One of the best aspects of working in the outdoor industry is living the life: climbing, hiking, and adventure travel through some of the most fascinating landscapes on earth. Staff members here at GreatOutdoors.com (and our parent company, Altrec.com) spend as much time as possible pursuing outdoor adventure, so they take their outdoor equipment seriously. As we roll into the busy fourth quarter, a great time to pick up deals on the best in outdoor gear, here are some favorite pieces of equipment we found useful in 2008.
Come along as copy writer Gordy Skoog shares some of the gear he liked while doing two of the best high routes in the world, the Wapta Traverse
in the Canadian Rockies and the Haute Route in the Alps
. Editor Peter Potterfield shares some of the things he used while doing such classic hiking routes as the Chilkoot Pass
, a traverse of Montana's Beartooth Mountains, and Newfoundland’s Long Range Traverse
Some Favorite Gear
Eagle Creek Load Warrior 30 with Sport Companion
When traveling internationally for backcountry adventures, I used to take a 36 inch rolling duffle, and bob’s your uncle: everything you needed in one bag. That won’t work with airline size regulations, so now I use the Eagle Creek Load Warrior
30 inch (that's the max allowable size for most airlines) wheeled duffel. This rig is so light it gives me substantially more weight for my own gear. I simply put my fully packed backpack right in there, and fill in around with things like hiking boots and trekking poles, and Eagle Creek packing cubes of socks, shirts, etc. I pair it with the Eagle Creek Sport Companion,
a big, bombproof shoulder bag with a sleeve that lets me slip it over the handle of the Load Warrior. So when I retrieve them at baggage claim, I’ve got a totally portable wheeled stack of unreal volume that will hold up to the brutal handling veteran travelers know is inevitable for checked luggage.
Outdoor Research Elixir Jacket
When the ultimate in function (weatherproofness, usability) is at a premium this GORE-TEX® PacLite® shell is always my go to piece. On the Haute Route I rarely needed to break it out, but it was a confidence builder to have this highly packable port-a-shelter at the ready. An ultralight and minimalist design, this Elixir Jacket
doesn't sacrifice utility to get there; maintaining a deep dual-pull adjustable hood, dual slash napoleon pockets that are perfect for skin stashing, and double-separating Torso vent zippers beneath the sleeves to get the heat out.
MSR Reactor Stove System
This revolutionary backpacking stove has reset the threshold for wilderness stove performance. The MSR Reactor
's novel radiant burner boils water in under three minutes even at 12,000 feet. The pot and stove together create a system that it is virtually impervious to wind, and the heat exchanger (as opposed to an open flame) positively sips fuel, making it the most efficient backpacking stove I’ve used. An internal pressure regulator means that an almost empty canister burns as hot as a full canister. And at 21 oz for the stove and it’s integrated 1.5 liter pot, there’s no weight penalty for the outrageous boil times. Everything, including the canister, fits into the pot for easy stowage in the pack..
Black Diamond Speed 40 Pack
Lightweight, simple, fail-safe, and versatile was the mantra while doing the Haute Route. This Black Diamond 40 liter pack met all the criteria, and was the perfect flexible size. The harness and belt system at first glance seemed too light, but the proof was in the using—perfect. Essential was the ability to compress and expand the pack as gear and food supplies expanded. I never needed to strip down to flyweight by removing the top pocket, hip belt, framesheet and stay, but it was nice to know that I could in a flash. The compression straps, tool ties, and added bungy took care of my changes in attitude. Not only did this puppy serve the Haute well, I also used it for a month of Eurrail traveling and tramping after.
Smith Maverick RX Sunglasses
Smith Optics has figured out a way to put optical prescriptions even in the extreme curve of their technical sunglass lenses, giving us four-eyes the opportunity to both see well and be fashionable. After years of using the Smith T-Nine, I moved this year to the new, lighter Maverick model
, which is a high performer on Mount Rainier but looks pretty cool walking around town as well.. And if you don’t need a prescription, you can still choose the lens color, tint and mirror coatings. Spend days on a glacier, and the last thing you want to think about is the safety of your eyes, and these Smith lenses take the worry out of that.
Bridgedale Socks Men's Endurance Trail Socks
For long days in the saddle nothing beats wool for warmth and comfort. These socks are Bridgedales best selling light weight hiking sock
for a reason. I use them for backcountry skiing, mountaineering, hiking … anytime I'm in the mountains. With their anatomically targeted cushioning I always get super comfort and blister protection, even during a suffer fest. And my feet never stunk out the Hut on the Haute.
Isis Women's Misty Mountain Jacket
“I love the way this Isis Misty Mountainshell fits,” said Becky Kurowski of Travel Montana after testing it on our traverse of Montana’s Beartooth Range. “It’s not too bulky and the sleeves are actually long enough for my monkey arms, and that’s rare! It’s also a fun color...and all of the Isis products come with special messages hidden in the pockets to make you smile! I had just purchased the Misty Mountain before our trip across the Beartooths trip, so I ran across the little note on day two, a lovely surprise! The Misty Mountain is waterproof and breathable and lightweight...a perfect rain jacket for the summer, even at 12,000 feet.”
MSR Hubba and Hubba HP
When solo hiking, or going “solo together” with companions who prefer to tent alone, I found the Hubba proved to be almost perfect: quick to set up, free standing, big interior space, and high headroom, but lightweight. Despite coming in at under 3 pounds, the Hubba
is no cream puff, and when staked out is incredibly stable in windy conditions. The Hubba kept me bone dry in record setting rain on the Chilkoot Pass trail last summer, but it’s basically all mesh under the fly and so as summer cranks in to autumn it can get breezy and chilly at night. That’s where the new Hubba HP
comes in: this is basically the same tent as the Hubba but with fabric instead of mesh, so it can be zipped up in cold conditions. The HP has all the stellar qualities of the original Hubba but it definitely extends the utility of this tent by several months. Unbelievably, the HP is actually an ounce or two lighter than the Hubba. For serious fast and light solo backcountry travelers, these tents are the current gold standard.
Cloudveil Men's Enclosure Jacket
I was temped to take a down midlayer on the Haute Route to save ultimate weigh, but I'm glade I opted for the Enclosure
. It's synthetic Primaloft® insulation, which is the most compact for its weight, made this my most worn piece; layered and stand alone. Putting out warmth like a furnace, its polyester shell blocked the wind like a hardshell and shed adequate moisture with a potent DWR finish. A functional design, two internal pockets, one stretch and one snap gave ample space for stowing skins and essentials. With a cut that is a little boxy, the waist cinch styles it out and traps heat.
Arc Teryx Maia 75
“I LOVE this pack!”, said Becky Kurowski after using the ArcTeryx Maia 75 a four day crossing of Montana’s Beartooth Range last August. "It carries loads very well, and is low profile with nicely padded but streamlined shoulder straps and waist belt. You can easily wear the pack climbing, it’s narrow and the fabric is super abrasion resistant. There are also nice gear loops and velcro straps for ice tools/axes. Despite the fact it's one of the biggest packs made specifically for women, it’s still a light pack--I don’t like carrying any more weight than I have to! It’s also waterproof...which is nice not having to worry about pack liners or your last pair of dry socks getting drenched in a downpour." See Altrec’s line up of Arc Teryx packs.
Outdoor Research Advanced Bivy
I'm a GORE-TEX® bivy sack man! Lightweight and terrain versatile I haven't found a better way to go when traveling light and fast. On the Haute Route I carried an OR Alpine Bivy as emergency group gear. A little more compact than the Advance, you'd pick the later if you wanted a little more space for thicker sleeping pads and loftier bags. I carried the patented dual-pole system that gives increased ventilation and interior space, but easily could have left it behind to save weight. Thankfully, we never needed to pull the sack out, but after a number of unplanned bivouacs I never go into the high alpine without it. Don't leave home without it!
Petzl Snowracer Ultralight Ax
On the Haute Route you don't anticipate needing an ice ax, but when you're peaking out on Mt Velan, Pinte de Arola, or when one of the col crossings is iced up you better have one. An axe is good route insurance. I took my Racer because the steel head reliably gains a secure purchase when swinging its alu shaft, and the adze is perfect for chopping repel bollards when necessary. I find that for most of my mountaineering adventures that the Snowracer Ultralight is all I need.
Outdoor Research WindPro Hat
When you lose 1/3 of you body heat through your head, you've gotta have a hat. It's the first thing to put on when cold, but how much is enough. Over the years, and confirmed by the Haute Route, I've found that it's easy to over insulate with a too warm hat. The hard-faced Polartec® Wind Pro® fleece hat proved to be the just the right weight; not to hot for gaining verts, and blocking enough wind and heat when stationary. And it stuffed down to nearly pocket watch size.
Julbo Reflex Sunglasses
On a traverse like the Haute Route, where you never know what you're going to get, I brought my multi-lens Julbo Reflex sunglasses When we were fogged out I had the amber lens in, and on the brilliant sunlight days I switched to theultra-tinted Alti Spectron X6 lens with flash finish (to knock down the glare). With 100% UV protection, full eye coverage, and the right tint visibility was ever clear. No burning grains in the eyes snow blindness like in the 1920's. These trusted glasses also keep the snow clear when we found some face shot stashes.
Eureka Grand Manan Base Camp Tent
The Grand Manan
from Eureka tents
, new for 2009, is more than just a roomy family tent. With a full fly, and almost vertical walls, this free standing tent makes a great base camp for a rock climbing trip to Joshua Tree or a surfing trip off the rainy Pacific beaches of the Northwest. Highlights of this nine by nine shelter are room for four and enough height to stand upright even for a six footer. The full fly will keep you dry in a rainstorm, but can be rolled up on a sunny day for full ventilation, and pitched to provide an awning. Roof vents and a window to check out the weather make this an inexpensive (MSRP is $289) but versatile solution when car camping.
Jetboil Helios Cooking System
Using the same flux ring technology that launched the Jetboil personal cooking system, the Jetboil Helios
is a bigger, higher capacity pot and stove combination with a unique inverted canister fuel feed for efficient cooking with faster boil times. This bigger (and slightly heavier) stove system is well suited for certain applications, such as winter camping when melting copious quantities of snow (and getting the last bit of fuel out of every canister) is critical, or when camping with a big party where the volume of boiling water matters. The system comes with 2 liter pot (bringing the stove and pot combo to 28 oz), but a 3 liter pot is also available. With a snap on windscreen and the snug fitting flux ring, this cooking system is a pleasure to use in group situation. Everything packs down into the pot for convenient carrying.
Black Diamond Alpine Bod Harness with Gear Loop
After years of using tied webbing to make a lightweight seat harness, it was supper nice to have a designed safety sling that fit comfortably all day. On the Haute Route your harness is your friend as you constantly weave around crevasses and difficult terrain. Simple and minimal the quick-release leg loop buckles made for easy on or off without removing my crampons. Widely adjustable, the Alpine Bod Harness
was a snap to accommodate changes in clothes and packed tightly away when traveling.
Outdoor Research Flex-Tex Low Gaiter
I carried these softshell gaiters all the way across the Haute Route, and they are perfect to have along as backup. Compact and packable, I've come to use these lightweight snow and scree blockers mostly with trail runners and light hikers. Occasionally these OR Flex Tex Gaiters come in handy for extra snow protection in the backcountry. Convenient and tight fitting with a Velcro/snap closure, I hardly notice when they're in the pack.
Kelty Nimble Backpack
I first used this midsize pack on the Bay of Fires route in Tasmania
so decided to give it a try on the more rigorous Long Range Traverse in Newfoundland. Virtues of the Kelty Nimble
include a compact, form fitting shape, leightweight construction (right down to the rigid aluminum stays) and simplicity: there are not a lot of gew-gaws on this basic top load backpack, although it does have a front panel access if you need something halfway down. It stood up well to the challenge of Newfoundland cross country travel, where it's relatively small size (3500 cubic inch) was great when bushwhacking through the nasty alpine vegetation called 'tuckamore'.
High Sierra Col 35
This 2,200cubic inch summit pack is a new entry from High Sierra, better known for it's extensive line of luggage and day packs
. The Col is a surprising high performer despite a bargain basement price. Simplicity itself, the top loading alpine pack comes with a single aluminum frame bar to hold its shape with reduced weight, and a molded foam back panel and adjustable waist belt with ventilation panels to keep you comfortable even when grinding uphill on a hot day. Features like the tuck away rain cover, daisy chain for fixing gear, ice ax loops, hydration bladder sleeve and removable strap pocket (for cell phones or GPS receiver) makes the Col 35
both a bargain and a solid, comfortable alpine pack.
M Rock Yellowstone Camera Bag
When researching a hike for a new story, I need to be able to shoot on the run, and that means having my camera where I can get to it all day long. This year I used the M-Rock Yellowstone
top load holster, married to the M-Rock accessory belt, to keep my Nikon SLR within easy reach. By putting the buckle behind me, the Yellowstone rides securely in front, just above my pack buckle. This minimalist rig—there’s only one zippered exterior pocket for filters and extra memory cards—works great as I carry only one 24-120 mm zoom lens on long hikes when my priority is keeping the weight down. The Yellowstone comes with a waterproof cover to keep my equipment dry in the rain, and the bag is versatile enough that it can be combined with other accessories to meet the needs of almost any situation.