Everyone has those few items that make the biggest difference in whether or not they enjoy their time outside. Gear is a pretty personal thing, and even more than that, gear is super important! There is a big difference between a 40* sleeping bag vs. a 0* bag. Using a soft shell instead of a hard shell on your next adventure could cause you to have a pretty bad time. Even, or especially, tent selection makes a massive impact on the time you'll have camping. So with the understanding that gear is heavily based on preference... here are my preferences. Items I depend on and trust to aid me in my explorations. Tried and true; tested heavily and enjoyed fully.
#1 Arc Teryx Delta LT Zip-Neck
This fleece is amazing when it comes to layering. It's a light weight waffled fleece that can be used as a base layer when its real cold out, a mid layer in the fall and spring, or just a cozy top for a cool summer night. I start most hikes or mornings at camp with this tossed over a tank. What sets it apart from any other zip-neck fleece is a combination of being thin and form fitting, with the warmth of a much thicker piece. Being thin and having a shaped torso is super nice when it comes to layering, as this fleece adds almost zero bulk. The waffling is great because it means when you layer, the sleeves don't pull as you put clothing on top of it. I'm a big fan of the seaming on the wrists too- a very fine hem that keeps the sleeves where they need to be- not bunched!
#2 Arc Teryx Atom AR Hoodie
The Atom hoodie is a synthetic mid-layer jacket that is highly weather-proof for what it is. It dries out quickly, but also retains heat when its wet. Something that not all synthetic pieces can claim. It's super breathable, which means you can use it for most activities. A lot of companies make jackets that aim to do what the Atom AR does, but in my experience, they fall flat when it comes to one or two of the points I've mentioned. This packs down small and has the same wrist hemming as the Delta LT. As someone who hates bunching, I cannot tell you how I love the tighter wrist detailing of Arc Teryx. For a mid-layer, this is somewhat of an expensive jacket, but you will use it endlessly and you will notice a massive difference in quality.
#3 Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Liner
I would be a sad camper if I didn't have this liner for my sleeping bags. I get really cold camping- even on pretty pleasant summer evenings. I usually use a bag that is rated well below what's actually forecasted and I still end up using this piece of gear all of the time! My beloved Thermolite Reactor Extreme Liner! It adds up to 25* of warmth to a bag. And it can be used by itself for hot weather camping. I like to use this with my Back Country Quilt if I know weather will be good and my quilt will probably be warm enough- this guy just ensures that even if temperatures drop lower than expected, ill be okay. Sea to Summit makes these in various temp ratings. There is one that adds even more warmth. But I think in general, this is the best best for an all around liner. Super easy to wash too- just toss it in a machine on the delicate setting and line dry.
#4 Jetboil Flash
I am the laziest camp cook in the world. As in, I don't cook. I don't want to, I don't like to, I just want to eat food. So the Jetboil system is really nice. Simple to use and really basic functions. It boils water. And that's all I ever need. I don't like to have fires when I'm camping and the fanciest food I eat are dehydrated meals once in a while. So with the Jetboil, I can make coffee and tea. Or i can boil water for quick oats. It works nice for melting snow if I'm in a pinch for water, and speaking of water, sometimes you just gotta boil that shit for various reasons. I hate fussing around with other stoves and cook set-ups. If you're into real basic eating in the wild, you probably will really love this item.
#5 Outdoor Research Aurora Bivy
I like to keep my stuff in one place and free of bugs. So a lot of times even though I sleep in a tent, I'll throw everything in my Bivy during the day and zip it all up. That way nothing can happen to it. At night, I'll just unzip and crawl in and know that I wont wake up wet. This is especially useful in winter and with a dog. The Bivy is also great emergency gear for long day hikes. If some horrid weather moves in, if injury gets you stuck somewhere, if the day does not go according to plan... crawl into the bivy and ride it out. The reason I like this OR one is because it's not fancy. It's super basic and rolls down very small. But it is weather proof and pretty burly. You definitely feel safe in it, without the overkill of a pole, or the minimal design of netting. You could throw this down in a talus field and feel secure that it wont snag or tear.
#6 Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt 800F
This quilt is my go-to sleeping bag when weather permits. It's rated to 38* comfort/28* limit. So it works easily to 28* or so when used with my liner. The thing I love about quilts is that they don't weigh anything and take up very little room. This quilt has a really nice hood that covers your whole head and shoulders for when it gets chilly out. I like the hood to block out light and noise as well. It has little hand pockets on the top corners too- this helps to maneuver the quilt if you'd like to tuck it under you or whatever. it uses 800 fill DriDown that can be shifted around. That's a great feature for if you need certain areas to have more insulation- like your torso on frigid nights, or your feet! It's something that not many manufacturers do, but makes a big difference.
#7 Western Mountaineering Bison GWS Sleeping Bag
This is a really extreme bag. It's used for brutal conditions and is rated to -40*. For an item like this, I want to just copy and paste what WM has to say:
"Gore Windstopper™ fabric makes this bag impervious to the elements while remaining lightweight and very compressible. Crammed with 42 ounces of 850+ fill power down this bag has 10 abundant inches of heat trapping loft. Huge V-Block Side Baffles and horizontal baffles across your chest keep the down fill in place. Double Interlocking Draft Tubes and a down filled Gore Windstopper™ collar seal in heat and security while howling winds surround your tent. The massive hood is not only well filled but is completely made with Gore Windstopper™ fabric and has a large integral hood ruff to seal your face from the elements. The Bison is the crowning glory of Western Mountaineering and demonstrates our commitment to innovation and quality. This life saving bundle weighs in at a scant 4 lb. 10 oz."
These bags can be made custom. Mine has extra down in the foot box, because like I said, I get really cold. This bag is amazing for camping in really super cold places. Which is the only reason you'd even consider investing in such a sleeping bag. It is an insurance piece. And it's cozy as fuck. There have been a number of times that I am certain this bag warded off hypothermia. So that's pretty nice.
#8 Hilleberg Staika Tent
The Staika is a very roomy 2-person tent. It's a free standing dome tent that is unbelievably strong. It's very versatile and so incredibly easy to pitch. In fact, I don't think it could be any easier to throw a tent up in a minute flat. Hilleberg is a gold-standard for bombproof tents, and I've definitely put various models through the ringer. They've all been outstanding and they all have unique features that make them best for specific trips. The reason the Staika is my favorite is the ease of pitching. It's that simple. I also really like the duel entrance/duel vestibules. Last year, sometime in June I believe, Jon and I camped in the Badlands with our Staika. They had one of the worst storms of the season- we had to retreat but could not break down camp. When we returned, the tent was fine and all of the gear in the vestibules were also unscathed. It was unreal. Because of the shape of this tent, it can handle a ton of snow too- truly an all season tent. When I talk to people about my love for Hilleberg tents, the price always comes up. And all I have to say on that is its your home. While you're camping, tent is home. If you plan to do anything in extreme conditions, its an insurance plan. It's a guarantee of a rock solid base camp. Each tent is handmade and the customer service is spectacular. You will never regret having a Hilleberg tent.
#9 Kokopelli Nirvana Packraft with Spraydeck
My packraft is the ultimate tool for freedom. I hesitated putting it on this list, because its not... practical per se. But you know what? It's my list! And having a packraft has been one of the biggest joys in my life. These rafts are insane. They roll up to about the size of a tent, weighing about 10lbs. The paddle is super light and breaks down into 4 pieces, making it very easy to pack. Here's the thing. You get to camp, you set up, you eat and then what? Sure there are camp activities to do. Or you could just raft around on a gorgeous lake. Subalpine and alpine lakes. Red, green and blue lakes that are crystal clear and magical. Or, you can actually live that river life, using this raft to travel far distances and camping at night. Like a through hike of a river. For bike packing these guys are the sickest. This raft has storage in the pontoon and is incredibly easy to inflate and deflate- both take very little effort or time. They are rated for white water and can handle a ton. The reason I prefer the spraydeck model is because I like to sit lower on the water. It makes me feel more stable. The spraydeck also keeps me and my camera equipment a little dryer.
#10 Outdoor Research Gradient Beanie
This is a really basic wool hat. It has some fleece lining for the ears. I like this hat because it's roomy and not stretchy. I tend to live in hats during colder months, but am often annoyed by a tight fit causing discomfort and making it harder to hear. The Gradient Beanie is super warm and really comfortable for extended use. It doesn't interfere with hearing. It also is just super cute- it comes in many colors and has a more relaxed fit. I've machine washed mine a few times and it still looks new. I like many OR products, but this is definitely one of my favorites, and hands down the most used.