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.

December 12, 2018 Backpacking the Fisher Creek Trail, North Cascades National Park.

Review: 22 Essential Backpacking Gear Accessories of 2019

In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   4 Comments

By Michael Lanza

Sure, your backpack, boots, tent, sleeping bag, air mattress, and other backpacking gear matter a lot, and you should put serious thought into your choices when buying any of them. But little things matter, too. Various necessary accessories, convenience items, and small comforts accompany me on backcountry trips. Many years of field-testing gear have refined my sense of what I like on certain types of trips and what I will not do without anytime.

Here’s my freshly updated list of essential backpacking accessories, ranging from basics like my favorite stuff sacks, camp kitchen gear, water filters, and bear canister, to great values in a headlamp and knife, and what I sit on in camp and lay my head down on every night I sleep on the ground. You’ll find many of them available at discounted prices right now. Continue reading →

The Best Clothing Layers for Winter in the Backcountry

December 9, 2018  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   2 Comments
A backcountry skier in Idaho's Boise Mountains.

A backcountry skier in Idaho’s Boise Mountains.

By Michael Lanza

There’s one certainty about the clothing layers we use in winter: We get our money’s worth out of them. While a rain shell or puffy jacket may rarely (or even never) come out of our pack on a summer hike or climb, we almost invariably wear every article of clothing we carry when backcountry, Nordic, or downhill skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, climbing, or trail running in winter. That’s money spent wisely to make us more comfortable and safer.

Every winter, I test out new clothing layers doing all of those activities frequently. Here are the best shell and insulated jackets, base layers, and pants I’ve found for high-exertion and moderate-exertion activities in winter. Continue reading →

The 5 Best Rain Jackets for Hiking and Backpacking

December 5, 2018  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment
Patagonia Pluma Jacket.

Wearing the Patagonia Pluma Jacket on the Tour du Mont Blanc.

By Michael Lanza

Shop for a rain jacket for dayhiking, backpacking, or climbing in the backcountry and you’ll see shells for adults ranging from under $100 to over $600, and from less than half a pound to over a pound—with just as huge and confusing a range of opinions on them from reviewers and consumers. I’m going to make the choice easy for you.

I’ve tested dozens of rain shells while hiking through soaking rains all over the world over the past two decades, writing reviews for this blog and previously for Backpacker magazine; I’ve learned how to distinguish the mediocre from the excellent. Here are my picks for the five best rain jackets for backcountry adventures that you can buy today. Continue reading →

November 25, 2018 A backpacker and a rainbow in Wyoming's Wind River Range.

The Best Backpacking Gear of 2019

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By Michael Lanza

Yosemite. The Grand Canyon. The Tetons. Glacier National Park. Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park. The Wind River Range. The North Cascades. The Tour du Mont Blanc. New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The Canadian Rockies. Paria Canyon. These are just some of the numerous places where I’ve tested the backpacking gear you see reviewed at The Big Outside. I treat gear roughly in mountains and canyons that are notoriously hard on outdoor gear and apparel so that I can give you brutally honest and thorough, field-tested opinions that help you make the best gear choices for your adventures.

And that’s exactly how I came up with these select picks for today’s best backpacking gear. Continue reading →

Gear Review: The 10 Best Backpacking Packs of 2019

November 20, 2018  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   12 Comments
Osprey Exos 58 backpack in Glacier National Park.

Testing the Osprey Exos 58 backpack in Glacier National Park.

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.

From the many backpacks intended primarily (if not exclusively) for backpacking that I’ve tested and reviewed at The Big Outside, I’ve selected for this article 10 top performers that stand out for reasons that make each appeal uniquely to a certain type of backpacker. (In addition, I point out below two excellent packs for 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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