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.

Gear Review: Vitchelo V800 Headlamp

October 2, 2015  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Vitchelo V800 headlamp

Vitchelo V800 headlamp

Ultralight Headlamp
Vitchelo V800
$50, 3 oz. (with 3 AAA batteries, included)

On dark nights and early mornings from New Hampshire’s Presidential Range to Idaho’s Boise Mountains and New Zealand’s Kepler and Dusky tracks, and other trips, I needed a headlamp that was very light, reliable, versatile, and above all, bright. Vitchelo’s V800 met all of those standards, plus proved itself to be reliable and distinctly simple to use. Continue reading →

Review: REI Motility Rain Jacket

September 30, 2015  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,   |   2 Comments
REI Motility Jacket

REI Motility Jacket

Rain Jacket
REI Motility Jacket
$169, 1 lb. 2 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XL, women’s XS-XL

There are, quite literally, few environments in the world wetter than New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park: It receives upwards of 400 inches of rain a year. (Fun fact: That’s 10 times more than Seattle.) To me, that means there are few places on the planet better for testing a rain jacket. I took the Motility Jacket on a four-day trek of Fiordland’s famously wet, muddy, and rugged Dusky Track, and a dayhike to Gertrude Saddle above Milford Sound, where plenty of rain mixed with lots of exertion on my part provided an excellent measure of this well-priced, waterproof-breathable rain jacket. Continue reading →

Gear Review: Aquamira and LifeStraw Water Filter Bottles

September 24, 2015  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , ,   |   2 Comments
Lifestraw Go and Aquamira Frontier Flow Filtered Water Bottle

Lifestraw Go and Aquamira Frontier Flow Filtered Water Bottle.

Water Filter Bottles
Aquamira Frontier Flow Filtered Water Bottle
$50, 7 oz.
20 oz./0.6L bottle capacity (with filter)

LifeStraw Go
$35, 8 oz.
22 oz./0.65L bottle capacity (with filter)

Treating water in the backcountry has always been time-consuming—until now. From long dayhikes on and off-trail in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains and Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to a four-day, 34-mile backpacking trip on the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park in the Canadian Rockies, I used both of these bottles to obtain treated, drinkable water by simply bending down, filling the bottle in a creek, screwing the cap back on, and then immediately sipping from a straw—that’s it. Continue reading →

September 23, 2015 Campsite, Dome Glacier, Ptarmigan Traverse, Glacier Peak Wilderness, North Cascades.

Ask Me: How Can You Tell How Warm a Down Jacket Is?

In Ask Me, Backpacking, Gear Reviews, Hiking, Paddling, Skiing   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment


With sleeping bags, we have temperature ratings. But with down/insulated/puffy jackets, what is best way to determine if a jacket will be warm or warmer or hot? Is it the amount of fill? Some but not all jackets indicate the amount of fill.



Continue reading →

Gear Review: Arc’teryx Velaro 24 Daypack

September 18, 2015  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Arc'teryx Velaro 24

Arc’teryx Velaro 24 in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains.

Arc’teryx Velaro 24
$175, 1 lb. 10 oz.
One size each in men’s and women’s models

I tend to be hard on gear, but especially daypacks, and rain or snow has never struck me as a reason to abort hiking plans. I also like daypacks that are lightweight without compromising on comfort or a basic degree of organization. Given those standards, I was intrigued by the Velaro 24’s nearly watertight and seemingly bulletproof design, and took it out on hikes from a rainy eight-miler with my family in Canada’s Yoho National Park to a 12-hour, roughly 14-mile and 5,000-foot, mostly off-trail dayhike and scramble in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, to see how it would measure up. Continue reading →

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