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Favorite Gear for Spring 2012

The staff previews a few pieces of favorite gear for the summer season
By Staff - April 28th, 2012

Every spring we like to share our favorite gear with our readers.  Once again, the staff and contributors to pick some of their favorite gear for the upcoming 2012 backcountry season.
A rarity for a truly heavy-duty hiking boot, these all-leather Steeps offer out of the box comfort you’d expect only from much lighter backcountry footwear. For carrying big loads across trail-less terrain, almost no other boot can rival the Steep GT for stability and cushioning while being as easy on your feet. Whether you're side-hilling, wearing crampons, on the trail, or kicking through wet mud, these boots will keep you comfortable. The polyurethane midsole provides surprising comfort while the toe and heel counters keep your feet in position. On the trail or off, the Gore-Tex liner keeps your feet dry while an aggressively lugged Vibram sole provides reliable traction. These Italian made Zamberlan Steeps come in two colors, but we like the flashy red of the "amaranto" option, it suits the go-for-it personality of  these top of the line boots. -Peter Potterfield, staff
Probably the highest performance lightweight shell Columbia has ever made, this one is worthy of the hefty price tag. The Peak 2 Peak's three-ply air permeable membrane Columbia dubs Omni-Dry actually out performs some Gore Tex shells. The Peak 2 Peak remained highly breathable even when moving uphill with a pack, and we liked the details: adjustable wrist cuffs, wire brim on the adjustable hood, a sleeve pocket and fully sealed seams. All that comes in at about 15 ounces, making this a good choice for long backpacks when you may only need it once or twice. Backcountry travelers who prize keeping their base layers dry will find  this technical garment from Columbia worth the cost. -PP
At nearly a pound, you won't be backpacking with the LumaPivot, but this innovative device really shines a light on family camping--or unexpected situations such as power outages at home. The two rotating panels of LED lights offer an exceptional 110 lumens that can be directed in a multitude of ways. The weather resistant materials, from anodized aluminum to durable plastics, mean you can use it in the rain. Six AA batteries give you six hours of light at  the high setting, or twice that at low. You'll find surprising uses, like as a reading light, or my favorite, to grill by in the dark of a spring evening. -PP
Here's a bargain in the ultralight sleeping bag category that rivals much more expensive bags. The Sierra Designs Nitro, loaded with 800-fill down, did the trick for me on a recent week long trek of the Rae Lakes Loop in the Sierra, at under 3 pounds. All ultralight bags are cut closer and smaller to save weight, and the Nitro incorporates a "jacket style" hood as well in an effort to keep ounces to a minimum. But we slept comfortably all night long, and were toasty even when the pack zipper thermometer dropped into single digits. The bag is light enough that when you are right on the cusp of going with a 15-degree bag or a zero degree bag on a backcountry adventure, you can opt for more comfort (even safety) without a big weight penalty. The draft tube is generous, the main zipper is on the short side but offset to make entry and exit easier, and the zippered foot box vent gives you ventilation when you need it.  Sierra Design builds "Partial Flex" construction into all their Nitro bags, and that gives you a little stretch at the knees and the shoulders while still reatining body heat. -PP
As a backcountry traveler who has relied primarily on map and compass to navigate through wilderness, I'm learning how a hand held GPS unit can add interest, useful information and precision to backcountry routefinding. A recent outing in Southern Utah the Magellan Xplorist gave me not just my precise position on the surface of the Earth, but pinpointed my location on a built in topo map. I can zoom out on the bright color display to see the entire Arches National Park (or even the entire state),  or zoom in to see where my present  off-trail route will join up with the main trail--in this case, precisely 300 yards away. The device shows a "breadcrumb" trail of my entire route, overlaid on the full color map, with topo lines, roads, trails, and elevation included. The Xplorist comes in various flavors, from the no-frill 310, the one I liked, to the 710, with a touch screen, turn by turn audio directions, and the ability to make video waypoints.  The higher end outdoor units can be used in the car with purpose-built mounts, which helps justify the extra expense. But for backcountry use, it comes down to what you need, what the power usage is, and what it's going to cost you in ounces carried. -PP
Columbia looked to the Europeans when they put together the rugged yet handsome Men’s Dolomite Pant. On a week long excursion in the Sierra we found these purpose-built hiking trousers wicked moisture as well as any we’ve tried, and were comfortable mile after mile thanks to gusset details, stretch construction and articulated knees. Made from nylon with stretch fabric incorporated into it, these pants will protect from high altitude sun exposure to 50 SPF and come with an integrated belt.  Even a dramatic, full-on Sierra thunderstorm at 10,000 feet proved not a problem--we were dry in 15 minutes. We found that when the hike was over, these pants could take us into civilization without embarrassment, as the black color did not show dirt and the fabric remained wrinkle free. These are versatile, comfortable, technical hiking trousers at a reasonable price. -PP
I took the Inverse 100 AW out on an all day hike thru a temperate rain forest in the Olympic Mountains up in Washington State. It was a moist day, rainy at times, and the bag repelled the water without  problems. After the first ten minutes of monitoring, I felt confident that my DSLR inside would survive the journey. It held the camera body and 85 mm lens, and had enough space for a second lens, along with adjustable dividers. Comfort and flexibility (with how you wear it) are probably my favorite features. I found myself rotating it from backside to frontside and back, as I was often crawling under freshly fallen trees and I didn’t want to get the bag wet.  learned I needed to swing the bag to the frontside and the shoulder strap and hip strap allow for easy repositioning. Quick access to your camera from the top also comes in handy, since you don’t want to be fumbling with your gear when you’re surrounded by beauty, plus daylight hours in December leave no time for error. Easy to open, easy to close, with bomber zippers. For the casual to serious photographer on the go that wants to stay light and mobile,  the Inverse 100 AW gets the job done. --Craig Bokesch, Staff 
Like its Prism Primaloft Eco jacket, Montane has scored yet another hit with this revolutionary hard shell. It’s frankly hard to believe this seven ounce wonder performs so well, but using it will make a believer out of you. The three-ply eVent Lightweight fabric keeps the wind and water at bay, while the unique “Tornado” roll closure uses overlapping fabric held in place by toggles for effective closure without a zipper. Think of a dry bag style closure and you get the idea. The pull-over design with articulated arms will appeal to go-light alpinists, mountain runners, and marathoners for whom every ounce is an enemy. Details like the pre-adjusted waist cinch and hood prove that this is a well though out garment worth the price from Montane, an 18-year-old British company that creates premium lightweight and breathable clothing for mountain climbing, running and biking. -PP
Sony NEX 7
Up to now wilderness travelers had to choose between heavy high-resolution cameras and featherweight point-and-shoots. The Sony NEX 7 bridges the gap, delivering an APS-C sensor with 24.3Megapixel, interchangeable  lenses, lightening-fast autofocus, up to 10 fps shooting, AVCHD™ 1080p, 60fps HD movies, and a host of useful features packed into a package not much larger than an IPhone. Amazingly, the sensor produces higher resolution than the Leica M9 at more than 6 times its price. A small selection of Sony and Zeiss lenses fit the 7's E mount, but adaptors are available for Canon, Nikon, and the incomparable Leica lenses.  --James Martin
A brand better known in Europe, High Peak has an extensive line of gear at surprisingly low price points but good value.The Alpinismo 55 is a favorite in the line, a terrific weekend pack that weighs in and just over three pounds but performs with simplicity and style. The adjustable harness system means you can tailor the Alpinismo to fit your torso precisely, which, when combined with its body-hugging design, makes for an extraordinarily comfortable pack, made more so by a unique ventilation system. I loaded it up with more than 50 pounds of camping and camera gear for a weekend shoot on the Olympic Peninsula, but even overloaded like that the pack proved comfortable. Exterior side pockets easily took the tripods and the water bottles, and the top loading main compartment swallowed the rest of the gear. The Alpinismo 55 is a top performer at a bargain price. -PP


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