Dirtbag climber Drew Mercer shares his  FAVORITE equipment

From the lush green hills of western North Carolina to the high desert boulder fields of Hueco Tanks, freelance photographer Drew Mercer has fully embraced the dirtbag lifestyle. 

With almost his whole life packed into his 2009 Honda Pilot, Mercer scoured the country, with friends in tow, looking for stunning scenes and epic boulders. “Living on the road has been a wild adventure,” Mercer said. “You just have this ultimate freedom to go wherever and do whatever you want and it’s hard to beat that.”

Mercer grew up in Raleigh, N.C., but his intrigue with the outdoors and traveling didn’t really take off until he began attending school at Appalachian State University. It was that interest in the outdoors that led Mercer to the sport of rock climbing, a sport that he considers fundamental to his motivation for living on the road. 

Having spent the last eight months traveling from the East Coast, out to the Pacific and back, Mercer picked up a few tips and tricks. “One of the most important traits you can have when living on the road is the ability to adapt,” Mercer said. “It’s about being resourceful and making do with what you have so that you can fully embrace the other, positive aspects of the lifestyle.”

Here are a few of his favorite pieces of road gear.

Mountain Summit Gear Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad 1.5in

Mountain Summit Gear Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad 1.5in

One of the keys to maximizing your time on the road is getting a good night’s rest, Mercer said. A couple of layers of egg crate foam topped with a quality sleeping pad, like the Mountain Summit Gear Self-Inflating pad, will keep you ready to go for the next day’s adventure. ($70)

Petzl Tikka Headlamp and Packlite Nova Solar Inflatable Lamp 

There is never anything fun about losing things, especially when it’s your phone or water bottle or keys, in your car, in the middle of the night. Reliable means of lighting, whether a nice headlamp like the Petzl Tikka or rechargeable solar lanterns like the Packlite Nova, come in very handy when dirt bagging it. ($30 & $25)

Mountain Safety Research PocketRocket 2 Stove 

Mercer recommends having another small stove like the MSR PocketRocket 2, for stuff like boiling water as it’s quicker and leaves both the big burners open for actual cooking. ($45)

YETI Tundra 35 

YETI Tundra 35 

 “It’s definitely a big investment, especially for something as simple as a cooler,” Mercer said. “But it’s so nice to know in the back of your head, no matter how hot it has been that day, your food is still going to be fresh and the beers are still going to be cold.”  The rugged and dependable nature of YETI coolers were the selling point for Mercer, who said his YETI was one of the most important pieces of gear he had while on the road. ($250) 

Utopia Kitchen Stainless Steel French Press 

Utopia Kitchen Stainless Steel French Press 

Mercer, like many of us, doesn’t truly get his day started until he has had a cup, or three, of some good morning joe. “I’ve always loved a good pot of fresh French Press coffee and having the stainless steel kind was crucial for its longevity,” Mercer said. “I don’t know how many glass French Presses I watched get broken on the road but each time it made me appreciate my steel one even more.” ($22)

Crazy Creek Camping Chair 

Crazy Creek Camping Chair 

Nothing beats a comfy spot to sit down after a day of hiking or climbing. Camping chairs come in all shapes and sizes but getting something compact and light, like the Crazy Creek Hex 2.0, is crucial when living out of your vehicle, according to Mercer. ($59)

More Gear

Recover Brands Sports Tees and Classic Tees

• You’ll feel as good as you look in Recover Brands’ eco-friendly sports tees. These lightweight, moisture-wicking tees are made from 100% recycled materials. Or choose a classic tee, also made from 100% recycled materials; we’re particularly fond of the I Heart Pisgah collection of classic tees. Recover Brands generously donates proceeds to protecting Pisgah National Forest. Recover collects plastic bottles and salvage cotton, and transforms them into high-quality, sustainable fabrics, and it’s all sourced and knitted locally in the Carolinas.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Mattress 

• As the absolute lightest insulated air mattress available, the 8.8-ounce UberLite keeps your pack featherweight on the trail. With 2.5 inches of rugged, durable padding, the minimal UberLite makes a big impact during nights in the backcountry. 

prAna Furrow Shorts

• These high-performance shorts are your go-to pair for everyday adventure. Made from a sustainable soft hemp blend, you’ll feel as good as you look wearing them. The fabric is surprisingly lightweight and breathable, yet plenty durable for adventure. 

Six Moon Designs Flight 30 Pack

• This is the ideal pack for ultra running, fast packing, and bike packing, or anyone chasing a FKT, thanks to the low weight (20 oz), slim design, and adjustable torso length. It’s offered with or without a hip belt. 

Mountain Equipment Inception Pant

• A lightweight but tough and fast drying pant for hikers and climbers due to the Ascender nylon fabric. The styling of the Inception Pant offers a relaxed fit but a more tailored look. There are 2 hand pockets and 1 rear pocket and hem drawcords.  The elasticized waist sits perfectly under a harness and the knees are darted for upward mobility. MSRP: $80

SCARPA Spin Ultra

• The perfect choice for moderate to ultra distance runs, the new Spin Ultra offers a 6 mm drop in a dual-density EVA midsole, along with a cushioned 24.5 to 18.5 mm stack height, yet it weighs in at a mere 9.3 ounces.