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: MSR Freelite 2 Ultralight Tent

October 27, 2016  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment


MSR Freelite 2

MSR Freelite 2

Ultralight Backpacking Tent
MSR Freelite 2
$440, 2 lbs. 7 oz. (not including stuff sacks and stakes)

How important is low gear weight to you—and what are you willing to sacrifice to hike with a light pack? Your choice of backcountry shelter can achieve the most significant weight savings and entail the greatest compromises. As someone who generally chooses lightweight gear, with its pros and cons, I took MSR’s lightest freestanding tent on a pair of backcountry trips for which tents like this seem well suited: I shared it with my wife on a mid-July rafting and kayaking trip on the Green River through Lodore Canyon in Dinosaur National Monument; and used it by myself for two nights on a mid-August backpacking trip in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. I found the Freelite 2 has distinct advantages for a tent so light, while making relatively small compromises on space and strength. Continue reading →

Review: The Best Base Layers and Shorts For Hiking, Trail Running, and Training

October 26, 2016  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   2 Comments
Arc’teryx Satoro AR Zip Neck LS

Arc’teryx Satoro AR Zip Neck LS, at Mount Whitney, California.

By Michael Lanza

Let’s admit it: We don’t always take our base layers as seriously and we do our outerwear and insulation—or boots and other gear, for that matter. But this under-appreciated first stage in a layering system for the outdoors really sets the table for how comfortable you’ll be. Base layers that don’t perform well probably won’t kill you, but misery isn’t a good companion. This is what we wear against our skin. It matters. Continue reading →

Gear Review: LifeStraw Go Water Bottle With 2-Stage Filtration

October 20, 2016  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
LifeStraw Go Water Bottle With 2-Stage Filtration.

LifeStraw Go bottle with 2-stage filtration, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Water Filter Bottle
LifeStraw Go Water Bottle With 2-Stage Filtration
$50, 8 oz.
22 ounces/650ml bottle capacity

On an 80-mile, five-day backpacking trip in the North Cascades National Park Complex in September, I stopped filling my pack’s bladder by the second day. I didn’t need it—I could just top off my LifeStraw Go bottle every time we passed one of the frequent creeks along our route, and continue hiking with hardly a pause. Rare is the piece of gear whose convenience and utility actually change the way I behave, but the LifeStraw Go does exactly that. Continue reading →

Gear Review: Marmot Ion 20 Sleeping Bag

October 19, 2016  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Marmot Ion 20 sleeping bag.

Marmot Ion 20 sleeping bag.

Sleeping Bag
Marmot Ion 20
$419, 1 lb. 13 oz. (regular)
Sizes: regular and long ($439)

Heading into Washington’s North Cascades National Park for an 80-mile backpacking trip in the last week of September, I didn’t want to take a chance on gear and clothing that might not stand up to cold, wet weather, maybe even sub-freezing nights and snow in that notoriously soggy mountain range. The hybrid-insulation Ion 20 fit the specs for that mission, thanks to its blend of high-quality down feathers and synthetic insulation and super warmth for such a lightweight bag. Continue reading →

Review: 6 Super Versatile Layering Pieces

October 18, 2016  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   1 Comment


Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody

Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody

By Michael Lanza

Whether climbing peaks, taking an ultra-dayhike or trail run, Nordic or backcountry skiing, or backpacking, the more time I spend in the backcountry, the more I value and wear lightweight jackets and vests that pull double duty as middle and outer layers. Unlike with heavier, warmer, and less-breathable jackets, you can often wear this type of garment while on the move—while your body is producing heat, but you still need some warmth. That makes you more comfortable and, ultimately, safer in widely ranging mountain weather. Plus, you get more bang for your buck from versatile layers like these because you use them more.

Here are six of the very best. Continue reading →

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