Each year, our staff selects their favorite backcountry gear from the past year, and we look forward to you sharing your favorite gear of the year as well in the forum comments below!
This year’s Staff Picks contributors are:
Table of Contents
Table of Contents • Note: some sections may only be available to Premium or Unlimited Members.
- Our Staff
- Table of Contents
- Shelters and Sleep Systems
- Packing Systems
- Clothing Systems
- ExOfficio BugsAway Long-Sleeve Shirt
- Patagonia Quandary Pants
- Base layer combo: Unisex Super Thermo T-Shirt Base Layer with Inlay and Finetrack Elemental Layer
- Patagonia Women’s Wind Shield Pants
- Appalachian Gear Company ALL-PACA Poncho
- Farpointe Alpha Duo or Single
- Timmermade Alpha Direct 4004 Hoodie
- Ben’s InvisiNet XTRA + Insect Shield
- Saxx Kinetic Light-Compression Mesh Boxer Brief
- Enlightened Equipment Torrid APEX Pullover
- Cooking and Hydration
- Navigation & Electronics
- Share your favorite gear of 2022 with us!
- Related Content
Shelters and Sleep Systems
After testing way too many sleeping bags, I decided that the Feathered Friends Flicker UL 20 Quilt Sleeping Bag is the most versatile and comfortable bag I’ve used in a long time. This bag is stuffed full of 14.7 oz of 950+ down and weighs a total of 25.2 oz in a size regular. I’ve never before used a sleeping bag that remains comfortable throughout such a huge range of temperatures. When zipped and cinched, this bag is cozy down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit on a warm pad. When opened into blanket mode, it’s comfortable up to about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a gigantic comfort range. Throughout most of that range – 30 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit – I use it like a quilt. The zipper remains underneath me, zipped up only to mid-thigh. I secure the snaps at the draft collar and then let the upper body area of the quilt sprawl. Then I sleep like a baby. – Ben Kilbourne
- Learn more about the Feathered Friends Flickr in the BPL Gear Shop.
- Learn more about the REI Magma 30 Trail Quilt in the BPL Gear Shop.
I really love the Sierra Designs Cloud 20 sleeping bag even though I’m saddened that some of the down has leaked out over the years. I love the zipperless design because it feels less constricting and more like a regular bed while still being plenty warm. – Anna Swarts
I love the modularity of the SWD Movement Pack. I can go from frameless to framed at very competitive weights to the rest of the popular packs in the lightweight category. I can attach a myriad of things to it, from bear cans to snowshoes or skis – pretty much any gear one takes backpacking. The versatility of this pack is fantastic. And it’s a great company to deal with. – Iago Vazquez
- Learn more about the Pa’lante V2 in the BPL Gear Shop.
The Exped Splash 15 is simple, it’s light, and it does two things well: keeps your stuff dry and serves as a daypack for side trips. Lashed to the bow of my packraft, it kept everything dry yet accessible on a 3-day trip down the Rio Chama. It was on deck and ready for canyon side trips. 15 L is plenty big enough to carry a rain jacket, water bottle, snacks and phone. On backpacking trips I’ve used it as a stuff bag for my quilt, and I could put a few more items in there if needed for river crossings. It’s small enough to stuff some clothes in and make a pillow. So far, the only drawback I’ve discovered is that I can’t really use it to carry my Tenkara rod on fishing side trips. – Drew Smith
- Learn more about the Exped Splash 15 in the BPL Gear Shop.
The ZPacks Arc Blast pack has been around for a while, and I expect most BPL readers are aware of it. But there is a good reason for its longevity: it is a framed pack that weighs less than many frameless packs. Arcing the frame keeps the pack away from my back and allows air to circulate, a feature I prize on hikes through the desert and other hot places. Although the frame looks dainty, I have loaded the pack up with as much as 11 L of water. This is not a practice I recommend, but the pack survived, and so did I. The pack has also survived many miles of bushwhacking with only a few small tape patches to show for it. Perhaps more surprisingly, it has survived baggage handlers on a dozen or so flights. There are plenty of great new packs out there, but none have yet convinced me to move on from the Arc Blast. – Drew Smith
- Learn more about the ZPacks Arc Blast in the BPL Gear Shop.
I carry a lightweight load on most trips. I’ve been using various frameless packs for the last several years, and I have learned that while I am very comfortable with a total pack weight of 16 pounds, I’m only acceptably comfortable at 18 pounds and thoroughly uncomfortable at 20 pounds or more. I decided to try a pack with a lightweight frame and have found the Atom Packs Atom+ to be a great solution. Mine is the 40-liter size (just slightly larger than a Gossamer Gear Kumo (my go-to frameless pack). The frame helps transfer weight nicely to the plush 3” tall padded waistbelt, which I prefer over a more structured hipbelt like my kid’s ULA Ohm. The side pockets are very easy for me to reach. My pack is the standard production model (in blue/black/orange with shoulder pockets and a bottom pocket). I’d probably rather have a custom model in more understated colors, and I’d eliminate the shoulder and bottom pockets but this pack is working great for me. See our review of the Atom Packs Atom here. – Matthew King
- Learn more about the Atom Packs Atom in the BPL Gear Shop.
The ExOfficio BugsAway Long-Sleeve Shirt has served me very well this year. It is amazing for hot weather hiking, keeping the sun off while venting as much as possible. It also came in clutch on early summer trips in the Rockies when the mosquitos were really swarming. I got mine used on the BPL Gear Swap, and it has been worth every penny. – James Montavon
After experimenting with a variety of other trekking pant brands the past few years, I returned to my favorites – the Patagonia Quandary Pants. The newer versions are lighter, have better four-way stretch, and are more comfortable to wear when wet (less binding). – Ryan Jordan
- Learn more about the Patagonia Quandary Pants in the BPL Gear Shop.
Base layer combo: Unisex Super Thermo T-Shirt Base Layer with Inlay and Finetrack Elemental Layer
This Staff Pick is a base layer combo – a Brynje polypro mesh (short sleeve for hot weather, long sleeve for everything else) plus a Finetrack Elemental Layer (hydrophobic polyester with very high air permeability and very lightweight). The Finetrack Elemental Layer serves as a wind block and modesty cover for the Brynje mesh in both winter and summer. But it’s only available in black, which is unfortunate for summer use. See our review of Brynje mesh here. – Stephen Seeber
These lightweight wind pants are incredibly comfortable for hiking in cooler temps. They cut the wind but are still breathable. The stretchy soft-shell fabric moves with you, and there is even room to wear Capilene base layer pants underneath for the winter season. I Love how light they are! (Around 244 grams). Zippered ankles are handy for changing out wet socks or layering over my Nordic boots. I Have been wearing a version of these pants mainly for snow activities since the early 2000s, and really love seeing how they’ve evolved in construction and that Patagonia has continued to make this a lighter, more comfortable fit. Friends who have visited and joined us for outdoor activities have been intrigued about my pants and usually ask to stop at our local outdoor store on the way to the airport so they can grab a pair to take home. I’m hoping my Santa brings me another pair, preferably blue, hint hint. – Stephanie Jordan
Last year, I chose the Appalachian Gear Company (AGC) ALL-PACA crew sweater as one of my staff picks. The alpaca fiber AGC uses results in a garment that may be up to 2X warmer than a comparable merino wool garment. The ALL-PACA fabric’s relatively open weave traps a lot of heat for its weight. So when AGC announced the new ALL-PACA Poncho, I was intrigued by the thought of combining alpaca fiber with a multi-functional and traditional garment. I wasn’t disappointed. I swapped out my sweater for the poncho and found myself much more likely to hike in the cool mornings and evenings without having to stop and de-layer. The poncho also makes an ideal camp pillow or additional sleep-system layer at night. In cold, humid environments, I lay it on top of my quilt to migrate the dew point away from my down, and in the hot summer months, I use it as a minimalist blanket. – Andrew Marshall
Alpha Direct is my go-to mid-layer insulating fabric. My testing shows that two layers of 60 gsm Alpha Direct have the best warmth-to-weight ratio of any Alpha Direct fabric. I asked Farpointe to make me one, and now the Farpointe Alpha Duo is a standard product for them. I only wear it when temps are less than 15 °F. Otherwise, a single 60 gsm layer is sufficient. Their website shows it with a hood. Mine is hoodless. – Stephen Seeber
- Learn more about the Farpoint Alpha Duo in the BPL Gear Shop.
The Ben’s InvisiNet Head Net was a non-negotiable necessity on our late summer hikes this year. One minor note: it’s best used with a brimmed hat to keep the mesh away from your ears. I found that wearing the net over my bare head allowed the mesh to touch my ears, and while the mosquitoes weren’t able to fit their bodies through the net, they were able to bite my ears through the pores! This net weighs a mere 0.7 ounces and costs less than $15, so you get a lot of bang for your buck! – Daniel Hu
- Learn more about the InvisiNet in the BPL Gear Shop.
The Saxx Kinetic Light-Compression Mesh Boxer Brief is made for men who need the support of a brief as well as the chafing protection of a boxer brief. Basically, Saxx has built a ball hammock into a semi-compression, wicking, and 4-way stretch boxer brief. Breathable mesh panels hold your balls in place comfortably and also divide them from your legs, successfully preventing the dreaded sticking sensation. This underwear (and there’s zero hyperbole in this statement) has been life-changing for me. – Ben Kilbourne
- Learn more about the Kinetic in the BPL Gear Shop.
I’m entering my third winter wearing the Englightened Equipment Torrid APEX Pullover. I take care of it (no aggressive stuffing or laundering), and continue to remain impressed by its ability to retain loft over the long term – it’s proven to be much more durable than I anticipated. At 8.5 oz, it’s light enough for summer backpacking but lofty enough as a day-use insulating layer for our Rocky Mountain winters. – Ryan Jordan
- Learn more about the Torrid in the BPL Gear Shop.
Cooking and Hydration
The Bearvault BV500-Journey (see my review here) got a lot of use this year in the Washington Olympics. We took this bear canister for many miles through bear territory and even saw bears a mere quarter-mile from our campsite. While we fortunately didn’t have to deal with a bear intruding on our site and supplies, the canister gave us peace of mind and held up great through our adventures. On shorter trips, I’ve used the Bearvault BV450-Jaunt with similar results. Bear canisters aren’t exactly light (the BV500-Journey is 2.5 lb), but they are necessary when traveling through bear country, and Bearvault’s products have been reliable and easy to use. – Daniel Hu
- Learn more about BearVault Canisters in the BPL Gear Shop.
I heard about Heather’s Choice Packaroons from Andrew’s Year of Lentils, and they have been my favorite snack on almost every backpacking trip since. They are a little too good sometimes: my wife and I debate over who should get the last bite more often than not. They are calorie dense and easy to eat while walking. Vegan backpacking snacks can get boring with only so many combos of oats, peanut butter, and chocolate available, but packaroons get creative with flavors like orange vanilla and snickerdoodle. We got the Christmas flavors once they went on sale in January and are already looking forward to ordering the eggnog and peppermint packaroons again. – James Montavon
The MSR Pocket Rocket 2 Mini Stove Kit was a pandemic purchase but it brings me joy every time I use it. The MSR Pocket Rocket 2 is one of the most highly-rated stoves based on BPL’s StoveBench testing. The ease of use and how neatly it packs away make carrying it and cooking with it a dream! I’ve shown new backpackers this stove, and their feedback has generally been along the lines of: “I always thought stoves were complicated and intimidating, but now I think I could bring one and cook on my trip.” – Anna Swarts
- Learn more about the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 in the BPL Gear Shop.
I’ve owned the Steripen Ultra for nearly five years and have used it extensively. I’ve been impressed at how much water I can treat on a single battery. In addition to backcountry water treatment, it’s been great for traveling overseas when local urban water quality is dubious. – Anna Swarts
- Learn more about the Steripen Ultra in the BPL Gear Shop.
This Staff Pick is a little sad for me. I struggle with appetite issues while backpacking. I find cooking in the backcountry to be an unwelcome chore. I was excited when I read Andrew Marshall’s review of Food for the Sole Triple Peanut Slaw because it contains many of my favorite ingredients and it hydrates without heat. I was thrilled to find the dish just as tasty as Andrew described it. I was pleased with how little time it takes to rehydrate. This dish contains an impressive 178 calories per ounce! Sign me up! For me, it’s a perfect backpacking meal. The sad part is that Food for the Sole has closed its doors. I have one unopened bulk pack of Triple Peanut Slaw that I look forward to enjoying next summer in a beautiful location. – Matthew King
- Learn more about Food for the Sole in the BPL Gear Shop.
The Saucony Peregrine 12 is the first trail running shoe I’ve been truly excited about in a long time. What sets this trail running shoe apart from others I’ve been using is the foam. Saucony’s PWRRN foam is fairly firm, so with every step I feel like the shoes are springing me forward. Shoes with softer foam, such as the Altra Lone Peak 6, for example, make me feel as if every step is draining my energy. This PWRRN foam also lasts a long time. I’ve put about 300 miles of running and backpacking on my first pair of Peregrine 12s, and they aren’t even remotely packed out yet. The 5 mm lugs are also still going strong, although the upper is now wearing a bit. This shoe has a rock plate, too, so precise foot placement isn’t always necessary. I find this feature to increase my comfort over a 25+ mile day because my feet aren’t getting beat up by rocks. With all these features I would expect this shoe to be heavier than it is, but it’s only 9.7oz in a men’s size 9. Additionally, this shoe fits securely without being constricting, so it’s amazing for scrambling, plodding, and running alike. Despite it having the classic pointy toe of most running shoes, it fits wide enough in the forefoot that my third and fourth toes never find the end. I can’t say the same for any Salomon or LaSportiva I’ve ever worn where my first toe is an inch from the end and my fourth toe is right up against the end. The low drop (4 mm) also probably contributes to this shoe’s scrambling ability – I’ve found shoes with a higher drop to feel tippy on off-camber terrain. I’ve used the Peregrine 12 for runs between trips as well as off and on-trail backpacking in the rocky and rugged Uintas, Wasatch, and Wind Rivers. I found them to be by far the best shoe I’ve ever used in any of these terrains that I’ve frequented over the years. – Ben Kilbourne
- Learn more about the Peregrine in the BPL Gear Shop.
I tested the Bedrock Sandals Cairn Adventure Sandals all summer long in 2022 (see my review). If you hate hiking sandals, these aren’t going to change your mind. If you are on the fence, give them a try. The through-the-toes webbing design removes the pressure across the bones of the foot that you get in over-the-top sandal designs. The upshot? Fewer (read: none) repetitive use injuries of the kind I used to get while wearing Chacos. The minimalist midsole isn’t for everybody, but the outsole is Vibram and plenty aggressive for wet and dry on-trail conditions.
Many a fellow Bedrock user and I stopped to chat about them on the trail – and I can’t remember the last time I had a piece of gear that caused those kinds of mutually exciting conversations. Bonus points – I get compliments on them while wearing them to the grocery store or pretty much anywhere else in my small mountain town. – Andrew Marshall
- Learn more about the Bedrock Cairns in the BPL Gear Shop.
The HOKA Torrent 2 Trail Running Shoes are comfortable with a wide toe box. Ryan likes the Speedgoats, but their stack height is a little too high for me. I’ve proven them rugged – I’m on my second pair after several hundred miles while carrying a light pack. We hike varied terrain, and these have given me great traction on gravel, slick rock, mud, ice, and snow. Fits a pair of microspikes comfortably in winter. Just enough cushioning so I can avoid errant rocks but still feel what’s going on underfoot. My favorite hiking shoe for technical, rocky trails. – Stephanie Jordan
With the addition of 4K at 120 fps slow-motion capability, the GoPro Hero 11 Black has finally evolved into the action camera I’ve been wanting for decades – but for a very specific purpose. I want to observe trout underwater in their native habitat. Previous versions of the GoPro haven’t provided the image quality or slow-motion capabilities that I’ve wanted. My simplest rig for underwater filming simply involves tying the camera to a large fishing swivel attached to a piece of Lawson Glowire and tying the Glowire to the end of a trekking pole, which I use to control the location of the camera. I then allow the stream current to rotate the camera as needed. Not a very sophisticated rig, but I’m getting the footage I need to observe trout underwater. This has the potential to become a dangerously addictive hobby. In 2023, I’ll be exploring other types of housings, lens filters, and more to make the images prettier. But here’s a preview of a raw, out-of-camera clip I captured in the Rocky Mountain National Park backcountry in a stream full of brook trout. – Ryan Jordan
- Learn more about the GoPro Hero Black series in the BPL Gear Shop.
The Black Diamond Astro 300-R Headlamp is new for me in 2022, replacing my old first-generation Spot. I went with another Black Diamond because I loved my last one so much. This one is rechargeable – I wanted to give a nod to sustainability (in terms of fewer disposable batteries). It recharges via a micro-USB charge port and a single charge provides me with plenty of camp chore light for several days. It is bright enough for night walking and I love the dim light for reading in bed at camp or at home. I wear this lamp every day, not just for camping, so having a comfortable and easily-adjustable elastic headband is a plus! My favorite part is the Brightness Memory so I don’t have to fiddle with it every time I use it and the fact that there are three blue lights on the side that let you know when the battery is getting low. Those three blue lights also stay on for a few seconds after turning it off, which gives you a chance to tuck it away in your tent stow pocket. At 2.65 oz it’s certainly light enough to be the only headlamp I need for both frontcountry and backcountry use. – Stephanie Jordan
The Garmin inReach Mini 2 has finally evolved into a highly capable satellite communicator. An improved device user interface, much better battery life, nicer screen, integration with Garmin Explore, and the ability to use it more effectively without a smartphone make it my favorite satellite communicator when weight and versatility are the top priority. Learn more and watch my interview with Garmin. I also added content to my How to Use the Garmin inReach Masterclass this year with updates for Garmin inReach Mini 2 users. – Ryan Jordan
- Learn more about the inReach Mini 2 in the BPL Gear Shop.
Photocopier/Printer at the Local Public Library
Visit your library! What a great tool for printing out paper maps and/or photocopying sections of maps before a trip. I always have a paper map as a back-up for digital navigation tools. It also serves double-duty as entertainment when in camp and I can fantasize about future trips where I’ll explore a far-flung basin, summit a remote highpoint, or finally get to an off-trail subalpine lake to fish. – Mark Wetherington
I use Nite Ize Gear Ties to attach my trekking poles to my pack or to attach pockets and such to the outside of the pack. And unlike bungee and cord lock options, they don’t come undone.
I fell in love with the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Running Poles primarily for their small-diameter foam grip handles. The larger grips on my old trekking poles gave me severe hand cramps along with cold hands (because I had to grip them so tightly) and the Distance Carbon Running Poles alleviated the problem right away. They may be the lightest swing-weight trekking poles on the market (89 grams per pole), which make it well worth giving up the collapsibility of my old trekking poles. – Stephanie Jordan
Everyone’s got their luxury item (or two, or three) and one of ours is the REI Co-op Flexlite Air Chair, which adds an extra pound of weight to your pack but pays dividends in comfort when you reach your campsite. It’s comfortable and easy to set up, and we’ve been taking it on nearly every trip for several years. The metal poles are durable, as is the ripstop nylon seat. I suspect in the future, technology may give us a slightly lighter design, but until then, we’ll keep using these ones! See our comprehensive chair gear guide and Ryan’s very detailed review video comparing the REI Flexlite to a Helinox Chair. – Daniel Hu
- Learn more about the Flexlite Air Chair in the BPL Gear Shop.
I love my Kula Cloth! The amount of toilet paper I have found behind rocks and in the woods around my get-out-of-dodge wilderness area is unreal. So gross. We do need good hygiene while we are out there and this will help you accomplish just that after you tinkle and is a better option than shaking it off or using toilet paper. Use the non-irritating antimicrobial side to wipe and use the snap to hang from your backpack to dry. The sun also helps to sterilize any bacteria on the cloth. The smooth side is waterproof and comes in bright fun designs. Makes for a great holiday gift for all your hiking squatter friends! They will thank you for helping them pack in and out less toilet paper and practice better Leave No Trace. Not convinced? Watch the video here on how to use a pee rag. – Stephanie Jordan
- Learn more about the Kula Cloth in the BPL Gear Shop.
One of my favorite things about living in the mountain west is that the drive to the trailhead is amazing in itself. The book Roadside Geology of Colorado makes road trips around Colorado so much more fun and interesting. It also deepens my experience in the backcountry, far away from the features described in the book, because I can try to pattern what I’m seeing with what I’ve learned from this book, and then check my answers when I get home. It’s fun when I guess right and can know what happened millions of years ago just from looking at rocks, and when I’m wrong (often) I get to learn more and understand the challenging concepts of geology and geography deeper than before. – James Montavon
In every gear choice, a key factor is a balance between the gear taking care of you and you taking care of the gear. An item that performs somewhat better than the alternative but requires much more of an investment in time and attention is not necessarily a good choice. That’s how I feel about sunglasses. Ryan has made the case for backpacking in a top-notch pair of photochromic shades. I’ve gone that route, most recently when daughter #2 used her guide discount to get me a nice pair of Smith polarized photochromic shades. The view through them is great. But they get dirty easily, are hard to clean, are not very scratch-resistant, and the frame is wonky from me parking them on my hat. They work well, but only if I pay attention to them. I don’t want to pay attention to sunglasses.
The Kleenguard V30 Nemesis Polarized Safety glasses have optics that are 90% as good for 10% of the price. I can buy a case of 12 for what the Smiths cost. When they get scratched, crushed or lost, I just grab a new pair from the box. I spend zero time and attention on them.
I still have the Smiths and use them for driving. And when I park at the trailhead, I leave the Smiths in the car and put on the Nemesis. – Drew Smith
The OuterU faceGlove TS shields my nose from the cold for only 0.45 oz. My nose tends to head to frost nip or worse before the rest of my face. With this, I can avoid a full face covering and its attendant loss of unrestricted breathing. It’s always with me for winter hikes or skiing. – Stephen Seeber
My wife bought me the Outside Inside Backpack Watercolor Kit on a whim while I was gearing up at REI for a thru-hike of the Wonderland Trail. As an illustrator, I have a cobbled-together travel watercolor kit, but there’s something to be said for a case, pad, paints, and brush all designed to work in conjunction with one another. The brush that comes with the kit is more than serviceable, and the paper is surprisingly good quality. The paints are middling, but it’s easy enough to pry out the cakes and replace them with your own if/as you grow more serious about painting. If you are seeking a more intimate way to connect with the sights you see while backpacking, this is a good way to do it. – Andrew Marshall
What are your favorite pieces of outdoor gear from 2022?
Tell us what you loved and why in the forum comments below!
- Members Choice Awards
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