Editors' Choice 2011: Capitol Reef

BACKPACKER puts the gear of the year through its paces in the rugged desert
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BACKPACKER puts the gear of the year through its paces in the rugged desert

Every year, BACKPACKER editors embark on a epic trip in an exotic location to run their favorite gear of the year into the ground. A few lucky survivors become Editors' Choice award-winners. This year, the EC throwdown happened just a few hours beyond Boulder Headquarters—but the locale was no less spectacular. For six days, we trekked off-trail on a mind-blowing Capitol Reef canyon route pioneered by our own Rocky Mountain Editor Steve Howe.

We tested some new tech to send updates to our Facebook and Twitter pages while in the BC, but otherwise our isolation was absolute—we saw not a single other person on the trail. Instead, Utah's slickrock bounty rose in front disturbed only by ravens, hawks, and the occasional startled bighorn sheep.

Highlights:

- a few exposed scrambles over shifty slickrock

- boots that stayed dry in quicksand

- three to four inches of surprise snow

- pioneering ways to stay connected while in the back-of-beyond

- eight-person games of cutthroat Apples-to Apples on a cold, 4-person-tent-bound night

- our final campsite, set between two enormous sandstone basins, brightened by a night sky dusted with stars

Look out for full details in April's Gear Guide, where we'll reveal our Editors' Choice winners and give details on Steve's top-secret route. Til then...

—BACKPACKER Editors (photos by Kim Phillips)