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.

June 20, 2018 Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air Mattress

Gear Review: Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air Mattress

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Insulated Air Mattress
Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air Mattress
$180, 20×72 inches rectangular, 13 oz. (including its stuff sack)
Sizes: 20×66, 20×72, 25×72, and 25×78 inches rectangular and 20×72 mummy
moosejaw.com

As air mattresses have continued getting lighter, more compact, and more comfortable, one would think a limit has been reached on how small they can get before sacrificing real comfort. But Big Agnes has raised that bar again—or lowered it, if you will—with the AXL Air. For four nights backpacking the Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop off the Grand Canyon’s North Rim in May, and several spring nights camping at Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve, I slept like a baby on this plush air mattress, while it all but disappeared inside my pack on the trail. I’ve tested and own many air mats, and I don’t think there’s another I’d now carry instead for three-season backpacking. Here’s why. Continue reading →

June 19, 2018 Backpackers in Titcomb Basin, in Wyoming's Wind River Range.

Ask Me: What’s the Best Ultralight Thru-Hiking Backpack?

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Hi Michael,

I’m looking for a backpack for my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I am considering some Osprey packs and others. What to you recommend as the best thru-hiking backpack?

Thanks.

Bruce

Continue reading →

June 13, 2018 Backpacking the Tonto Trail on the Grand Canyon's Royal Arch Loop.

Ask Me: What ‘Luxury’ Backpacking Gear Do You Carry?

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[Note: I received the two similar, reader questions below about choosing which “luxury” items, like camp chairs and sandals, to carry when backpacking—ML]

Michael,

I really enjoy your reviews and articles. I’m 52 and enjoy backpacking in the Southern Appalachians, typically 10 to 15 miles a day, and head out around eight times a year. I carry around 20 pounds in my Osprey Exos 58. I have the EMS Velocity 1 tent, Thermarest NeoAir all season air mattress, MSR PocketRocket with Titan Kettle, and The North Face Gold Kazoo bag. So I travel pretty light.

I currently use the Therm-a-rest Z Seat Pad, but have been considering stepping up to the Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 Original Camp Chair weighing in at 21 oz. Do you think it would be worth the extra weight to go with the chair? At the end of the day it sure would be nice to kick back in it rather than leaning against a tree or rock while sitting on the Z pad.

Best regards,
Pete
Charlotte, NC Continue reading →

June 12, 2018 Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody

Review: Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody

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Ultralight Insulated Jacket
Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody
$299, 9 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL, women’s XXS-XL
moosejaw.com

The wind blew at a steady 30 mph or better and gusted over 40 mph—creating a wind chill around 40° F—on yet another Memorial Day weekend of “mixed” weather at Idaho’s City of Rocks. I zipped into my Micro Puffy Hoody, pulled the hood up under my helmet, and readied to belay for what would stretch into an hour as my partner led a long trad rock-climbing pitch. Fortunately, this featherweight insulated jacket kept me warm while standing idle for that long in those conditions. It did the same in similar temps and light rain later that weekend at the City, and in cool, strong wind while camping at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim and on the Esplanade during a four-day backpacking trip. One of the lightest insulated jackets on the market at a mere nine ounces, the Micro Puff is surprisingly warm. Here’s why. Continue reading →

June 7, 2018 Salewa Wildfire hiking and approach shoes.

Gear Review: Salewa Wildfire Hiking-Approach Shoes

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Hiking/Approach Shoes
Salewa Wildfire
$129, 1 lb. 11 oz. (US men’s 9)
Sizes: US men’s 6-12, women’s 3-9
moosejaw.com

The term “approach shoes” can misleadingly imply that those shoes aren’t made for dayhikers who largely stick to trails, perhaps only occasionally wandering off-trail, when actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth. For years, I’ve found that shoes lumped into this category are my favorite picks for typical dayhikes of any distance, on trails ranging from packed dirt to rocky, and I’ve liked them for performance aspects that should appeal to most hikers: good fit and breathability, protective uppers, and outstanding traction. Hit those targets while making the shoe lighter and it’s even more attractive. That’s why I tried out the low-cut Salewa Wildfire on hikes ranging from a nine-mile, roughly 2,500-foot jaunt to Observation Point and Hidden Canyon in Zion National Park to hiking and scrambling on spring days at Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve. Continue reading →

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