Caroline Van Hemert is a wildlife biologist and adventurer, and the author of the award-winning memoir The Sun is a Compass. Her journeys include trekking 4,000 miles to the Arctic, homesteading on the coast of one of North America’s fiercest fjords, and sailing the Inside Passage with toddlers for crew. She loves Alaska’s wild lands and the opportunity to explore these with her husband and two young sons. Born and raised in Alaska, she divides her time between Anchorage and a hand-built log cabin near Haines. Read more, including travel and science features in The New York Times, Outside, Audubon, Alaska magazine, and at carolinevanhemert.com.
Product descriptions by Caroline Can Hemert
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A sharp set of eyes is indispensable in the backcountry! Small, lightweight, and waterproof, these 8×25 ZEISS Terra ED Pocket binoculars take you places. For avid wildlife spotters or birders with a larger budget, I’d consider an upgrade to 8×25 ZEISS Victory. I carried a similar pair more than 4,000 miles by rowboat, ski, foot, packraft, and canoe, and they never disappointed. Options for other models abound, but make sure you check the quality and durability before you invest—a good pair can last a decade or more.
The problem of how to diaper in the wilds is enough to dampen the best adventure. Though our sons have passed that stage, for years we relied on gDiapers with compostable inserts as an alternative to fully disposable or hard-to-wash and slow-to-dry traditional cloth inserts. They had to shut down their U.S. office last year due to COVID disrupting the supply chain but are planning to relaunch soon. For now, look for diapers on the company’s swap site or via local and online retailers.
The humble headband, a critical but often overlooked piece of equipment. Summer or winter, I never leave home without one. Perfect under helmets, in subzero temps, or when there’s just enough chill to want a little extra warmth. Even better, there’s now a great selection of designs made in Alaska, including Headband Happy AK.
Liven up your meals and save on packaging and cost by purchasing backcountry food in bulk. A staple of our family’s travel pantry, Harmony House offers an impressive variety of dried fruits and veggies, from green beans to peaches to corn. Auguson Farms also has a selection of #10 cans that never fails to deliver on taste. And from Hoosier Hill Farm, powdered heavy cream and Big Daddy Mac Mix are perfect for frigid nights in a tent!
$4.95 and up
Whooo’s calling? For experts and novices alike, traveling among birds is one of the greatest joys of backcountry adventure. The ability to identify what you see or hear adds to the pleasure. On a smart phone, the Audubon Bird Guide of North America App provides both visual and auditory identification for North American birds.