Introduction

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!

2019 staff picks featured

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.

Our Staff

This year’s Staff Picks contributors are:

Top row, L to R: Chase Jordan (production editor), Ryan Jordan (owner/founder), Stephanie Jordan (owner/founder), Andrew Marshall (gear editor/podcast producer), Rex Sanders (technical editor); 2nd row, L to R: Roger Caffin (forum moderator), Matthew King (forum moderator), Dave Swink (trekking guide); 3rd row, L to R: Kevin Fletcher (trekking guide), Max Neale (contributing author), Mark Wetherington (contributing author); 4th row, L to R: George Harris (contributing author), Dan Durston (contributing author).
Shelters and Sleep Systems

Locus Gear Djedi DCF-eVENT Dome Tent

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

Locus Gear Djedi DCF-eVENT Dome Tent

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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.

Buy Now at Locus Gear

Learn more about the Locus Gear Djedi DCF-eVENT Dome Tent:

ZPacks Pocket Tarp

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

ZPacks Pocket Tarp

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A spartan but functional 5.2 oz (147 g) shelter that provides full-perimeter protection from blowing wind and rain. – $299.00 at ZPacks.

Buy Now at ZPacks

Feathered Friends Tanager 20 CFL Sleeping Bag

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

Feathered Friends Tanager 20 CFL Sleeping Bag

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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.

Buy Now at Feathered Friends

Learn more about the Feathered Friends Tanager 20 CFL Sleeping Bag:

REI Magma 30 Sleeping Bag

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

REI Magma 30 Sleeping Bag

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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.

Buy Now at REI

Learn more about the REI Magma 30 Sleeping Bag:

Nemo Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad

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

Nemo Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad

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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.

Buy Now at REI

Learn more about the Nemo Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad:

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite Sleeping Pad

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

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite Sleeping Pad

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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.

Buy Now at REI

Learn more about the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite Sleeping Pad:

Clamcleat Mini Line-Loc

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

Clamcleat Mini Line-Loc

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A very reliable way to create easily-adjustable guylines with ultralight cordage without using taut-line hitches. – $0.65 at ZPacks.

Buy Now at ZPacks

Backpacks & Accessories

Mountainsmith Zerk 40

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

Mountainsmith Zerk 40

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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.

Buy Now at Mountainsmith

Learn more about the Mountainsmith Zerk 40:

REI Flash 55 Backpack

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

REI Flash 55 Backpack

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Good value, flexible configuration, and very comfortable for a pack in this weight range. – $199.00 at REI.

Buy Now at REI

Learn more about the REI Flash 55 Backpack:

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Pods

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

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Pods

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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.

Buy Now at Hyperlite Mountain Gear

Learn more about the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Pods:

Clothing & Footwear

Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket

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

Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket

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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.

Buy Now at Feathered Friends

Learn more about the Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket:

Arc’teryx Proton LT Hoody

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

Arc’teryx Proton LT Hoody

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Versatile and very highly breathable active insulation layer for cold-weather endurance activities. Bonus – very good durability and impeccable quality. – $299.00 at REI.

Buy Now at REI

Learn more about the Arc’teryx Proton LT Hoody:

REI 650 Down Hoodie (2.0)

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

REI 650 Down Hoodie (2.0)

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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.

Buy Now at REI

Patagonia R1 Pullover

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

Patagonia R1 Pullover

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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.

Buy Now at Patagonia

Learn more about the Patagonia R1 Pullover:

Patagonia Airshed Pullover

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

Patagonia Airshed Pullover

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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.

Buy Now at REI

Learn more about the Patagonia Airshed Pullover:

Patagonia Tropic Comfort Hoody II

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

Patagonia Tropic Comfort Hoody II

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Lightweight, highly breathable sun protection for very warm conditions. – $59.00 at Patagonia.

Buy Now at Patagonia

Buffwear Lightweight Merino Wool Buff

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

Buffwear Lightweight Merino Wool Buff

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Versatile – in the heat or cold – the merino Buff serves as headwear, pillowcase, particulate filter, and more. – $29.00 at REI.

Buy Now at REI

Brynje 70 Gram Lined Beanie Hat

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

Brynje 70 Gram Lined Beanie Hat

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A hybrid merino wool/fishnet construction = warm, light, breathable. – $39.95 at Brynje.

Buy Now at Brynje

Learn more about the Brynje 70 Gram Lined Beanie Hat:

ExOfficio Bugsaway Poros L/S Shirt

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

ExOfficio Bugsaway Poros L/S Shirt

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Light, breathable, and pretty stylish for a hiking shirt. Great for warm weather, sun, and insect protection. – $84.95 at Moosejaw.

Buy Now at Moosejaw

Learn more about the ExOfficio Bugsaway Poros L/S Shirt:

Topo Athletic Ultraventure Trail Running Shoes

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

Topo Athletic Ultraventure Trail Running Shoes

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Structural stability, durability, aggressive sole, wide toe box, and low drop. A very good option for a backpacking shoe. – $130.00 at REI.

Buy Now at REI

Learn more about the Topo Athletic Ultraventure Trail Running Shoes:

Cooking, Hydration, & Food

MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe Stove

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

MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe Stove

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Durable, fuel-efficient, outstanding pressure regulation, good ignitor, and terrific performance in the wind. – $69.95 at REI.

Buy Now at REI

Learn more about the MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe Stove:

Katadyn BeFree Water Filter Bottle

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

Katadyn BeFree Water Filter Bottle

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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.

Buy Now at REI

Learn more about the Katadyn BeFree Water Filter Bottle:

Ursack Major Bear-Resistant Food Storage Bag

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 Major Bear-Resistant Food Storage Bag

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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.

Buy Now at REI

Firebox Nano Stove

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

Firebox Nano Stove

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A versatile multi-fuel folding stove that can use solid fuel, alcohol, or wood. – $39.95 at Firebox Stoves.

Buy Now at Firebox Stoves

Snow Peak Titanium French Press Coffee Maker

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

Snow Peak Titanium French Press Coffee Maker

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Easy to use, easy to clean, capacity for two cups, and it makes great coffee. – $55.95 at REI.

Buy Now at REI

Learn more about the Snow Peak Titanium French Press Coffee Maker:

Kuju Pour Over Coffee

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

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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.

Buy Now at REI

Learn more about the Kuju Pour Over Coffee:

Starbucks Via Instant 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

Starbucks Via Instant Coffee

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Ultralight, easy-to-use, and decent flavor – Starbucks Via is the most popular instant coffee choice in the backpacking community. – $1.00 at Starbucks.

Buy Now at Starbucks

Learn more about the Starbucks Via Instant Coffee:

Electronics

Garmin inReach Mini Satellite Communicator

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

Garmin inReach Mini Satellite Communicator

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The lightest full-featured two-way satellite communicator available. – $349.00 at REI.

Buy Now at REI

Learn more about the Garmin inReach Mini Satellite Communicator:

Sony RX100 Camera

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

Sony RX100 Camera

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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.

Buy Now at B&H

Learn more about the Sony RX100 Camera:

Thrunite Ti3 Flashlight

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

Thrunite Ti3 Flashlight

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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.

Buy Now at Thrunite

Learn more about the Thrunite Ti3 Flashlight:

Ski, Snowshoe, Fish, & Paddle

Tenkara USA Iwana Fishing Rod

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

Tenkara USA Iwana Fishing Rod

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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.

Buy Now at Tenkara USA

Learn more about the Tenkara USA Iwana Fishing Rod:

Northern Lites Elite Snowshoes

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

Northern Lites Elite Snowshoes

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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.

Buy Now at Northern Lites

Learn more about the Northern Lites Elite Snowshoes:

Madshus BC 55 Backcountry Ski

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

Madshus BC 55 Backcountry Ski

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Light, nimble, Nordic backcountry ski with a waxable base and full steel edges. – $264.95 at Backcountry.

Buy Now at Backcountry

Learn more about the Madshus BC 55 Backcountry Ski:

Kokopelli Nirvana Packraft

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

Kokopelli Nirvana Packraft

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A high-performance packraft for expedition and backcountry whitewater use. – $1200.00 at Outdoorplay.

Buy Now at Outdoorplay

Learn more about the Kokopelli Nirvana Packraft:

Disclosure

Updated November 7, 2019

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