Best New Gear of the Year: My Top 10 Favorites
By Michael Lanza
Every year, I field test and review at this blog dozens of pieces of new outdoor gear and clothing—backpacks, shoes and boots, tents, shell and insulated jackets, sleeping bags and pads, daypacks, headlamps, trekking poles, water filters, backcountry cooking gear, and various other stuff that help us get out and enjoy wild spaces. (It’s a fun gig.) I only review what I’d strongly recommend and want to use myself, and 20 years of doing that has helped me develop a pretty good eye for identifying the best, most innovative and functional gear.
I give you here my picks for the 10 best of the best new products I’ve reviewed this year, a list that includes a backpack, two tents, a rain jacket, two daypacks, a sleeping bag, shoes, one high-performance and affordable headlamp, an air mattress, and a very cool water bottle with a built-in filter. Each capsule review below links to my full review of that product. I guarantee your dollars will be well spent on any of them.
Backpackers who routinely carry 40 to 50 pounds and prefer a high level of organization should check out The North Face Fovero 70 backpack ($290, 70L/4,272 c.i., 5 lbs. 7 oz.). With an adjustable suspension and two men’s and women’s sizes, it will fit most people well. This top loader has better access and organization than many packs in this category, with nine well-designed pockets—including two roomy, zippered front pockets that are supremely convenient, and a voluminous “beaver-tail” front pocket—plus a two-way zipper running down one side and around the bottom that accesses much of the main compartment.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase a The North Face Fovero 70 backpack at backcountry.com.
Ultralight tents are often cramped for space. Not the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL3 ($450, 2 lbs. 15 oz.). The DAC Angle Hub pole, exclusive in Fly Creek HV (for “high volume”) tents, creates steep walls that result in better headroom. With good ventilation and stability, it’s snug but roomy enough for three and light enough to carry as a spacious two-person tent: Its 39 square feet of floor space exceeds many two-person tents by about 10 square feet, while its weight compares to some of the lightest. In effect, you get two tents in one.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy a Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL3 tent at rei.com.
Breathability performance distinguishes the best waterproof-breathable shells from the merely mediocre, and the Outdoor Research Realm Jacket ($279, 10.5 oz.) demonstrated its superior breathability when I wore it in intermittent, strong gusts of cold wind mixed with hot, alpine sun on a four-day, spring ascent of The Mountaineers Route on California’s 14,505-foot Mount Whitney. OR’s proprietary AscentShell fabric has air-permeable micro-pores and laminated, seam-taped construction that renders the jacket fully waterproof. Add a fully adjustable, helmet-compatible hood, and the Realm has year-round versatility—while weighing in barely north of 10 ounces.
Read my complete review of the Outdoor Research Realm Jacket and my “Review: The 5 Best Rain Jackets for the Backcountry.”
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase an Outdoor Research Realm Jacket at backcountry.com.
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The Black Diamond Spot headlamp ($40, 3 oz.) offers top performance at a hard-to-beat price. It has a powerful max brightness of 200 lumens, multiple white and red modes, a locking feature (no turning on accidentally in a pack), and unique PowerTap technology, which lets you tap the right side of the casing to cycle between the TriplePower and SinglePower LEDs.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase a Black Diamond Spot headlamp at moosejaw.com.
The hybrid Sierra Designs Flash 2 FL ($400, 3 lbs. 10 oz.) merges the benefits of single- and double-wall tents by integrating the interior tent with the partial rainfly, while weatherproof side walls block wind and precipitation, and the two doors have both mesh and solid, weatherproof, zippered panels. The design creates exceptional ventilation, stability, and living space relative to the tent’s weight, plus it eliminates a step when pitching—so it goes up fast and keeps the interior dry when erecting the tent in the rain.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy a Sierra Designs Flash 2 FL at backcountry.com.
How much should you spend on gear? It’s a good question, no matter what your budget. I offer tips gleaned from 20 years of gear testing in my story “Why and When to Spend More on Gear.”
Do you like The Big Outside? I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by a USA Today Readers Choice poll and others. Get email updates about new stories and free gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box at the bottom of this story or in the left sidebar, and follow my adventures on Facebook and Twitter.
The Marmot Ion 20 sleeping bag ($419, 1 lb. 13 oz.) blends the benefits of down feathers (high warmth-to-weight ratio) and synthetic insulation (retains warmth when wet) by combining 850+-fill goose down around the body, head, and feet, with synthetic Thermal R Micro insulation on the bottom of the bag. With nearly five inches of loft, it delivers superior warmth for such a lightweight sack. Cool feature: Marmot’s nine-inch-long, “fold-down” second zipper lets you open both sides of the bag at your chest and shoulders for added ventilation, and makes it easier to sit in the bag with both arms outside to use your hands.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase a Marmot Ion 20 at moosejaw.com.
Start ticking off America’s best multi-day hikes. See “My Top 10 Favorite Backpacking Trips.”
On a 32-mile, 10,000-vertical-foot dayhike in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, I filled the Gregory Miwok 18 ($99, 18L/1,098 c.i., 1 lb. 10 oz.) with 15 pounds of clothing, food, water, and camera gear, and it remained comfortable throughout that 16-hour hike. It has a design I like in a lightweight daypack: quick, one-zip access to the main compartment, plus six pockets, including two on the hipbelt and an expandable, front stuff-it pocket with a bungee closure. The women’s version is the Maya 16.
The La Sportiva TX3 hiking-approach shoes ($130, 1 lb. 9 oz., men’s and women’s sizes) matches my mental image of the ideal low-cut hiking shoe: lightweight, with good flex, yet enough cushion and support for rugged dayhikes and ultralight backpacking; also, supremely breathable and reasonably armored against rough terrain; and lastly, its outsole should grip any surface. The TX3 achieves all that, mostly distinctively with the exceptional breathability of its quick-drying, polyester mesh uppers and lining, and the stickiness of the Vibram Mega-Grip outsole.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase the La Sportiva TX3 shoes at backcountry.com.
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If you’re looking for an air mattress that can handle any temperature, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm ($200, 15 oz., 3 sizes) delivers unmatched insulation for its incredibly low weight and bulk. Its R-value (a measure of how well it insulates) of 5.7 will keep you warm on snow or frozen ground, and yet it’s lighter and more compact than many three-season air mattresses—and as comfortable as many.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm air mattress at backcountry.com.
You must see the photos in my story “Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites.”
I don’t say this often about a piece of gear, but the LifeStraw Go Water Bottle With 2-Stage Filtration ($50, 8 oz.) actually changed the way I behave in the backcountry. With a two-stage, hollow-fiber, 0.2-micron filter membrane with activated carbon, the 22-ounce Go bottle enables me to carry less water and avoid the inconvenience of taking time to filter water wherever there are fairly frequent water sources (as in many mountain ranges): Backpacking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and elsewhere, I could just dip and fill this bottle in a couple seconds and resume hiking. Without requiring batteries or pumping, the LifeStraw Go removes virtually all bacteria, protozoa like giardia and cryptosporidium, and organic chemicals like pesticides and herbicides.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase a LifeStraw Go Water Bottle With 2-Stage Filtration at campsaver.com.
Making your backpack lighter makes every trip better. See my approach in my story “The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun.”
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.
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