I felt it was time for me to sit down and share with everybody my 10 favorite pieces of hiking gear that I have used in the 2011 hiking season. This is not going to be an easy list to put together by any means. If I were to be fair about it I think my list would have to be around 15 items. But I did narrow it down to just ten items of what I feel are truly exceptional pieces of hiking gear.
Now I want to note right off the bat that a couple of these items are not necessary defined as “hiking gear”, none the less there are certain items we come across in our search for the perfect pieces of hiking gear that sometimes nice surprises come from outside the hiking industry. Two of the items on my list are such.
I would also like to note that some of these items I have only used for a short period of time. In the constant quest to find better gear we often find ourselves replacing exceptional gear for truly exceptional gear. Likewise some of the items on the list I do not use anymore. But that does not mean that there are not exceptional pieces of hiking gear. In my case it just happens to be that my hiking style has changed beyond the needs of the item(s) and I rarely find myself using them, but they are still at the very top of what is out there, so I personally feel it is the just and right thing to keep them in my list.
The first four items on my list I can put in their exact spots without any thought or hesitation. The remaining six items I feel could be placed in a near parallel line with each other in how amazing I feel they are. None the less I will still list them out from five through ten just to keep my list of ten consistent and organized.
With all that explained, onto my list!
#1 Black Rock Gear Down Hat
Ask anybody that I hike with what my favorite piece of gear is and they will probably tell you the Black Rock Gear hat! Man do I love this thing. Actually, I have two of them. I have the Original (and warmer) and the Hadron (xul level light!) and neither one of them is any better or worse than the other – the Hadron just weighs less and is for the summer and shoulder season (the hadron) and the Original is a bit heavier and is beyond awesome for when it starts getting – and is – cold outside!
The Hadron uses SevenD Fabric and uses 900fp Grey Goose Down and is 30% lighter than the Original. For my review on the Hadron visit here.
The Original uses 20d DWR Coated Ripstop Nylon and uses the same 900fp Grey Goose Down.
My Hadron hits the scale at 18.3 grams for the larger version!
#2: Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants
It should come as no surprise to those that know me that the Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants are at the top of my list. They are a piece of gear – that for me – have gone beyond exceptional and into the truly exceptional category.
These pants are 2.8 ounces of awesomeness! I have used them for two entire hiking seasons, plus the vast majority of the non-hiking season while I have been out and about around town. I never thought I would say that about a pair of pants but there is just something amazing about these pants.
You can read what I had to say about these at backpackinglight.com by visiting here.
Early this year I finally got my BPW down to the XUL level and thus I was able to go out and by myself a ZPacks Zero Cuben Fiber X-Small (1,000 cubic inch) backpack, made with 1.26 oz/sqyd cuben fiber, and designed by the awesome folks at ZPacks.Com, which has supplied around 30% of the gear that I carry (Montbell supplies around 30% of my gear as well, and other companies put together fill in the rest.) For a couple of hiking seasons I have been using a ZPacks CF Blast backpack which hits the scales at the 6 ounce range and is what I use for the winter season and longer hikes when I cannot resupply every four of five days.
The backpack hits my scale at 72.85 grams (2.569 ounces) and that includes a sternum strap, and a Cuben Fiber Shoulder Pouch. Here recently I added a ZPacks Multi-pack in a lighter weight (1.26 oz/sqyd) cuben fiber material so it came it at just under one ounce. It adds another 215 cubic inches (3.5 liters) worth of space to my Zero and helps perform weight off-set from the back.
I was at one point able to load up around twelve pounds worth of gear and supplies into this little backpack – but it was not fun for the first two days of hiking (until my food weight went down.) The ZPacks Zero backpack (in size X-Small) really tends to excels if you can keep your total pack weight at under five pounds. I have used it for every hike I have been on since I bought it. I would not be able to use this in the upcoming winter hiking season as it just does not have enough cubic inches worth of space. I can get all of my winter gear into it but not my food. Of course this is not really designed to be used as a winter hiking pack so lets not knock it for something it is not designed to be doing!
If you are looking for a day-hike pack this is the one to get! If you are at the lower end of the SUL and into the XUL weight levels, this is absolutely the backpack you should be using!
#4 Montbell UL Super Spiral Down Hugger #3
When it comes to staying warm at night I have depended on the Montbell UL Super Spiral Down Huger #3 sleeping bag for two seasons now. It is a thirty degree bag which I have pushed down to the eighteen degree mark while wearing all of my down clothing. I have used it in the summer as a quilt and into the shoulder season as both a quilt and as a bag, and into the winter season it gets all zipped up and has done an excellent job of keeping me warm. Only once have I gotten cold and it was my feet because I did not have a third extra pair of socks with me and the temperature dropped down to around thirty – for the record I suffered frostbite on my toes so they are pretty much always cold. This was my fault not that of the sleeping bag.
I tend to be a bit larger than the vast majority of hikers at 6’1 and 200 pounds (I start myself at 210 at the start of a long hike.) While it is true that more and more guys over 6 feet tall are getting into hiking we are still yet the minority. I am also a side sleeper that tosses and turns a lot! This is the only sleeping bag I have used that provided me the stretch-factor I need as a side-sleeping-tosser. It is a hard thing to be in the hiking world because sleeping bags are just not usually designed for that. Thankfully this bag exists and it has performed its duty well.
#5 Patagonia Capilene 3 Top/Bottoms
Love these things! Patagonia Capilene 3 top/bottoms make my list because they have performed beyond expectation for me! I have had people tell me “Capilene stinks” and think I am some kind of hiker that does not know what he is doing. Fair enough. Perhaps they stunk for that person. But I know of a lot of people that wear these and feel differently – that feel the same way that I do! The Patagonia Capilene material is soft, warm, handles a tremendous amount of abuse and does not stink for me!
I have used the the Patagonia Capilene 3 tops and bottoms for over two hiking seasons (and while at home when I get cold) and they will continue to go with me for a long time I suspect. I have been tempted by other companies to switch (icebreaker approached me a couple months ago, for example) and until I actually get something in my hands that can perform better than the Patagonia Capilene I am sticking with them!
Simply the best of the best! I am not going to get into the argument of whether the Gossamer Gear LT4’s are better than Leki. I have yet to use a single pair of Leki poles that can match the Gossamer Gear LT4 hiking poles! Yes people break them. They are carbon fiber after all. If I wanted an indestructible hiking pole I would go with one that was not made of carbon fiber. Just seems like one of those “duh factors” to me. Does that mean I give my poles a bit of extra care than I would perhaps other poles, yes. But in the SUL/XUL world all of our gear is pushing the boundaries and therefore it deserves that extra bit of care and attention! You do not hike as a XUL hiker and not pay close attention to your gear. But enough of that, this is a gear article and not a philosophy of use article!
The Gossamer Gear LT4 hiking poles are considered by most to be the lightest hiking poles on the market. My regular size poles are 3.6 ounces (103 grams) per pole!
The ZPacks Hexamid Solo Tarp is a truly exceptional solo tarp for those who do not like the traditional rectangle tarp! One of the major aspects of what makes this tarp so unique is its hexamid shape. This is a tarp shape that is starting to catch on throughout the hiking industry, to some varying degrees.
I have bought and used a lot of tents and tarps over the last few years and this tarp is at the very top of my list. Here recently ZPacks released a slightly taller version which will be really nice to get and try out.
The ZPacks Hexamid Solo Tarp uses .51 oz/sqyd cuben fiber which has thus far proven to be amazing. At 4.2 ounces (with the beak) I dare this is one of the lightest and most solid tarps I have ever used.
There has been a lot said about the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo I tent all over the internet! I have been one of those people saying a lot about it. I firmly believe that the HMG Echo Tents are the most bombproof cuben fiber tents on the market! They are not the lightest, they are not the cheapest, they are not the most used. But they are the best engineered, the best for harsh environments, and my go-to tent when I know I am going to be going out in some really bad weather. But even at that, for a hiker looking to invest some serious money into one single tent that can get them through anything, be it summer or hard winters, at 23.7 ounces (1.48 pounds) I firmly believe that you will not find a better tent on the market at this weight range! More and more folks are starting to buy these and talk about them and that is a very good thing.
Without a doubt I think that my reviews on the HMG Echo tents is what really got me started in gaining some respect in the hiking industry. I was willing to be straight forward about something that was wrong with this product while at the same time giving it the highest praise that I could. That one “wrong thing” was not really “wrong” per se, rather it is just the nature of the beast when it comes to gear designed for a specific purpose not meeting the needs expectations of hikers. None the less I have been attributed to the quote “the most bomb proof cuben fiber tarp in the industry”. I have also had news publications use quotes of mine regarding this tent in write-ups that have been done to promote it. I have been honored by all of these facts because I truly do believe that if you want the finest quality cuben fiber tent that is made, the HMG Echo is the only option to consider. Since it was released it has shaken up the industry. The HMG is built not only to the same quality as everybody else, but above and beyond it. I heard one cottage industry business owner make the statement that “HMG is over engineered” – and to be honest I think it is too. But guess what, that is exactly what makes it the best out there! Sure it might weigh more than other cuben fiber tents on the market, sure it might have tie-outs that are over strengthened, yes it ships with guylines that could probably hold an oil liner to a dock, but all of those are what makes the HMG Echo Shelter Systems the finest on the market! The facts are simple folks, if you want a cuben fiber tent that you have to be very concerned about how much you treat it, the HMG is probably too much for you. If you are somebody who just wants to setup a tent and to hell with being gentle with it – yet still want the weight savings of cuben fiber – than the HMG is exactly what you want. I made famous the quote “the most bombproof cuben fiber tent in the industry” for a reason – because it is dead on accurate! From the (yes) over engineering of the design to the high bathtube floor (which is a personal favorite, and the highest bathtub of any inner tent I know of on the market) to the quality of gear used, the HMG Echo Shelter Systems are my go-to when I know I am going to be out in a really nasty storm.
The Ecowool Possum & Merino Plain Gloves Without a doubt the most unique and beloved gloves I have ever owned. I import them directly from New Zeland as they are very hard – almost impossible – to find here in the USA. They are made from a possum/merino wool mixture and are just amazing. I can stick my hand in a freezing cold river and though the gloves and my hands are soaking wet, somehow, almost as if miraculously, my hands continue to feel warm!
Now I am going to be honest and say I have no idea of the natural wonders at work with this mixture of possum fir and merino wool, but whatever it is it works! Just be careful to keep them away from flames… they sing rather easily. Trust me. lol
I cannot begin to explain how much I love the ColdAvenger Expedition Balaclava. It has saved me from suffering a number of times over the last few hiking seasons. Simply put, this balaclava has a unique ‘ventilator‘ which creates a sort of micro climate within itself, helping to insure that the air that enters your body is significantly warmer than what the actual outside air temperature is. I am not going to get into the science of it all here within this article so I would encourage you to check out their website to learn about it some more.
As a long distance hiker I have found that the balaclava itself is perfect for both hiking in and sleeping in. Where the ventilator has come into use, for me, is at night. A few times I have been out on a hike and the temperatures all of a sudden dropped much lower than I had expected them too, and having the ability to put on the ventilator to help control the cold air while I was trying to sleep greatly helped me to be able to control my core temperature. It might seem like an odd thing for a SUL/XUL hiker (ok, for any hiker) to be taking along with them, but it has proven itself to me to be both a high performance piece of hiking gear and a valuable addition to my survival gear, and for those reasons it has made it into my top-ten gear items for 2011.
Believe me when I say I would love to keep this list going. But I doubt most folks out there would not want to read a “my top 30 hiking gear items” article. I would encourage you to read through my gear lists – I have a winter setup, a shoulder season setup, and a summer setup. Just click on the tabs on the bottom of the gear list page to view each of them.
Allow me to just close with this: please, continue to support the cottage hiking companies as much as you can!!