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.
By Michael Lanza
Whatever your outdoor sport—backpacking, climbing, whitewater rafting or kayaking, backcountry skiing, etc.—a sturdy duffle for organizing, hauling, and protecting your gear and clothing is invaluable. Not only does it eliminate the risk of damaging an expensive backpack by using it as your luggage, a good duffle has more capacity and is built to suffer the indignities of getting tossed into jet, train, and bus baggage compartments, being strapped onto a roof rack, sled, snowmobile, or pack animal, and exposed to rain and snow.
I subjected the six duffles and two convertible pieces of luggage reviewed here to perils ranging from cross-country and intercontinental flights to the environmental hazards of multi-day whitewater river trips and numerous long-distance car trips. Besides passing the durability test, all of them demonstrated unique strengths for different styles of adventure travel. Continue reading →
Insulated Air Mattress
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite MAX SV
$180, 1 lb. (regular, with stuff sack)
Sizes: regular (72x20x2.5 ins.) and large ($210, 77x25x2.5 ins.)
Who enjoys blowing up an air mattress? At the end of a full day of backpacking, it always seems to take more breaths than you have left in reserve. Therm-a-Rest solves this problem with its SpeedValve, a large, fabric tunnel that draws in surrounding air when you blow into it, making the inflation process significantly faster and easier. After using the lightweight and compact Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite MAX SV on a family backpacking trip in Utah’s Dirty Devil River canyon and while car-camping in southern Utah in late March, and my 15-year-old son sleeping on it for three nights on a mid-July rafting and kayaking trip through Lodore Canyon in Dinosaur National Monument, I give it high scores for comfort and convenience. Continue reading →
Mountain Hardwear South Col 70 OutDry
$300, 70L/4,270 c.i., 3 lbs. 13 oz. (S/M)
Sizes: S/M & M/L (75L/4,575 c.i.)
On a four-day, April ascent of the Mountaineers Route on California’s 14,505-foot Mount Whitney with my 15-year-old son, I carried this pack with over 40 pounds inside for the two-day hike to our 12,000-foot high camp, and then stripped it down to carry much less weight on our nine-hour summit day. I call it the Transformer of climbing packs. Its minimalist weight, modularity, and feature set make it, in many ways, ideal for multi-day, technical climbs. There are also compromises with a pack this light, which some climbers will find acceptable, others maybe not. Continue reading →
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. And in warm weather, your base layers are all there is between you and nature’s whim. This is what we wear against our skin. It matters. Continue reading →
By Michael Lanza
Readers often ask me for suggestions on good-quality gear for hiking and backpacking that’s affordable. They want to get outdoors, but they’re on a budget, and they don’t want gear that will fall apart on their second day using it. I get it. Now’s your chance to score great deals, because many online retailers offer their best sales over this long holiday weekend. I’ve scoured the websites I like and assembled below links to my recommendations for the backpacks, daypacks, tents, footwear, bags and other gear I’d buy and suggest to friends.
My advice: Grab it while it’s available at these prices. Continue reading →