legally own guns (technically you can, there’s just more red tape than we’re willing to deal with) as a result and because trying to get one across the border would have been an enormous hassle, we looked for other options. How about a device that fires an explosive incendiary round at high velocity out to a couple hundred yards with some rough modicum of accuracy and that isn’t regulated by any laws we’re aware of? Perfect. It goes bang, bears go away. Way better than bear spray that requires you to be within spitting distance of said bear for it to work. Plus, we’re not out to kill Yogi, just convince him to leave us alone. We didn’t get a chance to use this, but Grant’s mom says flare pistols are a great bear deterrent.
Obviously we don’t endorse firing shit at animals willy nilly, nor discharging incendiary explosives all over nature. Be an adult about things please.
From one extreme to the other. From a wilderness camping luxury to an outdoors necessary. What, you mean you still camp without baby wipes?! Aside from the obvious use, they’re also great for just cleaning your hands or face. Buy the moisturizing kind, after weeks outdoors your skin needs it, and not just the skin on your face.
I bought this not just to take to the gym, but also because it fits into the standard water bottle sleeves on my hiking pack, actually I bought two so that pack would be balanced. Tough as nails and, because this model is unlined, unpainted stainless steel, you can use it to boil water. That’s actually super handy as it’s easy to place within a fire, just cover the lid in tin foil and use your multitool pliers to lift it in and out. Just stick it straight into the middle of a fire, supported by wood on all sides and it’ll have your water boiling quicker than any other method. As an added benefit, I’m the only guy at Body Elite with burned sap all over my water bottle, take that Mr. Fake Tan.
SOG Powerlock Multitool
This is the multitool I use for big jobs. The USP of the Powerlock is a hinge system that doubles the input force to the pliers/wire cutters. Once you try that, you’ll never use anything else; the pressure of a firm handshake is enough to cut quarters in half. That means tasks like working loose seized bolts or just gripping your Klean Kanteen securely become twice as easy. Since I carry separate knives, I removed the blade and replaced it with a seatbelt cutter, all tools are user replaceable/customizable. I’ve now got wire strippers, scissors, a flat blade and phillips screw driver, 1/4-inch driver, can opener, awl, wood saw, wire and blast cap crimpers all in one tool. Haven’t really needed the blast cap crimpers, yet. Built to take a beating, which it has many times and it still looks almost new.
4Sevens Maelstrom G5 Flashlight
Still use a Maglight? This LED flashlight puts out 350 lumens and throws a very tight, artifact-free hotspot out to a couple hundred yards. It’s like carrying one of those pistol grip spotlamps in your pocket.
Having said that, what’s essentially a car high beam isn’t all that practical as you’ll find yourself needing flood, not throw, 99 percent of the time. Luckily, it’s got low modes that enable it to go all the way down to .2 lumens and stay on continuously for 7.5 days.
Mainly I used this for keeping an eye on the bikes at night and making sure no bears were feasting on the bear bag hung a couple hundred yards outside of camp. It’s an awesome light, but something a little smaller is probably more practical more of the time for most people.
4Sevens is a new company based out of Georgia making very high-end LED flashlights. Their build quality, output levels and features are peerless, but don’t buy directly from them; while they charge $150 for this light, it’s widely available elsewhere online for around $100. As an extreme example of what the latest in battery and LED technology are capable of, this is a neat toy.
Fenix Flashlight Headband
Looking like a dork beats holding a flashlight in your mouth while you work with both hands. This headband is cheap, effective and has a flashlight mount that’s near universal, although I did have to pad out the little light with a bicycle inner tube to make it fit.
The most useful thing on earth. Seven tiny nylon strands inside can double as fishing line or fine cordage while the whole thing together can support, as the name suggests, 550lbs. Don’t be an idiot and use it for climbing rope.
Shoe laces, bear bags, tying shit to the bike, dental floss, fishing line, you can use it for anything.
This is one of my favorite things on earth. I carry this everyday on my keychain, but took it off and wore it in the headband for the trip. It’s barely larger than the AAA battery it takes, weighs nothing and puts out up to 80 crisp, clear lumens. That’s 8 lumens more than a huge four D cell incandescent MagLite. If that’s not enough, it can last for up to 50 continuous hours at 1.5 lumens and, like all LED lights, you’ll never have to change the bulb.
The little Maratac is more than enough for just about any task outdoors, but it’s a very floody light, so don’t expect it to penetrate more than 20 yards or so into a pitch black night.
I used this every night and was still on the same lithium battery when I got home. For $22, it’s a ridiculous bargain. Some people may find the mechanically identical ITP A3, with its integrated keychain loop, more practical.
There’s no more reliable, easy or cheap way to get a flame in even the worst conditions. Make sure you get the clear plastic kind so you can check fluid levels and the ones with adjustable outputs make starting fires super easy if you turn them into blow torches.
ESEE Fire Starter and Buck Harstook
I use the little Buck Hartsook neck knife as a scraper for the fire steel to save my nicer knives wear and tear and because it’s just easier. The idea is that you scrape or carve off some of the mish metal rod with the knife, creating friction and a spark at the same time and throwing a gob of molten metal into tender (you prepared tender, right?), thereby setting it ablaze. It’s non mechanical and works when wet, so you never have to worry about it running out of fluid or breaking.
This particular fire steel is super nice because that huge anodized aluminum handle makes it easy to hold and has a little waterproof compartment inside for some tender; a button compass is housed in the lid. Don’t judge its effectiveness by this video, I wasn’t paying attention and was scraping an unused portion of the rod which still had some coating left on it. Had I scraped an already worn portion, it would have thrown out enormous sparks so bright they’d have flared out the iPhone camera. A starter this nice is serious overkill, but I like nice toys. If you don’t know what you’re doing and don’t need a solution this rugged, then it’s probably easier to just stick with a lighter.
Leatherman Squirt PS4 Multitool
This lives on my keychain alongside my Maratac AAA every day. It’s a lot smaller than the SOG, but because I’ve always got it on me, I use it a lot more. Despite being smaller than a lighter, it’s made extremely well and is very tough, I rely on it for much larger tasks than I should, but it hasn’t broken yet.
The PS4 is new this year and, as the name suggests, combines scissors and pliers in the same tool. Having this on hand means you can adjust things on the bike, cut zip ties, remove a hang nail, open a beer or do umpteen other things without going into your bag for a bigger tool. Ridiculously handy.
Howard Leight Max Lite Earplugs
I’ve been using these for years, ever since I saw them win a Ride Magazine comparison test in England and ordered my first box of 200. They’re cheap and disposable, which is nice when you drop them in a mud puddle, but very effective and all-day comfortable. They’re the quietest earplugs of any kind that I’ve ever worn. Using these meant I could wear a noisy MX helmet on the highway in complete comfort. In fact, they’re so unnoticeable once you put them in, that you can easily fall asleep wearing them, which is nice when you’re on a plane next to some Turkish kid who won’t stop asking for help.
Lost Mountain Iron Works “Works” Pack/Sheath
This is intended to be, along with the knife it houses, an emergency grab bag that can fit the essentials you need to survive outdoors and nothing more. It’s extremely overbuilt and versatile, but there is one small niggle: the kydex sheath it comes with is non-retentive and relies on a shock cord wound around the handle to hold the knife in. Great when you’re using it as a pack because that knife’s not coming out ever, not so great when you’re using it as a sheath and you want to access the knife frequently. No big deal, I plan to replace the standard sheath with a retentive kydex one from ESEE.
The ESEE fire starter and a diamond honing rod were included as standard.
I planned to used this on the trip as a fishing kit, but since we didn’t get the chance — damn flies — I just threw assorted outdoors odds and ends into it. Now it lives in my survival closet full of contractor bags, power bars, water purifiers, paracord, a poncho, a spare flashlight, some cash and other goodies ready to go if the zombie invasion forces me to flea my carefully prepared apartment.
Adventure Medical Kits Sportsman First Aid Kit
No readymade first aid kits are that good, but this one is less bad than most and it comes in a handy little bag. I ditched the guide book it came with — if you need to perform first aid and you have to look something up in a book, you’re screwed — and replaced some of the cheaper items with separately purchased spares like the real Ace bandage and bottle full of assorted pills you can see in the top photo. A handy selection of Band-Aids and little trial packs of medication, but really this should be a basis from which you can build your own kit. I think the only thing in it that we used during the trip was the Alkaseltzer. Scotch gives you a wicked hangover.
Sure, most times you camp you can just pick up dead wood off the ground to use in your fire, but if it’s raining or there’s not much wood on offer, you need some ability to process logs and limbs into useable firewood. This knife gives me the ability to do that and to perform other bushcraft skills.
Calling the ESEE a compromise knife doesn’t do its quality or usefulness justice, but while it’s just about long enough for real woodwork, it’s fairly light, so it’s not a chopper. That’s down to its relatively thin .188-inch thickness. In return, it’s way easier to pack and carry than something like a machete or even other, thicker wilderness knives. ESEE also uses unfashionable 1095 carbon steel, currently unpopular because stainless knives have made people too lazy to do basic upkeep in the field. If you let this knife sit around wet, it’ll get surface rust. The flip side to that is that this 1095 is the easiest steel to sharpen I’ve ever worked with and it holds an edge longer and through more abuse than any other knife I’ve owned.
Check out the tang on this thing, this is a very strong knife. The handle is micarta, which helps justify the $120 price as it’s more expensive than other materials, but positively spoils your hands. No blisters here. Other quality touches are the full flat grind, 1.56-inch blade thickness, the exposed pommel and the powder coating. As you can see in this video of me battoning a very tough, if slim, piece of old driftwood, I literally beat on this thing and it liked it. The ESEE-6 will last a lifetime.
Ultrathon Insect Repellent
You need insect repellent if you’re traveling to Labrador. In addition to the omnipresent black flies, mosquitos swarm everywhere too. The idea with using a cream is that it’s a smaller, lighter package than a giant aerosol can and it doesn't make you smell like you dumped gasoline on yourself. This little tube is still half full after two of us used it frequently for two weeks.
34.4 percent DEET, the packaging includes a warning that it’ll strip paint, so I’m reluctant to rub it into my face. Instead I rub it on my collar and under the brim of my ball cap, which seems to do the job. I’m not so precious about rubbing it on my exposed arms or even on my legs inside my pants at the top of my socks to keep out ticks and chiggers. Nothing is totally effective on black flies, but this seemed to help a little bit.
Sazon Goya (Sin Achiote)
Goya claims these spice sachets are, “an absolutely fool proof way to make everything taste not just good, or even great, but sensational — every time.” They’re not lying, this is my secret weapon for camp cooking. Rather than add spice, it adds umami, which means you don’t taste it so much as it just makes your food taste better. To cook a steak on a campfire just rub some of this, plus some salt and pepper into it, then roast it over the open flame. You’ll never complain about camp food again.
Twisted Throttle Mini Foot Pump
Tiny and effective, this pump is coming with me on all future bike trips. It’s just so damn useful. Despite the size, the vertical cylinder and the way you apply your body weight to each stroke makes using it a cinch. When we finally got back on pavement south of Manic 5, it only took five minutes to air up our tires. It comes in a little zipper bag that I’ve turned into a complete tire repair kit with plugs, patches, reamers, glue, the works. Rather than rely on finicky CO2 capsules, we were able to cart around a fully functional air pump, which, if we had gotten any flats, would have been a godsend. The only problem is that the built in pressure gauge was wildly inaccurate, so we had to carry a spare. It weighs one pound, it’s longest diameter is six inches and it only costs $24. Amazing.
Generic Aluminum Mug
Sometimes its the simplest things that work the best. I bought this at the dollar store, it’s as light as a feather, yet big enough to cook dinner in. Sure, it’s thin as hell and got dents in it the first time I handled it in the store, but this is my new universal camping dish.
Home Made Cotton Ball Fire Starters
Virtually free (especially if you steal them from your girlfriend), waterproof and more effective than any commercially available fire starter. To make them, just roll cotton balls around in petroleum jelly until they’re coated, then stick them in something. To use, peel them apart and apply a spark or flame to the dry inside fibers. It’ll put out a four-inch-high flame for at least two minutes.
Mosquito Head Net
Essential if you’re traveling to Labrador as its the only effective method to keep the black flies off. Wear whenever you stop and you won’t be bitten. Much. Cheap and ubiquitous.
I obviously have a thing for ESEE knives. This one’s made from the same 1095 carbon steel and is the same thickness as the 6 which means it takes a razor edge easily, holds it and will never, ever break. The ultimate back up knife, this is way more usable in a camp setting than a folder as it’s easier to clean and doesn’t have a mechanism to gum up. The blade sits at a slight angle to the handle, which means that despite its tiny 2.88-inch blade, it can work its way through wood quickly and efficiently. It’s so useful that if you found yourself stranded somewhere with just this knife, you wouldn’t even miss something larger.
Oh and that spork in the picture? Worst. Spork. Ever. I just ended up using the knife like some cartoon cowboy.