Staff members here at GreatOutdoors.com (and our parent company, Altrec.com) spend as much time as possible pursuing outdoor adventure: climbing, hiking, skiing and enjoying adventure travel through some of the most fascinating landscapes on earth. So, naturally, they take their outdoor equipment seriously. And there’s no proof of performance better than a genuine field test in real conditions on an extended backpacking or climbing trip.
Each year, we get together to compare notes on the gear we used the most and liked the best for the season. The result is our annual Staff Favorites, and once again we’ll publish that more detailed review in October, just in time for the holidays and a great time to pick up proven gear
This season we’ve traveled from the Canadian Rockies
to New Mexico's Chaco Canyon
, from the North Cascades
to the Sawtooths
of Idaho, from the Swiss Alps
to the Beartooths
of Montana, all to test various boots, packs, tents and other backcountry gear. All those who have been enjoying outdoor adventure for a while know that the gear keeps getting better and better. We can travel through the backcountry more safely and more comfortably than ever before. And 2009 was a banner year for outdoor gear. The trend is toward lightweight products that still hold up to hard use, and products made with a sensitivity to the planet.
Out of dozens of products tested, we’ll narrow the field down to our Staff Favorites. As a preview, here is some of the gear we tried out:
We focused this year on lightweight solo shelters, as more and more backcountry travelers are going “solo together.” There’s a lot to recommend that approach, it simplifies trip planning, you need a smaller patch of level ground to be comfortable, and you don’t have to hear your partner snore. We tried out solo tents from MSR, Big Agnes, Sierra Designs and newcomer Terra Nova.
As with tents, smaller and lighter are the trends in packs, and with that, we found, came increased comfort. With tents, stoves, and sleeping bags all getting lighter, you don’t need as big a pack for a week long trip as you did a few years ago. Products from Kelty, Osprey, Jansport and other makers impressed us with innovations.
If you’re feet hurt on a backpacking trip, you won’t have any fun at all, so footwear is perhaps the fundamental piece of gear. And 2009 was a landmark season, we tried dozens of pairs of boot and came away with happy feet more often than any other year. Innovative designs from Oboz, Vasque and La Sportiva and other makers were among the finalists.
When the weather turns bad, you’ve either go to be able to hunker down and be safe, or hike out in bad conditions. Perhaps no other product category has seen such dramatic gains in performance than outerwear, including fleece, shells, soft shells and insulated jackets. Once again, it’s lightweight and high performance that matters most. Product from Cloudveil, Outdoor Research, Mountain Hardwear and other manufacturers kept us comfortable—and dry—in trying conditions.
Be sure to check back in October for all the gear chosen as GreatOutdoors.com 2009 Staff Favorites.