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: Gregory Wander 70 Kids Backpack

September 28, 2016  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Gregory Wander 70

Gregory Wander 70

Kids Backpack
Gregory Wander 70
$189, 70L/4,272 c.i., 3 lbs. 10 oz.
One size, adjustable
backcountry.com

There are a couple of groups of people who often have trouble finding a backpack that fits them and functions well: young teenagers and small adults, especially women. Gregory tackles this dilemma head on with the Wander pack series. So I had my 15-year-old son and a woman friend who’s short and slightly built test out the Wander 70 on backpacking and hut trekking trips—and both really liked it. Here’s why. Continue reading →

Gear Review: Five Ten Access Hiking Shoes

September 27, 2016  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , ,   |   1 Comment
Five Ten Access

Five Ten Access

Hiking/Approach Shoes
Five Ten Access
$140, 1 lb. 10 oz. (US men’s 9)
Sizes: US men’s 4-14
moosejaw.com

Five Ten bills the Access as a go-anywhere, do-anything shoe, so I thought I’d test the authenticity of that claim on an 8.5-hour, 20-mile, 4,500-foot, mid-September trail run-hike of the Alice Lake-Toxaway Lake Loop in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains—including, midway through our day, a 1,400-foot, third-class scramble up 10,651-foot Snowyside Peak. I was honestly a little nervous about committing my feet to these shoes for such a long day, mostly out of concern that they’re not really designed primarily as a trail-running shoe. As it turned out, my feet were as comfortable as they’ve ever been on an ultra-hike or long trail run. Here’s why. Continue reading →

Review: Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody

September 22, 2016  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody

Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody

Synthetic Insulated Jacket
Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody
$249, 13 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL, women’s XXS-XL
backcountry.com

A lot of people wore this jacket before I did—or, more accurately, a lot of people wore most of this jacket—before I zipped it up at my campsite on a rocky ledge high above Baron Lake in Idaho’s magnificent Sawtooth Mountains. But I wouldn’t know that by simply looking at or wearing my Nano Puff Hoody. I’m speaking only partly metaphorically: Besides having excellent performance qualities, this jacket now contains cutting-edge, synthetic insulation that comes mostly from recycled polyester—which means that it’s not only good for me in the backcountry, but it’s good for the planet my kids are inheriting. Continue reading →

Gear Review: Deuter Speed Lite 20 Daypack

September 21, 2016  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Deuter Speed Lite 20

Deuter Speed Lite 20

Daypack
Deuter Speed Lite 20
$89, 20L/1,220 c.i. 1 lb. 3 oz.
One size
backcountry.com

At first glance, Deuter’s Speed Lite 20 struck me as a daypack with the right capacity and features for virtually any adventure—and super lightweight, which I like. So I decided to put it to a serious test, on an 8.5-hour, 20-mile, 4,500-foot, mid-September trail run-hike of the Alice Lake-Toxaway Lake Loop in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, including a 1,400-foot, third-class scramble up 10,651-foot Snowyside Peak. And there’s much to like about the Speed Lite 20. Continue reading →

Gear Review: Leki Micro Vario Carbon Antishock Folding Trekking Poles

September 14, 2016  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Leki Micro Vario Carbon Antishock Trekking Poles

Leki Micro Vario Carbon Antishock Trekking Poles

Trekking Poles
Leki Micro Vario Carbon Antishock Folding Trekking Poles
$220, 1 lb. 1 oz. (110-130 cm).
Sizes: regular/unisex 110-130 cm, Lady 100-120cm
backcountry.com

How much does a good pair of trekking poles matter? I used these three-section, folding poles on a dayhike in August that I wasn’t certain I could finish: the 32-mile, 10,000-vertical-foot, nine-summit Pemi Loop in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. For the last few miles, the poles may have been the only thing holding me up. Whether or not you intend to take absurdly long hikes, this one did help me identify the many strengths of Leki’s Micro Vario Carbon Antishock Folding Trekking Poles, and evaluate the usefulness of the antishock mechanism. Continue reading →

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