Five Backpacking Gear Picks for August 2015
A breezy shell, a comfy packbag, and a convenient water sterilization pen highlight this month's testers' picks.
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REI Trail 40
For her 16-day journey to Everest Basecamp, our gear editor wanted killer comfort and conve- nience. The Trail 40 delivers. It has the structure and padding to support loads up to 25 pounds. “I barely noticed it on my back,” she says, “even on epic days postholing over 17,500-foot passes.” But it’s the made-for-trail-living packbag that really shines. It opens via a U-shaped zipper with four sliders: Use it as a top-loader, peel back the entire front panel, or zip from the corners to access the bottom with- out exposing the rest. The stretchy side pockets keep 1-liter bottles secure and huge hipbelt pockets swallow iPhone, snacks, sunscreen, knife, lip balm, and mini-wallet. Bonus: sweet price. $109; 3 lbs.; rei.com
L.L.Bean Pathfinder LED Cap
At first, we thought this lighted ball cap was, well, dorky. So we gave it to our kids for a long week- end of camping. By the second night, we stole it back. After all, you need a light and you need a hat; it’s cleverly efficient. The Pathfinder is a simple cotton cap (we wish it were nylon) with three LEDs and a clickable but- ton built discretely into the brim. Three settings offer different bright- ness levels (the highest is bright enough for trail hiking). It won’t always take the place of a full- powered headlamp, but for warm weather camp- ing, it perfectly fits the, ahem, bill. $20; 4.2 oz.; llbean.com
Minus 33 Isolation/Sequoia Midweight 1⁄4 Zip
When a puffy’s too warm and a fleece is too bulky, a thin wool layer is just the ticket, and this is one is a bargain. Our New England tester wore the Sequoia (women’s) as a high-output midlayer for more than a month’s worth of frigid, stormy days this winter, and she continues to wear it as a warm-weather insulator. It’s slightly thicker than typical wool long johns, and the relaxed fit doesn’t cling like so many other wool zip-tees we’ve tried. The 18.5-micron merino “just gets softer with each washing,” says our tester. “It’s become my go-to cozy piece for both the backcountry and daily wear.” The fabric shows no signs of pilling—even in high-abrasion areas like underneath pack straps—but the interior finishing could be improved. We see signs of fraying along the flatlock seams. $76; 8.8 oz. (w’s M); m’s S-XXL, w’s XS- XXXL; minus33.com
Airy is right: This shell became our top pick among dozens of test jackets for high-octane activities that demand high breathability and low weight. The rear mesh vented sweat off our backs on cool Cascade trail runs, and the paper-thin Windefender fabric shed mist and light drizzle (real rain event eventu- ally soaked through, especially at the pack straps). Underarm ports vent more steam, and Lycra hem, wrist, and hood linings seal out drafts. In Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park, the Airy kept our tester dry on the uphills and repelled winds up high. A single pocket just barely fits an iPhone 6. $150; 4.9 oz. (m’s M); m’s XS-3XL, w’s 4-16; eider.com
SteriPen Classic 3
This latest iteration of the Adventurer Opti (2011 Editors’ Choice winner) has all the convenience of its big brother—just dip and swirl—but for 20 bucks less. Tradeoff: Instead of tiny disc batteries, the Classic runs on four AAs, so it’s a bit bulkier (about 7 by 1.5 inches) and heavier (by 2.4 ounces with batteries). The UV lamp purifies up to 8,000 liters and fresh lithium batteries will treat 150 liters (according to the company). We used it for two weeks in Nepal, where it treated up to 8 liters per day without fail. “It’s great in the backcountry,” says one tester, “and it’s also perfect for treating city water in developing countries.” $70; 6.2 oz.; steripen.com