10 Recreation Items Worth Every Penny

By Rob Shaul

My recreation of choice is hunting or fishing. Below is the list of my “10 Recreation Items Worth Every Penny” in no order of importance.
Add your list to the “Comments” below. Be sure to add your favorite mode of recreation – if you have one.

 

1. Jetboil Flash Stove

Jetboil revolutionized the backpacking world 20 years ago when it was first introduced in 2001. Finally, an easy-to-ignite, brainless stove that boiled water fast. Few, if any, backpackers make meals from scratch in the backcounty. We all eat freeze dried meals – and all you need for preparation is hot water.

Since Jetboil was introduced, many other stove companies have imitated the basic design and come out with similar products, but I’ve never moved from the Jetboil. My original jebtoil stove is 20 years old and I recently passed it on to my son. I replaced it with a Jetboil Flash stove, for around $70 during a spring sale. I actually have two of them – one in my backcountry/backpacking food kit, and another in my truck cabover camper. You can’t go wrong with a trusty jetboil.

 

2. GSI Long Handle Essential Spoon

The most recent addition to my backcountry kit, this $5 spoon has made eating backpacking meals so much more pleasant. Backpacking meal pouches are tall, which means that with a regular spoon, you have to reach your hand into the pouch …. your hand can’t help but touch the side of the pouch and as a result, you get a lot of your dinner smeared all over your knuckles. Kinda sucks.

Not so with this long handle spoon. Worth every penny!

 

3. Prime Logic Compound Bow

Bowhunting an immersive activity, but it’s one downside is how incredibly gear-intensive and technical it can be. It takes special equipment and technical expertise to work on compound bows. As well, the bowsite, release, rest, and arrows all come with their own technical specifications, learning curve, etc. For example, you can’t just go to the internet and purchase a bow. Each bow has to be “fitted” to the shooter, which if you don’t have the knowledge or equipment to do this yourself, means you have to find and visit a local bow shop.

When you first get into the sport, it’s nearly impossible not to fall down the rabbit hole into the gear. Of course all the bow, site, rest and release makers want you to do this, as new hunters are the primary focus of they and their celebrity hunter marketing efforts. This is compounded by the fact that each bow manufacturer has its own cliques, camps and zealots.

The result is many bowhunters purchase one of the newest and latest bows every hear, and for the first 3-4 years I hunted I was one of those guys. But, like everything else, I finally learned what was important, invested into my own bow press and other equipment and knowledge so I would not be at the mercy of the local bowshop.

I also found a bow that fit me well, that I shot well, and I liked … and I stopped buying a new bow every year. For me that was the Prime Logic, which is a 4-year old bow, now. It works for me, and not having to spend time and make gear decisions each off season means I can spend more time studying google earth, improving my marksmanship, and spending more time scouting and becoming a better woodsman.

 

4. Onx Map Hunting Application

This smartphone application is incredible. It shows land ownership, hunt areas, overhead satellite imagery, topo maps, etc. It allows me to set routes, waypoints, mark my position, – just about everything I could ever need. On one hand you might think that technology like this would inhibit your backcountry experience, but I found it enhances it. Using Onx I’m able to see and explore nooks and crannies in the terrain I would never find or go to. It’s helped me understand the landscape in ways that were off my radar before.

 

5. Salomon Quest 4D Gtx Boots

Hardly the most expensive hiking boots available, what makes these boots from Saloman special is their fit. They have a narrow heel and a wide forefoot, and overall “sneaker” like, out of the box fit, which is really amazing.

They’ve been my hunting boot choice for 2 years now and this year I put 45+ backcountry days on them without issue and I’ll be able to get another season out of them.

They are on sale this time of year – like $170. Worth every penny.

 

6. Benchmade Bugout

For years I used a $15 Kershaw Chill pocket knife for hunting. I thought it was awesome …. I’d just have to re-sharpen it 6 times every time I bowned out a deer or elk in the field.

I’d always wondered why people would spend $100+ dollars on a hunting knife, so in a moment of weakness a couple years ago, picked up a Blue Benchmade Bugout knife when I couldn’t find my trusty Chill.

Now I know … it’s the steel. This Benchmade knife has SV30 steel. And I’m not sure exactly what that means in the field it means I can bone out and entire bull elk without sharpening the knife once. The steel is amazing. I spray-painted mine bright orange so I could keep from losing it when processing game.

Since I’ve upgraded all our kitchen knives to better steel … trust me … the difference is worth paying for.

 

7. Hoka One One Speedgoat 4, Wide

While I hunt in the Salomon boots, I backpack, peak bag, scout and trail run in the Hoka One One Speedgoat 4’s.

Hoka One One exploded on running scene a few years ago soon after the minimalist running shoe craze ended. Hokas emphasize cushion … lots of it … and some of their shoes look like clown shoes. But boy are they comfortable!

The decrease in jaring joint impact has changed running for many.

Hoka first moved into road running, then began building shoes for trail running. Now they have several trail running styles – all with a focus on cushion. The Speedgoats are my favorite for all around. Other styles work really well and have more cushion for trail running, but are too unstable for anything off trail. The Speedgoats aren’t quite as cushy, but are more stable.

One downside of Speedgoats is they aren’t as durable as other trail runners. The EVA foam they use to give the shoes the great cushioning just gets chewed up. I’ll go through a 1-2 pairs a season. But my knees, hips and low back all thank me for it.

Also, Hokas are known for having a narrow forefoot. I buy the “wide” version.

 

8. 4-Wheel Campers Project M

This truck, cab-over camper is about as basic as it gets. No sink, heater, benches, table or creature comforts of any kind, except the top pops up, and makes into a queen size bed. Which is totally amazing. As well, you can stand up in the back – with the top up – which is also pretty amazing.

One of my hunting partners has a fancier version, which is finished inside. I almost got one of those until I saw this new, Project M. Model. His camper weights 1,800 pounds, and because it is finished inside, he needs to take it off if he’s going to haul anything.

The Project M weighs just 400 pounds, and I can haul dogs, garbage, lumber, firewood, etc. without taking it off. If fact, since having it installed on my Ram 2500 last year, it hasn’t moved.

I’m 52 and getting soft. For years I backpack hunted for both elk and deer. But, I mostly solo-hunt, and for elk, I can’t venture further than 2.5-3 miles from the truck or road, because of the pack out. With the Project M, now I hunt from the truck. It means I have to leave earlier in the morning, and headlamp back to the truck to sleep every night, but it also means my pack is lighter. Plus, I like walking in the woods, in the dark.

In mine, I installed some off-the-shelf Dewalt tool boxes, and now I pretty much keep all my cooking gear and bedding in the camper at all times – so all I need to go is a soft cooler with some food. I can head out alone or grab my 5-year old son and be gone headed to the hills in 20 minutes. This camper has gotten me out in the woods more.

Plus, I can tow a drift boat or lake boat behind the truck and still have a camper.

For what you get, it seems expensive, but its well designed, and built tough, and should last for years.

 

9. Exo Mountain Gear 3500 Pack

This is my hunting pack, and it was expensive – around $550. You don’t need a pack like this for backpacking – where it pays for itself is organization for backcountry hunting, and especially for meat packouts after you’ve downed game.

The pack has an innovative design where the “bag” portion separates from the frame of the pack, allowing you to carry heavy, boned out bags of meat, between the frame and the pack. If you have room, you can carry more meat in the “bag” portion of the pack.

I’ve packed out multiple antelope, deer and elk using this pack. Most recently, I carried out and entire boned out spike elk this fall using this pack in one trip. The pack weight was over 100 pounds, and the 2 mile pack out sucked ass …. but this pack was bomber, didn’t fail, and make it as comfortable as it could be.

A few years ago we tested 3 different hunting packs and this pack was the winner.

 

10. TFO 1 or 2-Weight Fly Rod

Flyfishing is another one of those sports that can overwhelm newcomers with gear shit. But, unlike bowhunting, much more of the gear emphasis is all about image and marketing, not about enjoying the sport and catching fish.

I’m a self taught fly-fisherman, who grew up spinner fishing for trout in small rivers and creeks with spin-casting rods. I didn’t start fly fishing until my late 20’s.

I quickly learned that I couldn’t tell the difference between a $500 rod and a $150 rod, and neither could the fish. As well, I could never understand why people needed to wear $300 gore-tex waders in the summer when it was 70-80 degrees outside.

Finally, I didn’t have the time or interest to learn the complexity of reading the hatch and carrying a flybox with 36 different types of flies.

I carry a small flybox and three flies: black wooly buggars, Parachute Adams and different sized bugmeisters or similar. I fish in shorts and a t-shirt, carry my smallf fly box, calipers, floatant and extra leader in a shorts pocket, and fish with a light, cheap, entry-level Temple Forks Outfitter 1 or 2 weight rod.

Temple Fork Outfitters is a rod making company focused on keeping things affordable and accessible. They sell expensive rods too, but I was attracted to them for their quality entry-level models, and especially for their 25-year no-fault guarantee. Fly rods are delicate, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve closed the truck door on my rod, stepped on it, or lost a section or had some other thing happen. I send it in to TFO and they send me a new one.

Size 1 or 2 is super light weight, which means a 8-inch fish feels like a 12-incher and a 14-inch fish takes talent to land. It makes flyfishing the small creeks I mostly wade a pure joy.

 

Bonus …. Garmin InReach Mini

There are lots of places I hunt and hike these days far away from any cell phone service. The Garmin InReach Mini is a satellite messaging device I can use anywhere with a clear view of the sky.

This means I can check in with my family everynight so they don’t worry. It also means if something happens I can call in help. This is a welcom peace of mind when I’m out alone, especially.

If you travel in the backcountry, an Inreach Mini, or something like it, is a must have.

 

 

We would love to hear about your favorite gear in the “Comments” below. Be sure to add your mode of recreation – if you have one.

 

4 thoughts on “10 Recreation Items Worth Every Penny

  1. Rob,

    As a gear geek, I loved the piece, “10 Recreational Items Worth Every Penny”!
    It had me running over my own items and making a list of my own. As a Midwestern outdoorsman, my needs are a little different than yours but my brief adventures in the Rockies, Adirondacks and backpacking Europe have helped to hone my choices. I should also say that some of my most treasured items have been amazing surplus store or yard sale items that cost me next to nothing. Maybe an article for another day?

    Anyway, excluding JetBoil and onX Hunt, which you’ve already shared, here is my list.

    1. Starbucks Via instant coffee packets

    Few things have a more positive impact on my morale than a good cup of coffee in an austere environment. These little packets are ridiculously light and easy to prepare and are almost indiscernible in taste and quality from fresh coffee. They make your JetBoil a portable coffee shop. My personal favorite, Italian roast, is currently available on Amazon in a 50 count box for $36.50 but are also sold at Starbucks locations.

    2. HotHands Hand Warmers

    Unlike western big game, Midwestern whitetail deer hunting rarely involves long traverses on foot, but that does not mean that it does not require physical endurance. Some of the most successful deer hunters I know will subject themselves to dawn to dark sits in sub-freezing weather from an elevated stand. It can be brutal. Even wearing high tech clothing, it is difficult to maintain body heat while sedentary and maintain enough mobility to quietly and accurately operate a bow at the moment of truth. I have found that placing a pair of HotHands hand warmers over my carotid arteries, and another pair in my pockets can sustain me in almost any conditions. Once activated, I’ve found they will produce heat in excess of 12 hours and they can be preserved by sealing them in a ziplock sandwich bag at any point in their lifespan. A box of 40 pair goes for about $25.00.

    3. Muck Boots Arctic Ice Extreme Conditions

    When you live in a region where snow, mud and cold temperatures are the hallmarks of hunting season, you need good waterproof boots. Muck boots are not the sloppy rubbers you remember from childhood. Across the board they have a surprisingly athletic fit and extremely high quality. No, they are not a dream to hike in, but they are comfortable enough to walk to your stand in or even wear on a deer drive requiring the crossing of a creek or muddy field. I personally went with the most insulted pair they offer because overkill is underrated. Mine are over 6 years old and show no sign of wear so the $180+ price tag was an easy expense.

    4. Darn Tough Hiker Quarter Cushion Socks

    While we’re on the subject of footwear, I might as well cover the only socks I’ll buy anymore. These socks literally cover every outdoor/travel need I have. They fit perfectly, cushion without being spongy, are durable as hell and require infrequent washing. As long as I pair them with the proper boot or sneaker, my feet stay warm and I sweat minimally. If I am traveling or backpacking for more than a few days, I will pack 3 pair. One on my feet, one airing out in an outer pocket of my bag and one in ziplock in case I step in a puddle. The merino blend makes washing almost unnecessary. $18 per pair and they will last for years.

    5. ALPS Mountaineering Weekender Seat

    This is one of those folding stadium or canoe style seats. While I’ve used mine in both of those settings, it is just okay for that application. In my opinion, it’s a poor choice for a camp chair as well. It’s too bulky to backpack with and you can haul a far nicer seat while car camping. So why is it in my top 10? Because anyone who hunts wild turkeys or deer from the ground knows that the best setups rarely offer good back support. No big deal when you’re only sitting for 10-15 minutes, but when a flash setup turns into a prolonged waiting game, the back begins to ache and legs go numb. This chair allows me to recline and relax in almost any location. I’ve rigged mine with makeshift shoulder straps that allow me to carry it like a backpack. If a gobbler sounds off nearby, I can flip out the seat and ease back comfortably for hours if needed. I’d dare say this seat has been the most deadly piece of equipment in my turkey hunting arsenal. Amazon has them for $25.

    6. Rage Hypodermic 2-blade Broadhead

    I know this is a controversial choice and I respect anyone who elects forego mechanical broadheads. I’ll also acknowledge that my archery hunting experience is limited to whitetail deer. That being said, I have 26 bow seasons under my belt, have tagged over 35 bow kills and have ridden most of the trends in broadhead tradition and technology. I’ve dabbled in rearward opening, slip-cam heads since their inception and have never had one fail. However embarrassing it is to admit, I have made my share of marginal hits with these heads and have been bailed out by the massive wounds they create many times. My one criticism of slip-cams has been that they lack the penetration of a fixed head, but the Hypodermic seems to overcome that. They have a chisel style, cut-on-contact point that previous Rage heads did not. This helps them navigate and/or break bones like a fixed head. Knock-off’s can be purchased and seem to perform well but I’ll only endorse the name brand version that sell for about $45.00 per 3 count.

    7. River2Sea Whopper Plopper

    I’m actually hesitant to share this one, so please keep this between us. If you spend any time fishing topwater, you need one of these in your tackle box. There are days where I literally feel like it’s unfair. The Whopper Plopper runs unlike any surface lure I’ve used. For one thing it has a propeller that actually works. Secondly, it somehow overcomes the difficulty in setting the hook that many similar lures present. If anything, they set too well and I’ve learned not to cast mine unless I have pliers on my belt. If you’re a religious about catch and release, you may want to pass on these. They hook fish that well. They perform flawlessly with any presentation I’ve tried on calm or moving water. They have have helped me land the top 3-4 largemouth bass of my life but reports indicate they are equally effective on multiple species. Available in multiple color schemes and sizes from $13.50 to $20.00

    8. Platypus Hydration Bladders

    I’m going to assume we all agree that the advent of packable hydration bladders was a game changer. The ability to drink on demand, while multitasking has probably added millions of miles and hours afield since they became the standard. If you are young enough, you may not realize we used to have to stop and dig a canteen or bottle out of our packs every time we wanted a drink. If you’re still doing that, get a bladder! I started with Camelback equipment and spent easily half my time afield with a wet back due their lousy design. It actually seemed a reasonable trade off until I realized it was not necessary. Platypus bladders have been unbreakable and more or less leak proof for me since I switched over. I do personally prefer the Camelback bite block design and swap them out, but am otherwise 100% Platypus. I’ll forgo listing prices because there are so many options. I’ll simply say that, apples to apples, Platypus is worth a little extra.

    9. Mechanix Original Covert Gloves

    Call me a sissy but I like having gloves on when I’m working with my hands or walking in brush. When it is above freezing, I don’t need insulation and I hate to lose dexterity. These gloves use fairly thin, high tech material that wears and dries well while keeping a consistent fit and allowing for sensation and dexterity. I am able to manipulate most of my hunting/backpacking equipment in them and shoot accurately. They are light, packable and easy to clean. You can pick them up on Amazon or grab them at almost any big box hardware store for $25.

    10. REI Co-op Membership

    I ordered a set of merino long johns on sale about a month ago and had them delivered to my door within days. It was a few days before our annual Iowa group deer hunt. The top I ordered seemed a bit too large but I thought I’d able to make it work. I went on the trip, wore the top for 3 days, took it home and washed it. Still didn’t love the fit. A scummy as it felt, I dropped by the closest outlet a week later and told the clerk the whole story and asked if there was any chance to exchange without a receipt. The clerk looked up my membership, assured me this was absolutely no problem, pointed me to a rack with a smaller size available and actually refunded me $2.50 in cash! I have the sense they would have have exchanged for me if I were not a member but I also gain legitimate rewards and have access to their bi-annual garage sale where my returned top we be sold to another member at a cut rate. REI has, hands down, the best customer service in the outdoor industry and seriously rewards their members. It’s $20 well spent.

    – Joe Hogan

  2. I give Onx an honorable mention for popularizing GPS apps, but their capability hasn’t kept up with their advertising budget. GaiaGPS and Caltopo both have more powerful mapping apps, with more features, and are cheaper subscriptions.

  3. Rob! #2. Nailed it. I bought one just before archery elk hunt two or three years ago. Unreal smile it gives me to eat with it. So simple yet. Heck yea. Now. All those in my small circle of people bought one for themselves. 👍🏿

  4. 1. Dark Timber coffee options. Absolutely great backcountry coffee options. Better taste than Starbuggers and just as light in the pack. Bonus… they donate to conservation as well.
    2. LBV- Marine version. It’s an oldy. But wow does it work. Great comfort. Lasts forever. Module for scouting, all day rucking, overnights, SAR missions, all day sits for white tails back east. I wear one given to me by my brother after his deployment. But I see them for sale around $60.
    3. Goruck backpack. Expensive. Yes. But it You can carry 60+ lbs in it. Throw it around literally and swim in the ocean with it. Take a garden hose to it and do it all again next week. Years later. Still working great. $300
    4. BEX sunglasses. Simply the best great sunglasses out there for sooo much less than Oakley or Rayban. The clarity in the lenses beats almost all of the rest and the warranty is great. Just got mine replaced from sitting on them. Like $140 or less
    5. I have to agree 100% on #4 above. Darn tough socks. Doesn’t matter what your doing. Find the sock made for that activity and buy em. You can find these on discount all over. Retail will be like $25. But I find em regularly for $15. Guaranteed for life. Durable. Well designed. Comfort. Absolutely spot on.
    6. RMEF, WHIN, MBHA, GOA, etc. Memberships for local and national wildlife organizations. Especially non profits. And certainly the local clubs and org’s. No single annual expense makes me happier or gives back to my overall outdoor life then this. Being a member in a few groups has been a game changer for me. I meet great people, participate in wildlife improvement projects, learn from the old timers, and generally participate in the larger picture around my community to improve hunting and sportsman’s opportunities. Actually attending my first banquet this year. And will be sponsoring a table. $20 to $50 per year depending on the org.

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