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.
By Michael Lanza
My first two-person tent set me back only about twice what you’d pay today for a good, single-burner backpacking stove. It weighed several pounds and was bulky for backpacking. I nicknamed that tent the Wind Sock for its propensity to snap loudly in even the slightest breeze, and how its poles bowed disturbingly in strong gusts. (I learned to choose protected campsites.) In heavy downpours, I sometimes woke up to a puddle covering the floor.
But I used it for six summers of car camping and backpacking. At a time in my life when I could not afford good gear, that tent sheltered me for probably close to 150 nights and got me through many wonderful experiences. For its swan song, my girlfriend (now my wife) and I spent three months hiking, backpacking, and climbing throughout the West—and slept a total of one night indoors. I used the Wind Sock until it all but disintegrated in the last campsite it ever saw. My lifetime cost for that tent worked out to about 50 cents a night. Continue reading →
Ultralight Backpacking Tent
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
$450, 2 lbs. 12 oz.
I’ll tolerate reasonably close living quarters in a tent that’s lightweight and performs well in the backcountry, because I prioritize my comfort on the trail (read: light pack) and usually only crawl inside the tent to sleep. But not all of my backpacking companions share my tolerance for a snug shelter. The Big Agnes Copper Spur line of tents have long made me and my elbowroom-loving tentmates happy, by marrying low weight and a high ratio of interior space per ounce. So with a new design making the Copper Spur HV UL2 roomier while keeping its weight under three pounds, I took it out on a five-day, 80-mile backpacking trip through the North Cascades with a six-foot friend to see whether the tent would measure up to the hype. Continue reading →
Ultralight Rechargeable Headlamp
Black Diamond Iota
$40, 2 oz.
Even as backcountry headlamps continually shrink without compromising brightness—indeed, today’s ultralight models keep getting more powerful—my first impression of Black Diamond’s Iota is how darn tiny it is. Smaller than a golf ball, it’s nearly unnoticeable on your head: After turning it off, you could forget you’re wearing it. This two-ounce beacon also represents a leap forward in the affordability of rechargeable headlamps. While the Iota’s relatively short burn time on a full charge limits its versatility, it will appeal to people who want an affordable, ultralight, rechargeable headlamp for outings of up to two or three hours. Continue reading →
On the hike out from Mount Sopris, near our Aspen, Colorado, home, my husband commented that it feels like time to invest in lighter-weight backpacking gear to ease up the wear and tear on our bodies. Our kids are ages nine and 11, and backpacking as a family is an important part of our lives. Recently, we upgraded our mountain bikes (cushy suspension, etc.) so that we could still happily bike with our kids; it seems like we need to do the same with our backpacking equipment. Knowing that you are in touch with the latest gear compared to our old stuff, what would you recommend as the most important things to upgrade, with weight in mind? Continue reading →
Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Jacket
$250, 1 lb. 2 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
From backcountry skiing in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains in a below-zero wind chill, to resort skiing on a sunny but frosty day with temperatures in the teens Fahrenheit, this puffy jacket stood out for three reasons. First and foremost, it kept me warm whether as my only insulating layer over one base layer and under a shell (while resort skiing) or when I simply pulled it on over other layers in the backcountry. Second, it felt noticeably more comfortable than some bulky, stiff puffy jackets, because both the fabric and the down-filled chambers actually stretch. And third, after I got its lining wet with sweat or its shell damp from falling snow, it still kept me warm. Continue reading →