Gear Reviews

The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer UL Hoody.

Review: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer UL Hoody

Ultralight Down Jacket
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer UL Hoody
$420, 6.7 oz./190g (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL

At under nine ounces/255 grams, Mountain Hardwear’s classic Ghost Whisperer/2 Down Hoody has long held the distinction as one of the very lightest, most packable, and warmest-for-its-weight down jackets for backpackers, climbers, and other backcountry travelers—and arguably the best among the tiny number in its weight class. So why make one that’s even lighter? That question occupied my mind while using Hardwear’s newer Ghost Whisperer UL Hoody, which whacks about two ounces/57 grams off its older sibling’s weight while excelling for many of the same reasons—and differentiating itself.

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A backpacker on the Shannon Pass Trail above Peak Lake, Wind River Range, Wyoming.

The Top 5 Ultralight Backpacking Tips

By Michael Lanza

I field a lot of questions from readers about gear and backpacking, and I find the conversation often boiling down to one issue: how much weight they have in their packs. The biggest lesson I’ve drawn from more than three decades of backpacking—including the 10 years I spent as a field editor at Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog—is that a major factor dictating my enjoyment of any hike is how much weight I’m carrying.

If I could convince my readers who backpack to follow one piece of advice— no matter your age, how much you hike, or how fit or experienced you are—it would be this: Lighten up. You’ll make backpacking more fun.

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Backpackers hiking past a tarn off the Highline Trail (CDT) in Wyoming's Wind River Range.

The Best Backpacking Gear of 2023

By Michael Lanza

The Wind River Range. The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. Iceland. The John Muir Trail, Wonderland Trail, and Teton Crest Trail. Yosemite. The Grand Canyon. Glacier National Park. Yellowstone. The North Cascades and Pasayten Wilderness. Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. The High Uintas Wilderness. The Tour du Mont Blanc. These are just some of the numerous places where I’ve tested the backpacking gear and apparel reviewed at The Big Outside—so that I can give you honest and thorough, field-tested opinions that help you find the best gear for your adventures.

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

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The Mountain Hardwear Phantom 30 sleeping bag.

Review: Mountain Hardwear Phantom 30 Sleeping Bag

Ultralight Sleeping Bag
Mountain Hardwear Phantom 30
$450, 1 lb. 6 oz./624g (unisex regular, 72-inch)
Sizes: unisex short ($440), regular, long ($480)

Look at specs when shopping for a high-quality, ultralight, three-season sleeping bag and you might quickly trim your short list to about five models, all at basically similar weights and price points. But having slept in most of those top bags—and after sleeping in Mountain Hardwear’s Phantom 30 on cool nights on backpacking trips from a section of the Arizona Trail in the first days of April and camping at Idaho’s City of Rocks in June to the Canadian Rockies and Wind River Range in August—I place the Phantom 30 among the two or (maybe) three very best ultralight mummy bags for its strategic balance between low weight and excellent warmth. Here’s why.

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A backpacker hiking to Spider Gap in Washington's Glacier Peak Wilderness.

An Essentials-Only Backpacking Gear Checklist

By Michael Lanza

What do you need to pack for a three-season backpacking trip? While the specific items depend in part on factors like the time of year, your companions and backpacking style, the trip’s length and the weather forecast, this story provides a core checklist of essential gear to help you organize and efficiently pack—and avoid overpacking—for virtually any backpacking trip.

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