Introduction

Some gear is old, some is new. But what we pick below is simply our favorites from the year. We may have used it once, or we may have taken it on every trip. It’s the stuff we couldn’t live without in 2016!

Roger Caffin is a Senior Editor and Community Moderator at Backpacking Light. View Roger’s author archive.

Roger Caffin

3mm Closed Cell Foam + Exped Synmat UL7 Air Pad

It’s just a simple bit of 3 mm CCF foam, but we take it with our Exped Synmat UL7 all the time.

It buffers the bottom of the air mattresses from the ground (rocks and spikes), from the snow (frozen condensation), and in this photo from the slightly rough wooden floor of Happys Hut in Kosciusko National Park.

The foam weighs very little and the mats are a little bulky, but they are worth it.

Photo: Roger Caffin.

MYOG Vortex Burner Stove

My latest creation, of course, includes the large pot stand. Fully discussed in our series on my Vortex Winter Stove. It works really well, and the pot stand is super stable. It boils and it simmers gently. This was dinner on night 3 of the Kosciusko National Park trip.

Photo: Roger Caffin.

MSR Titan Pot

I’ve previously reviewed the MSR Titan Pot at Backpacking Light “a few years ago” (!). This is the large one: 1.5 L, 115 g (4.06 oz), with a tight-fitting lid 58 g (2.05 oz). It has looked after the two of us since 2006 with almost no marks, burns, scorches or whatever – and I COOK our dinners. We do not do freezer bag cooking.

Dinner this night was Fettucini al fungi, with extras. We ate the lot.

Jörgen Johannson is a staff contributor at Backpacking Light. View Jörgen’s author archive.

Jörgen Johannson

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter 4400 Backpack

I have used this for several years on long treks in Alaska, the Sierras and for Coast2Coast Sweden. I have carried my gear and up to 16 days of food and fuel in it. It is one of my favorite packs of all time and certainly the best really big one.

Durable fabric, nearly-waterproof construction, load-carrying capacity for large volumes and heavy weight, low water absorption, and simplicity in design and styling make this a desirable pack for long expeditions.

Photo: Jörgen Johannson.

Exped Synmat Hyperlite M Sleeping Pad

This mat has replaced my Neoair Xlite Short during 2016. At 360 grams it outweighs the Neoair by 130 gram, but I still feel it is an OK trade. The Hyperlite is almost full length (my feet hang over the edge, no problem) even for a tall guy like me.

Photo: Exped.

Patagonia Houdini Wind Pants

These are an extremely lightweight pair of pants marketed for running. I recently bought a new pair, replacing my old ones. At 100 grams they are seriously lightweight, windproof and extremely fast drying. I have used them on a month long trek in the Brooks Range of Alaska as well as for numerous shorter treks before they began falling apart. They are not as durable as heavier pants, but wonderful to wear and even more wonderful to carry in my pack when I switch to shorts.

Photo: Patagonia.
Doug Johnson is a staff contributor for Backpacking Light, and is raising two young hikers, Fire Mage and Lily. View Doug’s author archive.

Doug Johnson

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 4 Pyramid Shelter

At 3 pounds for the mid with the floored insert, the Ultamid 4 is an amazing family tent, and it’s been with us on many family trips. But it’s also been a 2.5-pound shelter with the floorless insert as a spacious 2-person tent on the Northern Loop of Mount Rainier and it’s been on snow trips with the mid alone for 1.5 pounds. This shelter is very expensive, but it can replace several shelters, and will last for years.

Photo: Hyperlite Mountain Gear.

Ruta Locura Sorex Carbon Fiber Stakes

I use these stakes in the 9-inch version in sand, in rocks, in frozen ground, and in snow, and they are my favorite. On a recent trip I bent titanium stakes, broke the heads off of Easton aluminum stakes, and shattered first-generation Rota Locura stakes, but these stakes, with the aluminum heads, came through unscathed. This is what I’ve found on many trips before- they are light, hold well in all conditions, and are very strong. For 2017, they also come with a cord loop for easy removal, and I’ve got some on order. These stakes are my favorites.

Photo: Ruta Locura.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad

After trying several different pads, I’ve settled on the NeoAir XTherm as the pad for our entire family. We have four of them and have found them to be very warm, reasonably lightweight, reliable, and very comfortable. My kids always sleep warm on their XTherm pads, and we add foam pads in the deep winter for extra assurance of a warm night. While gear selection for each family trip can be challenging, the sleeping pad decision is easy! The only challenge is finding the discontinued short XTherms for the kids, as they’ve become quite rare.

Photo: Cascade Designs.
Kevin Fletcher is the Trek Director and a guide with Backpacking Light’s Wilderness Adventures program.

Kevin Fletcher

Kelty Cosmic Down 20 Sleeping Bag

I must admit that one of the main reasons I like this bag is its affordability. It packs small and has a solid warmth-to-weight ratio. I used it often during the year, from a chilly desert trip in May to our last Wilderness Adventures trek this October in the Beartooths – a colder-than-expected trip that delivered bitter cold temperatures and the first heavy snows of winter.

Water-resistant down, a reasonable price point, lightweight fabrics, and a well-fitted hood all add up to make the Kelty Cosmic Down 20 Sleeping Bag a solid value.

Photo: Kelty.

ZPacks Duplex Tent

I used this tent on our October “winter” trip in the Beartooths and was surprised by how easy it was to set up, its superb wind resistance, and ability to resist a heavy snow load that delivered more than a foot of fresh snow overnight.

Photo: Ryan Jordan.

Scott Powd’air Skis

I love these lightweight backcountry touring skis! Being so light, I was concerned with how they would perform on the downhill, but they tackled soft powder, wet powder, and breakable crust to make them a versatile backcountry touring tool.

Photo: Scott.
Emylene VanderVelden is a staff contributor at Backpacking Light. View Emylene’s author archive.

Emylene VanderVelden

Outdoor Research Echo/Sentinel Ubertube Neck Gaiter

On a whim, I purchased the OR Echo Ubertube Neck Gaiter (the men’s version is called the Sentinel). It sat in my closet in my box of scarves for a year or so. Finally, I decided to test it out. The Ubertube may be the most versatile item of kit I own. I use it to block out the sun, insulate my neck, cool my neck, hold my hair back, filter particulates out of my water or my nose and mouth and anything else I can think of. It weighs next to nothing (20g) and is handy to have around.
Retailers say this about the Echo Ubertube: “Variety is the spice of life and the hallmark of the tube. Wear it as a scarf, hood, bandana, headband, or mask.” I’m wearing it in my bio photo (above).

Photo: Outdoor Research
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Nemo Blaze 2P Tent

This tent is amazing! It’s light (2 lb 5 oz – 1 lb 2.5 oz per person), stable, and waterproof. One crossing pole hybridized with two corner stake-out points and a small crossbar maximizes livability and stability while saving weight. It has the interior space of a rectangular dome without needing two crossing poles intersecting at all corners. It has two doors, two vestibules, 43 square feet of space and good headroom. I almost literally lived in this tent this summer. In total, I’ve spent about 5 weeks in the tent and it performs in everything, from high winds to torrential rain. I haven’t tested it in the snow yet but it has seen a great deal with me and I’m impressed.

Photo: Nemo.
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Purple Rain Adventure Skirt

I hate wearing hiking shorts. Readers kept asking questions about hiking in skirts and kilts, I felt I needed to experience hiking in a skirt and provide them with answers. The skirt is lighter, cooler, easier to make wardrobe changes and maintain modesty than any other lower body garment I have ever worn. After the review was done this skirt has made it on every trip I’ve made. From Canada to New Zealand I recommend this skirt.

Photo: Emylene VanderVelden.
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Luke Schmidt is a staff contributor at Backpacking Light. View Luke’s author archive.

Luke Schmidt

I’ll offer my three gear picks but first, I have to highlight my passport – yeah, it’s not gear but it has changed my adventure vacationing. Most American citizens focus on Montana/Wyoming then skip right to Alaska. There are some very wild and scenic areas in the Canadian Rockies and they don’t get a lot of love (at least from US residents).

OK, on to gear:

Kokopelli Nirvana Raft

One of my favorite rafts on the market and also one of the cheapest! This raft enabled me to access Some really remote areas in Canada where hiking would not have been very practical. Also exploring down a river that probably hasn’t been run in years (if ever) is the closest thing to real exploration available to most people.

Photo: Luke Schmidt.

Altra Lone Peak 3.0

I have wide feet so most shoes don’t work for me. The Lone Peak 3.0 fixes the problems of the earlier versions of the Lone Peak. Finally, a shoe that is comfortable and has good performance when I’m hiking off trail.

Photo: Altra.

GoPro HERO Action Camera

This was a major splurge for me in 2015/16 but it has been worth every penny (I purchased the Hero4 Silver model, but the new Hero5 Black offers the most features). It makes it easy to capture memories of my trips. I enjoy seeing old video clips and the wide angle also does a nice job capturing the sweep of big mountain panoramas for still shots.

Photo: GoPro.
Leanne Hennessy is a staff contributor at Backpacking Light. View Leanne’s author archive.

Leanne Hennessy

A 7 x 9 foot piece of Tyvek Weather Barrier

Normally used to wrap houses during construction, this lightweight, versatile, durable, and inexpensive fabric made of high-density polyethylene synthetic can be used for so many things: ground sheet, tarp, wind break, emergency shelter, etc. We were given the end of a roll for free and we cut a 7 x 9 foot piece to use as a groundsheet and tarp and added some grommets in the middle of the long panel to support a line to secure as a temporary shelter. When used with great knotsmanship, the possibilities are endless. We even used this to wrap around ourselves in a sudden downpour.

ZPacks Ventum Wind Shell Jacket

This was my go-to piece for hiking in the mountains of Montana in the fall. Lightweight and compact, it weighs in at less than 2 ounces and packs up smaller than a deck of cards. It was perfect when paired with a good base layer to keep the warmth in and the wind out in very windy conditions when an insulated layer would be too warm. I also really like the ingeniously crafted design of the hood that fits snugly and perfectly over the brim of your favorite baseball cap to keep your head warm when that wind picks up! This has become an integral piece of my layering system and I would never leave home without it!

Photo: ZPacks.

Solo Stove and Solo Pot 900

We use this lightweight wood burning stove extensively through all seasons for our cooking needs. It is lightweight, inexpensive, and best of all, environmentally friendly: no gas canisters to carry and then dispose of back home. There are no moving parts to break down and very little assembly required. Fuel is readily available (unless you are above the tree line) and set up is quick and easy. It is efficient and clean burning, using twigs and small chunks of wood or wood chips left on the ground by some previous axe-wielding maniac. It can also be used in combination with a denatured alcohol burner for winter trekking or above the tree line.

Photo: Solo Stove.
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Max Neale is a staff contributor for Backpacking Light. View Max’s author archive.

Max Neale

Cilo Gear 30L Worksack

All of the lighter packs I’ve tried over the last six years sacrifice comfort and durability, and can’t come close to matching this pack’s versatility. It works well for everything–hiking, climbing, skiing, around town–and is, therefore, the only smaller pack I need. Available in three fabric options, my woven Dyneema version weighs 18 oz stripped, can carry supplies for up to a week, and is crazy durable. I don’t ever use the large waist belt or lid and generally remove seven of the metal attachment points, which weigh 0.25 oz. each.

Photo: Cilo Gear.

DIY Water Bottle Parka

It cost me $30 to make four. I made several a year ago with Tyvek, Tyvek tape, and 5.0 oz Climashield Apex insulation and have used them at least 40 below-freezing days.The 1-liter size weighs 2.8 oz, which is 48% less than the Outdoor Research model and insulates an average of 21% better with an open top! Order materials from ripstopbytheroll.com, zpacks.com, or elsewhere. It takes me an hour-ish to build a parka for any size water bottle.

Photo: Max Neale.

Patagonia Grade VII Parka

This is the most sophisticated (and expensive) piece of clothing I’ve ever worn. If you’re able to afford it, the Grade VII is unbeatable for expeditions, high-altitudes, or frigid fast and light trips that push your limits. Cheaper alternatives to consider: the Montbell Frostline (20 oz, $240) or Feathered Friends Hooded Helios (17.5 oz, $340).

Photo: Patagonia.
Chase Jordan is a staff contributor and editorial assistant at Backpacking Light. View Chase’s author archive.

Chase Jordan

Locus Gear Khufu CTF-3 Shelter

When I am part of a small group or adventuring solo, this shelter has quickly become my favorite choice when I hit the trail. It is lightweight (my setup with pole and tent stakes is approximately fifteen ounces) and it couples ease of setup with a small, yet comfortable footprint.

The shelter’s simplicity makes it easy to setup, allowing me to focus my time and energy in camp on enjoying the aesthetic of the visual beauty around me, and the activities available where I am camping: whether they are fishing, bagging a peak, or letting the scene stimulate my creative juices. The ease of setup allows me to focus on the intrinsic value of being outdoors, and not just the utility of surviving night to night.

Additionally, the shelter has a small floor plan, allowing me to find a stimulating scene to enjoy the late afternoon and evening in the shadow of, as I am not limited to the larger areas that I am limited to when using larger shelters or sharing a group shelter. Neither does the small floor plan equal discomfort when using the pyramid shelter in poor weather to shelter from a storm, as the headroom is spacious enough to carry out creative endeavors or entertainment without feeling cramped and claustrophobic. There is enough space for me to organize my gear as well. Essentially, the Khufu could be described as a miniature palace that can be set up anywhere you are adventuring.

Photo: Ryan Jordan.

Moleskine Notebook

The Moleskine Notebook has allowed me to enhance my creative process in the outdoors and is essential to why I adventure in nature. As a Bachelor of Music student at the University of Wyoming, with emphases in viola performance and music composition, I find myself heavily inspired by the natural world almost every time I begin a new creative project. By using the notebook with music staff, I can begin a project while still within the wilderness – and am no longer limited to a simple outline in a journal of a work I will start upon my return to civilization.

For those who musical inclinations are not a part of their creativity, Moleskine also creates a notebook with blank pages for sketching, ruled pages for writing and journaling, and graph paper for designing your next engineering project. No matter what type of creative you are, these notebooks can allow you to begin your creative process in some of the most inspiring terrain you encounter.

Photo: Ryan Jordan.

Tenkara USA Iwana Rod

Tenkara USA’s Iwana rod maintains the simplicity of the tenkara philosophy, while its added length compared to shorter rods, such as the Hane, provides for allowing you to cast a little farther to get to those jumping fish that always seem just beyond the range of your rod. The added length does not make the rod cumbersome in wooded areas with a lack of casting space either, making this rod great for catching dinner in the forest stream, wooded lake basin, or alpine pool nearest to your camp.

Photo: Ryan Jordan.
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Trevor Shellenberg is an engineering research assistant at Backpacking Light.

Trevor Shellenberg

Oboz Sawtooth Hiking Shoes

Ultralight minimalist shoes may not be suitable for every person, or heavy pack weights: the Oboz Sawtooths are supportive (but light) boots that offer a high level of flexibility and reasonable breathability so my feet don’t cramp or overheat when carrying a big pack. A great all around boot.

Durability and traction are the hallmark features of the Sawtooths, but they are lightweight and have enough flexibility and breathability to make them worth considering by lightweight hikers looking for a more supportive shoe.

Photo: Oboz.
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Black Diamond Revolt Headlamp

I’ve had this headlamp for almost 3 years and it’s never had an issue other than having to change the batteries. It has two different lighting settings (one for ambient task lighting, and the other for a bright concentrated navigation spotlight), each with their own progressive dimming function. It even has an extra red flashing hazard light setting. Water-resistant, battery efficient, and durable. My favorite headlamp I’ve had thus far.

Photo: Black Diamond.
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Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody Down Jacket

I bought this jacket last year on sale at REI and have worn it nearly every day of the fall and winter. Whether I’m walking to school or cross country skiing in the Gallatin Canyon, this jacket always seems to eliminate that infamous Montana chill that’s so hard to thwart even with the best warm weather clothing.

Photo: Outdoor Research.
Eric Vann has served in various capacities at Backpacking Light, including Assistant Editor, Guide, and Wilderness Adventures Trek Director. View Eric’s author archive.

Eric Vann

ZPacks Duplex Tent

I use this tent because it is a very lightweight, two-man shelter, it is has a floor, and it feels like a real tent. Although roomy for two, it’s a palace for one and lighter than most solo tents on the market.

The outside vestibule is a dry place to store gear even in inclement weather. I’ve had no issues in this tent in strong winds, snow, or rain and have used it for almost 30 nights this past summer.

It was certainly my home away from home while guiding our Wilderness Adventures Treks in 2016.

Photo: Eric Vann.

Goosefeet Gear Down Parka

I’ve used this parka a lot because it is so light and it keeps me very warm. I sleep in it, wear it under my rain jacket in the cold and rain, and show it off around town to my friends. Generally, their reaction is surprise and wonderment on how it can be so warm and weigh so little.

Photo: Ryan Jordan.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter 4400 Backpack

I’ve used this backpack for several years and I continue to use it because of its water resistance (almost water proof), its packing versatility, and its durability. I use it for mountaineering, packrafting, and backpacking and other than a few small holes I have had no issues with it despite several years of sustained abuse in a variety of conditions.

The HMG Porter 4400 is a popular option amongst BSA Venturing Crew One members. Photo: Ryan Jordan.
Ryan Jordan is Backpacking Light’s founder and publisher. View Ryan’s author archive here.

Ryan Jordan

Patagonia Nano Air Light Hoody

Over the course of the last four months, I may have spent half my waking hours (and a substantial amount of sleeping hours!) in this hoody.

A trim but stretchy fit, an extremely high level of breathability for an insulated garment, and light-but-cozy feel have made this a staple of my wardrobe in both the backcountry and frontcountry, especially when simply layered over a thin merino wool t-shirt – one of my favorite layering combinations.

Add a rain shell over the top for a bombproof system for extreme conditions above the treeline.

Photo: Ryan Jordan.

REI Minimalist Waterproof Mittens

Remember the old electric-blue, seam-taped Goretex mitten shells from Outdoor Research that weighed just over an ounce per pair from the 1990s? Their discontinuation sent waves of depression through those of us in the ultralight community that had come to rely on them for hand protection in cold and wet weather. I’ve tried replacements, including non-seam-taped and leaky mitten shells from my DIY bench and cottage manufacturers such as Mountain Laurel Design, but they’ve all fallen short. Now, REI has brought back one of the most beloved pieces of equipment that should have a home in every ultralighter’s kit. The REI Minimalist mitten shells are seam-taped, made with durable and breathable eVENT, have a hook-and-loop wrist closure, and best of all, weigh just over an ounce per pair!

Photo: Ryan Jordan
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Montane Minimus 777 Pullover

In the old days, which weren’t that long ago, you’d be hard pressed to buy a decent rain jacket that weighed less than five ounces. You either had to give up durability (hospital bed sheet fabrics), breathability (silnylon), layering volume, a hood, or aesthetic appeal. The Montane Minimus Pullover combines all five of these components in a balanced way with the simple, functional, breathable, and stylish Minimus 777 Pullover. It’s been in my pack on nearly every trip this year and has earned its keep during what has been my wettest year of backpacking in several years.

Photo: Ryan Jordan.

What Are Your Picks?

Join us below and the forums and share your three favorite pieces of gear from 2016!