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Editors’ Picks with Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Dorn

BACKPACKER's Editor-in-Chief weighs in on his favorite products of 2011.

Over 15 years of reviewing outdoor gear for BACKPACKER, I’ve slipped my feet into more than 200 pairs of trail shoes and cinched the hoods of nearly as many parkas, rain shells, and sleeping bags. The same goes for editors like Kristin Hostetter, Dennis Lewon, and Shannon Davis, who routinely spend 50-100 days a year in the field trying to separate good equipment from bad. For this gear guide, they led a crew of 100 veteran hikers and skiers in trail-testing hundreds of products that we ultimately narrowed to the year’s 244 top innovations and values. They also joined me in highlighting a handful of personal picks—new products that captured their attention this year or worked just right for their unique blend of feature, size, and terrain or technology preferences.

[ultralight puffy]

Rab Infinity Endurance Jacket
The warmth-to-weight ratio of this down hoody is off the charts. Even though it’s not intended for deep-winter cold, the 850-fill down and snug, fat hood kept me so warm that I only pulled out a burlier parka when nighttime temps dipped below zero. $224; 1 lb. (men’s medium); rab.uk.com

[water to go]

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter
Least-loved chore upon reaching camp: Squatting on sore knees over a stream to pump water. New option: this superlight (3 oz.) rig, in which the filter element screws onto a 16-, 32-, or 64-ounce bag that you can fill from all but the weakest trickles and cart to a comfortable seat. Squeeze the bag to force dirty water through the filter; it’s faster than most pumps. $50; sawyer.com

[all-purpose lens]
Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD
This might be the perfect DSLR lens for backpackers. A new autofocus motor using piezoelectric technology (a distant relative of the auto-ignitor on your stove) helped Tamron shrink it, producing a very compact, 15-ounce lens that covers 95 percent of the shots I want, from wildflower macros to distant-peak zooms. $579 (street price); tamron.com

[power snack]
Justin’s Nut Butters
The price-per-ounce is sticky, but you gotta love the rich flavor, cold-temp squeezability, and no-mess delivery of these single-serving, all-natural spreads. Chocolate Hazelnut adds kick to my oatmeal, Classic Peanut Butter goes on elk jerky for lunch, and Maple Almond is a perfect salty/sweet afternoon pick-me-up. $20 for 30 1.15-oz. packets; 8 flavors; justinsnutbutter.com

[multisport pack]
OutThere! AS-1
Nice underdog story: Highly decorated adventure racer Mike Kloser retires from the sport to design packs. I love this midsize’s pocket-for-every-toy access, comfort and stability under big loads, and ski-friendly lashing. Nitpick: It’s weighty. $189; 2 lbs. 10 oz.; outthereusa.com

[leg savers]
SmartWool Graduated Compression Sock
Believe the hype: Compression socks really do reduce foot and calf swelling, and make your legs feel bouncier in the morning. I pull them on once I hit camp, sleep in them, then switch to cushioned socks for the day’s pounding. With higher merino content (62 percent) than others I tested, these knee-highs get my vote for their natural feel and odor resistance. Great for long flights, too. $40; smartwool.com

[love nest]
Feathered Friends Spoonbill
Yep, even after 20 years of marriage and hundreds of backpacking trips, the wife and I still love to snuggle. This two-hooded double-wide not only keeps us extra-cozy, it also packs small and weighs less than many single bags with the 10°F rating I’d give the 850-fill down Spoonbill. (Note: There’s no fill underneath, so pack insulated mattresses.) $700-$850; 2 sizes; 2 lbs. 14 oz.; featheredfriends.com

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