Category Archives: Gear Reviews

I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker magazine for two decades and counting. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel.

Review: Clothing That Helps Me Run and Hike Farther

October 14, 2014  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Opedix Knee-Tec Tights

Opedix Knee-Tec Tights

Compression Apparel
Bioskin Compression Shorts
$95, 7 oz. (medium)
Sizes: S-XXL

Bioskin Calf Skin Sleeves
$65/pair, $35/one, 3 oz. (XL pair)
Sizes: S-XXL (The size range fits calves with a widest-point circumference of 11 to 20 ins.)
bioskin.com

Opedix Knee-Tec Tights
$225, 10 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
opedix.com

Well into the descent off 9,860-foot McGown Peak in Idaho’s Sawtooths—a dayhike of about 11 miles and more than 3,300 vertical feet, mostly off-trail with 1,000 feet of third-class scrambling and steep scree running—I turned to my climbing partner and said, “My legs feel great.” I’d like to believe that’s because I’m in such incredible physical condition that climbing a rugged peak does not even begin to fatigue my leg muscles. But the reason I felt so fresh at that point was because of what I was wearing below the waist: Opedix Knee-Tec Tights. I’ve been using compression apparel—shorts, tights, socks, and calf sleeves—for a few years, and I’ve found I can trail run and hike farther before getting tired, and feel better that evening and the next day. Clothing that does that almost seems like cheating—but I’ll take any advantage I can find. Continue reading →

Gear Review: L.L. Bean Day Trekker 25 with Boa Daypack

October 5, 2014  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
L.L. Bean Day Trekker 25 with Boa

L.L. Bean Day Trekker 25 with Boa

Daypack
L.L. Bean Day Trekker 25 with Boa
$100, 2 lbs. 2 oz. (M/L)
Sizes: S/M (1,422 c.i./23L) and M/L (1,620 c.i./27L)
llbean.com

Tradition meets modern technology in Bean’s Trekker 25 with Boa compression. On dayhikes from Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve to the Needles District of Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, the Trekker 25 gave me plenty of space for extra clothing and food for my kids and me, carried quite comfortably with up to 15 pounds, and offered the kind of organization that makes an obsessive-compulsion person like me feel all warm and fuzzy. But the deal closer is the pack’s two Boa compression systems, with internal wires that are cranked tight and released with an external knob (think: ski and snowboard boots), that snug undersized loads against your back so well that the pack never shifts, even when scrambling rugged, off-trail terrain. Continue reading →

Gear Review: Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp

September 30, 2014  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp

Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp

Ultralight Tarp
Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp
$199, 12 oz. (large)
Sizes: Large 10 ft. x 10 ft./3x3m, medium 6 ft. 6 ins.x8 ft. 6 ins./2×2.6m ($169, 9.5 oz.)
seatosummit.com

When rain began falling while a friend and I were sleeping under the stars in Yosemite National Park’s Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, we grabbed our gear, pitched this tarp in just a few minutes, and had dry shelter for the night. Besides using the Escapist Tarp on that four-day, 85-mile, backpacking trip, I camped under it with my son in Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve, where the tarp held up well throughout a windy night. For late-summer and fall trips where I won’t encounter bugs, there’s no need to carry the weight and bulk of a tent. The Escapist tarp provides a sturdy, spacious, and durable ultralight shelter from rain, acts as a wind break, and on calm nights will keep you a little warmer than you’d be sleeping under the stars because it traps some warmth. Continue reading →

Gear Review: Mammut MTR 201 10+2L Hydration Pack

September 25, 2014  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Mammut MTR 201 10+2L hydration pack

Mammut MTR 201 10+2L hydration pack

Hydration Pack
Mammut MTR 201 10+2L
$90, 9.5 oz.
One size
mammut.ch

How can the lightest hydration pack on the market be stable enough for trail running and mountain biking, yet have the capacity for a big dayhike? When that pack morphs into a different animal with the pull of a zipper. From mountain bike rides of up to five hours and numerous trail runs of up to 20 miles and 3,600 vertical feet in the Boise Foothills, to dayhikes in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, the MTR 201 10+2L proved unusually versatile and carried surprisingly well for being lighter than any hydration pack I’ve reviewed. Continue reading →

Review: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket

September 22, 2014  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket

Ultralight Down Jacket
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket
$320, 7 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
mountainhardwear.com

When trying to lighten a backpacking load, besides focusing on the heaviest items you carry (tent, bag, pack), your clothing offers potential for shaving ounces and bulk. Rather than assuming I need the same clothing for every trip, I choose layers based on the forecast and likely range of weather and temperatures—and I don’t pack more than I need. So I’m a big believer in ultralight insulation when the temperature will remain well above freezing. Hardwear’s Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket proved perfect on a recent four-day, 85-mile backpacking trip in northern Yosemite National Park in early September: It kept me warm on the coldest morning, around 40° F, while weighing barely more than the wool hat and light gloves I brought. Continue reading →

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