Best Outdoor Cookware – The GSI Pinnacle Camper

Last year, I reviewed two of GSI’s Pinnacle cookset systems: the dualist and the soloist. We use these all the time for minimalist backpacking, either solo or with a few family members.

GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Camper Cookware Set
36 Reviews
GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Camper Cookware Set
  • A 2L pot with lid/fry pan and a 3L pot made of hard anodized aluminum.
  • Two crushproof, heat-resistant nylon strainer lids work great for the pasta chef’s.
  • Four insulated mugs and four bowls with four plates make a complete four person cook set.
  • Folding gripper to handle the pots and the lid/fry pan is included.
  • The welded stuff sack the set fits into doubles as a sink or wash basin.

However, when the whole crew is backpacking, or when we’re car camping, we need something more substantial for our family of five. Enter the GSI Pinnacle Camper Cookset.

Now, there’s a whole series of GSI Pinnacle cookware, and it can get a bit overwhelming. They ALL feature abrasion resistance, they are all coated with Teflon, are all scratch resistant, made of hard anodized aluminum, and all come with some combination of bowls, cups, and utensils.

If you’re in the market for a family sized set, however, you can focus solely on the Camper.

You get a LOT with the Camper set, including:

  • 3 liter  pot
  • 2 liter pot
  • 2 strainer lids
  • frypan
  • 4 14 ounce insulated mugs
  • 4 14 ounce bowls
  • 4 plates
  • 4 Sip-It tops
  • 1 folding pot gripper
  • 1 welded sink
  • Pay attention to how the whole thing fits together, because you’ll want to duplicate that on your camping trip or backcountry overnight. (Don’t worry, even I could do it, and I never have luck getting things back into their boxes or packages after opening them.)

The whole set is compact, with all parts nesting into the next. Folding gripper locks on the exterior brackets keep everything snug, and prevent any scratching.

The bowls convert to mugs, and are color-coded, so you can assign each family member a color. If you have kids who like to argue about possessions (or germs), you know how important this is.

You get a stuff sack to hold it all, which is made of a stiff material (almost like a waxed canvas), that doubles as a sink or bucket for washing dishes.

The lids are heat-resistant and crushproof, and include a strainer lid, which is really convenient, given that most meals made while camping involve freeze-dried components or noodles to drain.

The weight of the whole set is 3 pounds, 10 ounces, so no, this is not your ultra-lightweight option. But it’s very do-able for short backpacking trips and car camping stays.

We used ours during a weekend trip to the Oregon Coast, during which we invited several extra friends of our teens. We actually combined two Pinnacle sets to cook all the food for that trip!

The Pinnacle Camper is $139 on the GSI site, which feels steep until you note all that you get for this single price. It really adds up to buy all the backpacking plates, bowls, and mugs! Also look for it on Amazon!

Best Nylon Daypack By Cotopaxi Luzon Reviewed

If you’ve been outdoors lately, traveling or on the trail, you’ve undoubtedly seen at least one Cotopaxi Luzon day pack on the back of a fellow traveler. A new bag for Cotopaxi, an outdoor adventure company with a grassroots vibe, the Luzon 18L is a colorful, almost whimsical daypack known for its individuality and simplicity.

Cotopaxi Luzon 18L Durable Nylon Daypack
109 Reviews
Cotopaxi Luzon 18L Durable Nylon Daypack
  • Ripstop nylon shell fabric. Perfect for day hikes and running around town.
  • The Luzon’s highly packable design easily stuffs into your luggage for easy travel.
  • Large main compartment with internal hydration sleeve.
  • Front zippered pocket for organizing and accessing your essentials with ease.
  • Cotopaxi products are guaranteed to last 61 years.

The Luzon only features one main compartment, closed with a simple drawcord opening. It has basic mesh backpack straps and a sleeve for a hydration pack (not included). It packs down to almost nothing, since it has no internal frame or bulky parts. What you DO get: a totally individualized design.

Each Luzon is hand-designed in the Philippines factory used by Cotopaxi. The designer can use any color way he or she desires, and you cannot request particular colors when you order a Luzon. The result is a literal rainbow of colorful Luzons…all different from one another.

When you open the box containing your Luzon at home, the color way will be a complete surprise.

I cannot tell you firsthand how comfortable or practical the Luzon is…because the day my sample arrived in the mail, my teenage son grabbed it before I could even take it out of the box.

Immediately, he was smitten, and he’s been using ‘his’ Luzon for day trips on the trail, school field trips, river rafting adventures, and travels ever since. On the left is a photo of our actual Luzon, chilling by  the trail.

The Luzon is made of 100% ripstop nylon shell fabric, and has proved to be very durable so far. You do get one front zippered pocket, but otherwise, there are no compartments other than the hydration sleeve.

It’s definitely best for minimalists, or those who just need to stash a packable day pack into their carry-on for the occasional excursion while traveling. It only weighs 300 grams, and as aforementioned, it has an 18 liter volume.

Does the Luzon live up to it’s hype? For $49.95, the price feels a bit steep for a simple day pack, but darn it…the unique color way panels are appealing.

No doubt it will continue to be a popular choice among teenagers and young adults like my son, but I can see the appeal for all ages. Often when traveling, simple is best, and I can absolutely see myself stashing the Luzon into my travel duffel to use on my next international trip….if I can steal it back from my son, that is.

Look for the Luzon on any outdoor gear site or in any outdoor store. Don’t bother trying to select your color, however! If you really need some control over your color way, buy on Amazon, where you can at least select a hue.

Best Sweater Poncho – Mariska From Aventura Clothing

If I could offer just one travel hack for women packing a travel wardrobe, I’d say to always coordinate outfits with leggings to minimize space.

If I could offer two travel hacks, I’d add that a nice scarf can dress up any travel outfit. And if I could offer three travel hacks, I’d remind women that a well-designed poncho can add elegance and comfort during travel days.

So about that poncho tip: I now own three ponchos to use on travel days, and by far, my new favorite is Aventura’s Mariska Sweater Poncho.

Aventura Women's Mariska Poncho Sweater
  • 55% Cotton, 25% Nylon, 20% Viscose.
  • Imported.
  • Hand Wash.
  • Mock turtle neck design.
  • Cozy sleeves.

This poncho is a far cry from the souvenir variety you can buy south of the border (though I did wear it in Peru). It has a beautiful and timeless drape to it, allowing women to look sophisticated while curled up in comfort.

It’s perfect for long haul flights, dinners out when you just want to add a layering piece to pants and a tee, and for long car rides or train travel.

My only complaint about ponchos is that my arms are oddly constricted, making it hard to carry bags, do work at my seat, etc. Not so with the Mariska: it has sleeves!

These half-sleeves slide right over your arms, and can be pushed up to the elbow or worn down at the wrist. They really allow a lot of necessary movement, and I don’t feel like I looks awkward wearing the poncho.

What’s more, the Mariska is over 50% organic cotton, so it’s incredibly soft, and it’s thin, so it provides a simple, lightweight layer. It has a t-neck with a nice roll to it (nothing constricting), and cross-body paneling for a flattering look.

As mentioned, I like to wear mine on the plane during long travel days, paired with leggings or pants. However, I found it to be an incredibly useful tool in my travel wardrobe when I needed to dress up my day outfit for dinner time.

In the photo, I snapped a quick photo as I headed down to dinner from my Cusco Peru hotel room. I’d dressed up my outfit in about five seconds!

Pick up the Mariska sweater poncho in three colors: black, oatmeal, and heathered gray. I have the oatmeal, but I would seriously consider grabbing two colors, to work in any color palette.

They’re one-size fits all, and quite roomy while hugging the body. Grab it for $79 on the Aventura website, or look on Amazon to save a few bucks.

Best Lumbar Pack From Mountainsmith Knockabout

Remember fanny packs? Well, you may have noticed that they’re back. Perhaps because fanny packs got such a bad rap in the 80s and 90s, they’ve been reintroduced as ‘lumbar packs’, and it looks like they’re here to stay.

Truth be told, I resisted returning to the world of fanny–er, lumbar–packs, but there’s a reason (or two) they’ve stood the test of time: these packs are convenient for getting gear in and out of, and they’re comfortable.

When you don’t have need of the larger liter backpacks, but are too active for a purse or tote, lumbar packs fit the bill.

Mountainsmith Knockabout Lumbar Pack
10 Reviews
Mountainsmith Knockabout Lumbar Pack
  • Adjustable webbing sling converts to waist or shoulder carry.
  • Zippered main compartment with organizer sleeve.
  • Back panel hidden stash pocket.
  • Front panel accessory pocket.
  • Headphone port.

Mountainsmith has been making some of my favorite backpacks for some time (in fact, my pre-teen son uses a Mountainsmith Pursuit while backpacking).

The Mountainsmith Knockabout is actually a hybrid lumbar pack and sling pack, with an adjustable strap to pull double-duty. You can easily swing it over one shoulder for use like a small purse; I’ve done so around town at home this past summer.

While traveling, it’s easy to stash the Knockabout in a bigger day pack or carry-on, to pull out when you’ll be leaving your hotel to dine at a restaurant or go on a short day excursion, and all you need to bring is the essentials: wallet, phone, etc.

As a lumbar pack, the Knockabout fits around the waist, clipping into place just about the hips. The strap attaches at the top of each end of the bag, instead of in the middle, so you don’t get that bouncy fanny pack feel.

Instead, the pack hugs your hip pretty nicely. Again, it’s not designed for truly rugged trail running or high impact activity; this is the pack to clip on for errands, that quick trip to the outdoor market, or that walk to the restaurant.

The Knockabout is 3.7 liters (10.5″ x 7″ x 2″ / 27 x 18 x 5 cm) and you get a zippered main compartment with an organizer sleeve, hidden stash pocket on the back panel, front panel accessory pocket with key clip, headphone port, an adjustable webbing sling, all with a bright yellow lining to make finding your items easy.

The outside is CORDURA fabric, which is known for durability.

Pick between several colors, including huckleberry (rich maroon), black, or barley (tan). Trust me, you’ll forget you’re wearing a fanny pack! The Knockabout is available on Amazon.

Best Solar Oven: The Sunflair [Deluxe and Mini] Reviewed

The Sunflair Solar Oven is one of the niftiest products I’ve tried in a long while. While not practical all the time, this solar-powered, portable oven is ideal for anyone looking to build up their supply of emergency gear or seeking an energy-saving alternative to traditional propane camping stoves.

Sunflair Mini Portable Solar Oven
23 Reviews
Sunflair Mini Portable Solar Oven
  • Cook from sun-up to sundown.
  • Includes 1 solar oven thermometer, 1 trivet, 1 collapsible silicone pot.
  • Cook where open flames are not allowed.
  • Possible to cook in some vehicles. (Cook Responsibly!).
  • World’s lightest and easiest solar oven; floats and dries quickly.

The Sunflair comes in two sizes, the Sunflair Deluxe Solar Oven Kit and the Sunflair Mini Solar Oven Kit. The products are very similar…which one is right for you will come down to the size you prefer, and whether you’re cooking for a crowd or just for yourself.

Here’s How They Both Work

Think of the Sunflair as a portable, solar-powered slow cooker (crock pot). Its closed-cell insulated wrap/wall heats the interior of the stove to a temperature between 190 degrees and almost 300 degrees (similar to a crock pot).

This means you’ll be slow cooking your food. When folded, the Sunflair Deluxe is roughly the size of a stadium cushion (and not much heavier). To use it, you simply open the insulated walls, which wrap around the cooking rack.

The clear plastic top ensures the heat stays inside. Point the oven in the direction of the sun (it’s best if the sun’s rays are slanting toward it), and wait for your food to be ready. You can see the temperature via the included thermometer.

The Deluxe comes with a recipe book, so I tried out what I would consider the simplest dinner option: baked potatoes. On a hot summer day, I set up the Deluxe in our backyard and followed instructions for directing it at the sun.

I placed my raw potatoes in the included roasting pan, and started cooking. After five hours (again, it was a hot day…at least 95 degrees out), my potatoes were perfect! I did have to adjust the oven a few times during that time period to ensure it stayed in the sunlight.

While I tried the Deluxe first, I then tried the Mini, and found that both worked with the exact same principle. For the Mini, single servings fit on the included trivet (as opposed to two tiers of baking trays), so adjust accordingly.

Sunflair Portable Solar Oven Deluxe
64 Reviews
Sunflair Portable Solar Oven Deluxe
  • #1 Portable Solar Oven from Alaska to Afghanistan.
  • Everything included to start cooking.
  • Bake cookies or pizza. Dry fruits and herbs.
  • Easily portable for Camping, Boating, RV-ing.
  • Sunflair donates a portion of our proceeds toward greener cooking.

What You Get in The Deluxe Kit

  • 1 solar oven
  • 1 special solar oven thermometer
  • 1 3 lb. (1.36 kilo) round roaster
  • 2 collapsible European-grade silicone pots
  • 2 baking trays
  • 2 baking/dehydrating racks
  • 1 handy carrying bag

What You Get in The Mini Kit

  • 1 solar oven thermometer
  • 1 trivet
  • 1 collapsible silicone pot
  • 1 handy stuff bag

The Mini weighs only 8 ounces, and folds down to the size of a school binder, compared to the 1 lb + of the Deluxe. Both take up room when erect, but were surprisingly portable when folded down.

Will you use solar power for all your outdoor cooking needs? No, of course not…the limitations are obvious. But solar ovens are ideal during camping trips when: A. you have someone around camp to tend to them, B. you have the necessary sunlight, and C. you can wait the required time for slow cooking.

It’s great to forego fuel costs and harness your own power. Our solar ovens will join our stash of emergency supplies so we have peace of mind knowing we can cook without power if necessary, and come along on camping trips when we know we will have time to enjoy slow cooked meals.

Pick up the Deluxe for $164.99 and the Mini for $79.99. Both are available on Amazon for a few bucks less.

High Sierra AT8 Wheeled Duffel

Approximately 90% of the time, my family and I travel carry-on only, with 22″ wheeled luggage. However, for that 10% of the time we check a bag, we want a workhorse of a duffel that’s also easy to pull and transport. The High Sierra AT8 wheeled duffel upright fits the bill, and served me nicely during an industry-related trip when I needed to bring a lot of gear back home with me. I love that this duffel fits a ton at 32″, but isn’t wide and bulky. Instead, it’s quite streamlined with a slim, tall design, and I can easily navigate from rental car or shuttle van to airport with the wheels and carry handle.

You get a multi-compartment design with the AT8, in the aforementioned 32″ length with a 2″ expansion gusset. The main compartment is a large, drop-bottom section, which opens like a butterfly opening. Then there are two side-loading water resistant gear compartments (perfect for shoes, extra cords and toiletries, and anything you need to grab-and-go, plus a front panel area with waterproof zipper and a fleece lined pocket for electronics and anything else that needs more pampering. I’m not about to put my laptop or tablet into a bag that will be checked, but I did use that compartment for my extra pair of sunglasses and electronic cords and gizmos. I loved that you can open the top and access your main compartment without completely unzipping everything.

It’s easy to walk with the AT8, which is essential. The telescoping handle has a soft gel-bottom grip, which is a nice touch, and the whole bag tilts sharply when pulled, which puts less strain on the arm than I anticipated. You get grab handles on the top, side, and bottom, and there are backpack straps should you want them (hidden away when you don’t). The AT8 felt too big for me to want to carry like a backpack, but I was glad the option was there, in case of any need. The whole duffel weighs 11 pounds.

If you like the design of the AT8 but want a carry-on option, it does come in a 22″ size, as well as a 26″, if you want a checked-luggage option that’s smaller than the tall 32″. It comes in only one color–black with ‘zest’ accents, which is a citrus yellow–and is a very affordable $219 for the 32″.

Pick it up at High Sierra, eBags, or Amazon for a few bucks less.

Big Agnes Fly Creek tent

Big Agnes makes some of the highest quality tents on the market, so when we needed the lightest weight, most durable single person tent we could find, we looked to Big Agnes. We tried out their Fly Creek UL1 with MtnGLO (more on that in a minute). The Fly Creek series also comes in a two-person footprint, should you need space for a duo.

The Fly Creek UL1’s best feature, if you’re a backpacker, is the weight. It weighs in at only one pound, 12 ounces, with a significantly roomy floor plan, for a single person tent. You get 22 square feet, with more space at the head and a tapered foot area, and while it’s shaped like a bivi sack, my 6’1″ son could sit up without issue with the 38″ headroom. (This, too tapers at the foot to 22″.)

By a landslide, the Fly Creek is the easiest and fastest tent I’ve ever set up. While the weight of the tent would suggest a pole-less design, the Fly Creek is in fact free-standing, and comes with a DAC Featherlite NFL pole system with press fit connectors and lightweight hubs. That’s a mouthful, but all you need to know is that the poles are ridiculously light and simple (it’s just one seamless system). Ultralight plastic clips attach tent body to pole frame…it truly took me about two minutes to set this tent up for the first time, and about one minute after that. You also get 11 lightweight aluminum tent stakes. The Fly Creek of course comes with its own rain fly as well.

There’s a single door and vestibule (very common in single person tents), with storm flaps on the vestibule zipper. You get reflective guy lines and webbing on the tent corners, and the fly and floor are silicone, treated with nylon rip-stop. The fly and floor also already have 1200 mm waterproof polyurethane coating, and all seams are taped with waterproof, solvent-free polyurethane tape, which is one of those touches you’d expect at this price point.

One of the most innovative features of the Fly Creek, however, and certainly the most noticeable difference from its competitors, is the inclusion of Big Agnes’ MtnGLO system. This lighting system uses durable LED lights to illuminate the interior of your tent without a headlamp. The lights are integrated into tent seams and is durable and flexible enough to withstand repeated tent pitching and stuffing. You control the lights from an included controller, which requires three AA batteries. Would the tent be lighter weight without the MtnGLO system? Yes, but not significantly so. Were we sold on MtnGLO from the start? No…it seemed gimmicky. However, turning on lights with a press of the button turned out to be pretty darn convenient in the tent. For us, it’s worth the few extra ounces (and need for batteries…we’d put those in our headlamps, anyway). I consider MtnGLO one of those conveniences you didn’t think you needed until you had. Give it a try!

Pick up the Fly Creek in the single person size for $369.95 at Big Agnes. Yes, it’s an investment, but has the solid construction and extra touches to warrant the price tag. You can also find it at Backcountry, REI, and Amazon.

Hanz waterproof travel gloves for men and women

A quality pair of thin, three-season gloves is essential for serious travelers, whether your adventures take you to remote parts of the world or simply to on holiday during the off-season. We pack gloves for just about every journey, from trips to Europe during the winter to summer whitewater rafting and backpacking trips. You never know when the weather will turn, and gloves can be a lightweight and small item to have at the ready.

This summer, we tried out two offerings from Hanz, the maker of ingenious knit waterproof gloves. We took these gloves on a backpacking trip through a rare summer downpour, and during summer kayaking day trips in the Pacific Northwest. My pair will come along for a trip to South America this month as well.  Depending on your needs, there are two Hanz gloves worth considering for your travel essentials:

Hanz Lightweight Waterproof glove:

These gloves are knit (and therefore not bulky or puffy), and yet completely waterproof. The three-layer membrane construction of this glove is bonded throughout, so you really can dip your hand into water and it will remain dry. This glove isn’t for extreme cold temperatures, but worked well for us in the situations described above. There is a wicking liner, which helps prevent sweating in the glove, and while waterproof, the membrane is stretchy. It’s made from a nylong/lycra blend with a wrist-length cuff. You get abrasion-resistant grip dots on the palms and fingers; I found I could perform all usual functions, like tying ropes, grabbing things out of my bag, rowing, and hiking, without issue. They’re seamless, and each glove is pressure tested to ensure it really is leak-proof.

Hanz Waterproof Tap-Knit Touchscreen glove:

If you need to use your cell phone, tablet, or computer screen while wearing gloves, opt for the touchscreen glove instead. I tested these on a cool morning run, as I like to exercise with my phone and navigate through music play lists. The touchscreen pads on the fingers worked perfectly. I know these gloves will be a mainstay for me in the truly cold and wet winter months.

You still get waterproof protection and the grip dots as well, and the cuff length is the same…on the wrist. In fact, the touchscreen gloves are nearly identical to the regular ones; the pads on the fingers is the only difference. The three-layer construction and pressure bonded promise still applies. You still get a liner for wicking moisture as well.

Both gloves pack down easily in a day pack or carry-on for ease of travel. Pick them up on in small through extra-large for approximately $30 for the regular waterproof gloves and $45 for the touchscreen gloves, or look for them on Amazon for a few bucks less.

High Sierra Modi Backpack

Are you ready for the new school year? How about for fall travel? The High Sierra Modi backpack ticks both activities off the list, with a study, practical design for kids and youth. And it’s currently almost half price, so act fast!

Made of mini ripstop and waffle weave, the Modi is rugged for travel days or an entire year (or two) of back-and-forth school commuting. At 19.5″ x 13″ x 8″, it’s a good size for school-aged kids (not preschoolers) and high schoolers. Our fifth grader is currently using his, and we love that it can go straight from his school day to be packed for a weekend away, a sports trip, or a day hike.

You get all the tech pockets we all need these days, including a fully-padded computer sleeve (will fit laptops up to 17″) and a tablet sleeve perfect for your iPad. Since our son doesn’t have a tablet, this sleeve works perfectly for his book. In addition to the tech pockets, you get a main organizer pocket with a key fob and several mesh accessory sections, including zippered sections perfect for erasers, pencils, and other small items. Another accessory pocket is also zippered.

Everyone is (rightfully) worried about the weight of backpacks these days, once filled with tech and school books, and the Modi does have an Airflow back panel for comfort, which is fully padded with mesh, and a padded bottom panel for durability. You get padded mesh shoulder straps and a mesh padded grab handle. All in all, it’s easy to tote this pack around, though we still don’t recommend loading kids up too heavily, of course.

I love the reflective loop on the Modi, which can hold a bike LED blinker. We have our Nite Ize light clipped to this for when our son is riding his bike home in twilight hours. The total weight of the Modi is 1.3 pounds, which is respectable for this ‘all purpose’ category. The main compartment can absolutely hold my son’s lunch, water bottle, school books, papers, and an extra layer or two like a jacket or sweatshirt.

Pick up the Modi at High Sierra on sale for under $50 in several fun patterns and colors (retail price is $100). Our son loves the static/mercury/pool color that looks like the TV went out (in the ’80s) but there’s also a fun ‘atmosphere’ pattern that reminds me of outer space and a simpler lime or gray/lime color. We also found the Modi on Amazon for the same sale price.

New Travel Pillows For Outdoors And Travel Days

Ready for the tale of two travel pillows? Everyone has their favorite styles for airplane overnights, car rides, camping trips, and backpacking adventures, and it’s time to introduce two new players to the scene. Personally, I like my travel pillows firm, so the inflatable type win out over the soft cushiony type.

If you’re with me, here are two great options:

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