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March 2008 Perfect System: East

Insulation
MontBell Ultralight Down Inner Jacket

Cold front coming? This 800-fill down jacket packs so small and weighs so little you’ll never debate whether to carry it. Need a wet-weather alternative? MontBell’s synthetic-fill UL Thermawrap Jacket is the same price and weighs a couple ounces more. $140; 7 oz. (men’s M); men’s and women’s sizes; montbell.com

Pants
Royal Robbins Zip ‘N’ Go Pants

You need convertibles for their versatility and weight savings. Why these? The Supplex nylon is soft but tough, the fit is loose for hot-weather comfort, and flaps over the zip-off junction prevent chafing. $65; 1 lb. (men’s M); men’s and women’s sizes; royalrobbins.com

Boots
Merrell Outland Mid Waterproof

Solid support and stability are key on the East’s rocky, rooted trails. In testing, the Outland provided both, even when we hauled 30 to 40 pounds. The wide heel counter creates a sturdy platform, the stiff shank reduces arch fatigue, and a well-padded ankle collar prevents rolling. $120; 2 lbs. 3 oz.; merrell.com

Pack
Granite Gear Nimbus Meridian

This versatile internal frame is capable of everything from dayhikes to thru-hikes. During a four-day trek on the AT, testers found the hipbelt and shoulder straps extremely cushy for such a lightweight pack, and reported that the framesheet easily supported 40 pounds. The pack expands to 3,800 cubic inches via the floating lid and extendable collar, or cinches down to daypack size with six compression straps. $250; 3 lbs. 8 oz. (reg.); granitegear.com

Tent
MSR Hubba Hubba HP

The only thing worse than a humid day on the trail is a sauna-like night in camp. This tent handles summertime humidity with a vast mesh panel on the ceiling, well-placed mesh on the sides, and fly vents at each end. Even during October rainstorms, the interior remained mostly free of condensation. Steep sidewalls and dual vestibules create plenty of space for two plus gear, and the hubbed pole system makes for a fast, stable pitch. The Hubba Hubba HP is an updated, even lighter version of the Editors’ Choice Award-winning Hubba Hubba (4/05). $450; 3 lbs. 11 oz.; msrgear.com

Base layer
Patagonia Capilene 1 T-shirt

Humid day ahead? This short-sleeve feels soft as silk, wicks well, and dries quickly. Plus, it didn’t pill under pack-strap friction that would have caused lesser shirts to wear thin. Bonus: The polyester fabric is made with 100-percent recycled content and is recyclable. $36; men’s and women’s (V-neck) sizes; patagonia.com

Socks
Thorlo Hiking Socks Thick Cushion

A number of our testers from damp corners of the country prize these cushy synthetics–which are made of an extremely durable acrylic–because they dry faster than wool, yet stay lofty and warm. “The extra thick terry loops underfoot absorbed shock and helped my feet stand up to rocky sections of the AT,” reported one tester. $13; thorlo.com

Shell
Mountain Hardwear Typhoon

The Typhoon’s impeccable waterproofing, butt-covering length, and stiff-brimmed hood repelled relentless winter rain in the Appalachians. Gore-Tex Paclite fabric and easy-to-operate pit zips kept testers dry on the inside. $199; 15 oz. (men’s L); men’s and women’s sizes; mountainhardwear.com

Sleeping bags
Marmot Hydrogen

Planning to hike a big chunk of the AT? Every step will be easier and every night will pass faster with this ultralight sack. The 850-fill down is the highest quality, packing small and lofting big, and it kept testers warm below the bag’s 30°F rating. The Pertex Quantum shell is wispy without being fragile, and the cut is efficient without constricting. $309; 1 lb. 5 oz. (reg.); marmot.com

Cocoon Tropic Traveler
For summer swelter fests, skip the bag and pack this soft cotton and silk liner instead. It’s no lighter, just more comfortable. $140; 1 lb. 12 oz; designsalt.com</p>

Bargain!
Gaiters
REI Trail Low Gaiters

Keep mud and grit out of your shoes with these shorties. The 12-inch height, plus a combination of breathable nylon and durable Cordura, make them ideal for tackling rough terrain in warm weather. The burly nylon underfoot straps have withstood months of abuse. $24; rei.com

Skin saver
Gold Bond Body Powder

Our Southeast testers swear this is a must-have for its ability to prevent chafing and soothe rashes in hot, humid weather. Some folks use it on their inner thighs or where underwear seams can rub you wrong. Others use it to refresh their feet. $3.50-$4.50; goldbond.com

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