12 Favorite Pieces of Hiking Gear for 2012

Greetings Hikers,

As the year comes to an end I felt it was time to look back and highlight my favorite pieces of hiking gear over the 2012 hiking season. Last year I did the same thing and I really enjoyed how it made me stop and really consider the truly exceptional pieces of gear that I had used over the year – and I have done a lot of refinement to my gear lists over the last few years and for the most part have them where I want them. This year I am going to list 12 items rather then ten, because this is 20″12″, and I just have more items I want to highlight.

The below items are going to be listed in no specific order, so please do not think that I feel that the first item in the list is any more or any less a favorite piece of gear.

#1 – Six Moon Designs Skyscape X – You can read my review of this shelter or head right over to their website. As is documented within my SUL/XUL Fully Enclosed Solo Shelter Comparison, the Skyscape X is “the worlds lightest Total Shelter Weight one-piece fully enclosed shelter“. I first saw this shelter when I was on a hike with the owner of Six Moon Designs and almost instantly feel in love with it. I have bought two of them in the last year or so and would buy another one without thought or hesitation if I needed another shelter. I have never found any one piece shelter at this weight (425 grams / 15 oz) that provides as much protection from the weather.

#2 – ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket – You can read my review of this jacket and my follow-up article on it or head right over to their website. There are rain jackets and then there are rain jackets. Some rain jackets are truly exceptional when it comes to breathablity. Some rain jackets are truly exceptional when it comes to weight. Other rain jackets are popular because of their price. This jacket from ZPacks is by far not the most breathable rain jacket in the world. It is nowhere near as breathable as the latest gore-tex nor the latest eVENT. This jacket is also not the most durable rain jacket in the world, and it falls in the middle of the price range for top end rain jackets. What this jacket has going for it is that it is the world lightest three layer rain jacket that is presently on the market. I have used this jacket for hundreds of miles in the rain, a couple of hours in the snow, in hail for twenty or so minutes, and on a day to day basis around town for months. I have bought two of them over the last year or so and some of the changes to the most recent versions have made this my defacto wind and rain jacket.

#3 – Icebreaker Men’s Bodyfit 260 Tech Top & Icebreaker Men’s Tech T Lite Short Sleeve Shirt – My long time readers will know I just moved into the world of Icebreakers this year. I use to be a die-hard Patagonia Capilene 3 user – and was for many years. The price-point of Icebreakers kept me away from them for many years. A sale on them early in the year was good enough that I picked up both the Tech T Lite shirt and the 260 Bodyfit. Together these two pieces of clothing have resulted in the best layer one and layer two setup I have ever used. By themselves they both have their weaknesses (and more weaknesses than positives) but when put together I have absolutely fallen in love with them.

#4 – Inov-8 Trailroc 245 – These shoes, only on the market for a short part of this year, have become an absolute mainstay in my hiking life. For a number of years I have used the Inov-8 X-Talon 212 shoes. I loved their weight, I loved their traction, I loved their support. What I did not love about them was their (for me) narrow toe-box. With the introduction of the Trailroc 2012 series Inov-8 has introduced a larger (anatomical) toe box. As I have said for years, there are times  when performance and functionality matter more then weight. In this case I have added 33 grams (1.16 ounces) of additional weight to my shoes in order to have a shoe that can handle my toes swelling as I am pounding out the long mileage days. Absolutely worth the additional weight. I went with the 245’s over the 235’s because as a long distance hiker I felt the need for a rock plate was of higher importance than ten grams. I am glad that I did. The X-Talon 212’s had two shock zones and to have gone from two to none would have just not been fun.

#5 – TrailDesigns Sidewinder & Evernew Titanium Non-Stick 900ml Pot – Just going to be honest, adding twice the amount of weight to my setup in order to have a more versatile cooking setup was both a hard one, but an amazingly rewarding one. What I have discovered, as a long distance backwoods hiker, is that I have come to value food the more that I hike. I use to be somebody who could feel I was happy with eating idaho potatoes and top romin for days on end. Both of these could be made very easily with just hot water – and honestly, most of the time I did not even heat up the water. But over the last year I have come to value and appreciate getting to camp and spending a few minutes sitting down and actually ‘making’ a real meal. Having a 900 ml pot allows me to make meals I could never make with a food in bag approach. I can sit there and chop up carrots and real potatoes and all kinds of other stuff and make a real meal, thanks to the larger pot. Yes, it means having a 5 ounce cook setup rather than a 2 ounce cook setup. The long term physiological effect of cooking a real meal more then makes up for those additional two or three ounces. The TrailDesigns Sidewinder is truly a magical cooking accessory. A pot stand and wind screen built into one. It rolls up and fits inside of my pot. Super easy. A bit expensive for what it does (my old pot stand and wind screen cost 25 bucks, versus 80 bucks for the sidewinder) but in this case, it is one of those times when the extra money is totally worth the all-in-one-ease-of-use-amazing-performance factor that the Sidewinder provides. (ps: yes, sometimes I even take the pan-lid that is part of the 900ml pot… I take with me some dehydrated o’brien potatoes and some EVOO and wow does it make an easy way to have a great breakfast.)

#6 – ACR ResQLink 406 PLB – This should be an obvious one. I have never actually had to use mine, but as a hiker that spends the vast majority of my time in the deep backwoods while building a new hiking trail, 130 grams worth of weight is something I do not even think about when it comes to overall life-safety. My PLB goes with me, without thought, without hesitation, without compromise.

#7 – Suunto MC-2G Global Compass – This has been a fairly new upgrade for me. I use to use a smaller, lighter, less feature rich compass. But as time goes on I have found the addition of the features of this compass worth the extra weight. Most hikers would question having a compass with a mirror on it for most trails in America, but it has its value in some situations. Moreover the mirror can do double-duty to help me see the bottom of my feet if I have a bad blister that needs to be taken care of (very rare), and can also be used for tending to any facial cuts that I might get from trees or such. See my article When bulk matters more than weight for more on my thoughts about this.

#8 – Sawyer PointOne Squeeze Water Filter System – Very little can be said herein that has not already been said about this product. The weight to performance of this filter makes it the unquestionable king of filters for hikers. Combined together with the Evernew Water Carry Bags and you have yourself the best 1.0 Absolute Micron filter on the planet with water bags that are durable enough to handle long term use when used properly.

#9 – Gossamer Gear Lightrek 4 Trekking Poles – You can read my full review of these poles or head right over to their official website. These poles continue to be an exceptional pair of hiking poles. Thousands and thousands of miles using them. I list them as my “favorite gossamer gear product” on my Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador page for a reason: because they are the finest three-season hiking poles on the market from a weight to performance factor.

#10 – Black Rock Gear Vest – I am new to the world of hiking with vests rather then full on jackets, and the Black Rock Gear Vest has proven to me that vests have a place in a backpackers setup. Sadly the demand for these and the fact that Black Rock Gear is a small cottage company and the fact that sourcing material is often times hard, the availability of these vests have been extremely limited. I was lucky to get one from their last batches – and very glad I was able to get one!

#11 – Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles – You can read my short-term review of these poles or head right over to their official website. In my quest to find a four-season set of hiking poles, pretty much everybody I respect that I asked said these where the best ones out there. I gave them a go and have to agree. While significantly too heavy for summer time hiking (unless you are not a sul/xul hiker) these are freaking amazing bomb-proof trekking poles.

#12 – ZPacks Arc Blast Backpack – I have to be honest here and say that I have very few miles on this backpack. However once you have hiked a lot of miles you are able to very quickly know if a backpack is going to work for you or not. This year I have purchased 11 backpacks from three different cottage companies, most of them I used for less then 20 miles and just knew they were not going to work out. The Arc Blast reminds me a lot of the days when I had a ULA Circuit. It has the support and tough feeling factors that my normal non-frame cuben fiber backpacks lack. This should make it very nice for winter hiking and for those times when I am on the trail for 8 or 10 days between trail towns (note: I have not used this backpack in such a situation yet, as I only got it about a month ago, but one just knows these things.) Loaded up with all of my winter gear, this backpack feels like my load is around 4 pounds lighter then what I know it actually is – and that is sweet. I really look forward to using this backpack in 2013 in the deep backwoods of the Redwood forest. I was amazing hesitant to buy this (and did not buy it for over six months since it was released) because I had previously used hybrid cuben fiber backpacks from HMG and found the material to be way overkill for me. In the end my decision for buying it was other hikers reporting the ability to load it up with a fair amount of weight and have it carry the load very well. So far with the limited use I have used it for, I too have been amazingly impressed. I do not understand the how or the why, and my previous ZPacks Blast with external supports did not carry the load good at all, but this backpack is a whole other story. I have had a few buddies try it with a full load and it has made them go “wow”, just like I did the first time I put it on. A ULA Circuit is still going to be more comfortable overall, but if you are willing to give up 26 ounces for just a little bit of comfort, which I am, this could be the go-to backpack for me for the foreseeable future while I am long distance hiking. Only time spent on the trail will truly show if all of this is true or not.



Have you posted a “favorite gear of 2012 article”?? If so post a comment with a link to it so I and others can check out your favorite gear!!



In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that I am a “Trail Ambassador” of Gossamer Gear. The Gossamer Gear products mentioned within the content of this review were purchased by myself and were not supplied to me free of charge, or in exchange for services, by Gossamer Gear, unless otherwise mentioned. I hereby declare that I am a “Sponsor” of Black Rock Gear. The Black Rock Gear products mentioned within the content of this review were purchased by myself and were not supplied to me free of charge, or in exchange for services, by Black Rock Gear, unless otherwise mentioned. Any other product(s) mentioned within the content of this review is free of endorsement(s) between myself and the manufacturer(s) and meets all FTC 16 CFR.255 compliance requirements. (i envy those of you who live in countries where these stupid disclaimers are not required by law to include in articles)

11 thoughts on “12 Favorite Pieces of Hiking Gear for 2012

  1. Happy Anniversary John and keep up the great work! I’m a newbie but am down to 6.5 lb base weight with comfort and safety in the high Sierra’s. Keeps my knees happy on long-mile weekend treks.

  2. Hey again John

    Firstly, glad to see that you went ahead and tried the Arc Blast. I am very happy with mine. I am soon to purchase another, simply so that my nephew and I can do some more UL/SUL hiking together. I’ll be making some minor mods on my next pack, such as having no hydration port or no bottom straps, but nothing major. As for my top picks for 2012….here they are….and spookily similar to some of your picks.

    #1 Arc Blast…for all the same reasons as you.

    #2 TrailRoc 245’s…same reasons as you, plus these puppies have an uber grippy sole, are rapid drying, and are just simply, really comfortable.

    #3 TD Sidewinder with Evernew 550ml single walled pot. Awesome ULC…strong, simply, insanely efficient and fast to boil. I used this set up last winter…we were sheltered behind a rock on a snowed-in summit. The wind was racing through, yet once I lit my Esbit, and got the sidewinder going, it still only took about 8 minutes to boil 2 Australian cups (500ml) of water for coffee….so darn reliable.

    #4 Zebralight H31. I love this little unit. With my microlight as back up (or used solely on SUL overnighters), I simply can’t go past the versatility and power of this baby. The strap is a little heavy, but I’ve replaced it with a MYOG elastic strap. I went for the 31 which utilises CR123 batteries, simply because, despite the talk and faff, I can buy 10 packs of these from eBay for equal to, or less than, the price of lithium AA sized batteries. I recently purchased a 10 pack of Duracell Ultras for $24…too easy. Anyways, a ripper of a torch.

    #5 Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater. I love this garment. It’s cheap ($99), warm, it works really well thanks to their good quality down, and does the job. I don’t like to fuss too much over down garments…if I have to be precious with my insulation layer then I’ll use one of my synthetics. So, if I damage or destroy this, it is priced well enough to replace quickly. Plus, I love the colour.

    #6 Silva Carabiner 10 series compass with thermometer. I hate hiking with a watch on, but I still like to know the temperature. This little beauty works well as my primary compass (when not doing any serious nav work), plus it has a fairly reliable thermometer). I hang it every night in my Hexamid Solo.

    #7 Ruta Locura 3 piece adjustable trekking poles. Strong, good grippers, superbly made and allows me to pack these really small for air travel. Nil vibration when in use…and light.

    #8 Steripen Adventurer. I still love this, which is why it always makes it into my top 10. I’ve never had a failure, and this vital piece of equipment tops 10/10 for functional simplicity. I use it with a cut off Nalgene Canteen….fill the canteen…press the button…then 45 seconds later the water is ready to drink or pour into my Gatorade bottles……done. I always carry Micropur as back up.

    #9 ZPacks 30 degree bag. Light, amazing loft, love the centre zip. Next time, I’ll choose no zipper…I don’t need it…you can simply slide it off or on.

    #10 My 3 year old daughter. We’ve had nothing but the best times that anyone could ask for ever since I introduced her to hiking/camping etc. 6 months ago. Ok, she doesn’t fit into the UL category (hahaha)…coming in at 14kg, but she’s worth every ounce in the world. :-)

    # Real #10. Montane Slipstream Wind shell. Superlight, highly breathable, really good fit, and blocks the wind. Plus…this baby looks ace. ;-)

    #11 Nike Drifit running shorts. I’m a convert to really short, really light running shorts. They breath as good as going nude. They have a mesh liner for comfort. I wear them as underwear, hiking shorts and don’t care if they get wet during rain as they dry so so so so fast. My go-to leg wear when not in snow/winter conditions.

    In 2013 I intend to purchase a small ZPacks Zero pack with mods, hopefully to push myself further into even lighter realms. I also intend to grab a ZPacks waterproof breathable CF jacket, along with a CloudKilt. I also intend to complete a MYOG Kavu Chillba type hat.

    Well, that’s my top 12 including my daughter! haha.

    Chat soon John, and welcome to 2013!

    1. Hey Jason, thanks for sharing!!!

      Brief response (hopefully)…

      TrailRoc 245 — I am freaking loooooving my TrailRoc’s!! Its like, every time I put them on I go “OMG, toe room!!!”. I just wish beyond all wishes that Inov-8 would put the same lugs that they x-talon 212 has onto these – that would make me the perfect shoe!! If you ever get a chance to see a pair of x-talon, check out the lugs that they got.

      Regarding a thermometer… I have been using this thing for a little over a year. Has highly impressed me so far. A bit heavy, but it records the high and low temps, so it is nice to use to know how cold it got at night. Plan to do a full review on it in another month or two.

      Ruta Locura 3 piece — I almost bought the three piece ones rather then the two piece ones I bought. In the end, I wanted the lightest of the lightest so went with the two piece ones. I am almost tempted to ask them to make me a solid shaft that is 45″ tall, so I can use them with my SMD SX without worrying about the little parts inside of the locking mechanisms.

      zpacks sleeing bag — I agree the zippers on these are not the best out there. almost ready to sell mine just because of the zipper and buy one without it.

      Montane Slipstream — I would totally buy one of these, but, I already got the zpacks wpbcf that I use, plus, I hate hate hate zippers on the front of jackets.

      daughter — the best!!!

    1. So you are saying you sent in an Exo to have it converted to an Arc??

      If so, sweet!!! I would think this process should be fairly simple.

      The Exo just had too many things going against it. It was an interesting progression in the development of an ultralight external frame backpack, but the round carbon fiber poles were just not the best solution. The use of flat flexable carbon fiber that the Arc uses is a great next step in the development of an external frame backpack in the sub one pound market.

      1. yup exactly. Z-packs are cool with it and the conversion charge was $25. To be honest I was very happy with the Exo but i’m hoping the Arc Blast will be less sweaty, can be packed less carefully and will be more curved to the back in the lumbar area. I’m probably easily pleased as here in the UK we don’t have much UL choice other than terra nova. I used the Exo with the shoulder pouch to carry my camera in the third example here http://blog.photoshelter.com/2012/12/see-how-its-done-four-examples-of-how-one-photographer-traveled-lighter/

        1. Awesome, awesome — that second photograph on that page… oh man, awesome photo!!

          (ps: i hate hiking in snow lolol — self-prescribed wussie when it comes to cold weather — but that is still an awesome photograph!)

          Would love to have you drop your thoughts my way when you get the modified backpack back from zpacks and get a chance to put some miles onto it. I try really hard to be as involved as I can in helping cottage companies make the best gear possible, so any feedback you can send my way I would love to be able to get from you, to put together with the other feedback I have on the arc blast.

          One of the interesting things I want to do in the 2013 summer season is pull the carbon fiber poles out of the Arc blast and give it a go without the frame, and see how it can handle lower loads (sub 3 pound loads). It would be total overkill from a cubic space perspective, but it could be a very good indication on whether the Arc Blast could be viable for a sul backpack for hiking long distance trails with sub 3 pound base weights, and than when you need to really load up for a long section of trail, have the carbon fiber stays ready in a box with other gear and food, and just slap it into the backpack for those really long sections.

          1. Ok will do. Interesting idea with removing the poles and glad you like the photo – and yeah it was cold! BTW i’ve found your various reviews and videos useful in selecting my gear so thanks

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