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The 2016 Gear Institute Campus Survival Gear Guide

By: Nick LeFort - September 07, 2016


Over the course of the past couple of weeks, throngs of hormone fueled teenagers have been released from their parents care to run wild on college campuses all over the country. During that time we have been putting the final touches on a back to school survival guide filled with gear aimed at helping those wayward youths get by indoors, outdoors, on campus, on a mountain, and beyond.

We’ve been patiently waiting for those bountiful student loan checks to come in so that these collegiate hopefuls could cash them in and capitalize on what we’re calling:

The 2016 Gear Institute Campus Survival Gear Guide (For the Soon-to-be Open-Minded)

For most of us, life in college is the first real taste of life without a net. We’re thrust headlong into endless days with demanding schedules while trying to figure out how to fend for ourselves in the real world. Once we finally get a grip, it’s time for midterms. Then after a short reprieve, it’s high speed into finals. It’s an endless cycle that goes on for a minimum of eight semesters, and during these “trying times” it’s important to hold on to the things that keep you grounded, which for most of us that means a little quality time with the outdoors.

For me, college just meant moving an hour away from home to a place with even more farm land, more hiking trails, and more readily available craft beer. I divided and conquered by balancing my time between classes, working at a local camping store, bagging as many peaks as I could on the weekends, and jamming out in a band at local bars for beer money. In those four years, I learned how to function as an adult, earned a Bachelor’s degree in English, and saw more time on the trail than most people see in ten years. Sometimes I bit off more than I could chew, and other times I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, but it was important to me to experience as much as I could during my own personal Age of Exploration.

The following is a bit of a reflection of the provisions that got me through my college years. It’s important to note, that like you, I did my best to budget my student loans and only use them to pay rent, buy books, and consume recreational drugs and alcohol. But from time to time I slipped up and splurged on some choice camping materials that made all the difference. Thankfully that gear was so top notch that I’m still using it today. I’m also still paying Sally Mae interest on all of it too!

CleverMade Collapsable Crate Ver 2

Moving In
Moving in to a college dorm or apartment can be quite a daunting task when you just want to shed your parents and find the closest beer pong tournament. My recommendation is to go in organized – have your stuff packed in such a way so that you can bring your containers from the back of Mom’s minivan right to your room and start living without much unpacking. This system also allows you to hump in a lot of stuff but not take up a lot of room; which is key even in the most luxurious dorm room.

Clevermade Collapsible Crate
Available in a variety of shapes and colors, the Clevermade Collapsible Crates allow you to haul your life in and out of your dwelling and are stackable so you can live out of them, if need be. The different sizes and different colors help keep some semblance of organization, even if it’s just for show. When you don’t need the crates, they fold down flat for easy storage.

CleverMade Foldable Tote

Clevermade Foldable Tote
Exceptional for hauling groceries, dirty laundry, or climbing rope and gear, the Clevermade Foldable totes are a lot like reusable shopping bags but with structure so they can haul up to 25-30lbs (depending on the model you choose). Like the crates, they fold flat when not in use.

Far too many college kids focus on picking out the right furniture for their dorm or apartment – sourcing it from family members, consignment shops, or even the side of the road. But in all reality you should be looking at the bigger picture here: you’re either going to be passed out at the library or on a friend’s floor – so you might as well have furniture you can take with you; even in the outdoors.

ENO Billow Air Lounge

Eagle’s Nest Outfitters Billow Air Lounge
Packing down small enough to fit in the bottom of your backpack, the ENO Billow Air Lounge provides a place to sit or sleep whenever you need it. When it’s time to relax, simply take the Billow out of its stuff sack, swing it back and forth through the air to fill it, and roll it shut. Within seconds you’ve got a mobile crash pad that’s suited for dorm floors, grassy hills, the back of a pick-up truck; you name it.

Kammok Firebelly

Kammok Firebelly Quilt
Coming in at a little over a pound and stuffing down to be the size of a six-pack, the Kammok Firebelly Quilt is the ultimate blanket designed to go from the trail, to tailgating, to anywhere you need something soft, warm, and durable to cover up in. Made from proprietary Atmos ripstop fabric, and rated down to 30⁰, the Firebelly is filled with 750 fill water-repellant down feathers that defies the age old rumor that if you get down wet; it’s heavy and useless. Kammok for the win!

Socks and Shoes
Don’t bother spending your money on a FitBit because those things can’t count as high as they need to in order to keep up with all the walking you’ll do every day. Save your pennies and drop them on the right footwear.


Brooks Cascadia 11
Not just a lightweight, cushioned running shoe, but a supportive trail running shoe as well, the Brooks Cascadia 11 provides the perfect balance for rapid movement on pavement, dirt, and pretty much any terrain you’ll find on and off the beaten path. They fit like slippers out of the box and breathe well enough to be your footwear of choice for spring, summer, and fall.

Darn Tough Socks
I graduated in 2006 and still have some of the Darn Tough socks the rep bribed all of us shop kids over at Eastern Mountain Sports with. They’re super durable, obviously well-made, and wick moisture like no other. Some people swear by sock liners when they go out an extended hikes, but with Darn Tough socks I have never needed them. Always carry a spare pair with you if you’re the type who stomps through puddles as opposed to those who prefer to side step them.

The Pack
In the past ten years the amount of stuff a college student has to carry around campus has been compressed by the wonders of technology. Books can now be downloaded instead of lugged around and the variety of electronic devices ripe for note taking is endless. But you still need to be prepared for a whole day on the go, so choosing the right pack right from the get go is critical.


Mountainsmith Day
I relied on a Mountainsmith Lumbar bag for three of my four years on campus because it was easy to sling around as well as tuck away in a lecture hall. The Mountainsmith Day with its 800 cubic inches of room is just a hair smaller than the campus-standard Jansport backpack, and offers organization as well as separate water bottle pockets which can double as pockets for widgets and raincoats. This set up is more than adequate for 2-3 classes in a day and works exceptionally well if you have time to stop off at your dorm or apartment to unpack and reload.

Granite Gear Brule Ver 2

Granite Gear Brule
As part of their Campus Collection of backpacks, Granite Gear offers up this 2075 cubic inch top loader which allows you to carry everything you need for that perfect balance of campus life, work, and play – without the need to run back to your dorm or off-campus palace. The Brule, features a spacious main cavity, separate, zippered sleeve for your laptop, and a front organizational pouch – all of which are designed for easy access. As if that wasn’t enough, the whole pack is made from durable, element-resistant materials (that means water, wind, dirt, grit, etc.).

The A/V Club
I wore headphones once during my tenure on campus – and that’s because I almost got hit by a car 20 minutes into a heady “Terrapin Station” while not paying attention on my way to the gym. But kids these days grew up wearing headphones and I would like to believe they’re more alert than I was. (At least when not playing Pokemon Go!)


Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear
Your ears deserve music the way it was meant to be heard – unaltered, clean, allowing you to be enveloped in the sound. The Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear headphones are a touch of opulence priced right for the average, daily user. With the ability to take and make calls on both iOS and Android-based phones, the Momentum In-Ear headphones are an experience all their own. Take your immersion into the music one step further by adding on the Comply Customer Isolation Series Memory Foam In-Ear Adapters.

Tough Tested Ranger: Active Lifestyle Noise Control Earbuds with Mic
Tough Tested Ranger headphones were designed to be used outdoors and on jobsites, so not only are they resistant to the elements, but they’re durable. Though they may not be as immersive in terms of sound as some of the higher-end ear bud sets, you do get full audio and phone controls for under $40. What’s more, the Rangers come with different sets of ear buds that allow you decide if you want them to be noise-cancelling or not.

Beer Money
There’s no coincidence that your college or university is surrounded by bars. What’s great about these places is that if they serve food, you can usually work in them when you’re under twenty-one. But why be an employee when you can get paid under the table as part of one of the many rotating bar bands in the area? I used to jam with a bunch of great guys and we’d cover The Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and pretty much anything anyone requested as the night moved on. But be warned, almost everyone shows up with a guitar, so you might need to dig down deep to find your spot on stage.

Fender Blues Jr. Tube Amp & Shure Green Bullet Harmonica Microphone
The Blues Jr. is a tube-driven guitar amp that’s become a staple in the Fender line-up over the decades because of its ability to produce a rich, thick sound synonymous with both rock and blues. Powered by 5 glowing glass tubes and utilizing a 15 watt speaker, the Blues Jr. has the ability to overpower a packed bar or play well as a practice amp at home and travels well due to its compact size. When paired with a Shure 520DX “Green Bullet” Harmonica Microphone – and your favorite harmonica – the Blues Jr. produces a sound that can wake up your spirit and soul. The only thing that makes this combo better is patching in a Phaser or Distortion pedal. But I recommend you hit up a few gigs with the basics first - you don’t want to scare people off before you start making money.

Party Provisions
College parties are generally spread across all of campus and the surrounding neighborhoods. Chances are you won’t have a car on campus the first year or two, but if you do – you’d be smart to leave it behind for intoxicating journeys like these. So that means you’ll be on foot, and if you read back through this guide, you’ll find that every other item mentioned can also be used in these situations. Additionally, these next couple of items can come in pretty handy on campus as well.

Yeti Hopper 12

Yeti Hopper Flip 12
The Yeti line of coolers is gaining popularity on college campuses, and the Hopper Flip 12 is sure to catch up in the coming semester. Designed to be durable and leak-proof, this personal sized, soft-sided cooler is designed like all of the other Yeti’s. That means it will keep its contents cold for a long time, making it perfect for tailgating, frat parties, or a day of skipping classes.

Avex 20 oz. Brew Insulated Pint Glass
In a world full of 16 oz. insulated, reusable pint glasses, to truly stand out you have to be different. To be college-ready such a beverage dispenser should be able to hold 20 oz. like the Brew Insulated Pint Glass from Avex. I mean seriously, do I have even write more? Okay, it comes with a bottle opener in the bottom and a lid so you can use it as a coffee mug for your 8 AM Roman Civ. class in Lecture Hall D; South Campus.

The Tunes
Hormones and music go great together and that’s why most people form their strongest opinions on the music they listen to during High School and College. Music has the uncanny ability to capture a place in time; a feeling; an experience, and be taken anywhere you go so you can access those moments at your leisure. Here’s a list of some compelling “albums” for the hormonally unbalanced, scared to be so free, soon to be open-minded college student that I still listen to, today.

Brushfire Fairytales by Jack Johnson
Key Tracks: Flake, Bubble Toes

Cold Roses by Ryan Adams
Key Tracks: Magnolia Mountain, Meadowlake Street

The Best of Parliament: Give Up The Funk by Parliament Funkadelic

Breathe by The Keller Williams Incident
Key Tracks: Breathe, Best Feeling

Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips
Key Tracks: Listen to the whole beautiful thing.

Well, there you have it, folks: a well-rounded grouping of relatable products (and tunes) that can get you through everything – but notetaking – during your time as a college student. The key to succeeding out there is to be prepared for anything – bad weather, spontaneous hikes, your junior year poetry class that met in a bar on Thursday nights; anything. Since most of this gear is just updated versions of the stuff I used to get by on – and off – campus during those years (except that ENO Billow Air Lounge, that’s a serious innovation, man), I’m fairly certain you’ll do just fine out there. Just remember to balance your time and stay grounded by making time for yourself. You’ll get stressed out, things will go wrong, but ultimately you’ll find out who you are during that time. So be prepared and have fun. Lots and lots of fun.


About the Author

Nick LeFort

Nick LeFort

Nick LeFort is a freelance writer and design engineer from Berlin, CT. Referred to as “Viking” by his cohorts in the outdoor industry. He is also a knife and tool maker and one part founder of Ragged Mountain Knife Works. Follow him at Google+.


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