EXPEDITION PLANNING 101: Gear—Part 1, Shelter


Let’s set some terms first. What do we mean by expedition-worthy? And how much stuff is in the mix?

Thinking about expeditions, the imagination conjures journeys that go remote and stay long. Gear has to stand up to the rigors of continual use, the gamut of weather, and not let you down when things go south (because, inevitably, they will). Read with this caveat in mind. You know your expedition demands, so assess the gear covered and its fit for your trips from that perspective. Don’t assume you need everything, or that we cover the entire spectrum of necessary expedition gear. Still, what follows is a collection of field-tested, functional stuff that has the potential to elevate your trip and serve you well.

For this review, we are assessing expedition-worthiness on several criteria:

  • The most important equipment quality on a long and remote expedition is durability/dependability. Can it stand up to day-in-day-out use for a month or more in every conceivable condition?
  • Since this stuff is being used routinely over a long period, it needs to be efficient and well-designed. Does it work? And does it have some measure of elegance?
  • Weight/bulk is a consideration. Not as much a factor as in long-distance hiking, but on an extended water trip that involves portaging and heaving stuff around every day, lighter, more compact gear is always better.

The scope:

  • I have no interest in covering every item on the gear list, from underwear to throw bags. I’ve picked a medley of products that stand out for their quality and their impact on the safety and success of a big trip.
  • I’m breaking equipment into categories so it isn’t overwhelming. Shelters, how to carry the load, what to wear, on the water, safety, and so on.


MSR Hubba-Hubba tent

MSR’s Hubba-Hubba 2-person NX tent: The folks at MSR have been tinkering with tent designs for a long time, and it really shows in the Hubba-Hubba model. This shelter has everything you want in an expedition quality tent and weighs in at a feathery 3 lbs., 7 oz. Its one-pole system almost sets itself up – fast and easy for one person. The tent withstands wind and weather like a champ, especially when guyed out. It has shoulder and headroom for two people side-by-side, with doors and small vestibules on each side for easy exits and stashing personal gear. And the semi-circle zipper design reduces zipper failure (key in bug country!). Whoever put this tent together sweated the details, from the vents on the fly to the light but stout stakes. The design is simple, light and elegant–a tough blend to pull off. (3 lbs. 7 oz.; $399 — BUY NOW)
Big Agnes Battle Mountain tent

Big Agnes‘s Battle Mountain 2 tent: Another two-person shelter contender that has what it takes for the long haul. Constructed with 4-season conditions in mind, it comes in heavier than the MSR, but has more interior space and bigger vestibules for extended weather-bound conditions and gear capacity. The Battle Mountain is a spectacular design. Easy to set up without help, the Battle Mountain shrugs off bad weather, affords extra space for gear or cooking in the vestibule area, and has doors at both ends. Another tent with semi-circular zippers for prolonged zipper life and attention to the incremental little things like interior storage pockets and really beefy stakes that make a calculable difference over the long haul. The kind of tent you can call home for a month, rain or shine, then happily dive back in next season. (7 lbs.; $699 — BUY NOW)

Black Diamond Mega Light and Mega Bug shelter

Black Diamond Mega Light and Mega Bug shelter system: I have long been a fan of the single-pole shelter designs pioneered by Black Diamond. Where they are invaluable is when weather suddenly deteriorates (the ‘death star’ cloud/wind is upon you). No time to rig a complicated tarp. No trees to hide under. No way to set up a tent. Whip out the Mega gear, stake the corners, insert the pole and you have instant shelter to withstand the microburst (room to sleep 4 and 57” of headroom). In bug country, the Mega Bug meshed insert is required equipment – set it up and escape the maddening hordes while you eat and relax. These paired shelters, which you can use separately or together, are the epitome of simplicity and function. My only caveat is that in a big wind the tarp needs to be well guyed-out. I’ve used various iterations of these Black Diamond products for decades and I am totally sold. The current models are as solid as ever, and even lighter. (2 lbs., 3 oz. Mega Light, 3 lbs. 6 oz Mega Bug; $299 each — BUY NOW)

Thermarest Neo Air sleeping pad

Thermarest NeoAir Sleeping Pad: Gone are the days of paper-thin foam pads that barely kept the frost off. Thermarest continues to set the bar when it comes to light, compact and seriously comfortable mattresses. The Neo Air is another generation in that process. Quick and ridiculously easy to inflate, the pad features 2.5 in. thick, cushioned tubes of comfort – all in a lightweight package that fits in a pack side-pocket. Here are my only two pieces of advice. First, make sure you are really meticulous about keeping a flat, tight closure when you roll up the mouth – or air will gradually seep out during the night. Second, these pads tend to be loud if you toss and turn. Must be the material, but it’s a fact of life with these. That said, I’m a convert and months of hard use hasn’t changed my mind. (1 lb.; $189; 9” x 6” packed size — BUY NOW)

Big Agnes Q-Core SLX sleeping pad

Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Sleeping Pad: Several rival companies have encroached on what used to be the undisputed territory of Thermarest. Big Agnes has developed the Core mattress line to compete, and they do it admirably. The Q-Core pads are luxuriously comfortable (3 in. of baffled cushion), while remaining seriously lightweight and compact. They are a bit rigorous to blow up, but once inflated, you won’t be able to blame lumpy ground for a bad night’s sleep. Again, my only caution is that the material is loud if you move around at night. (1 lb.; $139; 9” x 4” packed size — BUY NOW)

— Stay tuned for PART II: Light My Fire
— Read more from Kesselheim’s Expedition Paddling 101 series: Inspiration // Gear Decisions // Food Planning
Canoe-Tripping Gear Tested
Aquaphile: When You Get Your Life Back
Why Do We Paddle So Much?
70-year-old Kayaker Crosses Atlantic, Keeps Going
Video: No Canoeing for Old Men

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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