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: The 5 Best Backpacking Tents

April 19, 2017  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
The Exped Mira II Hyperlite tent in Idaho's White Cloud Mountains.

The Exped Mira II Hyperlite tent in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains.

By Michael Lanza

The best backpacking tents on the market today only superficially resemble the tents most of us pitched in the backcountry just five or 10 years ago. Designers have thrown out ingrained notions of what a backpacking tent is, thinking outside the box to make shelters that are more livable, lighter, stronger, and include features like (of all things) built-in lights. Tents continue evolving and improving because the goal of making gear lighter long ago crossed a threshold from “the new thing” to how everyone thinks. That attitude has transformed the world of backcountry gear, especially tents.

You’ll see that trend in each of the five singularly outstanding tents reviewed below. Continue reading →

April 13, 2017 Campsite, Dome Glacier, Ptarmigan Traverse, Glacier Peak Wilderness, North Cascades.

Ask Me: How Can You Tell How Warm a Down Jacket Is?

In Ask Me, Backpacking, Gear Reviews, Hiking, Paddling, Skiing   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment

Michael,

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.

Thanks.

Bruce
Virginia

Continue reading →

Gear Review: Osprey Stratos 50 and Sirrus 50 Backpacks

April 12, 2017  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Osprey Stratos 50 in Death Valley National Park.

Osprey Stratos 50 in Death Valley National Park.

Backpack
Osprey Stratos 50 and Sirrus 50
$190, 47L/2,868 c.i., 3 lbs. 9 oz. (men’s S/M)
Sizes: men’s Stratos S/M and M/L, women’s Sirrus XS/X and S/M
backcountry.com

How much do you have to spend to get a “good” backpack? If only I had a buck for every time I’ve been asked that question. Of course, finding a pack you’re happy with is a very personalized choice (my “5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack” can help you figure that out). Still, like virtually every category of gear, packs come in a range of prices that reflect both the pack’s size as well as its technology, features, materials, and quality of construction—so, yes, price does correlate pretty closely with quality. In search of a pack that delivers good performance without sticker shock, I took the Stratos 50, newly updated for 2017, on a three-day backpacking trip in the Panamint Range of California’s Death Valley National Park. Continue reading →

April 9, 2017 5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack

5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack

In Backpacking, Gear Reviews, Hiking, Skills   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment

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 more than two decades. Continue reading →

April 5, 2017 Osprey Aura AG 65

Gear Review: The 10 Best Packs For Backpacking

In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   12 Comments

By Michael Lanza

Backpacks come in many sizes and flavors for a reason: so do backpackers. Some of us need a pack for moderate loads, others for heavy loads, while still others want a pack designed for lightweight or ultralight backpacking. Some prefer a minimalist design, others a range of features and access. Everyone wants the best fit and comfort they can find, and almost everyone has a budget.

I looked at all the backpacks intended primarily (if not exclusively) for backpacking that I’ve tested and reviewed at The Big Outside, and selected for this article 10 top performers that stand out for reasons that make each appeal uniquely to a certain type of backpacker, including kids of all ages. I think one of them will be perfect for you—possibly even more than one if, like me, you prefer different packs for different kinds of trips. Continue reading →

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