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  1. We thought we had seen every possible way to package down. This coat proved us wrong. The Marmot West Rib ParkaThick baffles, thin baffles, welded, woven, sewn through: We’ve seen apparel makers use all sorts of tricks to stuff their down coats. But at Outdoor Retailer, Marmot showed us a new one with their new WarmCube technology. Rather than compartmentalizing the down into long, parallel baffles, the utilizes cube-shaped compartments that Marmot says will keep the fill in place better than ever. The idea is to minimize the shifting of fill and trap heat within the grid-like channels between cubes. After trying on the West Rib Parka, the first model to use the tech, we can confirm that the cubes huggged our bodies better than most down jackets we’ve used, trapping warm air close to us even as we moved. To ward off wet weather, an additional synthetic insulating and water resistant layer on the outside. The West Rib will be available this August. View the full article
  2. We put eight pint-size snowshoes on our testers. Here's how they measured up. Snowshoeing makes winter fun for kids and parents alike.Snowshoes open up a winter wonderland. Thanks to the flotation and traction they provide, you can walk on anything from packed tracks, to dedicated snowshoe trails at ski resorts, to untracked powder. Generally speaking, snowshoes are easy to put on and use. The longer and larger the snowshoe, the more flotation they provide. But, that’s not to say that a five-year-old should be put in a standard 8-inch wide by 19-inch-long snowshoe; they’d be too cumbersome for a five-year-old to walk comfortably. Finding the length that’s appropriate for the size of your child, plus the best binding, traction, and intended usage for your needs is the key to happy snowshoeing. I had eight kids, ages 7 to 10, test different snowshoes on a winter hut trip and various other outings to see just how easy each pair was to put on, keep on, and enable fun. (While snowshoes for toddlers and smaller kids do exist, we limited this test to snowshoes for elementary school-aged children.) One caveat: A couple of the kid testers wore snowboarding boots in the snowshoes, while others wore winter boots or weather-treated hiking shoes of some sort. We recommend high-top boots and thick, wool socks to keep feet warm, and waterproof pants, like ski pants, to help keep kids dry as their 'shoes will flick up snow agains their behinds. Get more tips, trips, and stories about family outdoor adventures on BACKPACKER’s Families Gone Wild. View the full article
  3. An ultra-low price for an ultralight tent. At just over 1.5 pounds, this shelter is light enough to use as a solo-hiking palace but roomy enough to fit two sleepers comfortably. The trekking-pole pitch is simple, and we like that it provides an awning for gear storage, too. Bonus: The Flylite's generous door increases the potential for a spectacular view in the morning. Get this tent for $104.73 (70 percent off) at REI. View the full article
  4. Keep warm and dry in harsh winter conditions with this stretchy windbreaker. Dynafit ChugachIcy daggers of wind won’t penetrate the Dynafit Chugach Windstopper Jacket, nor will snow seep through this comfy, stretchy garment. Stretch-woven nylon softshell fabric in the midsection and water-resistant Gore Windstopper fabric covering the chest and above helps the jacket breathe well and keeps sweat from building up, while protecting wearers from the elements and providing excellent freedom of movement on epic winter backcountry adventures. Once the weather has subsided, the Chugach packs up small for easy transport. Get it now at Moosejaw for $166, or 58% off its $400 list price. View the full article
  5. Get maximum value for minimum cash with these 13 standout products. Let's face it: Backpacking gear can be expensive. Just ask reader Keith Hepworth, who wrote in to tell us that the prices in our Fall Gear Guide left him feeling cold. "Based on your reviews, one could be led to think backpacking is only for the wealthy," he said. "The $101 average price for the gloves in your review is out of reach for the vast majority [of people]." We feel your pain, Keith, Most of our coverage focuses on new gear, and the latest and greatest isn't always cheap. But that doesn't mean you need a trust fund to upgrade your kit. Read on for 13 of our favorite bargain tents, packs, sleeping bags, and more, all for $160 or less. Want to save even more? Learn to keep your equipment in top condition with AIM Adventure U's Outdoor Gear Maintenance and Repair course. View the full article
  6. Get boots, jackets, and more on the cheap—but hurry. Maybe you Marie Kondo'ed a bunch of room into your gear closet. Maybe you're already thinking about gearing up for the spring hiking season. Whatever your reason, a good deal is hard to pass up—and REI's January Clearance Sale, which goes through tomorrow, has more than a few. We picked out eight of our favorite gear deals to make your search easier. Grab them while you still can. View the full article
  7. Glide through the backcountry with these time-tested picks for cross-country skiing. Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National ParkIf cross-country skiing makes you think of kicking lazy laps across your local golf course, it's time to change your image of the sport. With thicker skis and beefier bindings, today's backcountry nordic gear is capable of handling steeper trails and rougher snow than its inbounds counterparts. Start with this tester-approved kit. View the full article
  8. Save big and drink safely in the backcountry with this filter. Filtering water for a group can be more taxing than the hike itself, but not if you have a gravity filter. We like this system from Sawyer thanks to its light weight (the whole thing is only 8.3 ounces) and versatility: You can ditch the bag and hose and use the hollow-fiber MINI filter with a plastic water bottle or inline with a reservoir hose. Grab the 1 Gallon Gravity Water Filter System at REI for $19.93—50 percent off—and remember to stay hydrated on the trail. View the full article
  9. Gear up for the United States' toughest long path with these expert picks. On a path as long, high, and remote as the Continental Divide Trail, there is little room for gear errors. For four to six months of walking, CDT thru-hikers have a laundry list of concerns that outpace those of many other long trails: grizzly bears, lightning storms, avalanche danger, unmarked or non-existent trails, long food and water carries, weeks at altitude, and raging snowmelt-filled river fords. That is one reason that while first-time thru-hikers occasionally make it, most wait to tackle the CDT until they have more experience. Most hikers find the CDT exhausting on a day-to-day basis. When tired, hungry, and at altitude, hikers often don’t have the patience to put up with gear that may be rubbing oddly or isn’t functioning properly. The solution: get it right the first time. Compared to the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trails, many CDT hikers choose slightly heavier-duty gear: their picks have to be strong enough to handle the New Mexico desert and trudge through snow at 14,000 feet in Colorado. Still, hikers try to choose lighter packs to minimize the impact of all that vertical on their back, knees, and joints. Food and water carries on the CDT can be heavy, too, so light gear choices help reduce overall pack weight Should you need to replace gear, know that brick-and-mortar gear stores are few and far between on the CDT, especially in the crucial first and last 500 miles. Before setting out, CDT hikers should develop a plan to replace gear like shoes along the way, preferably with the help of an at-home support person who can coordinate shipments. Your gear choices may change depending on whether you attempt to hike the whole CDT in one push, flip flop, or break it up in sections over multiple years. Why? Much of the trail is at 12,000 feet and depending on which week of the summer you travel through that area, you may hit deep snow, rain, bugs, warm temps, or lightning storms. More than on any other long trail, it’s imperative that you know how to use your gear before you set out. Your best bet is to test it out on a different, easier thru-hike; learn to set up your tent or work your stove without much brain power, and you’ll have a much easier time. There’s no one best CDT gear system, but these lightweight, simple picks are a good place to start. Big Three Backpack This is the piece of equipment that you’ll be using the most, so spend time picking the right one. A good pack should fit your body, ride well when it’s loaded, and rub or chafe while you walk. On the CDT, I like the Gossamer Gear Gorilla and its bigger cousin, the Mariposa. Weighing in at just two pounds, the Gorilla is made of made of abrasion-resistant 70-denier Robic nylon reinforced with 100-denier fabric (100- and 200-denier respectively for the Mariposa), and can handle a load. (You’ll need that ability, too, as you’ll be toting food across the Wind River Range in Wyoming and snowshoes through Colorado’s San Juans.) Tip: Use a pack liner like a trash compactor bag to waterproof your gear. Shelter Tarptent Double Rainbow (Seth Hughes).The CDT doesn’t always have tree cover, so your shelter should be strong enough to stay up during a windy, exposed night on a high ridge. For southbound hikers, mosquitoes swarm in the Anaconda Pintler range of Montana; northbounders will encounter them in the Wind River range. And no matter which way you choose to tackle the CDT, you’ll probably spend a night or more in the snow. The two-person Tarp Tent Double Rainbow is a time-tested shelter that provides the coverage and bug protection of a tent, but the low weight of a tarp. It uses trekking poles for a free-standing pitch and is a good balance of weight, price, and durability. (While there's a single-person version, most hikers appreciate having the extra space for their gear.) Sleeping Bag or Quilt Temperatures on the CDT can vary wildly as hikers move their way through seasons and ecosystems. Still, most thru-hikers tell me the same thing: the trail was colder than they expected. The CDT spends hundreds of miles above 10,000 feet, and even New Mexico, often thought of as the trail’s warmest section, can experience below-freezing temperatures in the spring and fall. Many CDT hikers find a 20-degree sleeping bag or quilt to meet their needs, but you’ll likely want to sub it out for something warmer or bring a liner for the colder stretches. I like the Katabatic Palisade, which is warm, compact, and lightweight, and worked even in early June in the snowy San Juans. For those looking for a traditional mummy style bag, I thru-hiked the CDT with the Western Mountaineering Ultralite, which has full coverage and a hood but weighs less than 2 pounds. Good sleeping bags can be expensive, but with care, they can last 10 years or more. Sleeping Pad A good sleeping pad isn’t just a comfy bed. It will keep you warm by insulating you from the ground, too. To save weight, I like to use a ¾ or kids’ length pad. At 10 oz and only $35, the short version of the Thermarest Z-lite Sol is an affordable foam pad that is a favorite of many thru-hikers, especially for traveling through cactus country in New Mexico. By the time CDT hikers reach chilly Colorado, some hikers switch out to the super-insulated NeoAir Xtherm. Clothing Light Puffy Jacket, Vest, or Fleece A puffy jacket is an essential piece of clothing for every CDT hiker: While the trail is exposed to the sun during the day, nights can be cold. I like the Montbell Superior Down Parka, which offers a good balance of warmth to weight in an 8.7-ounce package. Many hikers also pick up the fleece Melanzana Microgrid Hoodie in Colorado. This warm-when-wet, wind-resistant layer is well-suited to the almost daily afternoon thunderstorms that often hit the trail in the state. Raingear Afternoon thunderstorms can happen daily on the Continental Divide, at least during certain months and some states. Hikers often like to double up by bringing both a rain jacket and an umbrella. I like the Continental Divide Trail Coalition logoed umbrella; its mylar construction keeps out the sun in New Mexico and the rain in Colorado, and the proceeds go back to support the trail. At 6.3 oz, it’s a lightweight compact option that folds nicely into the side pockets of a backpack. For hikers on a budget, it is hard to beat the lightweight Frogg Toggs Dri Ducks Ultralite Rain Gear. A hooded rain jacket and pants cost only $25 and are surprisingly breathable and lightweight. Just be prepared to replace them when the trip is done, if not earlier. Undergarments Carry an extra pair, either wool or quick-drying fabric.. Most hikers enjoy having full-length long sleeve baselayers in colder conditions. Consider bringing an extra pair for sleeping. Shoes On a 2000-plus-mile hike, you’re sure to get a few blisters no matter how good your shoes are. Almost all CDT hikers out for the long haul choose mesh, low-top trail runners. Even in the desert, toes moist from foot sweat can lead to the kind of blisters or chafing that take people off trail for good. After fording raging creeks, mesh trail runners hold water less readily than boots. Each pound on the foot is equal to at least five on the back, so a lightweight shoe can lead to less pounding. Still, choose shoes with enough support and cushion to deal with the weight of your pack—especially for the longer food and water carries. Although the CDT is a lot to ask of a shoe, for sections with longer stretches of dirt or pavement road walking, I like the cushiony Altra Olympus 3. For softer-terrained parts of the trail, Altra Lone Peaks are a CDT hiker staple. If you expect to be wearing snowshoes or traveling for more than a hundred miles on snow, you may be happier switching to a midcut waterproof trail runner or boot. Expect to replace your thru-hiking shoes every 400 miles, especially since many hikers find their feet “grow” up to two-sizes over 2,000 miles. Socks Since gear stores can be few and far between on the CDT, it’s important to have socks that will last. Quality hiking socks will hold up for hundreds of miles, even when wet or encrusted in sand. I find the Darn Tough light hikers to fit so well I can barely feel them, which cuts down on the kind of rubbing that can lead to hot spots or chafing from moist footwear. Merino wool reduces stink, too. Carry enough so that you won’t have to wear yesterday’s wet socks. First Aid and Emergency Bag Because the CDT can be so remote, hikers and their loved ones may want to consider investing in a Garmin Inreach Mini, a two-way personal locator beacon. Should snow, fords, or injury leave you stranded, the Garmin can be used to trigger a distress signal and get emergency help. Some subscription plans allow hikers to essentially “text” their loved ones through the Garmin as well, a convenient way to stay in touch on remote sections of the CDT. Downside: the inReach can be expensive, at $450 plus a monthly subscription fee. Navigation App, Databook, Town Guide, Compass, Watch, Maps Unlike other trails, the CDT is not always marked, even at intersections. There are still some CDT stretches that have no trail at all and require cross-country navigation skills, and wildfires often push hikers off-course. Hikers should carry paper maps and a compass and come equipped with the knowledge to use them. Most CDT hikers also carry an electronic or app version of trail maps on their phone or GPS device. But don’t count on electronics as your primary form of navigation and consider carrying a back-up battery: rain, snow, and the vagaries of random chance can take electronics out of commission at the worst times. Light If you’ll be doing serious night hiking, carry a waterproof headlamp like the Black Diamond Ion. Otherwise, I recommend the 0.25 ounce Photon Freedom Micro LED keychain, which is bright enough for nighttime bathroom breaks. It comes with attachments to use as a hat clip and necklace, too. Potty Kit Thru-hiking potty trowels like the Deuce of Spaces weigh 0.5 oz and make digging a cathole the easiest part of the day. Be sure to pack out used toilet paper: The CDT is a newly popular trail. Don’t let your poop be the one that ruins it for future hikers. Water Filter If you have visions of untouched mountain streams dancing in your head, we have a rude awakening for you: Continental Divide Trail hikers often end up drinking out of cow troughs. Sometimes, there are cows in the trough. Sometimes, those cows have done the unthinkable in the trough. And sometimes, that’s the only water for miles in any direction. With that in mind, a good water filter is a must. I like the Sawyer Squeeze, which easily screws onto a Smartwater bottle or can be used as an inline filter with a hose and bladder hydration system. Its light weight and long life (a million gallons!) make it a near-ubiquitous choice among thru-hikers. It comes with a syringe to help clean out gunk from inside the filter. Most hikers run the worst water through a bandanna first before treating, while other hikers carry chemical treatment to use as a backup. Stove and Cook Kit Fire danger is high in the west during summer months, and some hikers choose to go stoveless. If you like a hot meal or warm coffee in the morning, go with a lightweight canister stove. Bear Protection The CDT travels through grizzly bear country for 1,000 miles. Some National Parks will explicitly require you to stay in established campgrounds with bear poles, while others may require you to use a canister. When neither is required, I like the Ursack Major XL bear bag, which holds 15 liters of food and weighs 8.7 oz. Paired with an OPSak odorproof food bag, it is lighter and less bulky than a bear can and saves CDT hikers the pain of having to hang food through grizzly country. Replacing Shoes Most hikers will need to replace trail running shoes every 400 miles. For first-time thru-hikers, I advise starting the CDT with a pair of shoes that you’ve worn in and trust, but haven’t used too much. If that pair worked out, when you’re 300 miles into your trip, use the internet to order yourself a new pair and have it mailed to a post office near the 400-mile mark of your trek. (Note that post offices can’t accept packages from UPS or other delivery services.) If your first pair didn’t work out, find a gear store near the trail and try on other pairs, or size up. Be prepared to have to switch shoes out frequently until you find your dream shoe. View the full article
  10. Headed out on the Pacific Crest Trail? Expert thru-hiker Liz “Snorkel” Thomas breaks down the gear you’ll need. A light shelter will go a long way on the PCT.Stop just dreaming about a thru-hike; make it real! Our online Thru-Hiking 101 class covers everything you need to plan and finish the long-distance hike of your dreams. Start it instantly, complete it at your own pace, access it forever. Sign up now! On a PCT thru-hike, you’ll be spending months with your gear. Pick it wisely, and you’ll have a friend who never lets you down. On the other hand, gear that is just “good enough” for a short hike could rub you the wrong way when carried day-after-day and may even lead to injury. Some thru-hiking gear is the same stuff you would use backpacking, but some is a little different. Since you’re carrying the gear for much longer with a goal of hiking most of the day with less time in camp, thru-hiking gear tends to be smaller and lighter than most traditional backpacking gear. There’s no such thing as the “perfect gear for the PCT”—only the perfect gear for you. What gear you use depends on your skills and experience. But your choices also depend on your age, fitness level, and any health issues you may have. While many PCT hikers who set out on a thru-hike have a similar dream and goal in mind, everyone has a different way of getting there. Your gear choices will change depending on whether your goal is to hike fast, stay comfortable, take great photography, or see the trail in as many seasons as you can stand it out there. I prefer lightweight and even ultralight gear when thru-hiking. Walking day-after-day, month-after-month takes a toll on the body, and I find that carrying lightweight gear can help reduce the aches and pains associated with backpacking. But lightweight gear (heck, any gear) is only useful so long as a thru-hiker knows how to use it in different conditions. Test your gear out on backpacking trips before starting a thru-hike. Here’s a solid list of easy-to-learn, thru-hiker-approved gear for your journey. Big Four Try to keep these major items below 2 pounds each. Backpack Buy this last: Once you know the volume and weight of your other gear, it’ll make your choices easier. A good pack should fit your body, ride well when loaded, and not rub or chafe when you’re on the move. I like the Gossamer Gear Gorilla or its bigger cousin, the Mariposa. They only weigh two pounds but are made of abrasion-resistant fabric—70-denier Robic ripstop nylon reinforced with 100-denier for the Gorilla, 100-denier Robic with 200-denier reinforcement for the Mariposa—that can handle a load, even a bear can and heavy food carries. Most packs of this weight aren’t waterproof, so I always use a pack liner (a trash compactor bag works well). Shelter A good PCT shelter is lightweight, durable, easy to set up, keeps out bugs, and holds up to storms. The sewn-in-Seattle Tarptent Rainbow or its larger two-person version, the Double Rainbow, are a good balance of weight, price, and durability, mixing the light weight of a tarp with the coverage of a tent. They’re 2 pounds or less per person including stakes, guylines, and stuff sacks, and you can use your trekking poles to set them up in freestanding mode (though they're not required). Sleeping Bag or Quilt Temperatures on the PCT can be anywhere between the teens to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so no one sleeping bag is going to be perfect for every night. Most hikers find a quality 20-30 degree down sleeping bag or quilt to meet their needs for almost every night of the trip. PCT hikers are also increasingly choosing sleeping quilts to get the warmth of a bag at 2/3 the weight and volume. I like the Katabatic Palisade, which uses 900 fill power down. For those looking for a traditional mummy, my go-to bag on the PCT, the Western Mountaineering Ultralite, has full coverage and a hood but weighs less than 2 pounds. Sleeping Pad A sleeping pad is not just a mattress to stay comfy: it keeps you warm by insulating you from the ground. That may mean the difference between no shut-eye and a good night’s rest in the Sierra or Washington. A lot of thru-hikers opt for a ¾ or kid-length pad to cut down on pack weight. At 12 oz for a six-footer, the Thermarest Neoair XLite is one of the lightest pads out there and is a common sight on the trail. If your priorities are price and durability, a foam pad like the Thermarest Z-lite Sol is more likely to survive the desert and its cacti than anything inflatable. Pacific Crest Trail Apparel and Accessories The easiest way to cut your clothing’s weight: bring less of it. You’ll be stinky, but by carrying only what is on this list, you’ll have all you need to survive most PCT conditions. Use laundromats often. Puffy Jacket No matter your hiking style or goals, you’ll want a lightweight puffy to help manage the extreme temperature swings on trail. I find the Montbell Superior Down Parka to be a good balance of warmth to its light 8.7-ounce weight. If you’re concerned about rain in the Pacific Northwest, its synthetic analogue, the Montbell U.L Thermawrap weighs only 2 ounces more and stays warm when wet. Raingear It may never rain in California, but PCT hikers can tell you when it does rain, it pours, hails, and snows. Oregon and Washington can get precip for days. The Montbell Versalite, which weighs only 6.4 ounces, adds enough warmth (but not too much) and vents better than most. That means you won’t constantly be taking off your pack to switch layers. A lightweight rain jacket that functions in this way should be enough to see most thru-hikers from Mexico to Canada. Many thru-hikers pack a lightweight umbrella, which can double as a parasol in the desert sun. Lightweight Gaiters The PCT can be a sandy and gritty trail. I started without gaiters, but after one too many rocks and pine needles in my trail runners, I picked some up along the way. I like Dirty Girl Gaiters, which weigh little more than an ounce, and are made of a breathable four-way stretch fabric that doesn’t cause feet to overheat. Best yet, they come in lots of designs to show your personality, which is important given that you’ll be wearing the same thing every day. Hats The desert is a sunny place. Bring a hat with good coverage to protect your face. I like the Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat, because it has a wide brim and neck coverage and weighs only 2.6 oz. Many hikers opt for a baseball or trucker hat and use a bandanna draped around the neck to get the same benefit. Don’t forget a beanie (any will work) to keep your head warm when the weather changes. Undergarments Carry an extra pair (no cotton). Consider using long underwear as sleep clothes and in colder conditions. Shoes On a 2,000-plus mile hike, you’re sure to get a few blisters no matter how good your shoes are. Almost all hikers choose mesh trail runners to prevent against excessive foot sweating (which can cause blisters) and cut down on weight. To prevent against slipping, PCT hikers ford rivers with their shoes on, so you’ll need a shoe with mesh that will dry fast. Still, hikers want enough support and cushion to carry them all day with a sole that will stick to granite. More and more thru-hikers are finding that Altra Lone Peak 4 rise to that challenge. Expect to replace your thru-hiking shoes every 400 miles, especially since many hikers find their feet “grow” up to two-sizes over 2,000 miles. Socks Good PCT socks can prevent blisters, won’t smell, and need to hold up for hundreds of miles. I find the Darn Tough light hikers to fit so well I can barely feel them, which cuts down on the kind of rubbing that can lead to hot spots. Merino wool reduces stink, too. First Aid and Emergency Bag I include a blade, dental care supplies, blister prevention and care, Krazy Glue, and over-the-counter meds for stomach issues, allergies, fever, and pain. Sunscreen and sunscreen are both musts in the desert's harsh sun. Bug spray or lotion is useful for many sections of the trail. A whistle and mirror can make it easier to be found if you get lost. A needle, thread, and duct tape will cover most gear repair. Compass, Watch, Maps, Permit Just like on any trail, you’ll need your navigation gear. Wildfires happen every year on the PCT, often closing down the official trail and forcing hikers to navigate through unsigned stretches. Light Many hikers find the 0.25 ounce Photon Freedom Micro LED keychain to be all they need to zip up their tent in the dark or get up and pee at night. It comes with attachments so you can wear it as a necklace or clip it onto a hat brim. If you prefer a real headlamp, the Black Diamond Ion has an impressive battery life and weighs less than 2 ounces. Potty Kit There’s lots of PCT hikers, and desert soil doesn’t decompose poop so fast. This makes it all that much more important that everyone practices Leave No Trace. Thru-hiking potty trowels like the Deuce of Spaces weigh 0.5 oz and make digging a cathole the easiest part of the day. Be sure to pack out used toilet paper. Water Filter With so many people using the PCT these days, a good water filter is essential to prevent against illness. I like the Sawyer Squeeze filter, which easily screws onto a Smartwater bottle (the PCT hikers’ bottle of choice) or can be used as an inline filter with a hose and bladder hydration system. Its light weight and long life (a million gallons!) make it a near ubiquitous choice among thru-hikers. Stove (or not) The PCT has seen huge wildfires in the past few years. In drought years, the Forest Service bans alcohol stoves, including my favorite super-efficient lightweight stove from Trail Designs. Instead of packing canisters or a fuel bottle, consider going stoveless. Instead, you can cold-soak many dehydrated meals or foods in a leakproof plastic container with a screw on lid. Bear Can Many of the eight National Parks that thru-hikers visit require backpackers to use a bear can. Hikers can mail themselves a bear can before entering the Sierra and can mail their bear can ahead for other sections where bear cans may be required. At 36 ounces, the Wild Ideas Bearikade Blazer is the lightest bear can that can fit nine days of food, so it will be enough to carry most PCT hikers across the Sierra. Another option is the newly-approved Lighter1, which weighs in at 43 ounces, but has a metal lid that doubles as a cookpot. How to buy shoes: Pacific Crest Trail hikers go through a lot of shoes—expect to wear about seven different pairs on your trip from Mexico to Canada. For first-time thru-hikers, I advise starting the PCT with a pair of shoes that you’ve worn in and trust, but haven’t used too much. If that pair worked out, when you’re 300 miles into your trip, use the internet to order yourself a new pair of shoes. Have it mailed to a hostel or Post Office near the 400 mile mark of your trip (note: Post Offices cannot accept mail from non-USPS delivery services). If your first pair didn’t work out, find a gear store near the trail and try on some shoes to find something that feels better. Otherwise, you can use the internet to size up or choose a different brand of shoes and have that pair mailed to yourself. What to ship: The best thing about thru-hiking is you won’t need to start the trail 2,000 miles’ worth of food and gear. Use your guidebooks and maps to find the best address to send yourself gear before you go into new ecosystems. For example, before entering the Sierra mountain range, hikers send themselves a bear can and cold weather gear. When you’re done with cold weather gear, you can ship it home or ahead to the next big mountain range. View the full article
  11. This weight-saving shell will keep you dry in any weather. Our take For thru-hikers who want more than just a packable poncho, this shell offers great weather protection at a light weight. The Jetstream breaks the 10 ounce barrier and packs down to the size of a guidebook, but has competently shepherded one tester through nasty weather for years. "In the forests around Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, it kept me dry during hours of unending rain," he says. "Plus, it's breathable enough that I never felt like I was wearing a plastic bag while pushing uphill." The details While the Jetstream is light, it's full-featured too. Two chest pockets can each hold snacks, a headlamp, or a smartphone, and hand pockets fit a hat or gloves. (Ding: They sit below a hipbelt.) The hood has three-way adjustability, and a drawcord on the bottom hem keeps fit dialed. Durability is high, too: After more than two years of hard use, our tester's jacket hasn't suffered any rips or delamination. Trail cred "The nylon face material's stretch is good, and I had no problem reaching for handholds during a climb of 14,294-foot Crestone Peak in Colorado's Sangre de Cristo Range," our tester reports. $189; 9.6 oz. (m's L); m's S-XXL, w's XS-XL Buy KÜHL Jetstream Now View the full article
  12. Get this ultralight accessory for free while you still can. Here's a steal: This pillow currently costs even less than it weighs, which is saying a lot. Klymit is offering the X Pillow for free (you still have to pay shipping, but that's far less than the $25 sticker price), a great deal for our favorite backpacking pillow. It's much more comfortable than sleeping on a pile of clothes after a long day’s trek, and packs down to smaller than an avocado. View the full article
  13. Stay dry inside and out with these shell bottoms. Our take In nasty alpine weather, the last thing you want to worry about is what’s happening under your layers. That’s why our testers appreciated the Nuker’s Polartec NeoShell material, an air-permeable fabric that seals out precip while still maintaining a high degree of breathability. “It kept me dry inside and out on 10,497-foot Mt. Jefferson in Oregon while I was fighting hail and rain in 40°F weather,” one tester says. The details Despite the Nuker’s slim alpine fit, zippers that run from the cuff to the hip allow for easy on and off, even over bulky boots. A low-profile, built-in belt is almost unnoticeable under a hipbelt or harness. Tradeoff: expensive. Trail cred “I’ve never swamped out in these pants, so I’ve even started wearing them for fair-weather hikes in milder conditions,” one tester reports. $299; 11.4 oz. (m’s L); m’s S-XL, w’s XS-L Buy Bight Gear NeoShell Nuker Pant Now View the full article
  14. Start the year off right with great savings on this two-season sleeping bag. You might be hunkered down for winter, but it’s never too early to gear up for hiking season. For warm-weather pursuits, we love the features on the two-season Sierra Designs Mobile Mummy 800. This 30°F down bag has a unique center zipper and self-sealing arm holes, allowing you to wear it around camp for chores. Get it on sale at REI for $159.73, 50 percent off its list price, and start planning your next summer of fun. View the full article
  15. Stay warm and mobile with this comfy down hoody. "Puffy" and "stretchy" used to be mutually exclusive terms. Not anymore: The StretchDown DS Hooded Jacket pairs stretch polyester with a gridded baffle pattern for unmatched freedom of movement, and its 800-fill hydrophobic down kept our testers cozy on cold nights in camp. Testers also appreciated the just-right hood size and breathability. Get the StretchDown DS on sale from Moosejaw this week (starting at $221 for the women’s version and $272 for the men’s) and take it for a spin on one of our favorite backcountry ski tours. View the full article
  16. Skip the video games and give them something they can use on the trail, or just in the park. Shopping for kids can mean exorbitant amounts of money spent on "stuff"—toys and gadgets that lose their luster after a few days, if not hours, and keep kids inside to boot. We pulled together goodies to inspire kids to get out and explore the natural world. From fishing to hiking, camping to rock climbing, look here for gifts that will keep them playing outdoors for years to come. Get more tips, trips, and stories about family outdoor adventures on BACKPACKER’s Families Gone Wild. View the full article
  17. Save big on this backcountry skiing backpack. If you’ve been dreaming of upgrading your backcountry skiing kit but don’t want to drop tons of cash, we have good news: The Mammut Spindrift 26 is on sale this week. Enormous hipbelt pockets make grabbing gear and snacks mid-tour easy, and the pack has a dedicated pocket for avy gear and straps for skis, poles, and ice tools. Snag the Spindrift 26 for $128 (25 percent off) on backcountry.com this week, and study up for your next alpine outing. View the full article
  18. Spend more time taking in the sights and less time fumbling with your phone. Before the days when every phone had GPS and map apps on them, driving to a new place took time navigating and planning. Now, we just hop in our cars and let map apps tell us where to go. Technology has made getting to our next destination easier than ever, and that doesn’t stop with front country navigation. Smartwatches like the Casio Pro Trek Smart have evolved the backcountry experience, so you can spend more time taking in nature instead of refolding maps and firing up your phone. Here are a few ways a smartwatch can make your next backcountry trip safer and more efficient: 1. A smartwatch will track all of the stats you want, and then some. Got a goal to hike or ski, say, 100,000 vertical feet in 2019? A watch will help you log that data more accurately than your cell phone alone, or even pencil and paper, can. Many smartphone apps exist to help you track steps, vertical feet, and so on, but the catch there is that you have to actually bring your phone with you, and these counters are often inaccurate when your phone is in your backpack instead of your back pocket. 2. Always know where you are, and what’s ahead. Search and rescue teams, like the one in Snowdonia, Wales, use smartwatches like the Casio Pro Trek series to have instant access to their exact GPS coordinates so they can accurately communicate their location, and the location of an injured hiker, to the rest of their team. A GPS-enabled smartwatch doesn’t need a cell signal to give you directions based on offline maps. Apps like ViewRanger* can help you get back on track if you take a wrong turn or lose your way in the dark, and they can also help you discover new trails. Also, among the many apps the Casio Pro Trek pairs with is MyRadar*, which gives you real-time weather data for your area, showing animated weather maps that will help you ensure you don’t make a wrong move at a critical moment. 3. Keep your eyes on the trail and get hands-free directions. When you use your phone for maps or directions, you’re setting yourself on a slippery path toward distraction. Not to mention, you have to put down your trekking poles, physically take it out of your pocket or backpack, and hold it in your hand. With a smartwatch, you just need to glance at your wrist, no hands required. 4. Get only the notifications you need to see. Want that summit sunrise pic your first morning at camp? Get a notification on your smartwatch an hour before the sun is set to rise in your location. Want notifications if your partner texts you, but to block everyone else? You can do that, too. With a smartwatch, you control exactly what’s sent to your wrist so you never miss something actually urgent and you also avoid embarking on an endless scroll journey that makes backcountry cell service the enemy of many a solitude seeker. 5. Protect your phone against the elements. Casio’s Pro Trek series is water resistant up to 50 meters. That means you can still get directions in a downpour without jeopardizing your phone or the paper map you forgot to laminate before heading out. With a smartwatch, you can access all of your phone’s most essential functions without actually using your phone, which means you can keep it safely tucked away in a drybag, so you never have to worry about it during a stream crossing, kayaking-packing trip, or downpour. This helps preserve your phone’s battery life, too, making sure it’ll be there for you in an emergency situation without also having to pack along a heavy brick charger. *Not available for app-pairing with iOS. View the full article
  19. Two-way radios make it easier to communicate on the trail. Use these tips to maximize your walkie talkie use. Of all the things you pack for an outdoor adventure, where does a walkie talkie fall on your list? If your answer to that question is it doesn’t, you may want to reconsider what it means to be prepared for anything that nature throws your way. In fact, unless you’re going it alone on your next trip to the great outdoors, including walkie talkies as part of your standard gear could well prove to be one of the smartest decisions you’ll make. For family outings, they can be a great source of fun. You can take a game of hide and seek to a whole new level when all participants are armed with two-way radios. Or, if you have friends who invariably hike at different speeds, walkie talkies are a great way to stay connected. And, of course, they can be of critical value in an emergency as they work whether the grid is up or down. Consumers have more options than ever before as more electronics companies, at home and abroad, are entering the walkie talkie market. That list includes Cobra, which has turned heads with its Chat Tag Rock two-way radio, one of the smallest walkie talkies on the market that features voice-prompt programming for hands-free use and a built-in micro-USB port for recharging batteries. Whichever walkie talkie you choose to use, here are some tips to find maximize its impact on your excursion: Preserve your battery life “Power is essential to getting the most out of your walkie talkies,” explains Melanie Hemsey, the Marketing Manager for Cobra. “You always want freshly charged batteries.” Walkie talkies generally use one of three battery types: nickel-cadmium, nickel metal hydrate, or lithium-polymer. Though lithium-polymer batteries are less affected, walkie talkie batteries can suffer from something called the “memory effect,” a loss of charge capacity when a battery has not been fully discharged before re-charging. You can minimize this by letting the battery fully drain before recharging, or by using a conditioning battery charger. Another way to improve your battery’s life is to be brief with your message. The less time you speak, the less time the transmission will last, and the longer your battery will. Plan what you’d like to say ahead of time and follow the ABC principles – accuracy, brevity, and clarity. Use headphones to optimize sound quality Another consideration for optimal use is sound quality. Quite simply, if you can’t hear what the person on the other end is saying, there’s no real reason to bring walkie talkies with you. According to Hemsey, ear phones provide the clearest reception possible since they block out any ambient noise that could further distort sound. Know the conditions of your outing Factors such as direct line of sight, vegetation density, and humidity levels all impact the performance of walkie talkies. Knowing the conditions before you go will allow you to bring the best two-way radio for your outing and understand how they might perform on the trail. Walkie talkies transmit in either VHF (very high frequency) or UHF (ultra high frequency). VHF has longer wavelengths, which means signals can travel further under optimal conditions (direct line of sight, sparse vegetation, and dry air). But UHF may be the better bet in the great outdoors, as its shorter wavelengths transmit more easily through rough terrain. Hemsey points out that “line of sight” affects performance as well. “The presence of large buildings or trees will reduce range,” says Hemsey. “Under exceptional conditions, such as hilltop to hilltop or over open water, communication is possible at 35 miles or more, but that is rare.” Understanding where you’ll be using your two-way radios is crucial to finding the right frequency for your excursions and knowing where communication will work best. View the full article
  20. Get this closet staple for 56% off, but hurry. A good fleece hoodie is one of the most versatile items you can keep in your closet, as suitable for layering under a shell for a ski tour as for wearing solo in brisk weather. The Lightweight Pullover Hoodie from Mountain Standard is one of our favorites on the market, and at $39 right now, or 56% off, it's a steal. This deal only goes through Tuesday night, though, so hurry up. View the full article
  21. Morning routines are sacred, and being miles from a proper kitchen shouldn’t change that. It was the sound that woke me. Not the loud, piercing chime of my work alarm back home, but the gentle whisper of an early-morning breeze as it swept through camp. The needles of the blue spruce towering above my tent rustled in the morning air, and a pair of Jays called lazily to each other from across the valley. I lay for a moment, waking up slowly, peacefully. Deep inside my down bag I was warm against the autumn chill, but the small ice crystals formed on my tent wall spoke to the climate outside. The draw of snuggling deeper and falling back asleep was strong. But as the first rays of sun kissed the top of my tent, and more birds joined the morning chorus, I smiled and began my favorite morning routine. Sleeping bag unzipped and wool cap donned, I reached around for all the essentials I had neatly stowed in my cozy-quarters the night before. Light gloves, GPS watch, fresh socks, all in their place. I’ve long enjoyed the simplicity of backpacking, being able to spend days in the wilderness with only what I can carry. Packing wisely requires consistency and routine, knowing just what I need and where it is for any situation, making each item that I trek into the wilderness indispensable. Dressed and climbing out of my tent, another noise passed through camp, this time the rumbling of my stomach. I let out a bellowing yawn to greet the morning, and took a few long strides through dew-covered grass towards my rock-floored backcountry kitchen. After multiple mornings on the trail, I had fully settled into my beloved morning rituals, and wasted no time diving back into them. With cold fingers I clicked open my bear canister and pulled my cookware and breakfast bag from its depths. I spun the fuel bottle onto my stove and depressed the starter once, twice, three times, and the small blue flame roared to life. Waiting for the water to boil, I stretched through a few yoga poses, gently flexing my tired muscle and sore shoulders, preparing them for the day ahead. Now limber, but still yawning, I reached back into my bag for another essential item, my Nanopresso. Feeling its weight in my hand, a smile broadened across my face as I anticipated the heavenly beverage only this device could produce. With the precision and fluidity of a seasoned Italian barista, I spun the canister open, packed it with dark, finely ground coffee, and poured in the now boiling water from the stove. Another smooth spin of the wrist and everything was closed and ready. Slowly and repeatedly I depressed the plunger, building pressure inside the device until finally, a rich stream of espresso poured into my cup. No grounds, no compromising, just perfectly rich, bold espresso. The intoxicating smell of the fresh pour mixed with the fresh alpine air created an aroma that candle companies can only dream of capturing. Whole-grain bagel in one hand, perfect espresso in the other, I leaned my back onto a boulder and enjoyed my morning meal slowly. Too often is my morning routine rushed, interrupted by emails, phone calls, dogs barking to be let out. But in the backcountry I cherish the morning routine, and admire everything that surrounds it. I polish off breakfast and a final sip of java and repeat my earlier routine in reverse. Everything that came out of the bear canister for breakfast is cleaned and put back. With the direction and efficiency of having done the same things for days in a row, I stuffed my sleeping, bag, neatly folded my tent, laced my boots, and pulled out my map for a gauge at the trail ahead. Steep, and long. No matter, with a full stomach and the rich smell of espresso still hanging in the air, I couldn’t be more prepared for the day ahead, nor more excited to do the same thing again tomorrow morning. View the full article
  22. Feeling stuck this season? Get inspired to give with these gear picks. Gift giving is a talent that doesn't come naturally to all of us. So, we've made it easier for you. With this array of products, you're sure to find something to fit your needs. View the full article
  23. Know someone who needs a new rainshell, down jacket, or tent? We picked out ten of our favorite pieces to add to your collection. Not sure what you want from Santa this season? Upgrade your basics. From a 3-person tent to a pair of puffies, we pick ten new backpacking essentials that anyone would be happy to find under the tree. We take our reviews seriously. Read BACKPACKER's policy on affiliate links. View the full article
  24. With a Garmin fēnix 5X Plus, you’ll feel like you can do anything. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a full-time personal assistant within arms-reach? They would pick the route of your morning workout for you, keep track of your heartrate and tell you how you’re doing, settle the bill at your favorite local restaurants, tell you which trails to turn onto, and more. From the time you wake up, to the time you head to sleep, a smartwatch like the Garmin fēnix 5X Plus makes you feel like you can conquer anything and go anywhere. Wakeup Call The alarm starts ringing and my wrist starts buzzing before dawn, and after one press of the “snooze” button (ok, maybe two), I’m up and moving. I sit down for a light breakfast and scroll through a few statistics of my night’s sleep, sent from my watch to my phone. A solid 8 hours and consistent REM cycles has set me up for a busy but well-rested day. My phone dings but I read the text on my watch: My buddy is outside and ready for our morning run. Trying Something New Standing at the end of my driveway, we decide we’re sick of our standard loop and want to run something new. I input into my watch that we’re looking for an 8-mile loop to the north of my house—if we can get up into the hills in that direction, we should catch the last bit of sunrise. My fēnix 5X Plus spits out three different route options that were compiled using other runners’ popular GPS tracks tracked with its Trendline feature. One of them goes past my favorite overlook, so we select that option. I feel confident running a new route thanks to the watch. Tone and vibration cues on my wrist outline the turns I need to make to ensure we never get off course. Unfortunately, my friend is a lot faster than I am and before long he is well ahead of me. Running solo, I decide to pull my Bluetooth headphones from my pocket and listen to a news podcast to get me ready for the day. Although I left my phone at home, I have enough audio saved right to my watch to be able to run this loop a couple (hundred) more times without ever needing to listen to the same podcast twice. The Grind Before long, I’ve finished my run (I averaged an 8-minute pace and kept my heart rate under 150!), made it home to shower, and headed to work. After having sat at my desk for 20 minutes, I glance at my watch. The rush of the morning and nearly clocking in late had my heart rate and stress level way up, but its finally settled back down. At lunchtime, I walk to my favorite deli, and get my usual roast beef and provolone sandwich, nodding to the guy behind the counter and holding my watch over the card reader. It’s no surprise that in the hectic rush out of the house this morning, I forgot my wallet on the nightstand. Garmin Pay has me covered. Not much work gets done this afternoon, as a flurry of texts go back and forth among my friends while planning our weekend backpacking trip. As the texts pop up on my fēnix, I read them there then peek around to make sure my boss isn’t watching before I grab my phone and respond. On the Trail I’m out of work an hour early and at the trailhead not long after that. Our campsite location, perched atop a peak a few thousand feet above, is programmed into my watch, as are full topographic maps. I checked the sunset time on my fēnix before leaving work, and if we make good time, we might be able to get there to watch the sky turn red. As we hike up, I can feel my breathing getting harder, so I check my blood oxygen saturation quickly using the Pulse Ox widget on my watch—I’m definitely feeling the thin air up here! Time to Recharge After watching the sunset from camp and eating some dinner, I slide into my sleeping bag. It’s been a full day but thankfully I have a full weekend of backpacking ahead of me. As much as I might need to recharge, though, my watch will keep going. It normally lasts 18 hours, if I’m continuously running the GPS. So, as long as I’m mindful of using the GPS, I shouldn’t have any problem getting through this weekend without needing to plug it in. Now, let’s see how I sleep at this altitude. View the full article
  25. These products will hold up to whatever the world has in store. You're making big plans for 2019. So big, in fact, that a single country can't fit them. We've got what you need in this collection of our favorite adventure travel gear, from a duffel bag to a stylish, do-anything coat, to a charger that will let you break up with airport outlets for good. Read BACKPACKER's policy on affiliate links. View the full article
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