What a year! It’s time to reflect and celebrate our impact and growth as a community.
The following represents our curated selection of Backpacking Light highlights from 2022. Selections are based on a combination of page visit analytics, forum engagement, and Member feedback about the impact that the content has had on their growth and confidence as a backcountry user.
Member Access to the Backpacking Light Library
Many of the articles below are freely available to the public, while a Premium or Unlimited Membership is required to access the full content of others.
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Table of Contents • Note: some sections may only be available to Premium or Unlimited Members.
- Gear Guides
- Gear Reviews
- Testing & Research
- Places & Stories
- Make Your Own Gear
- Gear Shop
- Member Trip Reports and Blog Posts
- Featured Forum Threads
- Featured YouTube Videos
- Featured Podcast Episodes
- Featured Education
- Thank You!
Curated and maintained by our staff, Trailhead pages include a comprehensive overview of a topic with links to information and resources about the topic on the Backpacking Light website, including gear info, skills, podcasts, forums, research, education, product recommendations, and more.
Trailheads provide an incredibly efficient way to dive deep into a particular topic, helping you identify and investigate the most critical issues about that topic.
Backpacks represent a conundrum for hikers wanting to save weight while maintaining comfort. Ultralight backpacking is not just about carrying a frameless pack (which has severe limits of load-carrying comfort) – it’s about using the right pack for a particular job, tailored to the physiology and hiking practice of the individual hiker. Our goal with the Backpacks Trailhead is to educate the user about backpack engineering and design in a way that allows them to study the pack market and evaluate individual products objectively.
The thru-hiker junk-food mentality focuses on cheap food and maximum Calorie-to-ounce ratio limits – which don’t sustain human health and performance in the backcountry over the life of the hiker. In the Backpacking Food Trailhead, we push back against that mentality with food planning resources that recognize the need for nutrition, macronutrient balance, DIY (make your own food) solutions, and various cooking styles. This provides the hiker with a more balanced and informed understanding of backpacking food that frees you from the dogma of today’s trendy diets and nutrition advice.
Gear Guides cover a collection of gear in a single category or related to a common theme.
We are constantly inundated with marketing messages about what gear to buy from brands, their ambassadors, and retailers. However, we’re more likely to trust recommendations from people who actually use the gear and can articulate why they chose that gear. Staff Picks provides diverse perspectives on how and why we choose the gear we actually use.
Most “gear awards” are given to products to feed publishers’ egos and maintain positive relationships with brands to cultivate advertising and affiliate marketing relationships. Unfortunately, recommendations made in this context may not be well-trusted by the consumer. When consumers weigh in as part of a larger collective voice, the influence and trust can be more powerful than a magazine or blog award. And out of this context was born the Backpacking Light Member’s Choice Awards.
Power specification claims by manufacturers of portable battery chargers (PBCs), especially under the environmental stress of outdoor field conditions, can’t be trusted because the engineering quality of PBCs is so variable. We developed the BatteryBench protocol to uncover the true performance of PBCs. In this Gear Guide, we apply BatteryBench to the two most popular brands of chargers in the backcountry community: Nitecore vs. Anker.
The top Gear Review categories this year were shelters and satellite communications, driven by the release of The Durston X-Mid Pro 2, Tarptent Dipole 2, Apple iPhone 14, Garmin inReach Mini 2, and Garmin inReach Messenger.
Many ultralight shelters suffer from two limitations: poor livability (e.g., a cramped interior with difficult entry/exit) and finicky pitching (e.g., unforgiving geometry). The Durston X-Mid Pro 2 tent solves both of those problems in an ultralight Dyneema Composite Fabrics configuration that offers an intuitive pitch and a roomy interior.
- Durston X-Mid Pro 2 Review by Mark Wetherington
Carrying electronic devices like smartphones and satellite communicators (and the portable battery chargers to keep them running) unarguably adds value to the backcountry user, but not without a cost to pack weight and the pocketbook. However, as the capabilities of smartphones increase, they may be able to replace or complement the functionality of some of your other gear. In this article, we help identify the key issues for those who are on the fence about carrying the new iPhone 14 and a Garmin inReach-type satellite messaging device.
- Can Apple’s New iPhone 14 Replace Your Garmin inReach? by Andrew Marshall
Where the aforementioned Durston X-Mid Pro 2 addresses the issues of livability and ease of setup, the Tarptent Dipole Li addresses, more specifically, interior volume and storm resistance. One of the most stormworthy ultralight shelters we’ve ever tested, the Tarptent Dipole Li bridges the gap between ultralight and functionally usable in 3-season alpine environments.
- Tarptent Dipole Li Review by Andrew Marshall and Ryan Jordan
As popular as it is, the Zoleo Satellite Communicator lacks an informative on-device display, functional group messaging, reverse charging, and the use of tracking and weather forecasting without a paired smartphone. The Garmin inReach Messenger addresses all of these issues in this new satellite messaging device.
- Garmin inReach Messenger Review by Ryan Jordan
The Garmin inReach Mini received a welcome upgrade in 2022, including more capabilities as a standalone device, much-improved battery life, a higher resolution screen, an electronic compass, and Garmin Explore app integration.
The Alpacka Refuge packraft may be the ultimate landscape traverse boat for the packrafting backpacker (or backpacking packrafter!).
- Alpacka Refuge Packraft Review by Ben Kilbourne
Testing & Research
If you’ve spent much time at Backpacking Light, you’ll know that we’ve built our reputation as a trusted source of gear information on our testing and research projects. This year focused on fabric performance and portable battery packs.
The role of wicking (and the outrageous manufacturer claims that surround it) is highly misunderstood. In this landmark test report, we uncover direct evidence that manufacturer claims should generally be met with skepticism.
- Do moisture-wicking fabrics work? by Stephen Seeber
Evaluating the performance of portable battery chargers (PBCs) based on comparing their manufacturer specifications is inadequate, especially in the context of using them outdoors. Our new BatteryBench test protocol provides a framework for comparing PBCs in a more objective manner.
- BatteryBench: A Protocol for Testing Portable Battery Chargers and Electronic Devices for Backpacking by Rex Sanders
The outdoor sunscreen market is competitive, saturated, and rife with products that make dubious claims to be safe and effective. In this research review, we present a framework for discovering sunscreens that use safe and effective ingredients, along with best practices for backpackers hiking in high-UV environments.
Our top Skills articles of 2022 reflect our Members’ strong interest in navigation, food planning, staying comfortable in inclement weather, and being efficient while hiking.
The backpacking poncho gets a bad rap – even though it can function as a tarp and provides more ventilation than a rain jacket. On top of that, it has far fewer breakable features (read: zippers) than traditional rain gear. Used properly (and in the right context) a poncho can be more comfortable and protective than a $500 waterproof-“breathable” rain jacket.
There is no perfect system that applies universally to every hiker. This overview of options for accessing water stored in or on your pack while hiking will give you some ideas to determine which approach works best for you.
Where Do I Put My Waterbottles When Backpacking? by Andrew Marshall
Imagine the satisfaction of arriving at your remote campsite, firing up your stove, and getting ready to eat your favorite meal from your favorite restaurant. Chipotle, Panda Express, or your local Thai restaurant? Here’s how.
- Freeze-Drying Your Own Backpacking Meals: How to Eat Your Favorite Town Food on the Trail by Drew Smith
Learning how to use the Garmin inReach Mini (or Mini 2) satellite communicator without a smartphone opens up opportunities for overall battery management and more efficient messaging, navigation, and tracking.
- How to use the Garmin inReach Mini without a smartphone by Ryan Jordan
Places & Stories
Our most popular stories this year included an inReach-assisted rescue, reflections of a Pacific Crest Trail hike in the context of climate change, an international adventure in Africa, and a long-awaited Wonderland Trail adventure.
Sometimes the idea of pushing the SOS button on our satellite communicator is abstract enough not to think about it much. So reading first-hand accounts of real emergencies with real rescues can help drive home the point that these are incredibly valuable devices. In this story, the author writes: “I was suddenly seized by an inability to breathe: the world went black, and I was bent over gasping for air, then passed out and collapsed, falling into the marsh.” Find out how it ends.
Searching for grace and gratitude through the smoke, Drew reflects on his latest Pacific Crest Trail hike: “The trail has changed and it will continue to change. It is a living thing, and change is the essence of life. All we can do is keep moving and appreciate what good remains and work for more good to come.”
- MYTHing the PCT in a Time of Change by Drew Smith
Heat, army ants, and stupendous views await Jeff de Graffenried as he treks through South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.
- Walking the Great Rift Valley by Jeff de Graffenried
Andrew Marshall’s account of a Wonderland Trail thru-hike at the intersection of permits, wildfires, the birth of his son, and trauma.
- Falling Stones at Two Goat Camp by Andrew Marshall
Our Culture series explores ethics, trends, issues, and philosophy through essays and investigative reports.
Maybe not everything about ultralight backpacking has to be optimized.
- Backpacking is Pointless, and That’s the Point by Ben Kilbourne
Can an ancient Roman philosophy make you a better backpacker? It all depends upon your application.
- Walking With Marcus: How Stoic Philosophy Informs My Ultralight Backpacking by Andrew Marshall
Cottage backpacking gear makers face supply chain and logistical challenges but find fulfillment in other aspects of their operations.
- Ultralight Cottage Gear Makers Reflect On The Last Few Years by Mark Wetherington
Andrew Marshall explores an ancient life skill that is surprisingly applicable to backpacking – meditation.
- Mindfulness Meditation for Backpacking by Andrew Marshall
Make Your Own Gear
Backpacking Light has a long history of publishing make-your-own-gear innovations created by its Member community, as well as an active MYOG Forum with some of the most sophisticated MYOG enthusiasts in the backpacking community.
An MYOG tunnel tent project using re-purposed fabrics from used gear.
- MYOG Tunnel Tent (The Frankenstein Tent: Old Materials Come Alive Again) by Warren McLaren
The Backpacking Light Gear Shop provides curated lightweight and ultralight backpacking gear recommendations from our staff, contributors, product review team, members, and trekking guides. The gear featured in this section represents this year’s most viewed products.
We recommend the Garmin inReach Mini 2 over any other satellite communications device because of its reliability, small size, and lightweight. Best paired with a smartphone, which vastly improves usability.
One of the most aesthetically beautiful Dyneema Composite Fabrics shelters we’ve ever used. The Locus Gear Khufu DCF-B is very stormworthy, easy to pitch, stable in high winds, sheds heavy snow well, and packs small. Pack extra stakes and guylines for above-the-treeline or four-season use.
Brynje fishnet mesh provides a unique approach to baselayer fabrics. Extremely low water absorption and short dry times – much better than any wool or polyester knit we’ve tried – means they don’t get soaking wet from sweat during high levels of exertion.
Fishnet pores are large and pass moisture, and allow for very lightweight construction. Merino wool and polypropylene options are available – both are very comfortable against the skin without feeling clammy. This is one of our favorite winter base layers.
Member Trip Reports and Blog Posts
Our new Member Trip Report and Member Blog Post sections feature articles written directly by our Members for our Community. We launched this section to provide Members the opportunity to reach a wider audience (because not all site visitors monitor the forums).
- Camping with my tarp and bivy by dirtbag
- Backcountry Tenkara near RMNP • Fall 2022 by Ryan Jordan
- Up; An Ike and Lu adventure through the Smokey Mountains by Ike Jutkowitz
- 20-mile Overnight Birthday Hike from Stinson Beach to Sausalito by Casey Bowden
- Ergonomic shoulder straps that reduce shoulder pain by Nenta WAKO, Dr.Eng.
Featured Forum Threads
Some of our most engaging and trafficked forum threads from 2022:
- Kakwa 40 (Durston Gear)
- Apple iPhone 14 will now offer Satellite Communications
- Hacks you just learned even after years of backpacking
- New HMG Unbound Tent
- DCF Shelter failure during a hailstorm in Alaska – Skurka video
Featured YouTube Videos
Our most viewed YouTube Videos of 2022.
Featured Podcast Episodes
Our most listened-to episodes of 2022:
- Episode 56 | Portable Battery Chargers for Backpacking
- Episode 61 | Frameless Pack Best Practices
- Episode 62 | Dan Durston Talks X-mids and More
- Episode 69 | Ultralight Shelters in Inclement Weather
Our most popular online courses of 2022 (by enrollment numbers).
A huge thank you is in order to our Member Community – you’re our raison d’être and your membership fees support the people and technology that allows us to produce all of this amazing content. We are honored as staff, contributors, authors, guides, and educators to be able to help you thrive in the backcountry through our writing, videos, podcasts, and teaching.
Happy New Year,
Backpacking Light Staff and Contributors (Roger Caffin, Pat Dunn, Jeff de Graffenried, Daniel Hu, Chase Jordan, Stephanie Jordan, Ryan Jordan, Ben Kilbourne, Matthew King, Brenna Kotar, Andrew Marshall, Warren McLaren, James Montavon, Rex Sanders, Stephen Seeber, Drew Smith, Anna Swarts, Mark Wetherington, Jessica Ulary, and Iago Vazquez).
We’d love to hear from you in the forum comments below – what was YOUR favorite content of 2022?