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Staff Picks 2021


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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Staff Picks 2021

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  • #3732734
    Andrew Marshall
    BPL Member

    @andrewsmarshall

    Locale: Tahoe basin by way of the southern Appalachians

    Companion forum thread to: Staff Picks 2021

    Each year, our staff selects their favorite hiking, backpacking, and other backcountry gear that they’ve used this year – our infamous Staff Picks!

    #3732744
    Monte Masterson
    BPL Member

    @septimius

    Locale: Changes Often

    ZPacks Sub Nero in Robic. Weighs 9.7 oz with 30 liter capacity. I’ve used it for about 35 days and nights this year and I’ve fallen in love it. Shoulder straps are well padded and the mesh front pocket holds quite a bit. What’s more I can comfortably carry more weight than any other similar volume pack I’ve owned. And it is shorter, wider and deeper than most frameless packs in the 25L to 35L range, which personally I find keeps the weight up higher and therefore makes everything ride better. Highly recommend.

     

    The pack came with a blue folding ccf pad which I found woefully inadequate, so I instead opted for a cut piece of Ridgerest ccf with the ridges vertical to provide optimum rigidity and structure (great sit pad too). I also added a DIY shoulder strap water bottle holder (540 ml).

    #3732748
    dirtbag
    BPL Member

    @dirtbaghiker

    Hope to find one under the tree on December 25!! Same color too, lol

     

    #3732780
    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member

    @rcaffin

    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Ahhh – Spruce Cones ? ? ?
    REI?

    #3732781
    Thom
    BPL Member

    @popcornman

    Locale: N NY

    My favorite free ,best gear  . Bread bag plastic tags for clothes pins. 

    #3732782
    Monte Masterson
    BPL Member

    @septimius

    Locale: Changes Often

    I kind of thought 2021 Staff Picks would include gear that has come onto the market in the last year or two, but I know I’m being a stickler (as usual) so I suppose I should lighten up. Some items such as the REI Flex Air II and the Nunatak Bears Ear are recent, but the discontinued NeoAir All Season left me scratching my head a little. Gear such as the ZPacks Duplex and HMG 2400 Windrider have been around quite awhile (so passe’), however Andrew never says that anything on the list has to be recent, so I’ll let up.

    Another new item I picked up this year which has recently come onto the market is the Exped Flexmat (M). Even though I like the Thermarest Z-Lite pad for colder temps, I never could bring myself to keep packing one because of its 14 oz weight. Of course the bulk is a downside, but with ccf there’s no worries about punctures, and when paired with something like a NeoAir Uberlite, NeoAir X-Lite or even a Klymit X Frame, it makes for a relatively light winter setup that works in all but the lowest temps. What’s even more though is its use as furniture to lounge around camp. Just find a tree, big rock or other solid object to serve as a backrest.

    The Exped Flexmat (M) has virtually the same dimensions as the Z’Lite (72″ X 20″, 10 liter folded volume and .7″ to .75″ thick), however the Flexmat weighs 3.4 oz less. Listed weight is anywhere from 10.9 oz to 11.6 oz, but mine comes in at 10.6 oz on a very accurate scale. Pad is orange on one side (good for SAR) and olive green on the other. They are also available in Europe in olive green on both sides for stealth, not in North America however. R value is rated at 1.5 for what it’s worth.

    Another item that has come onto the market relatively recently is the Thermarest Air Head Lite Pillow. Weighs 2.4 oz without stuffsack. After 2 different inflatable Exped pillows failed on me I decided to go with the Thermarest. Considering how pleased I’ve been with their sleeping pads, I have confidence the Airhead will hold up. Spent about 20 nights out with it so far and all is well.

    #3732786
    Chris R
    BPL Member

    @bothwell-voyageur

    Wish they’d come up with a wide folding pad.
    Thomas C- bread bag tags are one of the most common things I find littering campsites!

    #3732788
    Monte Masterson
    BPL Member

    @septimius

    Locale: Changes Often

    “Wish they’d come up with a wide folding pad”

    Your wish has been granted. Exped Flexmat LW. 25.6″ wide and 77.6″ long. Listed weight is 16.8 oz, but I’d bet it actually weighs less than that. If the length is more than you want you could of course just cut off 1 or 2 sections.

    https://www.campsaver.com/exped-flexmat-lw-sleeping-pads.html?_iv_code=Z46-SLP-RTHG23E-7640445454988&utm_source=bing&utm_medium=free_product_listings&gclsrc=aw.ds&msclkid=86d3be8c6f9518d70a35df15682f1e1e&utm_campaign=Exped%3EUS%3EShopping&utm_term=4580909047930383&utm_content=Exped%3EShopping%3EUS

    On longer trips where I hand wash clothes I pack 4 of these small size wooden clothespins that are 1 7/8″ long instead of the heavier 3″ long conventional wooden clothespins. Weight is negligible. Mini size (1″ long) are also available, but I find them to be just a little bit too small.

    #3732791
    JCH
    BPL Member

    @pastyj-2-2

    @MonteMasterson mentions surprise at how much “passe” gear :) is included in the list, but honestly my kit is so well dialed in that I have almost no interest in replacing anything unless it wears out.  And then I’m most likely to replace it like-for-like if possible.  The only “unnecessary” purchase I have made in the last 2-3 years is a Durston XMid 2P…and then only because I fear my (beloved) 8 year old Duplex may be nearing it’s end and I really don’t want to spend $700 on a shelter again.

    Somebody would have to come out with something pretty amazing/revolutionary to coerce me into replacing perfectly good, and much loved, gear (something I would have happily done years ago).

    #3732796
    Ben Kilbourne
    BPL Member

    @benkilbourne

    Locale: Utah

    I suppose I could add that I’ve had two NeoAir XLites during the same time I’ve had the All Season and the mylar film inside both of those has peeled leaving them somewhat uninsulated. The All Season by contrast is still warm even after all this time. Just felt worth noting that that product seemed to be excellent where other similar items weren’t quite as good. I have no idea why the All Season is so good though.

    #3732809
    David Hartley
    BPL Member

    @dhartley

    Locale: Western NY

    More All-Season praises – I have one that I purchased a couple of years ago on Gear Swap for $60. It was a warranty repair by thermarest – a small patch. I love this pad. Yes 19 oz is a little heavy, but it is warmer than the straight xlite model, with a very rugged exterior. Also the surface fabric on the top has a nicer feel than many pads when using a quilt. I could save a few (4?) ounces with an Xtherm, but I am not sure the $ per ounce is worth the expense.

    #3732810
    jscott
    BPL Member

    @book

    Locale: Northern California

    I use a GG thin lite pad for protecting my Exped sleep pad from punctures. 2-3 ounces. Of course this has been around forever. It has very little r rate value. But way lighter than the flexmat.

     

     

    https://www.gossamergear.com/products/thinlight-foam-pad?variant=30497164620

    #3732815
    AK Granola
    BPL Member

    @granolagirlak

    I don’t know the type of spruce cone recommended, but ours are sticky and covered with sap. Eew. However, one of my fav pieces of gear continues to be my trail bidet. Just keeps you clean throughout your hike. Easy, lightweight, nothing to pack out. So many different types, and they’re cheap to buy and try. Will never go back.

    #3732817
    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member

    @rcaffin

    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Hi Karen

    Um . . .
    A photo of the thing might help?

    Cheers

    #3732819
    jscott
    BPL Member

    @book

    Locale: Northern California

    Hopefully no one is using a spruce cone instead of a bidet.

    #3732821
    Monte Masterson
    BPL Member

    @septimius

    Locale: Changes Often

    Back in Kentucky we used corn cobs.

    I wasn’t trying to throw shade at any of the classic gear items on the list, rather for some reason I had it in mind that “Staff Picks” should be newer stuff. Might be on my own with that one though. I often use a ZPacks .74 Solo Hexamid w/beak circa 2012 and I think it’s still the best for those who are under 5′ 11″ in terms of weight, small footprint, protection, simplicity, etc, so many of the items included in the Staff Picks are still as good or better than anything new.

    Yea @jscott I get that 1/8″ Evazote is far lighter, but of course it also doesn’t provide near the advantages of the Flexmat either. More R value is the least of the Flexmat’s plusses. It offers much much more cushion on it own if one is Spartan enough and/or so inclined to go that route (no leaks like with air pads, never lets you down) or when combined with a 6 oz Klymit Inertia X-Lite torso length for example. But the biggest attraction to me of the Flexmat (or Z-Lite) is when lounging around camp for hours sipping bourbon, puffing on the vape and listening to music. I realize camp chairs are an option, but that’s a lot of extra weight which is single use only. Sitting on hard ground or 1/8″ foam pad just doesn’t get it. And lastly if the air pad goes flat in the middle of the night the Flexmat on its own will allow for a decent night’s sleep, especially if folded in half as a double thick torso length cushion. Ever notice how many thru hikers have Z-Lite attached to their packs, at least a 48″ length anyway?

    #3732822
    jscott
    BPL Member

    @book

    Locale: Northern California

    Monte, my days of sleeping on a flexmat style foam pad are long gone. I’ve never had a leak on any of my sumptious air pads, partly because I baby them with things like the GG thinlight underneath to protect against punctures. I see the advantages of sitting on the Flexmat. But it weighs a nearly a pound. In winter, that would be worth it. But in winter, I day ski/hike and then retire to a room with a kitchen and a bed.

    #3732826
    Ryan Jordan
    Admin

    @ryan

    Locale: Central Rockies

    but honestly my kit is so well dialed in that I have almost no interest in replacing anything unless it wears out

    This makes me so happy. If we can do anything to get people to use what they have instead of buying the latest trend (often wasting their money) we’ll have succeeded: just get outside and enjoy yourself, and otherwise, be really intentional about what you do buy. I hope our reviews can continue to improve in order to get that message across the board instead of teasing people into buying something they don’t really need.

    Ben’s pick of the old T-rest, and Drew’s Englemann cones – may be my two favorite picks this year.

    However, I’m also appreciative of new gear that solves problems in a new way and makes our backcountry lives better. I can’t get myself to pull the trigger on the Nunatak Bears Ears pack yet, but dang, it does make sense, especially for those of us who use the Expedition Bearikade.

    #3732827
    jscott
    BPL Member

    @book

    Locale: Northern California

    “However, I’m also appreciative of new gear that solves problems in a new way and makes our backcountry lives better. I can’t get myself to pull the trigger on the Nunatak Bears Ears pack yet, but dang, it does make sense, especially for those of us who use the Expedition Bearikade.”

    As people are sick of hearing by now, I use a LuxuryLite frame with an ancient super light Mariposa sack strapped on. Altogether, it functions like the Bears Ears in terms of carrying a bear canister. Except the LL has a frame lip on the bottom that holds a canister perfectly. very solid. I carry the canister inside of my pack at the very bottom, resting securely on the lip. One could just as easily carry a canister outside with a smaller or different sack on top–like the Bears Ears.

    Everything old is new again.

    #3732828
    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member

    @rcaffin

    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Hi jscott

    I know the LL frame. My curiosity asks:
    Why put the bear canister inside the pack bag, when it could sit happily on the base outside the bag? The bag could then rest on to of the bear can. Easier access to food.

    Cheers

    #3732829
    jscott
    BPL Member

    @book

    Locale: Northern California

    Roger, less bounce. I use a Bearikade Scout often. It’s not very big. The edges of a pack will hang over the Scout if it’s outside. When the canister is inside the pack, the whole bag sits very solidly on the metal frame lip with the canister on the bottom. I pack around the edges of the Scout. A Weekender will fit just barely sidewise all by itself, which is why I like a larger sack. Meanwhile, I carry my simple lunch in a GG belly pack along with my Steripen. So I don’t need access to food until I’m parked in camp.

    Of course, a smaller bag might solve this issue for others.

    I didn’t like the LL soft canisters because of too much bounce. someone with a smoother gait may feel differntly.

    #3732830
    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member

    @rcaffin

    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Aha! All is revealed. That makes sense.
    Thanks
    Cheers

    #3732831
    Mark Verber
    BPL Member

    @verber

    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    Like @JCH most of my core gear hasn’t changes since 2014. While not perfect, I continue to be happy with my Nunatak Ghost Quilt, Zpacks Hexamid, MLD Superlite Bivy, Gossamer Gear Gorilla Pack, MLD 850 Pot, and Trail Designs UL Caldera.

    My most favorite item was purchased in 2009. Patagonia Capilene 4 Hoody (these days called Thermal Weight) for cool/cold weather outdoor activities. Without wind protection the grid weave lets air flow through speeding the release of heat. With a shell it insulates well. Comfort down to 30F when running without a shell, below that with a shell. When walking on level ground comfortable down to 45F when combined with a wind shirt with hoods up. I am reasonably comfortable engage in high energy activities when it’s 65F by fully opening the zipper and pushing the sleeves up to my elbows. Dries amazingly quickly and feels more comfortable than any other shirt I have used when it’s wet.

    Two recent clothing items which I have been very happy with their performance: Macpac Nitro Hoody made from Alpha Direct.  A bit warmer than my Cap4 when worn under a shell and absorbs less water.  Great active insulation. Gore Wear R7 Shakedry Trail Running Jacket. Good enough that I have started to use it not just for rain but as my windshirt.

    #3732835
    Hanz B
    BPL Member

    @tundra-thrasher-ouch-man-2

    FYI link to distance spike leads to bd access spike instead.

    #3732852
    brian H
    BPL Member

    @b14

    Locale: Siskiyou Mtns

    the backcountry bidet simply makes sense, i must admit

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