Category Archives: Gear Reviews

I tested gear for Backpacker magazine for two decades. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel.

Gear Review: MSR DynaLock Ascent Trekking Poles

October 18, 2018  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
MSR DynaLock Ascent Trekking Poles.

MSR DynaLock Ascent Trekking Poles in Zion National Park.

Trekking Poles
MSR DynaLock Ascent Poles
$150, 1 lb. 1 oz. (small, 100-120cm, with trekking baskets)
Sizes: S (100-120cm), L (120-140cm)
rei.com

When you need trekking poles, you want them to stand up to the hardest use in any season. When you don’t need them, you want them to nestle unobtrusively under pack straps. From a 20-mile, mostly off-trail peaks traverse in Idaho’s Sawtooths to a rim-to-rim dayhike across the Grand Canyon and some of the hardest miles on the Appalachian Trail, MSR’s Dynalock Ascent Poles stood out for being tough, stable, and exceptionally packable. Continue reading →

Gear Review: Zamberlan 491 Trackmaster GTX RR Backpacking Boots

October 10, 2018  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Zamberlan 491 Trackmaster GTX RR boots.

Zamberlan 491 Trackmaster GTX RR backpacking boots.

Backpacking Boots
Zamberlan 491 Trackmaster GTX RR
$220, 2 lbs. 8 oz. (men’s US 9/Euro 43)
Sizes: men’s 8-13, women’s 6-11
rei.com

For some backpacking trips, lightweight, mid-cut boots or low-cut shoes don’t cut it. With plans for a six-day hike of over 90 miles on the Continental Divide Trail through Glacier National Park in September—where snow had fallen just a week before—I saw the trip as an opportunity to put Zamberlan’s premier leather backpacking boot, the 491 Trackmaster GTX RR, to a real test. On that hike, I found they measure up as a top boot in this category, although I had one minor complaint. Here’s why you should consider them. Continue reading →

Gear Review: The 5 Best Headlamps of 2018

October 6, 2018  |  In Backpacking, Gear Reviews, Hiking   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   2 Comments
Clockwise from top left: Petzl Actik Core, Princeton Tec Vizz, Black Diamond Spot, Petzl Bindi, and Black Diamond Storm headlamps.

Clockwise from top left: Petzl Actik Core, Princeton Tec Vizz, Black Diamond Spot, Petzl Bindi, and Black Diamond Storm headlamps.

By Michael Lanza

How do you choose which headlamp to buy for hiking, backpacking, climbing, trail running, and other outdoor activities? Price? Brightness? Design and range of lighting modes? Go with a brand you know and trust? I’ve tested dozens of headlamps over the years. Here are my freshly updated picks for the five best models of 2018. Continue reading →

Gear Review: Princeton Tec Vizz Headlamp

October 4, 2018  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , ,   |   1 Comment
Princeton Tec Vizz

Princeton Tec Vizz

Ultralight Headlamp
Princeton Tec Vizz
$50, 3.2 oz. (including three AAA batteries)
nrs.com

Long a favorite headlamp of mine for backpacking or climbs or dayhikes that somehow stretched into the wee hours, the Vizz received an update in 2018 that made it the brightest three-ounce headlamp I’ve reviewed (three ounces being the standard in ultralight headlamps these days). The new Vizz still stands out for versatility and ease of use: You don’t need a Ph.D. in electronics to operate it. I’ve used it on numerous trips from Sequoia National Park, Washington’s Glacier Peak Wilderness, and Idaho’s White Clouds Mountains to, most recently, Glacier National Park with the 2018 version of the Vizz, and still consider it one of the best. Here’s why.
Continue reading →

Gear Review: Petzl Bindi Ultralight Rechargeable Headlamp

October 3, 2018  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Petzl Bindi ultralight headlamp

Petzl Bindi ultralight headlamp.

Ultralight Rechargeable Headlamp
Petzl Bindi
$60, 1.2 oz./35g
moosejaw.com

To get a backcountry headlamp that’s crazy ultralight, you have to ditch all superfluous parts, stripping it down to only what’s essential—the light and housing. With the rechargeable Bindi, Petzl created a super-ultralight headlamp by shrinking the housing and dropping two elements that comprise much of the weight of many three-ounce headlamps on the market today: the batteries and head strap (the latter replaced with an adjustable, stretch cord). The result is an uber minimalist light that weighs barely more than an ounce and fits in a closed fist, but proved very functional on predawn mornings and dark evenings in camp on a six-day backpacking trip in Glacier National Park in September. Continue reading →

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