2 Favorite Items From My Sponsors!


Greetings Adventurers!

It seems it is time for the hiking blogosphere to start posting their “Christmas Lists” – I have already seen three or four just in the last week.

I had an article about 95% of the way written, and decided to delete it and do something different. The idea pop’ed into my brain to write up ‘my favorite piece of gear from my sponsors‘, but the more I thought about that, the more I realized I just could not decide on a single piece of gear from a couple of my sponsors. For instance, I have over 2000 days of use with the Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants and my absolute love for the Montbell U.L. Thermawrap Jacket would make it impossible for me to pick between the two. (opps, guess I just gave away that companies two favorites, doh!). The same could be said of companies like Six Moon Designs and ZPacks. So I figured the only way I could make this happen is if I picked two pieces of gear from each company that sponsors me!

So, here we go, in alphabetical order!

Black Rock Gear:

First up would be the Synthetic Beanie! Love mine and am starting to hear from others that have bought one and folks are loving this beanie! I have owned many BRG Beanies over the years, they are the finest beanies out there. When I made the switch to synthetic insulation, my first task was to bug BRG so much to make a synthetic version, that I think they finally just got tired of my nagging, and eventually gave in. Thankfully, they made not only one for me, but enough for everybody!

Second would be the Sports Pack, which is not a hiking backpack in any way shape or form, but it has become my go-to pack for vacations, carrying stuff to do presentations, and for tossing extra hiking gear into when I am going to hiker gatherings where people want to see gear I have. All in all, it is a great utilitary style pack.

Mountain Laurel Designs:

First up would be the Core (20l) backpack. I have undeniably fallen in love with this little backpack. Check out this post to see how I customize ordered mine. While I do not have anywhere near the miles on it that I do on a zpacks zero (the most comparable pack to this) which is probably up in the ~3,000 mile range, the shoulder straps on the Core fit my neck/shoulders so well that I cannot see me switching away from the Core for when I need a pack of this volume.

Second choice is actually a difficult one for me. It comes down to either the Spirit 28 Quilt or the FKT Quilt. There are aspects to each that make me want to pick both of them. What I like about the FKT is the poncho head slot and the lack of velcro along the footbox. But as I have shared in my initial write-up of the FKT Quilt, I really would like to see a ‘reverse approach’ to the synthetic insulation, where the extra layer of insulation is along the core body and not along the lower body. But, I also own the Spirit 28 and find it to equally be something I would like to see have changes. I would love for MLD to offer the poncho head slot on the Spirit 28 (they claim the insulation is too thick, but I just always seem to scratch my head about that) and that is really the only thing I have against the Spirit 28, as you can now order it with snaps and ditch the omni-velcro which I wrote about in my initial write-up of it. So, yeah, kind of stuck on this one. I suppose if I could only choose one of these, the pick would have to go to the Spirit 28.


I guess I already gave these two picks away in my introduction, but worth repeating here.

First would be the Dynamo Wind Pants, which I now have over 2,000 days of wearing my original pair of them. Insane!

Second would be the Montbell U.L. Thermawrap Jacket which is one of the newer pieces of gear for me. I only have a couple seasons of use with this jacket. Before the thermawrap I was using the equivalent animal down version, so it was not much of a change for me, just a matter of insulation type.


Ok, I just have to say, both of these pieces of gear fall into the “beast” side of things. They are not the lightest items, nor the least expensive items, but they absolutely are the ‘best in class‘ bar-none.

First would be the MSR WindBurner Stove System. We can all agree that the WindBurner is not the lightest solo stove on the market. We can all also agree that it is not the most fuel efficient all-in-one stove on the market. But when you want an all-in-one stove that can handle just about any type of weather that you might encounter, the few extra ounces are going to not even be in the back of your mind, and fuel efficiency is actually going to win, because the WindBurner blows away every other competitor in the all-in-one market when it comes to inclement/windy weather!

Second would be the Guardian Purifier, one of the newest pieces of gear that I have, but unquestionably the one piece of gear that, when I really need it, OMG am I glad to have it! Sort of like the WindBurner, the Guardian falls into the scope of “better to have and not need than to need and not have” world of things. Thankfully most hikers do not need to have a virus level filter. Thankfully most hikers do not need to spend $350 dollars on a purifier. But when those times arrive that you are going on an adventure where water is beyond questionable and a standard water filter is just not going to cut it, well, that is where the Guardian Purifier comes to be worth it.


First would be Permethrin Insect Repellent. Every year, usually three times a year, all of my hiking garments get treated with Permethrin. Over the last eight years that I have been using it, I have had zero ticks get into my skin. It is my #1 source of combat against bugs that I do not want anywhere near my skin!

Second would be the Squeeze Water Filter. I have already written enough about it that I do not really need to say much more about it. The most beloved water filter in the long distance hiking community.

Six Moon Designs:

First up would be the Haven CF + NetTent. This is a shelter system that I just acquired earlier this year, yet it has become my go-to shelter. Sadly it seems like SMD is throwing in the towel on DCF, so I really do not know if the Haven CF is ever going to be available again, but I was able to get one before they went out of stock. When combined together, the Haven CF+NetTent, offers a hiker a double wall, two person (or massive single person), fully enclosed shelter, for only 27 ounces (1.68)!! Stop and think about that. We are talking about a double wall shelter that is under two pounds!! It is only two ounces heavier than a ZPacks Duplex and you get a double wall shelter!

Second would be the Flight 30 Vest Pack. I think the first thing that needs to be said about the Flight 30 is that it is, without thinking about it at all, the most niche product of any product within this article. The Flight 30 vest pack (and be very clear here, I did not call this a ‘backpack’) falls into the very strange, very small market, of running vests within the 18L and 38L volume running vests – we are talking a crazy small market. For the most part, the world of vest packs ends at around the 18L size, and from there folks are almost exclusively forced to make the transition to a backpack, and than fight to get it to behave like a vest, when running. What this pack offers, albeit, with a fair bit of pack weight to it, is a high volume running pack with industry leading pectoral vest shoulder straps. At 30L it is going to be a challenge for this to be viable for the long distance trail, and in many ways if the Flight 40 FKT was not so heavy (an additional 12 ounces!) it would perhaps be the ultimate long distance trail running vest pack that exists.


First up would be the Tark Titanium Trowel. This has been my trowel of choice for over three years. Not the cheapest, but unquestionably the best trowel I have used (and tried almost all of them). A few months ago Suluk46 introduced two different sizes, and now an aluminium version, at just a tiny weight increase, but a significantly lower price point.

Second up would be the Tulimak Backpack Table. This is absolutely one of those things that falls into the “fun to have, but by no means necessary to carry” scope of things. I commissioned Suluk46 to bring this little table to market and it has been really neat seeing other hikers take pictures of it being used on their trips. Really good to have in snowy conditions, or in locations where you absolutely want to get your stove up and away from the ground/leaves/twigs/needles a couple of inches, oh, and it is good for cutting food on too, of course!

Solumbra/Sun Precautions:

First up would be the Ultra Athlete Shirt & Pants. Within the world of sun protective garments for hikers and runners, you just will not find anything better! The Ultra Athlete Shirt is by far the stand-out within these two garments. While many hikers do not have a huge need to wear lower/leg level sun garments, such is not the case for top garments. The unique design of the Ultra Athlete Sun Shirt absolutely makes it the #1 choice for a top sun garment. Read my thoughts on the shirt section of this article.

Second would be the BodyShade Workout Athletic T-Shirt that I have been using for most of 2016. It especially came into work-mode in my time spent down working on the Mojave Trail earlier this year. The BodyShade takes a different approach from the above Ultra Athlete Shirt in many ways. It is a different type of fabric (four way stretch, which is really nice!) but it does not have the venting system nor the durability of the Ultra Athlete shirt. But what it does offer is an exceptional next-to-skin (L1) garment for higher activity moments, as well as just a general everyday wear shirt.


First up would be the NeoAir XLite. Ok, seriously. How can it not be. The most used used air sleeping pad in both the long distance hiking community, and the weekender community. It is the sleeping pad that every other sleeping pad on the market is compared to when people talk about sleeping pads. I have tried too many sleeping pads over the years, most to test them for publications, and no matter what, the NeoAir XLite is what I always come back to. Personally, I use the ‘large’ size as I like the extra 5″ of width it offers.

Second up is something that might surprise a lot of folks, given the broad catalog of products that Therm-a-Rest has, and I think a lot of people would think I would give my second place to the unbelievably awesome NeoAir XTherm, but I am actually giving it to the Z Seat. This is one of those products that came about as a byproduct of crazy popular Z Lite foldable sleeping pad, seen on the outside of many long distance hiker backpacks. Here is the thing, the Z Seat has turned into one of those products that is just so dang handy to have with you, that when you do not take it with you, you are mad at yourself. At two ounces, my coyote coloured Z Seat acts as a quasi stay/support inside of my backpack, it acts as a seat to, well, sit on, and at night I put it under my hips for a bit of extra padding, or sometimes to boost up my pillow. It really is one of those pieces of gear that helps play a role in just overall daily comfort in so many ways.

Vargo Outdoors:

First up is unquestionably the ‘Ti-Arc’ Backpack – one of the most unique backpacks currently on the market for those looking for a backpack that provides the utmost is load weight distribution without the sacrifice of an OMG heavy backpack. The Ti-Arc is sadly (in some ways) getting replaced with full size bag, which will be called the ‘ExoTi50’ but there are going to be some really nice things about the changes it will introduce. As I have said many times, the Ti-Arc is very likely the best backpack on the market for those hikers with bad/injured necks or backs, be it upper, mid, or lower back injuries. IF you can find a way to organize your backpack with a 3/4 length bag and an area under it to pack something else, the Ti-Arc really does present hikers with an exceptional load weight distribution backpack – thanks to that solid external titanium frame. I have used both the cuben fiber version and the non cuben fiber version, and I personally prefer the non-cuben fiber version.

Second up would be the Titanium Water Bottle. This is one of those items that rarely goes with me, but when it does, it is something I am so glad to have with me. The way that I use this product is during the winter season. Before going to sleep, I boil up some water, pour the hot water into this thing, put the lid on, shove it into a spare winter sock, and toss it into the footbox of my quilt, in order to boost the temp rating of the quilt and keep my feet warm. It also, of course, serves as a way to carry water during the day, but for the last few years, it has primarily gone with me as a quilt temp rating booster. Shawn Forrey used one of these on his Winter PCT hike with Justin Lichter.


Ok, this is not going to be easy… I have worked with Zpacks for so long, used almost every piece of gear they have brought to market (and a few they have not) that I am just going to have to pick two pieces of gear that I have used the most over the time that I have had them.

First would be the Carbon Fiber Staff. Hey, I bet that just surprised a bunch of people! I fully understand that 99% of hikers have zero respect, nor desire, to use a single staff. Especially within the long distance hiking community. I really have nothing I can say for, or against, or to them about this. It just really is what it is. The more I use a single staff, one that is significantly longer than a traditional hiking pole, the more that I never want to go back to a traditional hiking pole. Yes, it totally changes the way you move, especially for those who have really great gaits when using two hiking poles properly. But a long staff, well, it just sort of makes one feel like they are ‘venturing onward’ instead of just pounding the miles. Plus the extra perks of a staff, such as being able to cross rivers with a must more secure and steady support, or being able to reach out further and deal with all the lovely early morning trail spider webs, or having a few extra inches (and size) when dealing with stray/loose dogs, or being able to handle snakes with an extra couple of feet of length. I know the hiking community is never going to embrace hiking staffs, but when it comes down to the huge list of Zpacks products that I have used, their Staff just seems to be at the forefront of what I have enjoyed the most.

Second up would just have to be the ZPacks Multi-Pack. Bet that surprised a bunch of people again too. No, not the Front Panel Loader that I spent three years developing for Zpacks. No, not the Duplex, which I have given my 2015 Gear of the Year Award to. No, not their rain jacket (which I have written more about than anybody else). But instead, the Multi-pack. Simply put, I have used my Multi-Pack more than any other piece of gear from zpacks that I have ever owned, and possibly more than all of the other zpacks gear I have owned put together, sans a Zpacks zero backpack. The multi-pack goes with me almost every time I step outside my house, be it for a trip around town or a trip out onto the trail. It is a “it goes with me almost everywhere” piece of gear. Call it a EDC if you want too. I have a few of them too. One says in my truck filled with a full on medical kit. Another one is in my truck with the type of items that might qualify as Bail Out Bag style of gear. I have another one that hangs right next to my front door with stuff that I might need for if I have to rush out of the house. My primary one is constantly getting different stuff shoved into it on a nearly daily basis. If you wanna call it a ‘man purse’ or a fanny pack, so be it, but the sheer broadness of ‘purpose of use‘ that I have for the Multi-pack cannot be put aside in my pick of a second piece of gear from Zpacks, regardless of my accolades towards the Front Panel Loader backpack or the Duplex tent.

That concludes my list of two favorite pieces of gear from all of my sponsors!

I know this is a bit different than the usual “Christmas Gear Gift List” that most hikers write this time of year, but I also think that me doing something a bit different is just a nice change.

If you do want to know what is on my Christmas Gear Wishlist, here is my amazon.com wishlist: https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/1TFFGTUQ1DTDM/  Ya’know, because somebody out there might want to give me a Christmas Gift :-D

10 thoughts on “2 Favorite Items From My Sponsors!

  1. Great stuff John. Thanks for all your work. Haven’t tried the SMD vest, but my UD 20L Fastpack is what I grab 9 times out of 10 for the fast and light trips. My knees don’t like too much running (I do end up doing a far bit of 3rd/4th class scrambling with the pack in canyons) , I just like the load distribution and body hugging fit that I get from a vest style pack. Plus, I have become hooked on the vest pockets for easy access.

    The staff was a surprise choice. Keep growing that beard and you will have a really cool Middle Earth look going on the trail.

    1. Hey Jeremy,

      If UD was a sponsor, the BP 3.0 Vest would have been on the list, without a doubt. Awesome, awesome, awesome 16L running vest.

      Picking the zpacks staff surprised me a bit too.

      At this rate my beard is going to be all white in another few years – working on a santa beard!

  2. +1 on the zpacks multipack. Mine is loaded with my ten essentials and strapped to the top of my pack so I can grab it and go for excursions outside of camp.

    1. Hey Mike, yeah, the multipack can be a very sweet ‘day pack’ for if you are setup at a base camp somewhere and just want to carry a wind/rain jacket, some food, small stove, gloves, etc. It really is a diverse piece of gear!

  3. The Z Seat is a great piece of gear. For 2 oz. you get a great piece of gear that can do many things. I never leave home on an overnight without it.

  4. John – re Montbell Thermarest. Many, many, many moons ago Ryan Jordan at backpackinglight.com use to sell some gear. I purchased his jacket (255grams). It is similar to your Montbell one (synthetic fill). I usually take the Plasma, but Ryan’s old jacket sneaks into my pack during winter (no issues if it gets wet). Note elastic waist and sleeves. This is an incredibly warm jacket – It deserves a resurrection, but without breast pocket.I have a picture for you, but can’t post here. I will email it – Cheers Rob

  5. Hey John- I’m looking at picking up a Montbell UL thermawrap jacket and noticed the new version on the Mont bell website is now made with 40g/m2 insulation instead of 50g/m2 like last years model. Would you expect a significant difference in performance withe the new jacket? I really like the hooded version that they are offering this year with the same insulation value. Thoughts?

    1. Hey Chris,

      Yeah that was something a lot of people noticed about this newest generation of the jacket. I ended up getting a couple of the previous generation (2015/2016) and have them stored away for future use, as I loath chest pockets (added to the 2017 generation)

      In regards to the insulation g/m² differences… the following is only what I have heard others talk about on facebook and elsewhere, but folks that seem to know what they are talking about… it is not from MB people… so just have to take it all as not official by any means…

      It seems this new 40g/m² that montbell is calling “Stretch” is a different thermal rating than the non-stretch. How much better nobody seems to know. Or, maybe even worse, nobody seems to know. But a couple of people have stated it is probably a bit better thermal. As to why it is called “Stretch”, maybe indicating it is a bit ‘stretchier’ (is that a word?) is something nobody really seems to know either.

      Again, take all of that with a grain of sand, as I guess they say. None of it is MB confirmed.

      Something else I did not like about this newest generation is they reduced the fabric weight (of the body) from 15d down to 12d. While rip-stop nylon does not have a huge thermal conductivity and allow warm air out… I would just prefer the body shell to remain as high as possible in not letting precious warm air out. No idea how much those 3d are at this issue, but it seems like every little bit helps.

      As for the hooded “Parka” version… if I was in the market for a hooded synth jacket… and if I could get past those stupid chest pockets… this jacket would be in my gear setup for sure!

      1. Thanks John, that’s helpful. What’s your take on hooded jackets? There seems to be a group of thruhikers that wouldn’t have a UL jacket without a hood and those that don’t care for them.

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