Each year, our staff selects their favorite backcountry gear from the past 12 months, and we look forward to sharing your favorite gear of the year as well in the forum comments below!
These recommendations are based on our personal experiences with the products – they don’t constitute any sort of official recommendation by Backpacking Light or its Editorial Team.
This year’s Staff Picks contributors are:
During the high mountains of Wyoming in the winter, a tent that provides 100% protection from the wind is essential for me, and that’s my primary motivation for making the Locus Gear Djedi my primary winter tent. Ironically, I’ve come to appreciate its livability (headroom, full-screen door, and ultralight vestibule options) that I’m starting to sneak it into my pack even when the temperatures are warmer. – Ryan Jordan
A 2 lb (0.9 kg) single-wall breathable DCF dome tent with lots of headroom and interior space, with terrific snow-loading and wind-protection during the winter. – $1150.00 at Locus Gear.
Learn more about the Locus Gear Djedi DCF-eVENT Dome Tent:
- The Locus Gear Djedi is featured in Lightweight backpacking gear for mountain travel.
- The Tent-bound in a storm podcast presents a discussion of how I cook in a Locus Gear Djedi.
- We discuss the use of Dyneema Composite Fabrics for tents in the DCF podcast.
One of my “projects” this year has been to rethink my (non-summer) fastpacking kit for high-mountain travel in more inclement conditions. In an effort to bring my fastpacking base pack weight down into the six-pound range for alpine snow travel and camping during the spring and fall, that means my bivy sack and tiny flat tarp has taken a back seat to a ZPacks Pocket Tarp. I like the model with doors, so I can have the protection of a pyramid if needed in blustery weather. – Ryan Jordan
A spartan but functional 5.2 oz (147 g) shelter that provides full-perimeter protection from blowing wind and rain. – $299.00 at ZPacks.
The Feathered Friends Tanager 20 CFL Sleeping Bag is the core of my 3/4 season (non-summer) sleep system. I add a 50 F (10 C) synthetic quilt during the winter to move the condensation (dew) point out of the down and preserve the Tanager’s loft on multi-day trips. – Ryan Jordan
The Feathered Friends Tanager 20 CFL Sleeping Bag uses 950 fill power down, 7D fabrics, and has no hood or zipper = a very high warmth-to-weight ratio. – $369.00 at Feathered Friends.
Learn more about the Feathered Friends Tanager 20 CFL Sleeping Bag:
- Ryan talks about how he uses the Tanager as part of a multi-layer sleep system in the Masterclass video course about backpacking in inclement conditions.
- The Tanager is also featured in this recent blog post about backpacking in cold temperatures.
This was a new piece of gear for me this year and I used it on trips from the Arizona desert to the high country of western Montana. It offered the perfect amount of warmth and was easily pushed below its rating by using thicker base layers. Its minimal weight, excellent zipper and comfortable fabrics made it stand out and it will be my main sleeping bag for three-season conditions from here on out. – Mark Wetherington
High-quality materials and a simple and comfortable mummy design – the REI Magma 30 Sleeping Bag is an affordable option for a high-performance ultralight bag. – $319.00 at REI.
Learn more about the REI Magma 30 Sleeping Bag:
- Read Mark’s REI Magma 30 Sleeping Bag Review.
- Looking for a quilt that has a similar weight, design, materials, economy, and temperature rating? Here’s a review of the REI Magma Trail Quilt.
At last I can sleep through the night because this pad is warm and quiet, wide enough that my arms don’t dangle off the sides (I use the long/wide size), and cushy enough that I won’t get sore spots or an achy back. All of that is worth carrying 23.5 ounces (666 grams) including inflation sack. I’ve happily retired the Museum of Lighter But Unsatisfactory Sleeping Pads in my garage. – Rex Sanders
Plush comfort, warm, quiet, and available in regular WIDE and long WIDE, plus inflation bag – all for less than a 1.5 lb (0.7 kg). – $159.95 at REI.
Learn more about the Nemo Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad:
- Read Emylene’s Nemo Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad review.
- Here’s what Rex has to say about sleeping pad R-value ratings.
The NeoAir Uberlight is substantially ahead of any other pad in terms of comfort for the weight and packed size. It rolls up very small and I find it warm enough for most 3-season trips. I know some people have been having durability issues with these but my wife and I have over 50 nights on ours with no issues, and the 15D fabric doesn’t seem that different from the 20D that Exped has been using for years. The combo of efficient NeoAir insulation (e.g. baffling) plus low denier fabrics allows for a substantial improvement in the weight of an inflatable pad. I’ve never got this good of a night sleep for 9oz. – Dan Durston
The NeoAir Uberlight sets a new standard for “comfort-to-weight” ratio, but it should be handled with care by experienced backpackers who know how to care for ultralight gear. – $154.95 at REI.
Learn more about the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite Sleeping Pad:
These mini Line-Loks are very neat and very reliable toggles for your guy ropes. Very light, and dead easy to fit (on the string) and to use too. They handle guy ropes in the range 1 – 2.5 mm thick. I use these on my winter tunnel tent. They have never failed me. (Biased opinion: you can get similar ones cheaply on eBay from China, but they do not grip as well and won’t go down to 1 mm. I have tested them.) – Roger Caffin
A very reliable way to create easily-adjustable guylines with ultralight cordage without using taut-line hitches. – $0.65 at ZPacks.
This pack boasts superior external storage, trail-running-inspired shoulder straps, and rugged construction. I’ve been looking for a pack like this for years, and I fell in love with the Zerk 40 the first time I took it out for a spin. As long as I keep it under 35 lbs it is the most comfortable pack I’ve ever worn. I put five hundred miles on it in 2019 and don’t regret a single one. – Andrew Marshall
A unique and functional system of external pockets keeps gear organized, and a comfortable harness works well for high mileage days. – $219.95 at Mountainsmith.
Learn more about the Mountainsmith Zerk 40:
For the money the REI Flash 55 is a very good value that packs a lot of performance. My son used an older model and I used a newer model packrafting in a number of Escalante canyons. It would not be my first choice for whitewater, but its comfort and external storage configuration make it a good all-round choice. – Kevin Fletcher
Good value, flexible configuration, and very comfortable for a pack in this weight range. – $199.00 at REI.
Learn more about the REI Flash 55 Backpack:
- George’s review of the REI Flash 55 Backpack.
It took me twenty years and a new career as an outdoor professional to buckle down and fork out the cash for DCF stuff sacks. It was worth it. Particularly HMG’s pods, which take the novel but oh-so-obvious approach of shaping a stuff sack to fit efficiently inside of a backpack. My trips in 2019 were notable for their variety – and this storage system became my favorite in every trip type. – Andrew Marshall
This expensive zippered packing cube holds all the little bits and pieces that previously vanished in my main pack compartment. At camp, I can toss it in the tent, zip open the top, and everything’s easy to find and put back again. Fits perfectly inside HMG packs and many others, plus it’s highly water-resistant. – Rex Sanders
A replacement to the traditional stuff sack, with top-opening zip that makes it easy to stash, retrieve, and organize gear within. – $50.00 at Hyperlite Mountain Gear.
Learn more about the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Pods:
- See how Ryan uses the HMG Pods in his mountain travel gear case study.
Although not the lightest down jacket on the market, the Eos is certainly one of the best and is perhaps my favorite down jacket out of the several I own. Even though it’s often overkill for the warmer months in the Northern Rockies, I often end up bringing it along because its fit is so great and the weight isn’t too much of a penalty (10.6 oz / 300 g). For trips at higher elevations or during colder months, this jacket is my go-to unless it’s full-on deep winter conditions. – Mark Wetherington
Very warm for its weight, impeccable construction, premium materials (including 900+ fill down) and a simple feature set make this an aesthetically beautiful design. – $339.00 at Feathered Friends.
Learn more about the Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket:
- Max reviewed heavier down parkas here in case the Eon is a little too light for you.
The Proton was my constant companion while guiding the Backpacking Light Whitetail Trek in the Montana Beartooths this fall, and it is my go-to layer for 20 degree (F) trail running this winter. I can forget the constant battle to vent sweat when running in winter temps with the Proton. Its comfort and performance allow me to just enjoy the quiet, cold trails without fussing with clothing adjustments all the time. – Dave Swink
Versatile and very highly breathable active insulation layer for cold-weather endurance activities. Bonus – very good durability and impeccable quality. – $299.00 at REI.
Learn more about the Arc’teryx Proton LT Hoody:
- Max’s review of the Arc’teryx Proton LT Hoody, which he calls our highest rated all-purpose active insulation jacket.
- If you want an active insulation piece that’s a little lighter check out the Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hoody review.
REI has provided a lightweight (11.4 oz / 323 g in size M) down jacket at an affordable price ($119). My favorite part about this jacket is the large pockets on the inside of the jacket – they are easily accessible and big enough to hold a hat or my heavy-duty mittens without risk of them falling out and being left on the trail. This is definitely a staple in my winter season travel kit for day skiing, snowshoeing, and other winter outdoor activities – and in my overnight kit during other times of year. – Chase Jordan
The REI 650 Down Jacket 2.0 is an affordable and light full-zip down hoody, with large interior stow pockets. – $119.00 at REI.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the R1, and it has maintained its role in my pack ever since I first got one. Lightweight and warm, it gives my wind shirt a challenge for the most used piece of gear in my kit. I use it everywhere as a light warm layer at night, or a warm jacket on a mountain pass, or as part of my winter layering system. You may even see it on me as I walk to the University. – Chase Jordan
The Patagonia R1 Pullover is a durable and breathable grid fleece with a deep zip and high collar for versatility in a wide range of conditions. – $129.00 at Patagonia.
Learn more about the Patagonia R1 Pullover:
- Nico Favresse and Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll perform an ode to the iconic fleece.
Over the last two years, this has been my single most used outdoor gear item. I wear or bring it every time I play outside. I could write a few thousand words about this shirt. – Max Neale
The Airshed offer 5-10x more breathability than most wind shirts which makes it a good option if you tend to overheat on the trail. – $119.00 at REI.
Learn more about the Patagonia Airshed Pullover:
My favorite piece of gear this year is the Patagonia Tropic Comfort Hoody II. I have yet to find a cooler shirt to wear when hiking in moderate to hot temperatures in low deserts. I’ve tried several versions of this design over the last few years and find the current version to be the best yet. The fabric is thinner, lighter and smoother than previous years with better odor control. The top provides enough sun protection that I’ve never burnt through it in the Arizona sun. I like the deep hood, which makes enough shade that I can go without a hat for much of the day. The long sleeves are just the right cut to wear over my wrists without hanging down too far or I can slip my thumbs through the thumb holes and wear the sleeves extra long as sun gloves if I’m walking towards the sun. I also appreciate the minimal branding with just a small fish logo on the back of the neck and a small Patagonia logo on the chest. Be aware that several colors come with a large fish logo on the back so choose carefully! One note: the Capilene Cool Daily Hoody uses the same fabric in a slimmer fit with more conventional sleeves. – Matthew King
Lightweight, highly breathable sun protection for very warm conditions. – $59.00 at Patagonia.
I’m a sucker for gear that does double duty. A merino wool Buff does that and more. I’ve used it as a neck warmer, ear warmer, dipped it in a river and used it as a neck cooler, used it to filter particulate out of drinking water, as a face mask on a dusty day, to hold ice during summer ultras, and as a pillowcase over a stuff sack. It’s with me on every trip. – George Harris
Versatile – in the heat or cold – the merino Buff serves as headwear, pillowcase, particulate filter, and more. – $29.00 at REI.
As a bald guy, I care deeply about my hats. The 70 Gram Beanie is my current favorite. This beanie takes a soft merino shell and combines it with a liner of Brynje’s synthetic fishnet weave. The result is a warm hat that allows moisture to vaporize off the head – making it perfect for high output activities in cold conditions. On top of all that, it’s just a comfortable hat! – Andrew Marshall
A hybrid merino wool/fishnet construction = warm, light, breathable. – $39.95 at Brynje.
Learn more about the Brynje 70 Gram Lined Beanie Hat:
This comfy shirt protected me from skeeters and sun for three weeks of hiking Colorado trails this summer. It kept me cool, dissipated sweat, and looked amazing again after a quick rinse. The Bugsaway Poros shirt will definitely be going with me next summer. – Dave Swink
Light, breathable, and pretty stylish for a hiking shirt. Great for warm weather, sun, and insect protection. – $84.95 at Moosejaw.
Learn more about the ExOfficio Bugsaway Poros L/S Shirt:
- Similar, but with zippered instead of drop-in pockets, and just a little lighter – read our Patagonia Sun-Stretch Shirt Review.
The Topo Ultraventure’s wide toe box allows my toes to splay naturally, and lots of midsole cushion is great for long miles and rocky terrain. Enough structure for carrying a heavy pack without being “minimalist” as well as good sole durability (Vibram) and traction. – Stephanie Jordan
Structural stability, durability, aggressive sole, wide toe box, and low drop. A very good option for a backpacking shoe. – $130.00 at REI.
Learn more about the Topo Athletic Ultraventure Trail Running Shoes:
- Roger reviewed the Topo Athletic Terraventure here; they are a little bit stiffer.
After spending many intimate moments with almost every upright canister stove on the market, I fell head over heels for two of them: the simplicity of the Soto Amicus and the inclement weather performance of the MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe. The latter has now become my primary stove in all seasons except for winter (when I use an MSR Reactor). And the ignitor on mine still works, even after several months of hard use! – Ryan Jordan
Durable, fuel-efficient, outstanding pressure regulation, good ignitor, and terrific performance in the wind. – $69.95 at REI.
Learn more about the MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe Stove:
- The MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe earned top honors for performance in our latest Upright Canister Stove Reviews and Gear Guide, where it scored extremely well in our StoveBench tests in cold, windy conditions.
Still going strong after two years, this system is much easier and faster than the other filters, chemicals, and UV sterilizers I’ve tried. It’s lighter and cheaper than most of them, too. – Rex Sanders
Fast, light, economical, and easy to use, the Katadyn BeFree Bottle is one of the simplest methods for backpacking water treatment. – $39.95 at REI.
Learn more about the Katadyn BeFree Water Filter Bottle:
- Ryan reviewed the Katadyn BeFree bottle here, and still uses it a few years later with good success.
I reluctantly bought an Ursack 2 years ago and now find it coming along on most of my trips since I hike in grizzly country, and the extra few ounces of the Ursack saves a lot of effort compared to using my bear bag kit. I’ve even had a bear work it over one night and found the crushed food still palatable, so I’m quite happy using it. It adds weight to the spreadsheet but saves an appreciable amount of hassle in camp every night, and thus I think is a step in the right direction towards efficient wilderness travel. – Dan Durston
Ursack – the simplest and lightest foolproof bear bag protection for backpackers who don’t like to fuss around or deal with bulky, heavy bear canisters. – $84.95 at REI.
I’ve been trying out different cooking methods in the field. The Firebox Nano is a neat piece of kit that lets me get my morning cup of brew going using downed wood. It can also use Esbit tabs or a Trangia style alcohol stove. – George Harris
A versatile multi-fuel folding stove that can use solid fuel, alcohol, or wood. – $39.95 at Firebox Stoves.
Well, it can do coffee for two and it is titanium. What else do you need? I must have at least a dozen different ways of making coffee in the bush. Most of the others fail in some way or other; the only one which doesn’t is a stainless steel mesh basket I made myself some 20+ years ago. Some of the failures let coffee grounds through, some are a bit unstable, some are too small, and some are the devil to clean afterward. This Snow Peak unit passes all those tests, and can make coffee in the field for the two of us in one go. A quick rinse with very little water is all it needs. – Roger Caffin
Easy to use, easy to clean, capacity for two cups, and it makes great coffee. – $55.95 at REI.
Learn more about the Snow Peak Titanium French Press Coffee Maker:
- The French Press and other coffee methods are discussed in Emylene & Ryan’s How to Make Coffee in the Backcountry.
- Listen to the Coffee episode of the Backpacking Light Podcast.
I am not a utilitarian coffee drinker. While I enjoy a morning cup of Joe (or an evening dessert cup, or a mid-afternoon pick-me-up), there is something refreshing about rich, dark, smooth coffee with distinct flavors while I am in the backcountry. Kuju Pour Over Coffee is my new favorite addition to my meal kit and will have a spot in my Ursack for a long time to come. I highly recommend the Angel’s Landing or the Bold Awakening Blend. – Chase Jordan
Kuju Pour Over Coffee offers a lot of flavor in a direct-trade, small-batch roast without the mess of traditional pour over methods. – $2.50 at REI.
Learn more about the Kuju Pour Over Coffee:
- Ryan’s Geo Review from a few years ago shows a video about the same type of brew method as that used for the Kuju Pour Over Coffee.
I’m a caffeine addict. The Starbucks Via packets work really well for a hot cup of coffee in the morning and Via dissolves easily cold water for an afternoon pick me up when I don’t feel like breaking out a stove. The single packets are super light (0.14 oz / 4 g) and take up less space than ground coffee. – George Harris
Ultralight, easy-to-use, and decent flavor – Starbucks Via is the most popular instant coffee choice in the backpacking community. – $1.00 at Starbucks.
Learn more about the Starbucks Via Instant Coffee:
- Our podcast hosts and guests have strong opinions about Starbucks Via in the Coffee episode of the Backpacking Light Podcast.
The inReach Mini gives me extra assurance for an emergency, excellent weather forecasts, and the comfort of texts to my wife from the trail each night – all for just 3.5 ounces. It really delivers a lot of safety tech in a teeny, unobtrusive package. – Dave Swink
The InReach Mini is a big step forward over the InReach SE as it preserves the core functionality while cutting the weight in half. At 3.5 oz (99 g), it’s hard to justify not bringing the Mini along, whereas before, my inReach SE often stayed at home. Of course, I’d like it even lighter, but from here I think any refinements to satellite communicators are going to be incremental (in weight and function), so I think the Mini has a long useful life ahead of it. – Dan Durston
The lightest full-featured two-way satellite communicator available. – $400.00 at REI.
Learn more about the Garmin inReach Mini Satellite Communicator:
I love the flip-up screen for taking hard to reach shots! Its 200mm zoom has allowed me to capture pictures of wildlife, including eagles, pelicans, marmots, pikas, moose, bighorn sheep, elk, and foxes – without having to get too close to animals (after being charged by a moose, it’s so nice to be able to take a picture of one from afar). I also like taking pictures of wildflowers and mountain scenes and have been very happy with my photos and videos from this camera. Bluetooth connectivity makes it easy to transfer photos to my phone. – Stephanie Jordan
A very high image quality compact camera with a solid build and long zoom for a camera in this size range. – $1198.00 at B&H.
Learn more about the Sony RX100 Camera:
- Ryan and Andrew (and their guest Chris) discuss the Sony RX100 and other gear in the Backcountry Filmmaking & Photography episode of the Backpacking Light Podcast.
The Thrunite Ti3 uses a single (lithium) AAA battery to drive a CREE white LED. It has a ‘firefly’ mode (nicely dim), a ‘low’ mode (very suitable), a ‘bright’ mode (quite bright), and a silly bright strobe mode. The whole thing is sealed with O-rings. The clever bit is how you switch between modes: twist torch head to turn on; untwist and twist again (soon) for next mode. I like mine, and I bought a second one for my wife. – Roger Caffin
120 (max) lumens for a single-AAA flashlight that can be operated for up to 100 hours in its lowest power mode. – $15.95 at Thrunite.
Learn more about the Thrunite Ti3 Flashlight:
While this piece of gear isn’t an essential, it’s given me immeasurable enjoyment by allowing me to easily and successfully fish subalpine lakes and mountain streams without having to haul in a heavier and bulkier fly rod and reel. For most of the lakes I visit in western Montana a Tenkara rod, line and flies give me everything I need to catch plenty of trout. The total weight of my fishing system, with the rod being the heaviest part, weighs in at under 6 oz (170 g). The simplicity of the system is incredible and I’ve had friends go from having never cast in their life to catching fish in under ten minutes with only the most basic instructions (and a lake full of hungry trout). – Mark Wetherington
The Tenkara Iwana is one of the best tenkara rod options on the market if you are looking for a do-it-all fly rod for simple backcountry fly fishing. – $170.00 at Tenkara USA.
Learn more about the Tenkara USA Iwana Fishing Rod:
- Read Yvon Chouinard’s An Introduction to Simple Fly Fishing, where he writes about the tenkara method.
New TruTrack bindings on these snowshoes hold my trail runners in place, without the need to readjust. The bindings are comfortable – not cutting off circulation in my toes, and the long straps are no longer flopping around because an O-ring keeps them out of the way. Aggressive crampons make steep and icier terrain easily maneuverable, especially nice with pack weight! – Stephanie Jordan
A crampon that’s aggressive enough for icy terrain in a very lightweight model that’s more than a pound per foot lighter than most snowshoes on the market. – $219.00 at Northern Lites.
Learn more about the Northern Lites Elite Snowshoes:
- Northern Lites Snowshoes were first reviewed here.
- Ryan uses and discusses a newer model from Northern Lites, with a lace-up binding and an even more aggressive crampon in this recent video story from a winter trip in Wyoming.
The Madshus BC 55 ski is great for traversing landscapes. Use a tech-style toe piece, a hard boot with Intuition liners, and skate ski poles so you can do everything (e.g. stream crossings, climb vertical ice, skate ski, etc.). – Max Neale
Light, nimble, Nordic backcountry ski with a waxable base and full steel edges. – $264.95 at Backcountry.
Learn more about the Madshus BC 55 Backcountry Ski:
- See Ryan’s approach to an AT-Nordic Backcountry Ski system here.
- Ryan’s newest Nordic backcountry touring setup is used and described in this video.
The Kokopelli Nirvana packraft works well for me in the desert Southwest. I have an older model Nirvana that is pretty basic – no seat and no inflation bag, but the newer ones are more full-featured for comfort and whitewater. – Kevin Fletcher
A high-performance packraft for expedition and backcountry whitewater use. – $1200.00 at Outdoorplay.
Learn more about the Kokopelli Nirvana Packraft:
- Luke reviewed the Kokopelli Nirvana Packraft here.
- Read how the Kokopelli Nirvana Packraft stacks up against the rest of the field in our Whitewater Packraft State of the Market Report.
- Luke’s epic adventure on the remote Wood River with the Kokopelli Nirvana Packraft.
Updated November 7, 2019
- Product(s) discussed in this article may have been purchased by the author(s) from a retailer or direct from a manufacturer, or by Backpacking Light for the author. The purchase price may have been discounted as a result of our industry professional status with the seller. However, these discounts came with no obligation to provide media coverage or a product review. Backpacking Light does not accept compensation or donated/discounted products in exchange for guaranteed media placement or product review coverage.
- Some (but not all) of the links in this article may be “affiliate” links. If you click on one of these links and visit one of our affiliate partners (usually a retailer site), and subsequently place an order with that retailer, we receive a small commission. These commissions help us provide authors with honoraria, fund our editorial projects, podcasts, instructional webinars, and more, and we appreciate it a lot! Thank you for supporting Backpacking Light!
- Read about our approach to journalistic integrity, product reviews, and affiliate marketing here.