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: Scarpa Mont Blanc GTX Mountaineering Boots

January 19, 2017  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Scarpa Mont Blanc GTX

Scarpa Mont Blanc GTX mountaineering boots.

Mountaineering Boots
Scarpa Mont Blanc GTX
$480, 4 lbs. 1 oz. (mondo 25/men’s US 6.5/Euro 39)
Sizes: men’s US 6-13/Euro 39-46, women’s US 6-12/Euro 37-43
backcountry.com

For my 15-year-old son’s first technical mountain climb, a four-day, April ascent of the Mountaineers Route on California’s Mount Whitney—where we’d face conditions ranging from hot alpine sun to frigid winds, and be walking in snow with crampons for nearly the entire four days—I wanted to put him in a pair of all-around mountaineering boots that would feel comfortable for miles of hiking, handle the “technical” terrain of a moderately steep snow gully, hold a crampon reliably, and keep his feet warm. I decided on a proven performer that would serve virtually any climbing adventures on glaciers, snow, or ice: the Mont Blanc GTX. Continue reading →

Review: The North Face Novelty Denali Jacket

January 18, 2017  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
The North Face Novelty Denali Jacket.

The North Face Novelty Denali Jacket.

Fleece Jacket
The North Face Novelty Denali Jacket
$179, 1 lb. 6 oz. (men’s small)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL
backcountry.com

What can you say about a fleece jacket? Its simplicity of design belies its versatility in all seasons, especially for on-the-move activities in cool and sub-freezing temperatures of fall, winter, and spring. Consider The North Face Novelty Denali Jacket, which kept my teenage son warm through several hours of backcountry skiing in Idaho’s Boise Mountains, on a day when it snowed hard for hours and temperatures sat in the teens Fahrenheit (he wore it mostly under a soft-shell jacket). There isn’t much to this jacket, and yet, it could be the piece of outerwear you slip into more than any other. Continue reading →

January 12, 2017 Boise Mountains, Idaho.

Review: The Best Gloves For Winter

In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment

By Michael Lanza

I love getting outdoors in winter, especially skiing in all of its varieties—climbing up and sliding down mountains in the backcountry, skate skiing, resort skiing with my family, and touring on gentler terrain in the forest. Problem is, I have the worst fingers for being outside in sub-freezing temperatures: My Raynaud’s disease is so bad that my fingers turn white and numb even when I’m chopping vegetables that are still cold from the fridge. That’s made me picky about gloves. I’ve tested many over the years, and I use different models depending on the activity and temperature. Here are the best gloves I’ve found for winter. Continue reading →

Review: Outdoor Research Skyward Jacket

January 11, 2017  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Outdoor Research Skyward Jacket

Outdoor Research Skyward Jacket

Winter Shell Jacket
Outdoor Research Skyward Jacket
$350, 1 lb. 7 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
backcountry.com

From the moment we left our car, through several hours of backcountry skiing in Idaho’s Boise Mountains—uphill and downhill, in dumping snow and temperatures from the teens to the 20s Fahrenheit—until we got back to the car, this soft shell never left my back. Not once. The only layering change I made all day was to twice pull an insulated jacket on over the shell. The fact that I can’t remember the last time I wore any shell jacket all day, through a huge range of exertion levels in winter conditions, speaks to this shell’s superior breathability. But it proved superior by many performance measures as a shell for backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, mountaineering, and ice climbing. Continue reading →

Review: The North Face Flight Series Fuse Jacket

January 4, 2017  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
The North Face Flight Series Fuse Jacket.

The North Face Flight Series Fuse Jacket.

Ultralight Wind Shell
The North Face Flight Series Fuse Jacket
$250, 5 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XL, women’s XS-L
backcountry.com

Biting winds hit us on the 1,400-foot, third-class scramble up 10,651-foot Snowyside Peak, roughly halfway through an 8.5-hour, 20-mile, 4,500-foot, mid-September trail run-hike of the Alice-Toxaway Loop in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. So I zipped this ultralight shell up tight and yanked the hood over my head, and got what I needed from it right then: a shield from the wind, to keep me warm.

I also wore it in temperatures in the low 40s Fahrenheit for the first couple of hours that day, mostly running uphill, and for a long stretch on the downhill side of our loop that afternoon, when the temp topped out around 50. And it was equally ideal when I dayhiked to waterfalls along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mountains of western North Carolina, on a mid-October day of light rain and temps in the 50s. Those situations spotlight the strengths of The North Face Flight Series Fuse Jacket, an ultralight shell made for runners that transitions over to long dayhikes when you’re trying to travel light. Continue reading →

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