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
Every year, I field test and review at this blog dozens of pieces of new outdoor gear and clothing—backpacks, shoes and boots, tents, shell and insulated jackets, sleeping bags and pads, daypacks, headlamps, trekking poles, water filters, backcountry cooking gear, and various other stuff that help us get out and enjoy wild spaces. (It’s a fun gig.) I only review what I’d strongly recommend and want to use myself, and 20 years of doing that has helped me develop a pretty good eye for identifying the best, most innovative and functional gear.
I give you here my picks for the 10 best of the best new products I’ve reviewed this year, a list that includes a backpack, two tents, a rain jacket, two daypacks, a sleeping bag, shoes, one high-performance and affordable headlamp, an air mattress, and a very cool water bottle with a built-in filter. Each capsule review below links to my full review of that product. I guarantee your dollars will be well spent on any of them. Continue reading →
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 eight 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 →
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.
By Michael Lanza
If you’re super fit and strong, young, hike with a pack of any weight 50 or 100 days a year, and have never known any sort of injury or ache in your body, then don’t bother reading this article. But for everyone else, knowing how to find the right backpack for your activities and your body will make a world of difference in your enjoyment when carrying that pack for hours a day on a trail or up and down a mountain. The following tips reflect what I’ve learned about finding the right pack from hundreds of days testing all manner of daypacks, backpacks, climbing packs, and ski packs for the past two decades. Continue reading →
Insulated Air Mattress
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm
$200, 15 oz. (regular)
Sizes: regular (20x72x2.5 ins., tapered), large (25x77x2.5 ins., tapered), Max (25×77.2.5 ins., rectangular)
When sleeping outdoors at any time of year, you have two simple objectives: comfort and warmth. We tend to associate the former with our choice of air mattress or pad and the latter with our choice of sleeping bag. But the air mat is actually the key to both goals, because dollar for dollar, your money achieves more warmth from an air mat or pad that adequately insulates your body from the cold ground (which can rapidly drain heat from you) than from your bag. In the NeoAir XTherm—which I tested on numerous trips, including several nights sleeping on snow—you get an all-season air mat with more insulation, pound for pound, than any competitor. Continue reading →