Introduction 

Each year, our staff selects their favorite backcountry gear from the past 12 months, and we look forward to you sharing your favorite gear of the year as well in the forum comments below!

Our Staff 

This year’s Staff Picks contributors are:

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Row 1, L to R: Chase Jordan (production editor), Ryan Jordan (owner/founder), Stephanie Jordan (owner/founder), Andrew Marshall (managing editor); Row 2, L to R: Emylene VanderVelden (contributor), Rex Sanders (contributor), Stephen Seeber (contributor), Big Sky Sierra (shop dog); Row 3, L to R: Maggie Slepian (contributor), Mark Wetherington (contributor), Drew Smith (contributor), Shilletha Curtis (grant awardee); Row 4, L to R: Ben Kilbourne (contributor), Daniel Hu (contributor), Iago Vazquez (contributor), Roger Caffin (community moderator).

Shelters and Sleep Systems 

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Seek Outside Eolus Tent 

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I’ve been waiting a long time for a legitimately stormworthy, trekking pole tent that doesn’t rely on zippers as they’ve been the Achilles heel of most tents I’ve used in the desert southwest. The Seek Outside Eolus, which weighs about 3 lb with guylines and stakes, has been my primary two-person tent this year. It’s not as light as some other ultralight tents out there, but it makes up for it with its reasonable price, roomy nest, giant vestibules, overall reliability, and storm worthiness. – Ben Kilbourne

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Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 Tent 

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My tent is my baby and humble abode! The amount of space, good ventilation and inner pockets make this my favorite gear pick. – Shilletha Curtis

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Nemo Dagger 3P Tent 

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When sharing a tent with Ryan, I really appreciated the dual side doors so I could have my own entrance. Steep walls and lots of headroom help prevent claustrophobia, my least favorite thing about most backpacking tents. Easy setup, stable in wind, lots of gear organization options, room for the dog, and a bright cheery color. – Stephanie Jordan

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MSR Pro Bivy Sack 

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Having used an eVENT bivy sack with a DCF floor and a stiffened brim from a cottage manufacturer for several years, I spent 2020 reducing my pack size, and wanted a bivy sack that was more compact. I chose the MSR Pro Bivy because its dimensions are wide enough to accommodate my winter sleep system – a foam pad, a 3-inch-thick wide inflatable pad, and a lofty winter sleeping bag. – Ryan Jordan

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Feathered Friends Lark 10 UL Sleeping Bag 

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In my quest to find a cold-weather down mummy bag that was roomy enough to layer a winter down parka and pants, windproof enough to sleep under a tarp without a bivy sack, and light and compact enough to feel like a 3-season bag rather than a winter bag, I’ve returned to my trusty Feathered Friends Lark 10 UL. At 31 oz, when combined with down puffy clothes, it’s my bag of choice for all but the most frigid 4-season conditions in the Rockies. – Ryan Jordan

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Nunatak Doggy Down Bag 

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Keeps me warm when my master gets a wild hair to do some tent testing. Has a sleeve for my pad so I don’t fall off. This is a custom item, so be nice to Jan if you want one. Don’t worry, they’all gotta soft spot for canines. Start your email with “hey Jan, my dog has been shiverin’ and I need some help…” Works every time. – Sierra

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Packing 

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ULA Circuit Backpack 

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The ULA Circuit is awesome, lightweight and durable. I love how light the pack is and how you can remove pieces like the aluminum stay in make it lighter. It carries well and the hip pockets are solid. – Shilletha Curtis

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Rogue Panda Zoro Backpack 

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Rogue Panda is known for bike bags. The Zoro is the first commercially available backpacking pack created by Rogue Panda founder Nick Smolinske, and features a few innovations that really caught my eye. The floating hip-belt and innovative horizontal water bottle pockets particularly stood out. The pack is undergoing re-design, and isn’t currently available, but I highly recommend it as a load-hauling pack when it comes back on the market. – Andrew Marshall

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Mountain Smith Tour and Day Lumbar Packs 

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I do day hikes.  I don’t like a sweaty back while hiking.  Even in the winter, I don’t need much gear with me.  The answer:  a lumbar pack.  Light weight, adequate capacity and all weight is off my shoulders and back.  The Day Pack has enough room for my extra winter needs.  Now, for you backpackers, if you follow all the tips found on BPL, the lumbar pack will probably keep you out in the wilderness for weeks on end! – Stephen Seeber

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Zpacks Pack Liner Dry Bag 

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Because most packs I’ve used are not completely waterproof, I used to pack everything in individual dry bags or one big trash compactor bag, but this year I found a better way. The Zpacks Packliner Dry Bag has kept my gear completely dry on many trips including repeated full pack submersions in the Verde River and 48 hours of solid rain in the Mazatzal Mountains this Spring. Made of 1.0oz DCF and weighing only 1.8oz, this 44L dry bag has become an indispensable piece of gear for me this year. – Ben Kilbourne

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Clothing 

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Feathered Friends EOS Down Vest 

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The vest version of the classic Feathered Friends jacket. This vest packs a lot of warmth and space-saving minimalism into seven ounces. It’s now my insulation of choice to ward off a chill at high elevations in the summer, and it works just as well as a shoulder-season layer in more temperate climates. – Andrew Marshall

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Enlightened Equipment Torrid APEX Jacket 

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I’ve never used a synthetic-fill jacket before, and now I’ll never go back. The Torrid APEX weighs less than 8 ounces and is as warm as any of my down backpacking jackets. Since it’s synthetic, I actually wear this as a hiking layer when it gets cold, and I don’t feel gross or clammy like I would if I hiked in down. This jacket goes on every backpacking trip with me. – Maggie Slepian

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Patagonia Nanopuff Pants 

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I was a bit hesitant to bring something so heavy when doing winter xc-ski touring, but these pants have been great to toss on over what I skied in when I get to camp and don’t want to get chilled before changing into dry layers. I don’t have to worry about the insulation absorbing moisture, since they’re synthetic, and the durability is a major plus. The zipper and pockets also had functionality that would’ve been lost with some of the lightweight down pants — going to the bathroom in the winter is enough of a chore already, without having to complicate things further by not having a zipper! – Mark Wetherington

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Patagonia Down Sweater Vest 

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Lightweight, windproof, and warm, I prefer pairing this with a fleece jacket (vs. a single puffy layer) for warmth during summer and early fall trips. – Chase Jordan

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Minus 33 Woolverino Micro 1/4 Zip Hoodie 

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Down provides more warmth per ounce, but merino provides more comfort. The Woolverino hoodie checks all my boxes: hoodie to warm my neck and ears, thumb loops to cover my wrists, 1/4 zip to vent heat when hiking. Most important, it turns a cold, wet, blustery evening into a spa day. Well, not quite, but it is a difference-maker. – Drew Smith

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Helly Hansen Odin Minimalist 2.0 Rain Jacket 

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This is a quality product by Helly Hanson that is totally windproof and waterproof. It’s a nice single outer layer that is easily packable and extremely lightweight. Quite fashionable on top of its great functionality! – Daniel Hu

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Janji Groundwork Tight 

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I took a risk and wore these out of the box on a 200+ mile thru-hike this year, and they were superb. They sit high so they don’t slide down while hiking (a near-constant issue for me with hiking tights), but the waistband is so wide and flat that they don’t feel restrictive or uncomfortable. They have a flatlock inseam which meant zero chafing, and after 12 days of continuous wear, they kept their shape and never sagged or stretched. They’re light, breathable, and wicking, and I’m going to get a pair in every color. – Maggie Slepian

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RBH Designs Vapor Mitt 

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I have poor hand circulation and suffer in the cold.  I have used heated gloves for several years.  Each glove, with an extra battery weighs 15.85 ounces!  Almost two pounds!  And they are not that warm because the liner seams and outer glove seams line up and create a miserable thermal short circuit.  During high winds I must also wear a  windproof shell.  Each Vapor Mitt, with the highest available insulation weighs 4.5 ounces.  9 ounces for the pair.  I have used them in single digits with high winds and my hands have been happy.  They offer pretty good dexterity for such a warm mitten. – Stephen Seeber

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Rab Expedition Slipper 

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When I received my Rab Expedition Slippers in the mail, my invoice had a handwritten note at the bottom which read: “now your feet will never be cold!” How right the sales associate was! In my pursuit of a lighter sleep system, in a cold weather climate, the Rab Expedition Slipper bridged the weight and temperature gap between carrying a shoulder season rated quilt all year, and using a lighter, down summer quilt. – Emylene VanderVelden

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Outdoor Research Radar Cap 

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The Radar line stands above the rest of nylon caps and hats for me due to the breathability of its softshell material. I have been using the same cap for the last few years and it is still my favorite, most used piece of headwear. I do not know of any other manufacturer that offers softshell headwear. The folding brim of the cap is also extremely practical as well. – Iago Vazquez

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Dirty Girl Gaiters 

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After switching from boots to trail runners, emptying dirt and debris became an hourly chore. Many had praised Dirty Girls, but I was skeptical, worried about overheating my already-sweaty feet. Finally ponied up and bought a pair more than a decade ago. Now I won’t hike or backpack without them, and I can wear thinner socks without stuff digging into my feet. Too many patterns to choose from; choose your size wisely. 45 grams for the pair in my size. – Rex Sanders

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GoLite Wisp Jacket 

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Sadly, the Wisp is no longer in production. We will throw one of these windshirts over the top of our Taslan smocks when it gets a bit cool and windy. As they weigh no more than 90 g each, and they block the wind very well, they are usually to be found in our packs. But I am sure there are many other brands available. – Roger Caffin

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Montbell Rain Umbrero 

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For windless precipitation, I love to pair the Montbell Rain Umbrero with other pieces of headwear under it, most often a mesh trucker hat or cycling cap. I can easily control the ventilation/warmth and I do not need to wear my raingear hood. The thin flexible wire allows it to fold and store easily, but it also makes it unusable in anything but light winds. – Iago Vazquez

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Cooking and Hydration 

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Vargo Ti Bot 700 

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The Vargo TiBot 700 mL pot embodies the multi-use principle of lightweight backpacking. I have used it as a cooking pot, coffee mug, a small bowl, an auxiliary water bottle for long carries, a rehydration bottle when I’ve run out of fuel, a water scoop at desert seeps. It stores a canister and small stove when not being put to any of these other uses. – Drew Smith

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GSI Ultralight Java Drip 

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In our article, How to Make Coffee in the Backcountry: Gear and Methods, I gathered all of the coffee making methods I amassed over the years and the GSI Ultralight Java Drip stands out from the rest. I take the GSI Ultralight Java Drip on almost every trip and regret not taking it if I don’t. – Emylene VanderVelden

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MSR Titan Fork and Spoon 

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After breaking my trusty cut-down REI Permaware spoon on a trip several years ago, I went on a long search for the perfect titanium replacement, since I’m not a sporky guy. Most titanium spoons have an unpolished bowl that feels yucky in my mouth. Yes, I tried to polish one and failed after much swearing. Finally bought the MSR Titan Fork and Spoon set, and immediately ditched the wire keychain and fork. Plus the spoon doesn’t have any useless slots or holes to accumulate weird gunk. Eating bliss returned, should last my lifetime, and I can almost scare myself with the reflection. 17 grams. – Rex Sanders

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DIY V4 Winter Stove 

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My latest DIY winter stove. At ~85 g, it is lighter than many upright stoves, but it works fine in the deeps of winter. – Roger Caffin

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Good To-Go Packaged Meals 

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Cutting meat from your diet can be daunting for a backpacker, but Good To-Go gives you delicious, healthy food, energizing, and ethically-sourced food. The Mushroom Risotto might be my favorite. – Chase Jordan

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Footwear 

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Altra Lone Peak 4.5 Trail Running Shoes 

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Finding a shoe that remains comfortable over the course of a long trip has for many years been an unsolvable problem for me making my purchase of the Altra Lone Peak 4.5 my single most important gear discovery this year. The latest iteration of the Lone Peak has a heel cup that is narrow enough for average feet, great traction, and a durable upper along with the characteristic foot-shaped toe box and zero-drop you’re already familiar with. I’ve put hundreds of miles on these and have experienced no knee pain or plantar tendon pain, things that previously plagued me on long backpacking trips before. – Ben Kilbourne

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Hoka Speedgoat Trail Running Shoes 

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I added Hoka Speedgoats to my footwear arsenal a few years ago primarily as a recovery shoe to wear after long-mileage training days. Now, they’ve earned a spot in my backpacking routine when I’m hiking hardpacked trails. I also like them during the winter where the high stack height helps insulate my feet from the cold ground in my snowy home hiking areas. – Ryan Jordan

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Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew Socks (Women’s) 

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These Injinji socks prevent me from getting blisters and the taller cuff keeps junk out of my socks. I also like Injinji Liner Crew Socks in the winter, worn under a cushioned wool sock. – Stephanie Jordan

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Accessories 

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BioLite HeadLamp 200 

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This is, in short, the most comfortable headlamp I’ve ever used. It isn’t the brightest, longest lasting, or lightest rechargeable headlamp on the market. But thoughtful engineering with an eye towards a seamless blend of hardware and software make it the most comfortable and most stable (no bounce) that I know of. Great for on-trail excursions and winter trips where you need to wear a headlamp around camp for long periods. – Andrew Marshall

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SOLO Patient Assessment Bandana 

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Sure, I’ve had multiple Wilderness First Aid courses. But I am not at all confident that I would correctly follow protocols when faced with an actual incident. That’s what checklists are for. This bandana provides you with a memory aid so that you can focus on executing, not trying to recall what’s next. Plus, it is a bandana. – Drew Smith

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Kala Waterman Ukulele 

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Recorded music blaring in the backcountry is always horrible and inappropriate. Live music, perhaps accompanied by a sip of whisky among friends, is a great way to make the wilderness feel like home. This plastic ukulele weighs only 14 oz, is nearly indestructible, and sounds surprisingly good. – Drew Smith

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Frontiersman Bear Moose Horn 

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A dubious option for bears, we use this for moose instead. After several hostile moose encounters (including two charges) since we moved to Wyoming, I’ve come to realize that my hiking partner may be the moose whisperer. Since air horns are more effective moose deterrents than rubber bullets or pepper spray, we may never leave home again without it. I also appreciate the locking on/off button – at 115 decibels, you don’t want this to be accidentally discharged. – Stephanie Jordan

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Klymit V Seat 

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The Klymit V Seat started as a joke about my bony butt needing cushioning after one too many complaints about sitting on hard wet stumps and rocks. However, the Klymit V Seat solved being uncomfortable, and it became a favorite winter backpacking item because I could use it as insulation between the toe of my quilt and the tent wall. The Klymit V Seat packs down small and compared to a chair, is a lightweight solution that has multi-purposes. – Emylene VanderVelden

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pStyle 

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Peeing has become so much more efficient and safe with my pStyle. I love not having to squat or pull my pants down to pee! – Shilletha Curtis

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Gossamer Gear LT5 Trekking Poles 

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Trekking poles are a must for me, and the LT5 are the lightest and most comfortable ones I’ve ever used. They collapse to just 60 centimeters, and have a wide range of length adjustment from the three-piece build. The shafts are a carbon construction that absorbs impact, the foam grips absorb sweat, and the straps are padded. They weigh under 10 ounces for the pair, and I feel like they “swing” lightly and easily on the trail. I will say that you have to be careful with these, as carbon poles can’t withstand hard lateral pressure. If you feel the pole get caught in a rock, stop and extract it straight up. I’ve snapped one of the shafts by trying to wrench it out from a rock at an angle. These are best for on-trail, not scree field expeditions. – Maggie Slepian

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Klymit Cush Seat 

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I actually use the Klymit Cush as a pillow more than a seat. I sleep both on my back and on my side when on the ground. I need more pillow height when on my side and significantly less on my back. All I need to do is fold this thing twice and I have a tall pillow, unfold it and I have lower one. The end circles work great when folded and laying on one’s side as the ear goes inside the circle and it does not get pinched. Because of its length the Klymit Cush also works great to combat calf ridge in the hammock. And of course you can use it as a seat, something most pillow manufacturers warn you against. – Iago Vazquez

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Road ID Sidekick ID for Fitbit + Garmin 

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After too many Type III adventures that ended in emergency rooms and hospitals, I bought one of these to slip over my ABC watchband. Shows a bunch of hopefully useful information if I’m incapacitated. Maybe it helped after my mountain-bike induced concussion this spring, but I don’t remember that day or the next two weeks. Be prepared and safe out there. Only 10 grams of worn weight, so it doesn’t count. – Rex Sanders

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Hyperlite Mountain Gear Face Mask 

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While the COVID-19 experience of 2020 is something we won’t want to remember too vividly in the future, the reality is we are many months away from returning to normal and many of us may not have a vaccine before we begin our spring and summer treks. This will be a part of my kit for the foreseeable future on busy trails, and it’s something we all should consider to keep our trail mates and passerby safe. – Chase Jordan

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Gossen Metrawatt MetraHit 29S Power Meter and Thermoworks ThermaQ2 4-Channel Thermocouple Meter 

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For the nerd on your list, nothing better to figure out what will keep you warm on the trail! – Stephen Seeber

Shop Gossen  Shop Thermoworks

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Airplane Mode 

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It has been GREAT to turn my phone off or set it on airplane, even just on day hikes where I would usually have reception. As much as I appreciate gear, I am even more grateful for uninterrupted time in beautiful places and sometimes stepping away from technology is essential to achieve that! My apologies for this questionable staff pick, but it was really important to me and I think it’s always good to have a reminder that sometimes the best gift you can give yourself is some peace and quiet (so long as you don’t avoid urgent responsibilities). – Mark Wetherington

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How About You?

What are your 3 favorite pieces of gear for 2020?

Let us know in the forum comments below!

DISCLOSURE (Updated November 7, 2019)

  • Some (but not all) of the links on this page 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!