I was in Canada's Special Forces, and this is the outdoor gear I used
Made for civilians, this camping and hunting equipment has proven itself combat-worthy
During my years in the Special Forces, I worked in some of the toughest environments the planet has to offer. It’s when the conditions are bad that we go to work—it’s to our advantage. And it’s in those conditions that our equipment gets tested to the limits. A piece of gear that looks good on paper, or is on sale at the local big box outdoor store, might not survive the first drop out of a helicopter.
Good gear needs to be simple enough to be used in the dark or bad weather, but also robust and functional. You don’t have time to mess around with the hood of a jacket, or zippers and buckles on a pack. And you can’t call a time out so your GPS can acquire a signal. No, your equipment needs to work the first time, every time.
The civilian world is constantly making newer models, upgrades and ingenious accessories for outdoor gear. The best stuff doesn’t need to be babied—it doesn’t whine or complain when you push it to the limits. It just works. Here’s some of the best civilian outdoor gear I used while on missions on the other side of the world, and still use today on my outdoor adventures.
Scarpa Kailash GTX
I wore a lot of different footwear over the years, depending on the mission and the environment. But if there was one pair of boots that came with me everywhere, it was Scarpa’s Kailash GTX. With their Gortex lining and Vibram soles, these boots are strong, fast, light, weatherproof and, last but not least, durable. I grabbed a pair off the shelf five years ago without thinking much about it and I still use them today. The only major wear and tear is a little peeling of the sole near the toe—my fault for getting a little too close to a fire. And I’ve replaced the laces with some 550 cord. The bottom line? If you want boots that can take everything you throw at ’em and ask for seconds, get a pair of these bad boys. I’m getting another pair—if my current boots ever die.
Learn more: www.scarpa.com
Grayman Knives Suenami 5
There are dozens of excellent knife manufacturers out there, but the knife I always have with me is from a knife maker most people have probably never heard about: Grayman Knives. Their knives, axes and parangs are handmade out of ¼-inch 1095 high-carbon steel. Originally only sold to military and law enforcement personnel, these true bush knives are now available to the public. Meant to be used and abused, these are rough-and-tough utilitarian workhorses. If you consider yourself an outdoorsman, and you want a no-BS knife that can handle anything, look no further. My personal favourite is the Suenami 5 with a single edge.
Learn more: www.graymanknives.com
I’m not too picky about watches, but the one I wore the most while on operations was the Core by Suunto. It has a large face and great battery life, and it doesn’t give off too much light during low-light operation. It’s marketed as an outdoor adventure watch and designed to take a beating. It comes with a lot of features including an altimeter, barometer, thermometer, storm alarm and compass. The compass works well, but I suggest you only use it as a backup or in an emergency. It doesn’t have a GPS, which is okay because I don’t like to use a watch with one—it’s hard on batteries and signal acquisition can take a while. (For a GPS, I used a standalone unit such as a Garmin eTrex or Foretrex.)
Learn more: www.suunto.com
There are so many varieties of headlamps out there with ridiculous amounts of lighting power and battery life. For me, the classic Tactikka from Petzl works the best. Designed for fishing and hunting, it’s straight-forward, light and simple to use, and it kicks out 140 lumens for a maximum of 40 hours. I use it with the Adapt Tikka 2 multi-mount system. It comes with a quick-release backing for the headlamp and three different mounts that enable you to quickly transfer your light source from one place to another, whether it’s a shoulder strap, the bed of your truck, a tacklebox or your forehead.
Learn more: www.petzl.com
Leatherman MUT EOD
The multi-tool I used while conducting Spec Ops missions was the MUT EOD from Leatherman. It’s designed specifically for military use, but any product from Leatherman is a good choice—they’re all well-designed, tough multi-tools. I also now carry the Wave. It’s a great tool with great features for under $100.
Learn more: www.leatherman.com
Catoma Improved Bed Net System
The IBNS from Catoma Adventure Shelters takes up a little more space in your pack than a sil tarp and a bug net, and you can’t beat the set-up speed. You can literally erect this puppy in less than a second, thanks to the internal fibreglass supports that spring into action and automatically set it up. It’s great when you’re setting up camp in the dark—you don’t need a light, and there’s no need to crash around in the bush looking for somewhere to hook up guylines. Pair it with a sil tarp or Catoma’s EBNS when overhead protection is needed, and you have an awesome single-person shelter.
Learn more: www.catomaoutdoor.com
Wes Kennedy is a former Canadian Special Forces Operator. He's now a leadership and fitness trainer.