The Best New Hiking and Backpacking Gear of 2017
By Michael Lanza
Every year, I field test a lot of new gear and clothing for three-season hiking, backpacking, climbing, and winter backcountry activities. Much of it’s pretty good. But to be honest, only a small number rise to the level of excellent, either for technical innovation or simply coming at a task from a new angle that makes their performance superior to others. On those rare occasions, gear can actually make the experiences we seek better in some small way. For this article, I’ve picked out the best pieces of new outdoors gear and apparel that came out in 2017.
The list below includes backpacks and daypacks, an ultralight tent, three-season down sleeping bags for men and women, a couple of sweet puffy jackets, boots that are impressively light and supportive, an eight-ounce shell jacket, a couple of headlamps, a camp chair light enough for backpacking, and a three-ounce stove.
Maybe one or more of these items will help make your outdoor experiences a little better. And the time to consider them is right now, when retailers offer some of the lowest prices of the year during holiday sales. Make a purchase through any of the links in this story and you will support my work on this blog. Thank you for doing that.
As always, I’d love to read what you think of any of these pieces of gear, what experience you’ve had with any, or what favorite product you recommend. Please share your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of this story.
Arc’teryx Bora AR 50
$499, 50L/3,050 c.i., 4 lbs. 13 oz.
Sizes: men’s and women’s regular and tall
On an 80-mile backpacking trip through the North Cascades (lead photo at top of story), the waterproof Bora AR 50 softened the physical toll of the weight on my back over those many miles, thanks to a host of unique design features: a generously padded, removable Rotoglide hipbelt; the light, thermo-molded Tegris framesheet with two aluminum stays; and shoulder straps that are widely adjustable for both shoulder width and torso length. It also has good pocket organization and could possibly survive nuclear Armageddon.
Read my complete review of the Arc’teryx Bora AR backpacks.
The Arc’teryx Bora AR 50 is on my list of the “10 Best Backpacking Packs.”
Ultralight Backpacking Tent
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
$450, 2 lbs. 12 oz.
Ultralight, freestanding tents with two doors and vestibules that weigh under three pounds comprise a very small club, and most have tight living quarters. Not the Copper Spur HV UL2. It marries low weight with a high space-to-weight ratio, due to a hubbed pole structure that creates steeper walls, making the tent feel roomier than its 29 square feet. Even tall people will find room to stretch within a shelter with a 40-inch peak height and 88-inch length.
Read my complete review of the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 tent.
The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 is one of my picks for “The 5 Best Backpacking Tents of 2017.”
Three-Season Sleeping Bag
Stuffed with water-resistant 850-fill goose down feathers encased in a down-proof Pertex shell, this bag kept me dry when I slept outside and awoke to a heavy dew on the bag. The men’s Magma 10 and women’s Magma 17 bags are super warm, not claustrophobic like some lightweight bags, and sport design features like a hood that adjusts closely and comfortably and a trapezoidal foot box that provides good space and keeps feet warm. They are arguably the best value in high-end three-season bags today.
You don’t have to be cold at night. See my “10 Pro Tips: Staying Warm in a Sleeping Bag.”
Exped Skyline 15
$129, 2 lbs. 5 oz.
Daypacks come in many sizes and designs, but real technological innovation happens rarely in that category. With one quick and simple adjustment of its Switchback suspension, Exped’s new Skyline 15 essentially shape-shifts between two different types of pack: from one that maximizes air flow to keep you cool when cruising a trail to a spine-hugging sack for stability when scrambling off-trail or in any difficult terrain. Weighing under 2.5 pounds, it carries at least 20 pounds comfortably, and has quick access to its main compartment and multiple pockets.
Read my complete review of the Exped Skyline 15.
Osprey’s men’s Talon and women’s Tempest hit a sweet spot for features, comfort, organization, and low weight that makes them arguably the most versatile, multi-sport daypacks on the market today—at a competitive price for this level of quality. The reasons include a suspension that ventilates superbly and carries at least 15 pounds comfortably, several pockets for excellent organization, and smart features like a trekking pole attachment on the left shoulder strap.
Read my complete review of the Osprey Talon 22 and Tempest 20.
The Exped Skyline 15 and Osprey Talon 22 and Tempest 20 are among my 6 favorite daypacks.
On cool evenings and mornings at campsites as high as 10,500 feet in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, pulling this jacket on warmed me almost instantly. The Cerium owes its sky-high warmth per ounce to 850-fill down stuffing in the hood, sleeves, and torso. But it combines that with lightweight, breathable, and highly compressible synthetic insulation in areas prone to getting wet—the shoulders, cuffs, chin guard, and armpits—to deliver the benefits of down (warm, light, and compact) and synthetics (retaining heat when damp).
I did not expect the warmth I got from the new Micro Puff Hoody, given that it weighs in barely north of a half-pound. Maybe that’s also because the water-resistant PlumaFill synthetic insulation doesn’t loft like down feathers. But it matches the warmth-to-weight ratio of high-quality down (850- to 900-fill), coupled with the key benefit of synthetic insulation: that it continues to trap heat even when wet. While it’s not adjustable, the hood’s elasticized, under-the-helmet design clings snugly around your face and really boosts the jacket’s warmth.
Watch for my upcoming review of the Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody.
Which puffy should you buy? Read my post “Ask Me: How Can You Tell How Warm a Down Jacket Is?”
Asolo Thyrus Gv
$235, 2 lbs. 5 oz. (US men’s 8.5)
Sizes: US men’s 8-14, women’s 6-11
Leather boots tend to be too hot and heavy for summer backpacking. But the first thing you notice about the Thyrus Gv is that they feel shockingly light for a leather boot. They have the usual waterproofness of leather—I stood in creeks and the boots never leaked—with a Gore-Tex membrane and water-resistant Perwanger leather uppers that are just 1.6-1.8mm thick, to keep the boots lighter and cooler. They are also quite breathable for this category, thanks to Schoeller soft-shell fabric in the upper part of the tongue and the padded collar, and fit like a good pair of gloves.
Read my complete review of the Asolo Thyrus Gv boots.
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Ultralight Hybrid Rain Jacket
Outdoor Research Helium Hybrid Hooded Jacket
$145, 8 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL
In the small field of lightweight, versatile shell jackets made with more than one type of fabric, OR’s Helium Hybrid Hooded Jacket sets itself apart with unparalleled performance for almost any outdoor adventure when you’re on the move in variable weather. The Helium Hybrid blends waterproof-breathable Pertex Shield fabric with highly breathable, water- and wind-resistant soft-shell fabric in the side panels and undersides of the sleeves. The result is solid protection from precipitation where it tends to hit you—on the front, back, and head—with superior breathability where your body needs to dump it: in the core, underarms, and forearms.
Read my complete review of the Outdoor Research Helium Hybrid Jacket.
A rechargeable headlamp makes sense for any backpacker, dayhiker, climber, or trail runner willing to foot the up-front cost, because it eventually pays for itself through what you save not buying (and throwing away) batteries. I’ve used two standouts.
Black Diamond ReVolt
$60, 3.5 oz.
Beyond the convenience of running on either its USB-rechargeable NiMH batteries or standard AAA alkaline batteries, the Black Diamond ReVolt offers a variety of modes and features not found in other headlamps—including BD’s PowerTap technology to instantly cycle between brightness settings, plus being waterproof. It also has a feature that should come in virtually all headlamps: a lockout mode to prevent accidentally draining the batteries while it’s inside your pack.
Read my complete review of the Black Diamond ReVolt rechargeable headlamp.
Petzl Actik Core
$60, 3 oz.
The Petzl Actik Core has the usual white and red modes and two beam patterns—a focused beam for seeing straight ahead and a proximity beam for illuminating a wider area. But it stands out among ultralight headlamps for its maximum brightness in white mode of 350 lumens—and delivering that much brightness even when using the rechargeable battery.
Read my complete review of the Petzl Actik Core rechargeable headlamp.
The Black Diamond ReVolt and Petzl Actik Core are two of “The 5 Best Headlamps.”
MSR PocketRocket 2
$45, 3 oz.
For two or three backpackers on weekend to weeklong trips, it’s hard to beat the efficiency and versatility of a lightweight, compact single-burner canister stove. In the Pocketrocket 2, you get a smartly designed, ultralight burner that’s affordable, compact, and will endure many years of use.
I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Find out more here.
Helinox Chair Zero
$120, 1 lb. 1 oz.
Light and small enough to carry into the backcountry, this collapsible camp chair just may end your days of sitting on a log or rock in camp. Assemble the shock-corded pole structure and slip the fabric seat over it, and in seconds you have a comfortable seat that’s 20 inches wide, 19 inches deep and 25 inches tall.
Tell me what you think.
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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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