The Backpacking Light Staff Picks Gear Guide offers what we consider to be our personal recommendations for high-quality, high-performance, lightweight backpacking gear that we’ve actually used this year.

– The Employees, Editors, Guides, and Contributing Authors of Backpacking Light

Backpacks

MyTrail Co UL 35 Backpack

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MyTrail Co UL 35 Backpack – $72 from MyTrail.

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This is a great little pack that can do double duty as a daypack or a pack for those with ultralight and compact loads. It’s 20 ounces, holds 35 liters, is well-built, and costs less than $100. In the XS size, it is also a great pack for children, such as my 9-year-old daughter, Lily. It fits her perfectly, it’s easy for her to use, and it’s a great size for the loads that a young backpacker should be carrying. I highly recommend this bargain of a pack!

Doug Johnson

Editor’s Note: For a pack at this price, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that has this sort of quality. Top shelf? No. Worth twice as much as the cost? Oh yeah, easily! ^rj

Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40 Backpack

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Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40 Backpack – $215 from Gossamer Gear.

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The Gossamer Gear Gorilla became my go to pack for short trips in 2018. With a well-integrated frame, padded shoulder straps, and hip belt, it carried up to 25 pounds so gracefully that I seldom even thought about it. The large hip belt pockets, easily accessible side pockets, and big, stretchy front pocket made packing for 4 days a breeze and kept necessities handy during the day.

– Dave Swink

Editor’s note: Glen et al. have spent 20 years in this business doing the right thing – taking care of customers. Take a chance on one of their products. If you don’t like it, they’ll make it right.

Shelter Systems

Oware NetTarp 5

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Oware NetTarp 5 – $315 from Oware USA.

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This year, our Scout troop started using an Oware NetTarp5 and it is a GREAT group shelter. With space to easily fit five Scouts, full rain and bug protection, and enough guyline tieouts to manage moderate winds, this is a 47 oz. shelter that cuts pack weight of group gear considerably. It’s a reasonable $315 and the craftsmanship is excellent. It is a floorless shelter which means there is no floor to damage; when our cheap polycro groundsheets wear out, we’ll just buy new ones! A bonus is that the NetTarp5 does double duty as a dry and bug-free cooking or hangout shelter.

– Doug Johnson

Editor’s Note: Dave and the crew at Oware have been a huge part of my evolution as an ultralight hiker. He supported me in the Arctic 1000 when everyone else was warning me not to be stupid. Oware’s bivy sacks and tarps are among the best in terms of value. ^rj

Mountain Hardwear Hoop Dreams 4 Tent

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Mountain Hardwear Hoop Dreams 4 Tent (out of production).

The Mountain Hardwear Hoop Dreams 4 tent. It’s been out of production for a few years so I picked it up super cheap from an REI Garage Sale. It’s a 7d silnylon that weight in at 13 oz and is about the size of a Nalgene so I can stick it anywhere. As with any single wall tent, I’ve had some condensation issues but for the weight and usability I don’t mind.

– David Hosmer

Editor’s Note: I had the chance to review and test this before it hit the market. The hoop creates a lot of space, especially useful in winter. If you can get your hands on a used version, snatch it up. This one’s a goodie. ^rj

REI Quarter Dome 1 Tent

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REI Quarter Dome 1 Tent – $279 at REI.

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I have used this shelter a number of times in Montana and Utah. It is not as light as a tarp, but as a (mostly) free-standing, double-wall option it is very light. It has withstood wind, heavy snow and rain – with much more stability than most “ultralight” tents.

– Kevin Fletcher

Editor’s Note: The right mix of poles and guylines, this one surprised me. A far better version of the old Quarter Dome, especially for inclement conditions. When we got hammered with a blizzard in the Beartooths, I couldn’t believe this tent was actually maintaining its structure. Well done, REI. ^rj

Sleep Systems

Thermarest NeoAir Women’s XLite

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Thermarest NeoAir Lite Women’s XL Lite – $160 from REI.

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The Thermarest NeoAir Womens Xlite sleep mat is another favourite I never leave at home. It is warmer and lighter than the mens version. I sleep better in the hills than at home now. Love it.

– Mark Webb

Editor’s Note: The absolute best inflatable sleeping pad ever produced for the ultralight hiking community. ^rj

Enlightened Equipment Revelation Custom Quilt

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Enlightened Equipment Revelation Down Custom Quilt – $225+ from Enlightened Equipment.

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Enlightened Equipment got a nice 7D fabric figured out in the last year and its enabled even lighter sleeping quilts from them. I think sleeping quilts are a perfect application for the lightest nylons, so I’ve been delighted with my 40F Revelation with 950 FP down and 7D fabrics (inside and out). Mine weighs just 12.01oz and has been a big part of enabling a UL renaissance for me in 2018.

– Dan Durston

Editor’s Note: Stephanie and I have a Revelation 7d 950 fp 10 deg F. We fight over it. She usually wins. ^rj

Clothing & Footwear

Patagonia Micro Puff Insulated Hoodie – Women’s

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Patagonia Micro Puff Insulated Hoodie – $299 from Patagonia.

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All the awesome features of an insulated jacket for the trail (light weight, compressible, durable) with a fashionable fit for going out on the town when I drive back from the trail. My favorite features: elasticized wrists that cover my fleece mitten cuffs easily, deep pockets for storage and hand warming, windproof shell (hey I do live in WY!), and a hood that fits better than any I have ever worn. I’ve worn this jacket for the past three months almost everyday for outdoor activities and casual/dress up fare (I’ve even worn it to the symphony!) and I’m in love. Mostly, because it’s so lightweight, yet surprisingly warm.

Patagonia will continue to receive my support not only for the quality and durability of their products, but because they are passionate about protecting public lands, and their activism for the environment is inline with my own.

– Stephanie Jordan

Editor’s Note: This is one of those situations where I get this really cool piece of gear (review here), I write a review about it, ask her to proofread it, and she says, “Oh, I’m gonna need me one of those…” – ^rj

New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 Road Running Shoes

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New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 Road Running Shoes – $150 from REI.

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I like New Balance shoes because they are available in a 4E width, plus they have good traction. So many niche brands only come in an ‘average’ width of D or E. Narrow shoes invariably give me (and many others) blisters; wide fittings do not. The NB 1080 shoes are wide enough, have a reasonable grip, and they seem to have an improved foam for the inner sole – hence their being in the ‘Fresh Foam’ category. They seem to be up to version 9 now for the model: rather popular.

In fact, I challenge you to the following test. Get the inner soles out of your current shoes, take off your shoes and socks, and stand on the inner soles. Now see just how far the sides of your feet overhang the inner sole at the front. If you overhang more than a little, that means your shoes are compressing your feet – which easily leads to all sorts of pain, suffering and foot problems.

What sort of problems can you get? If the shoes are too narrow the bones inside your foot will grind together. If this goes on for too long, you can get blisters under your toes, or worse still there can be internal damage, with bleeding. When such damage happens the blood can diffuse to the sole of the foot. I’ve seen it, and it’s not good.

– Roger Caffin

Editor’s Note: Learn more about Minimalist Shoes for Backpacking and watch this video. ^rj

Montane FeatherLite Trail Jacket

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Montane FeatherLite Trail Jacket – $90 from Montane.

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I have been walking in the mountains for over 40 years and I had never tried a windshirt up until about 3 years ago and when I brought this Montane windshirt on a trip. I couldn’t believe the difference that such a lightweight jacket could make – it added warmth but I didn’t get wet from sweat (usually a problem for me as as soon as I start climbing). It is surprisingly water-resistant too. I find I am not having to stop and change as often as I used to. I know, I’m late to the windshirt party but I’m happy to have arrived!

– Mark Webb

Editor’s Note: Remember this blast from the past? ^rj

Prana Stretch Zion Pants

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Prana Stretch Zion Pants – $85 from REI.

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Pants are not glamorous backpacking gear. Instead, my Prana Stretch Zion convertible pants are a quality tool, like a good carpenter’s hammer. They are notable because they fill all of my mundane pant needs so well. Very tough, comfy (stretchy!), good pockets in the right places, warm, breathable, cool, water resistant, good looking, and convertible to shorts. OK, maybe they are glamorous gear!

– Dave Swink

Editor’s Note: All of my favorite pants are Prana pants. Dave’s not kidding – tough, comfy, pockets, and good lookin’. ^rj

Patagonia Men’s Capilene Lightweight Crew

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Patagonia Men’s Capilene Lightweight Crew – $49 from Patagonia.

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Ever since GoLite stopped making their superlight base layers I’ve been on the hunt for a satisfactory replacement while milking the last life out of my GoLite apparel. The Lightweight Capilene from Patagonia has finally provided that and thus has become my go-to baselayer. The medium T’s are 71g (2.5oz) and have a nice slim fit and long enough torso length. It’s also quite a bit more durable than anything in merino that is even close to this weight. They even have thumb loops on the long sleeve ones.

– Dan Durston

Editor’s Note: I prefer wool for a top base layer, unless I’m running in warm weather, but the LW Cap line is bar none – the highest performing base layer (function:weight ratio) for ultralight backpacking. ^rj

Patagonia Cloud Ridge Jacket

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Patagonia Cloud Ridge Jacket – $249 from Patagonia.

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The Patagonia Cloud Ridge Jacket has served me well on multiple backpacking trips in the mountains of Montana and the Utah desert. It is light, breathable, and keeps me dry in rain and snow. It is also my go to shell for backcountry skiing. In inclement weather I can wear it without working up too much of a sweat because of its very good breathability. It packs small enough – but it’s not in the class of ultralight shells that most of the readers here are going to get giddy over. For me, as a guide and active year-round adventurer, I need more durability (economy is important to me), so a 13 oz jacket that I wear often is not such a great sacrifice.

– Kevin Fletcher

Editor’s Note: Ultralight has its limits, and one of those limits is durability. If you spend as much time in the brush and canyons as Kevin does, maybe consider spending a few more ounces on a more durable rain jacket. ^rj

Smartwool PhD Base Layer Hoodie

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Smartwool PhD Base Layer Hoodie – $110 at REI.

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Since the demise (holes) of my last round of merino hoodies, I’ve been trying others (Ibex, Icebreaker, Patagonia, Arc’teryx) for the past few years, and have finally settled in on the Smartwool PhD Light Base Layer Hoodie. Worn alone, it’s my primary 3-season base and hiking layer (except during biting insect season). Layered over a short-sleeve merino fishnet shirt, it’s the most comfortable cold weather (winter) base layer system I’ve ever worn. And it has thumb loops and a great-fitting hood!

Merino wool is IMO superior to synthetics for next-to-skin base layers in cold weather. Merino wool fibers absorb moisture into the fiber’s interstices, minimizing the rapid “flash-off” cooling effect you feel with synthetics after you sweat, and then stop to rest. The same process means less moisture on fiber surfaces to promote microbe-induced body odor production. This particular hoodie is neither skin-tight nor baggy – for me, it’s the perfect fit for backpacking (I have a pretty normal body type – not fat, not skinny).

– Ryan Jordan

Cooking, Water, and Food Storage

GSI Outdoors Ultralight Nesting Bowl and Mug

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GSI Outdoors Ultralight Nesting Bowl and Mug – $8 from Backcountry.

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My wife and I have used a range of bowls for our dinners when walking, and not all of them have been satisfactory. Eventually, we found the polypropylene GSI Inform bowls. They come as a nesting set in orange or blue, and are sometimes sold in sets with small bowls (mugs). We have been using them since 2009.

The interiors are about 120 mm (5.3″) diameter and 55 mm (2″) high and weigh ~43 g (1.5 oz) each. They hold about 600 mL (20 fl oz) when full: unwise, and more than we could eat anyhow! The official website dimensions are larger: I assume they were measuring the outsides.

Original review here.

– Roger Caffin

Editor’s Note: Bowls are unnecessary “extras” if you’re a young, strapping thru-hiker, but for the rest of us, provide quite a bit of convenience and luxury, especially if you’re hiking as a couple or a group with a shared cook kit. ^rj

1.25L PET Rocket Bottle

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PET Rocket Bottles in front of Roger Caffin’s Tent.

There are expensive water bottles of all sorts, and bladders too. The expensive bottles are all heavy and not very big; the bladders seem to fail at regular intervals. We use the 1.25 L ‘rocket-base’ PET bottles you get with fizzy drinks and fizzy mineral water. They are about 90 mm (3.5″) in diameter and 300 mm (11.7″) high, and weigh 43 g (1.5 oz) each. All things considered, they are effectively free. Americans seem pretty enamored with similar bottles, like those from Smartwater or Gatorade.

Whether they leak and how durable they are are key questions. Some of my PET bottles are well over 10 years old and still in regular use. Unlike some rectangular Nalgene bottles I have (but no longer use), the PET bottles do not shatter. Nor do the caps leak under pressure. Much of this is due no doubt to the fact that they are rated for holding fizzy drinks at high pressures, which means all sorts of food regulations come into play, at least here in Oz.

They also handle impact very well. I took a couple of these bottles and filled them nearly full, and then hurled them up into the air – about 4 m (13′), while standing on sheet rock (in the US you call this “paver stones”). The bottles bounced on the sheet rock with no damage, apart from very minor scratches. They didn’t leak either.

– Roger Caffin

Editor’s Choice: Rocket bottles! They also double as rocket bottles! ^rj

MSR Guardian Purifier

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MSR Guardian Purifier – $350 from REI.

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My favourite piece of kit is the MSR Guardian purifier pump-style water filter. I know, this is Backpacking Light and it’s not exactly light weight at about 17oz (500g). However, it gives me water quickly without having to wait for chemicals, and it’s field serviceable and more reliable than other filters. It doesn’t really take much effort or time to fill my 2L Platypus water bottle. Its best feature: rock-solid protection from bacteria and protozoa, something that can’t always be claimed by chemical treatment methods, at least in a short amount of (treatment) time.

– Mark Webb

Editor’s Note: The most efficacious filter on the market and the only hollow-fiber filter capable of virus removal. ^rj

Zelph Starlyte Stove + Trail Designs Caldera Stove

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Zelph Starlyte Stove – $18 from Zelph Stoves.

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A Trail Designs Caldera Cone with a Zelph Starlyte stove. I don’t have as much control over the temperature but for what I’m cooking on the trail and how light and foolproof the setup is I don’t mind. Here’s a neat article comparing Zelph and Trail Designs Stoves I wrote earlier this year.

– David Hosmer

Editor’s Note: The decision to combine two different brands of windscreens and stoves will cause some forum outrage for a few days. ^rj

Katydyn BeFree Collapsable Water Filter – 0.6 L

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Katadyn BeFree Collapsible Water Filter Bottle (0.6 L) – $40 from REI.

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I love how versatile and light the BeFree is. I can quickly fill it up and have water to drink – the flow rate is fast! Ryan wrote a review about it here last year, and when I went hiking with him in 2018, he was still using it! I can also easily fill it up and then squeeze the water into a pan for cooking. I used it this year on the Wilderness Adventures Whitetail Trek, with no issues at all.

– Kevin Fletcher

Editor’s Note: I’ve been using the BeFree on nearly every trip for two years and still haven’t experienced a failure. I love this bottle for its ability to deliver clean water *fast*. ^rj

Ursack Major

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Ursack Major – $80 from REI.

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The Ursack Major is my primary tool for food storage. It fits perfectly at the bottom of my Hyperlight Mountain Gear Porter 4400, while the ease of use compared to a bear bag and comparatively lightweight (to a bear canister) but durable construction make it my go to food storage system wherever it is allowed. This is mandatory gear for our Wilderness Adventures program, and rightly so – our land management agency, the USFS, prefers it to bear bag hanging, and it prevents the one very risky thing that causes animal encounters in the wilderness – sleeping with your food.

– Chase Jordan

Editor’s Note: Don’t sleep with your food. The Ursack gives you no excuse. ^rj

Backcountry Electronics

Garmin inReach Mini

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Garmin inReach Mini – $350 at REI.

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The Garmin inReach Mini Satellite Communicator was far and away the most exciting piece of gear I added to my kit in 2018. Having access to fully-featured GPS (especially when paired with my smartphone) and two-way SMS communications in a 3.5 oz device still blows my mind. Read my full review here.

I can’t wait until the inReach can receive an AirDrop of an iPhone photo and upload it to Instagram or the BPL forums. No, not for all y’all, per se, but so my wife and mom and fishing pals can see all the big fish I’m catchin’ in real time!

– Ryan Jordan

This 3.5 ounce device is incredible. On trips this year, we have shared map locations and messages with family while canoeing for weeks in Boundary Waters, Minnesota. We have kept the families of Scouts at ease by sending quick text messages about the fun we were having in the backcountry. We also have had the security of knowing that help would be on the way quickly, if that were ever needed. The inReach Mini is so small that we carry it everywhere now, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of gear.

– Doug Johnson

Editor’s Note: For most of you, this device exists so you can maintain a good relationship with your loved ones, and keep them at ease. Don’t underestimate the positive value of that. ^rj

GoPro HERO7 Black

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GoPro HERO7 Black – $400 from REI.

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I featured the GoPro Hero 7 Black in my Publisher’s Gear Guide this year. The more I use it, the more I’m starting to believe that this may be the perfect video camera for the ultralight backpacker. It’s light, tiny durable, waterproof, captures high-quality 4K footage, slow-motion video, and has terrific image stabilization. But my favorite feature is its speed of use: I can pull the camera out of my pocket, press the record button, the camera turns on, and starts recording. When I’m done, I hit the record button again, recording stops, and the camera shuts off. A great camera for shooting video rapidly.

– Ryan Jordan

Apps

Gaia GPS

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Gaia GPS – Membership starts at $20 per year at Gaia.

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The Gaia GPS App underwent a major interface and functional overhaul this year, which made this already best-in-class app even better. Gaia GPS is the cornerstone of my route planning, tracking, and navigation system. The fact that it works seamlessly across all of my devices (web, iPad, and iPhone) makes it a very compelling option for me.

– Ryan Jordan

Editor’s Note: Be careful of how much time this App sucks from your day! ^rj

AllTrails

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AllTrails – Premium version starts at $30 annually at AllTrails.

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GPS apps! I use AllTrails and Gaia depending on if I’m going out alone or with my scout troop. Both have been easy-to-use tools to help me get where I want to go.

– David Hosmer

Editor’s Note: I got nothin’ here. I’m addicted to Gaia. ^rj

YNAB

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YNAB – Memberships start at $7 per month at YNAB.

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I started using this personal finance budgeting app two years ago and have found it to be an outstanding tool for helping me to use my money in ways that maximize my happiness. After years of prioritizing trips over money, I am now prioritizing paying off student debt and working an office job. However, getting out in wild places is soul-satisfying like nothing else. My goal is to minimize my expenses such that I can quickly pay down debt AND take unpaid time off for trips. With YNAB, I assign a purpose for every dollar I earn. I particularly benefit from the Wish Farm Method to save for things I want, such as a flight or gear.

– Max Neale

Editor’s Note: GREAT choice, Max. Sometimes I think if we spent less $ on gear and more on travel to go hike in wild places, we’d be a lot happier. ^rj

Topo Maps +

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Topo Maps+ – Memberships start at $59 annually at Glacier Peak.

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Glacier Peak Studio’s mapping application for Mac OSX and iOS has become my favorite mapping application on the iPhone. The ability to store different topographic maps, including CalTopo, the in-house Glacier Peak Studio maps, Backroad Mapbooks for Canada, topographic maps for New Zealand, and Satellite Imagery makes it invaluable for planning and revising routes on the fly. In addition, it comes with a fully functional route planning system that interacts with the native trail system data, distance and elevation trackers, and an advanced waypoint system that allows notes and photos to be attached to locations, and the ability to tag routes, tracks, and waypoints to organize them by day and expedition.

– Chase Jordan

Editor’s Note: So … why are you looking at Canada maps? Hmmm… I hope I’m invited. ^rj

Accessories and Other Gear

Northern Lites Race Snowshoes

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Northern Lites Race Snowshoes – $229 from Northern Lites.

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Snow hiking with a winter-weight backpack calls for serious flotation to prevent wallowing about, but in the late spring 30″ snowshoes can be overkill. The Northern Lites Race Snowshoes give me just enough flotation and traction on consolidated snow while keeping the hike fun. I was the envy of the other hikers in the 2018 Guide’s Trek in Montana’s Beartooths when wearing these nimble beauties.

– Dave Swink

Editor’s Note: Envy doesn’t even begin to describe the feelings we had. Great choice for snowshoes! ^rj

Tenkara Rod Co. Mini Teton

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Tenkara Rod Co. Mini Teton – $175 from Tenkara Rod Co.

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I’m no Tenkara expert, which is why this rod checks all the boxes for making it into my pack anyways. Its packs very small (14″) and a complete setup (rod, extra tippet, soft case, flies, fly case) weighs just 4.3oz (the rod comprises just 2oz of that). Even though I’ve barely caught anything with it, it has provided a lot of amusement and a better connection to the backcountry as I try to figure out what the fish are eating.

– Dan Durston

Editor’s Note: A full tenkara kit for less than 5 oz? Don’t underestimate the value this could bring to your backcountry experience. Loads of fun! ^rj

Rite in the Rain All Weather Copier Paper

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Rite in the Rain All Weather Copier Paper – $33 from Rite in the Rain.

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Circumstances have prevented me from spending a lot of time backpacking this year but I have found some time to research and plan off-trail routes for future trips. I’ve been assembling dense guides consisting of maps with relevant layers, photos and text using page layout software and printing these on Rite in the Rain All-Weather Copier Paper. I’ve found that I can print double-sided in a color laser printer at work and not have to think about keeping my maps dry in the field. Hopefully this research will pay off in the mountains next summer!

– Matthew King

Editor’s Note: Yes, my paper of choice as well. Durable, light, and totally waterproof. ^rj

Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer

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Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer – $14 from Penguin Books.

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This is a bit of an unusual choice – Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell’s analysis of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s leadership is valuable for anyone who spends significant time in the backcountry. The ability to lead oneself and others is key for succeeding in expeditions as they increase in complexity, and Shackleton is the adventurer whose leadership abilities we should all strive for. The fact that this book also translates the lessons into lessons for the business world makes this read applicable beyond the trails and woods backpackers haunt! One of my favorite reads I’ve been assigned while at the University of Wyoming.

– Chase Jordan

Editor’s Note: Thank you for completing your reading assignment. You’re a good kid. ^rj

Smith Redmond Polarchromic Sunglasses

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Smith Redmond Polarchromic Sunglasses – $239 – $249 from REI.

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These sunglasses fit securely and comfortably during the gamut of outdoor activities I love: hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, trail running and of course fishing. Their coverage provides great protection in windy conditions. They provide all-day comfort on the trail, and the photochromatic lenses adjust in dim light on the drive home. I used to buy cheap sunglasses, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend a ton of money on something that I might leave sitting on a log. I’m so glad Ryan talked me into these grown-up sunglasses, because now I may just beat him to the biggest fish rising! Spotting fish is so much easier for me now! These lenses are glass, scratch resistant, polarized and so clear to see through. These are a great everyday all around pair of sunglasses!

– Stephanie Jordan

Editor’s Note: You look amazing when you wear these. Rrrrowl. ^rj

QALO Strata Arrow Silicone Ring – Women’s

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QALO Strata Arrow Silicone Ring – $20+ from REI.

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All-purpose sport wedding ring. Choose from many different designs and colors. Don’t want to lose your diamond in the snow due to cold weather? I don’t blame you. Happened to me once in a parking lot while I was scraping my car windows. Shot off my hand into a foot of snow. I had to call Ryan to come help me comb the area. We did find it miraculously. Ryan has had his come right off while paddling – it sank to the bottom of the Thorofare River! This option is so much better. Made of Medical-grade silicone, comfortably stays in place, is malleable and pinch-resistant when holding onto trekking/ski poles, lifting weights with metal barbells, grasping ice axes and bicycle handles. I use to get horrible blisters during activities, this ring has changed all of that. If you fall in love with your Qalo rings, like we have, this organization will happily take your gold and diamonds to build wells for clean water in third-world countries.

– Stephanie Jordan

Editor’s Note: Thank you for not holding me to the societal standard of spending two months of salary on a wedding ring. Also, spending two months of salary on a wedding ring may have actually allowed me to buy you TWO Qalo Rings, so I owe you one. Pick it out, let’s go ring shopping. Then, let’s go hiking. Love you. ^rj

Product Review Disclosure

Updated September 15, 2018

  • How we acquired these products: Product(s) discussed in this review were either acquired by the author from a retailer or otherwise provided by the manufacturer at a discount/donation with no obligation to provide media coverage or a product review to the manufacturer(s).
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