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Backpacker February ’08 Gear Test

It's cold out there -- but don't fret. We've tested and reviewed all the best gear to keep you warm, dry, and comfy when the mercury drops.

Big Agnes Mountain Booties

Pack these synthetic-fill foot warmers when traditional down booties are too much, but socks are not enough. Insulated with PrimaLoft Eco (made from 50 percent post-consumer recycled fibers), the Mountain Booties kept our gear editor’s toes warm during a chilly Vermont bivy when her sleeping bag checked in a few degrees short. They pack down to coffee-cup size, so you’ll always be able to squeeze them into your pack. The Cordura sole provides a bit of traction for camp duty. $40; 4.8 oz./pair (S); XS-XL (877) 554-8975; bigagnes.com.

Hot Chilly’s Micro Elite Chamois Zip T

A smart blend of fibers–29 percent antimicrobial silver-laced polyester, 60 percent regular polyester, and 11 percent Lycra–kept stink and moisture at bay when our testers worked up a sweat during winter sports. The deep half-zip provided welcome ventilation and a snug fit delivers optimal next-to-skin insulation. Give and take: The Lycra adds stretch for mobility, but makes the top slow to dry. Put on an additional layer during your cool-down. $65; men’s S-XXL, women’s S-XL (800) 468-2445; hotchillys.com.

Fenix L0D

Many of the smallest flashlights and headlamps on the market are more cute than useful. Not the L0D, a pinky-size, 1-ounce flashlight that’s twice as bright as some competitors. It comes with a hat-brim clip, and the single LED light has five modes (three brightness levels, two flashing speeds). To switch modes, just give the head a quarter turn–no buttons or switches that can accidentally turn on inside a pack. “The brightest mode casts a beam of light sufficient for on-trail night hikes,” says our gear editor. It’s drop-from-five-feet tough, waterproof, and runs strong for just over four hours on high beam using a single AAA battery. Bummer: The metal hat-brim clip started to rust after just a few trips. Comes with a lanyard, keychain ring, and webbing holster. $46.50 (678) 608-0308; fenix-store.com.

White Sierra Sierra Tek Jacket

Spend less, stay dry. If that’s your goal, get this bargain shell. White Sierra’s house-brand waterproof/breathable fabric proved impenetrable in pounding rain and snow; one tester even stood under a 70-foot waterfall in the Grand Canyon for 15 minutes and no moisture seeped through. And the face fabric is made from brawny, 70-denier ripstop nylon interwoven with a crosshatch of reinforcement threads; it’s warmer and more durable than anything we’ve tested at this price. The shaped, three-way adjustable hood cinches precisely, and drawcords at the waist and hemline seal out drafts. A roomy fit accommodates extra layers. Tradeoff: The jacket is a bit clammy in warmer temperatures or on high-exertion outings, despite a free-hanging mesh liner designed to boost breathability. $100; 1 lb. 3 oz. (women’s L); M-XXL (m’s); S-XL (w’s) (800) 980-8688; whitesierra.com.

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