My Guide Gear – Summer 2020

One of the opportunities I have to test gear is while guiding hiking tours in the National Parks. My trips are two weeks long and we hit five to six parks over about 2,000 miles of driving between them. We’re not backpacking, just hitting the trails for a few miles to get beyond looky-looing from the turnouts and parking lots. Since I fly to the start of the tour and then pick up a van, I have to be able to fly with everything I need (want). Below are the key items that have become favorites over the course of a few trips. Note that some links below are affiliate links—I’ll earn a small commission if you like something and buy it via my link (thanks!).


Eagle Creek Yonder Rolling Trunk 32

As part of Eagle Creek’s National Geographic Guide Series, the Yonder (and, yes, I’m partial to the name) has proven to be an excellent bag to get everything I need as a guide on the plane and to whatever destination I’m guiding from. I carry all the items listed below plus clothes and other sundry in this bag. The larger internal flap style zippered compartments provide great organization with or without packing cubes. The two external pockets are great for items like a jacket, warm hat, or sunglasses—things I may need on my way to the airport but don’t want to carry on the plane with me. The double stem handle is durable and provides great control while dragging the bag over curbs or uneven surfaces and the large wheels and spacious wheel wells can handle dirt paths and prevent small rocks from jamming the rollers. I’m even impressed with how the glossy finish has held and not scuffed up after dozens of flights. | $302

Mystery Ranch Hip Monkey

This pack is a guide’s dream. It fits everything I need for the short hiking excursions I take my clients on and it can be worn as a hip pack or sling pack. It’s rated as 488 cu-in in volume (just short of 8 liters) and that makes it big enough to carry a few items described below like the first aid kit, water bottle, knife, and rain shell, plus a few bars to munch on, lighter, headlamp, compass, map—basically, an uberlight version of the Ten Essentials. | $50

Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight / Watertight .7 Medical Kit

Knock on wood, I haven’t had any need for this kit while guiding trips of late, but as someone with a decade of mountain search and rescue experience I pick my first aid kits carefully. It is small enough to fit in my hip pack but complete enough to take care of most trail injuries or mishaps. It also has some good supplies for repairing various pieces of gear that might need some extra help on the trail. The double bag system provides a good backup for containing things other than the kit itself and the waterproof inner bag ensures bandage adhesives and other items won’t get soaked if caught in a deluge or falling in a river. This goes on every outing. | $29

Matador FlatPak Soap Bar Case

With a personal mission to minimize discarding any single-use containers or even anything that still has use (think hotel mini bars of soap), this soap case is perfect. It’s sized to carry a standard size bar of soap (4 x 2.4 x 1.3″) and uses a dry-bag rolltop style closure to lock the soap away. More importantly, the waterproof fabric that keeps a wet bar of soap from leaking into my dopp kit is also breathable to let the soap dry between uses. The one lesson learned however is to keep my toothbrush separate from this soap case to prevent an ever so slightly soapy taste while brushing my teeth. | $134

Arctic Zone Inflating Cooler

This cooler fits perfectly between the seats of the van for easy access to cold drinks on the drive and before setting out on a hike.

This is possibly one of the most unique and incredible products for guides who need to fly to work. Although my tour is van based, I live in Boulder, Colo. but my trips start in San Francisco, Las Vegas, or Salt Lake City. Flying with a standard cooler would be pretty obnoxious (though I consider it!). Instead, this cooler will deflate and can either be packed flat or roll up into a 4-inch by 19-inch tube. Once I’m at my van, I just open the valve and let the enclosed foam expand the cooler into shape. It can either be used in a cube or tote bag shape and it fits right between the two front seats of my van to keep cold drinks handy while I’m on the road. | $50

Neat Ice Bag

On my first tour with the Inflating Cooler above, it was August and the tour was hot (like 122F in Death Valley). Even outside of Death Valley, I had to haul the cooler out of my van and into my hotel room each place we stopped to drain the meltwater and then refill with ice—a bit of a hassle. The next trip I tried out the Neat Ice Bag. It was so much easier to pull it out of the cooler and take it up to my hotel room to refresh the ice. It’s just a bit smaller than a 15L dry sack, which may work in most cases, but the main difference is the removable drain hose. I left it attached and was then able to fill my hiking water bottle with freshly melted ice water each time before hitting the trail. | $40

Drink Systems

HydraPak Ultraflask IT 500 ML

For the short hikes I guide, I don’t need much water and this insulated soft bottle fits nicely in my Mystery Ranch Hip Monkey pack (above). HydraPak’s IsoBound insulation kept that freshly melted ice water cold even in the hot national parks of the desert southwest. On the trail, it was easy to pull out either while continuing to hike or when stopping to look around or when checking in with a client. Each time I took a sip, the soft bottle got smaller and was easier to stash. The emergency responder in me loved how the nozzle can provide both a good steady irrigation stream for wounds or just to provide a little washing water. It was designed for running vests and comes with an optional hose to support that configuration. | $27

Hydro Flask 12oz Cooler Cup

This cup perfectly fits a 12 ounce drink can or even a 16 ounce bottle thanks to the silicon fit ring. As a cold can of sparkling water comes out of the inflatable cooler, I pop it into this Cooler Cup, secure it with the silicon ring and am good to go for the next few dozen miles on the road. The Cooler Cup can also be used on its own without holding a can or bottle. The textured finish of the exterior of the Cooler Cup is comfortable to the touch and provides a good secure grip. | $25

Stanley Go Tumbler With Ceramivac | 16oz

If I had to call out a luxury item that I take with me, it’s a close call between this tumbler and the Cauldryn (below). I could totally have my morning hot drink in the 12 ounce Hydro Flask Cooler Cup above. But then there are a few logistical issues I’d have to work with like figuring out where to pour out the last few cold sips if I don’t get through it all, I’d probably want to make sure any cans I put in the Cooler Cup had been washed (since they won’t get rinsed in an ice-bath of water in the cooler thanks to the Neat Ice Bag). That all said, the Ceramivac finish on the Go Tumbler is absolutely the next best thing to the ceramic mug I use for hot drinks at home. And, I like the bigger volume for my morning drink as I like to start sipping shortly after I wake (hence the Cauldryn below) and keep it going right until we’re hitting the road for our next destination. The Go Tumbler is comfortable in hand, fits perfectly in the cup holders in my van, keeps drinks hot (or cold) for hours. My one feature update wish? Find some way to provide a leak proof lid. It’s spill proof which is fine for most situations, but it would be nice to be able to prep a drink, lock on the lid and chuck it in a bag for later. Still, hands down, my favorite travel mug. | $30

Cauldryn Coffee Smart Mug

Ok, here it is… I’m a tea snob and don’t like coffee at all. There, I said it. But only because it provides some insight to my self-admitted high-maintenance quips below. I like the smell of coffee but not the taste, especially not the taste of old coffee that has soaked into the urn the hotel is now using for “hot water” for tea available in the lobby. When the coffee taste transfers to the hot water for tea it is a total bummer as I’m starting my day. My clients will never know, but it makes me a little sad inside to take that sip of tea and taste old coffee. With the Cauldryn (Tea) Smart Mug, I can boil up my own hot water in my tea-kosher boiler right in my room without lighting a stove and not worry about dealing with the Kureg, coffee maker, or the spoiled urn in the lobby. Also, some hotel rooms don’t even have any sort of hot drink maker in the room and the lobby is a stiff walk across a large parking lot. We even stay at Curry Camp in Yosemite a few nights on my tours and all the hot drinks can be up to a quarter of a mile away in the chow hall. Forget that. I don’t even need an outlet since the Cauldryn runs on a battery. I don’t put the “keep warm” feature to use because as soon as it’s boiled I transfer the water to the Stanley Go Tumbler. I just upgraded from the original Cauldryn to the next generation and that comes with an optional blender attachment. Ice cold blended smoothie in the heat of Death Valley? Sounds good to me. | $130

The Rest of the Gear

Saucony Switchback ISO with BOA

I avoid shoes as much as possible and when I’m driving I’m usually in a pair of Olukai flip-flops—I even guide some short hikes in those. But when we’re hitting steeper trails or going on longer hikes, I need to be able to jump out of my flip-flops and slap on a pair of shoes quickly. I keep a pair of Fits socks tucked into these lightweight trail running shoes from Saucony right by the driver’s seat. With the BOA dial, I can just about get into my socks and shoes before the last client gets unloads from the van. On the trail, these shoes are grippy on steep and loose terrain, comfortable for the hike, and they allow me to pick up the pace and run without scracifice if I need to. | $140

REI Co-op Flexlite Air Chair

Relaxing with a view of Bryce Canyon.

This incredibly comfortable camp chair folds down small, is easy to assemble and stow, and only weighs a pound. My guiding work includes letting clients go out and explore the Mesquite Sand Dunes of Death Valley and starting them on hikes in Bryce Canyon, but then letting them hike a bigger loop on their own if they like. This means I end up with some much appreciated down time to get some paperwork done or eat my lunch without having to answer a bunch of questions. Instead of sitting in the van waiting for them (the same seat I spend nearly 2,000 miles driving in) I take the Flexlite Air Chair to a scenic or shady spot and enjoy the moment. And since it just weighs a pound, it has ended up on backpacking trips as well. | $100

Headsweats Truckers Hat

Hiking out of the Grand Canyon after doing down the South Kiabab, across the Tonto trail, and up the Bright Angel Trail—very much the recommended routing.

I’ve had to retire a lot of hats because they get so grimy from sweaty work days. Be it on the trail, hitching up trailers, whatever. Headsweats was founded to make hats for cyclists, then running and other athletic activities—hats that can handle sweat and not get disgusting in the process. When they applied their sweat management features to a truckers hat, I knew this was going to be the right hat for me. Their properairy Eventure fabric is everywhere including in the terry sweatband that wicks away sweat so fast I rarely end up soaking the bill of the hat in sweat (as I have with many other trucker hats). They also use their Eventure based fabric for the mesh paneling and shell to help disperse sweat and keep the hat dry. Best of all, it washes easily either in a creek, under the faucet, or in the washing machine to keep it fresh. And, since they’re based in my hometown of Boulder, Colo. I can get a nice Colorado themed hat and show my love for this great state. | $26

Leatherman Free K4X

My scouting and SAR backgrounds have really driven home the idea of always being prepared and because of that I loved the idea of having a Leatherman on me but couldn’t bring myself to dealing with the bulk of one either strapped to my belt or sitting like a brick at the bottom of my pant pocket. Instead, I would just slip a slim EDC knife in my back pocket and that has served me pretty well. But then the Leatherman Free K4X with nine tools built in arrived. As long as I’m not spending all day in the driver’s seat, it sits well in the back pocket of my favorite pants at the ready. When I am driving, I just plop it in the center console—easy. | $90

Flylow Rainbreaker Jacket

Weighing a svelte 4.5 ounces, this jacket is made of a stretchy waterproof fabric with taped seams and packs down small to easily fit in the Hip Monkey waist pack to be at the ready if a little rain happens to sneak up on me. I use it over a t-shirt to protect me from the sun on warm days and over a few layers of insulation to cut the wind on cold outings. | $140 (on sale for $70)

About the author

Adventure Correspondent Cameron L. Martindell is a freelance adventure travel and expedition writer, photographer and filmmaker who founded in 2000. He has contributed to Elevation Outdoors Magazine, The Gear Junkie, National Geographic, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Outside, Backpacker, Wired, Australian Geographic, and others. He has been to all seven continents and lived on five of them, including a four-month stint at the South Pole. Cameron has more than 10 years of mountain search and rescue experience, is an Eagle Scout, has been an Australian bush firefighter, competes in sailing regattas, plans national and international youth programs, guides Oregon rafting trips and Australian bush backpacking trips.

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