Our REI Co-op outdoor guides know gear. Whether they’re leading classes or multiday adventures, they spend hours essentially testing various products in the field. And our guides have years of experience, meaning they’ve had time to refine their packing lists. So, who better to ask for must-have gear picks? We polled some of our 400 REI guides for their indispensable outdoor items and here’s what they said.
Name: Jordan Morrison
Guiding focus: Guides in the REI Arizona Adventure Center (Oct-May) and the Bay Area Adventure Center in California (May-Oct). I chase the great weather and enjoy the variety of working all trip types.
Favorite gear: “Sun hoodies have become increasingly popular on the trails in recent years, and rightfully so. As a guide, I spend a lot of time in the sun so the more covered up I can be the less money I waste on extra sunscreen or worrying about my skin.”
Name: Sibley Brown
Guiding focus: Frequently guides women’s backpacking trips in Joshua Tree National Park and the Superstition Mountains in Arizona
Favorite gear: The Z-Lite “is super convenient to sit and nap on during the day, especially if the ground is wet. In the desert, where I guide in the winter, it provides protection for my inflatable pad from cactus needles and other prickly plant matter on the ground. In warmer weather when a high [warmer] R-Value is unnecessary, I leave the inflatable pad at home and just use the Z-Lite, and it’s so convenient to not have to blow up my pad in the evening. As a guide, I’ve lent the Z-Lite to guests several times when their pad has leaked, or their sleep system isn’t warm enough for the temperatures. I even bring it on day hikes in cold weather because I know it could be a valuable safety item.”
Name: Clay Windsor
Guiding focus: I teach almost every program we offer in Atlanta, but mountain biking, kayaking and backpacking are my specialties.
Favorite gear: “When I first saw a backpacking pillow, I thought, ‘That’s an unnecessary piece of gear.'” I had been stuffing my extra clothes in a sleeping bag stuff sack and using that as my pillow since childhood. Why would I want to carry the excess weight of a pillow, even if it was only a few ounces? I held onto this belief until an unexpectedly cold backpacking trip in the Unita Mountains in northeastern Utah, where I spent the night in all my layers, and my ‘pillow’ was gone. Unsurprisingly, I slept horribly. As my wife crawled out of our tent to start the day, I rolled over and stole her pillow. Immediately I realized how foolish I had been. I immediately fell back asleep. These few ounces were the difference between tossing and turning all night and a good night’s sleep. As soon as we finished our trip, I bought a backpacking pillow [the Nemo Fillo Elite Pillow], which I have carried on every backcountry trip since.”
Name: Jenna Stanze
Guiding focus: Specializes in kayaking and classic cross-country skiing
Favorite gear: “The Kula Cloth has been my go-to pee rag since my early days as a camp counselor in western Wisconsin. It’s so much nicer than a bandana, easier than a funnel, and safer than using leaves. It’s easy to wash and is designed with silver-infused antimicrobial fabric resistant to odors. Plus, UV rays from our sun will help to sterilize the cloth as it dries on your pack.”
Name: William Zest
Guiding focus: Primarily climbing, but also paddling, hiking and snowshoeing
Favorite gear: “The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar GPS Watch hits the sweet spot for a sports watch with minimal smartwatch features. I wear it day and night, and track hours of GPS activities every week: running, biking, climbing, hiking, etc. Even so, I easily get over a week of battery life between charges, especially in the summer season when lots of solar charging is happening. Smart features are limited to just basic text notifications from your phone, allowing necessary information to come through without being a distraction. While guiding, I often use GPS tracking to inform decisions on the trail, such as when to turn around. It also allows me to give participants some statistics on what they accomplished at the end of the program. Finally, I love the aesthetics of this watch. It is disguised as a retro Casio G-Shock watch while being packed with great technology.”
Name: Elisabet Christensson
Guiding focus: Backcountry navigation and wilderness survival in the Chicago area
Favorite gear: “I got my very first Silva in 1955 when I was a Girl Guide in Denmark. A couple of years later, I bought the Silva that I still have today. [The compass] went with me to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in 1969 and I now show it to the participants in my REI Backcountry Navigation sessions here in Chicago. I believe the durability of the Silva is the reason I love to have it by me at any time.”
Name: Jentry Schirmbeck
Guiding focus: Backpacking, camping and lodge-based trips
Favorite gear: “Camp shoes. If it’s freezing outside, I love my The North Face Thermaball Traction Booties. They have tread on the bottom which makes walking around camp and getting up to go to the bathroom in the darkness easy peasy. If it’s not too cold, I use my Teva ReEmber slippers. Super comfy and easy to slip on and off. If it’s hot, I bring my Bedrocks. Lots of options for optimal comfiness out in the backcountry.”
Name: David Casson
Guiding focus: Sea kayaking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing
Favorite gear: “Whether kayaking, backpacking or sometimes even car camping, I’ve used my old ENO SingleNest nearly every night outside for over 25 years. Let’s face it, sleeping on the ground can be an experience of ‘rotisserie sleeping.’ You sleep for 20 minutes until your hips hurt, turn, sleep another 20, etc. But not in a hammock! I sleep pain-free and love it when a gentle breeze rocks me all night. Plus, if I do wake up, I’m looking up at the night sky. I find the gentle choreography of getting in without capsizing kind of fun—like gentle yoga. Bugs mostly haven’t been a big problem. Occasionally I’ll put a net over my head, but mostly I just cinch up the sleeping bag.”
Name: Karen Graves
Guiding focus: Teaches backpacking, wilderness survival, map & compass, and leads snowshoe hikes
Favorite gear: “I use my Buff Multifunctional Headwear year-round, and I have had the same one for years. I mainly wear it on my head in the winter for warmth and in the summer to keep sweat out of eyes while hiking. On cold nights while backpacking, I will wear it to bed. Occasionally, I wear it around my neck. I love the cute pink pattern. I would be crushed if I lost it. It always looks kind of strange on my head, but I love it.”
Name: Matt Graber
Guiding focus: Climbing in the Chicago area, backpacking when out at the Bay Area Adventure Center.
Favorite gear: “Ultra lightweight, great to kneel on when making a fire or cooking, great to sit on when taking a break for snacks, hydration or reflection time. I also use it as a doormat outside my tent for cushy first steps in the morning.”
Guide name: James Bratton
Guiding focus: Climbing, navigation and wilderness survival
Longer quote: “Good hats are easy to find. GREAT hats are few and far between. This REI Co-op Swiftland Trucker Hat has been my go-to piece for about a year now and I wear it guiding snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park, instructing navigation courses in high winds around Golden, Colorado, and even under my climbing helmet when the sun is a bit too bright in Eldorado Canyon. It is so SO light and packable, breathes like an Olympic athlete, and cinches down tight enough that I have never felt like it would blow away, even on the breeziest days in the mountains. The mesh front panel is super absorbent and wicks away sweat like a dog licking peanut butter, and it is even comfy with sunglasses on. Trail-running-style trucker hats are all over the place, and if you can find one that can hold a candle to this hat, let me know because I would like to pick up a few ASAP.”
Guiding focus: Southwest trips, including camping trips in Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks during the summer; backpacking in Joshua Tree National Park; and Sedona, Arizona-based lodge trips over winter.
Favorite gear: “This little bottle can do it all. It’s my coffee cup in the mornings, my electrolyte-drink bottle throughout the day, and my sleeping-bag warmer overnight. The best part is it fits inside my puffy jacket pocket, so it keeps me warm as I cook meals for guests in the early winter mornings and chilly evenings at Joshua Tree National Park. It’s also a totally accomplishable amount of water to drink so if I happen to feel dehydration setting in, I just gulp down my whole mini-Nalgene.”
Name: Joshua Knieff
Guiding focus: Guides a little of everything out of the Twin Cities in Minnesota
Favorite gear: “Water is life! I have had many other bottles fail me, and only one really old Nalgene has ever broken on me. The Nalgene Wide-Mouth Water Bottle also measures water for recipes and threads onto my water pump. I won’t go anywhere without it.”
Guide name: Jaime Fantauzzi
Guiding focus: Water sports in Portland, Oregon
Favorite gear: “I always have a first-aid kit. The moment I forget it is usually when I need it most.”
Interested in more staff picks and kits? Find more collections here.