Arc’teryx Zeta SL
This 2-layer shell’s Gore-Tex Paclite Plus material kept one tester from swamping out on strenuous climbs outside Missoula, Montana, but it can handle the rough stuff as well. “During an off-trail hike I fell and snagged it on a log, but the fabric didn’t tear,” our tester says. A just-right cut doesn’t feel baggy when worn over a t-shirt but can easily fit an insulating layer underneath.
$299; 10.9 oz.; m’s XS-XXL, w’s XS-XL
Bight Gear NeoShell Nuker Jacket
Thanks to its 3-layer, air-permeable NeoShell material, the Nuker is surprisingly breathable for a heavy shell that lacks pit zips. One tester reports that he never overheated on 2,000-foot ascents in Ozark National Forest in Arkansas, and that the material has other benefits: “This jacket allowed great stretch and movement when scrambling up rock or around boulders and never gave me the constricted feeling that some hard shells provide,” he says. Dings: price and weight.
$429; 15.1 oz. (m’s L); m’s S-XL, w’s XS-L
Mammut Kento HS
The Kento is a durable, 2.5-layer option for backpacking in cool weather, and kept testers dry even during three straight days of rain in Rocky Mountain National Park. Testers report that breathability is middling, although pit zips help. While this shell doesn’t have material stretch, it’s roomy enough to accommodate movement and the one-way adjustable hood fits over a climbing helmet. Drawback: it’s bulky.
$219; 15.3 oz.; m’s S-3XL, w’s XS-XXL
Mountain Equipment Garwhal
For a full-featured shell, the Garwhal comes in at an affordable price point. A stiff brim kept one tester’s face clear during downpours in the Washington Cascades, the drop hem keeps drips out, and a single chest pocket allows for easy access to a snack or a phone even while wearing a pack. The Garwhal’s Gore-Tex Paclite material breathes well and had a little stretch, but our testers report that the its fit is a bit baggy.
$195; 12 oz. (m’s L); m’s S-XXL, w’s 8-16
Mountain Hardwear Exposure 2/Gore-Tex Active Jacket
This light, 3-layer, stretchy shell is ideal for high-output activities such as trail running. Testers liked the breathability, pocket placement, and athletic fit, but noted tightness near the armpits, especially when trying to layer. The Exposure/2 packs down to the size of a beer can. Caveat: It’s the most expensive shell in the test.
$495; 13.5 oz.; m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL
The most durable shell in the test, the Calcite’s 75-denier polyester face fabric handled all the abuse of a season of climbing, hiking, and skiing, and never failed. Testers liked its athletic fit, and its 2.5-layer Gore-Tex Paclite Plus material provides solid waterproofing. Tradeoff: lackluster breathability, even with pit zips open.
$279; 14.5 oz.; m’s XS-XXL, w’s XXS-XL
Salewa Agner DST DRY Jacket
This softshell stands up well to inclement weather, only wetting out in heavy rain and handling drizzles with ease. Testers also found that it offers exceptional breathability and durability, even for a softie. Ding: ultraexpensive for the category.
$350; 12.9 oz.; m’s XS-XL, w’s XS-XL
Marmot Guest House 4P
This car-camping tent has more space than our first apartment. A 35-square-foot enclosed mesh front room (with roll-up doors on three sides) is great for stashing gear or hanging out. A zippered-divider separates the 78-square-foot back “room” for privacy; the room also has a fifth door for an additional rear entrance. The Guest House also has plenty of interior pockets to hold all of a family of four’s odds and ends. It did get slightly dewy inside on a 30-degree night near Red River, New Mexico. $600; 14 lbs. 11 oz. Buy Marmot Guest House 4P Now
Mountainsmith Mountain Tipi
The Mountain Tipi’s classic one-pole design makes it a palace for two people, but at this much weight we were a little bummed it can’t comfortably fit more. Setup can be time-consuming, with six stakes required to keep the tub floor taut. But the Mountain Tipi stayed strong in 25-mph winds, and its full mesh body banished condensation even on 30°F nights in Colorado’s Never Summer Wilderness. $250; 5 lbs. 9 oz. Buy Mountainsmith Mountain Tipi Now
MSR Zoic 2
This isn’t the lightest two-person tent, but the Zoic’s 33-square-foot floor offers ample space for two (as well as a dog). Two 9-square-foot vestibules up the livability even further. Setup is fast and easy even without instructions, but the rain fly was bit trickier and we found that getting a sturdy pitch required some work. Majority mesh walls kept condensation to a bearable level when temps dropped. $350; 4 lbs. 6 oz. Buy MSR Zoic 2 Now
NEMO Dragonfly 2P
The Dragonfly boasts two entrances and two spacious vestibules (10 square feet each) for keeping storing gear and setting up a cooking space. Setup is intuitive, one tester reports. “I like that the webbing is color-coded so you know which side of the fly goes with which end of the tent,” she says. Weather protection is dialed, too: “The pitch was taut, and I felt really confident and comfortable in the tent even when a surprise snowstorm dumped 5 inches of snow on our campsite in Washington’s Pasayten Wilderness,” our tester says. $390; 2 lbs. 10 oz. Buy Nemo Dragonfly 2P Now
NEMO Hornet Elite 2P
Trying to pare down your kit’s weight? The Hornet Elite is one of the lightest two-person, two-door tents on the market. But while its 27.3-square-foot floor is average, testers found the 37-inch peak height and sloping walls. Strength isn’t an issue, though, and testers report that the Hornet Elite performed well in nasty storms. $500; 1 lb. 11 oz. Buy NEMO Hornet Elite 2P
Tarptent StratoSpire Li 2P
The StratoSpire Li lands easily in the featherweight category but still offers ample sleeping and storage space thanks to a 27-square-foot floor and two 9.9-square-foot vestis. Testers found the setup complicated, though, and wished for a more intuitive pitch given the tent’s eye-watering price. $690; 1 lb. 12 oz. Buy Tarptent StratoSpire Li 2P Now
Arc’teryx Norvan SL
These ultralight lowtops punch above their weight. They handled gnarly terrain in New York’s Adirondacks with gusto, keeping our tester stable on muddy trails to rock slabs to unstable sand. But the low cut and EVA midsole isn’t ideal for multiday pack loads, and our tester found that after 150 miles she noticed rockiness under her feet with increasing regularity. Still, there were no other signs of unusual wear and tear.
$150; 13.4 oz.; m’s 7-13, w’s 5-10
Asolo Touchstone GV
The suede-and-nylon Touchstone GV offers solid waterproofing and traction, even when one tester spend three days mucking through streams and mud in Colorado’s Anthracite Range. She reports that it was stiff and provides good support under multiday loads, but didn’t require the normal break-in time of a full leather boot. Fit is narrow, so check sizing first. Drawback: price.
$285; 2 lbs. 12 oz.; m’s 6-13.5, w’s 6.5-14
Bedrock Cairn Pro Adventure Sandals
These sandals and their Vibram Megagrip outsoles stuck to just about type of terrain while providing laudable protection underfoot—a backcountry sandal’s primary job. “I was even able to walk up wet granite slabs in them with no issue, and my feet barely felt the roots on the trail on the way back,” one tester reported after a hike in the Adirondacks’ High Peaks Wilderness. After four months of testing, he says that the Cairn Pros held up well and that he expected them to last for years to come.
$115; 1 lb. 2 oz.; m’s 5-14, w’s 6-15
Danner Trail 2650
Designed to conquer thru-hikes, the Trail 2650 provides stability under loads up to 25 pounds thanks to an EVA midsole and TPU shank (rare in a lowtop) that also protects against rocks and roots. Our tester also credited the shoe’s secure heel cup and aggressively lugged outsole for keeping her upright on a hike to Royal Arch near Boulder, Colorado. “I scrambled over ice, snow, and scree, but never lost confidence in my footing,” she says.
$150; 1 lb. 8 oz.; m’s 7-15, w’s 5-11
Five Ten Five Tennie
The original Five Tennie has been beloved by BACKPACKER editors for year, and this new version is even better. It’s an approach shoe with traction to take on 5.6 climbs, but this time around offers enough support and comfort to handle a 7-mile hike to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park with a 40-pound pack. One tester loved the retro-chic look; he also deemed the leather upper durable and expects it will last for years. Bonus: The Five Tennie now comes in women’s sizes.
$125; 1 lb. 7 oz.; m’s 6-11, w’s 5-12
Take a slick-looking, retro low-top and hide a 1.2mm, thicker-than-usual rock plate in its EVA midsole, and you get a shoe that’s as at home kicking around town as it is crushing trail. “I felt like a city-slicker in my fashionable shoes, but I quit caring pretty quickly because they dominated the trail,” said one tester after a wearing the Trailheads for a climb of 10,834-foot San Jacinto Peak in California. The TPU rock plate protected his feet from rocks and jagged terrain, and the midsole provided enough support to hump a 30-pound pack. Bummer: Dirt and debris can get into the shoes via the loose, breathable mesh.
$130; 1 lb. 7 oz.; m’s 7-15, w’s 5-11
Oboz Cirque Low Waterproof
This affordable, waterproof shoe offers solid protection in a low-profile silhouette. “The rubber toe cap and thick wraparound rand warded off rocks on a scramble of Idaho’s 11,650-foot Cobb Peak,” one tester says. He also notes that the Cirque maintained traction on muddy trail runs, but that it sometimes let in debris and water despite the BDry membrane. It’s heavy for its size, but breathes well on warm hikes.
$145; 2 lbs.; m’s 8-14, w’s 6-11
Salewa Alpenviolet GTX
Our tester raved about the support-to-weight ratio of the women’s-specific, Alpenviolet. It let her comfortably schlep 50-pound loads in Washington’s North Cascades, and never felt too heavy at the end of an 8-mile day that involved 3,300 feet of elevation gain. A lower-than-average, mid-cut cuff offers stability on slick trails but isn’t cumbersome, and the POMOCA rubber outsole gripped in mud and on wet rock. Drawback: our tester reports that break-in took a while, despite the women’s-specific last.
$170; 1 lb. 4 oz.; w’s 6-11
Cotopaxi Ostra Pack 30L
The 30-liter Ostra can comfortably handle dayhikes, ultralight overnights, and commuting. One tester liked its breathable backpanel as well as its chest and light hip straps for carrying loads up to 15 pounds. The pack easily handled her extra layers, snacks, and baby accessories on a hike to Rattlesnake Ledge in the Washington Cascades. However, she wanted more organization, noting that the single top pocket was small and didn’t allow easy access to items like sunscreen and snacks. $80; 2 lbs. 2 oz.; one size; 30 liters. Buy Cotopaxi Ostra Pack 30L Now
Lowe Alpine Altus 52 : 57
Testers praised this pack’s ability to make big loads disappear. On a four-day trek in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness, one tester carried 50 pounds of winter camping gear in the Altus and said it only felt like 30 pounds, thanks to an EVA backpanel that curves into the hipbelt and a 15mm-thick aluminum frame. He also liked the organization on the front of the pack, which has a shove-it pocket, a zippered stow compartment, and zippered access to the main packbag. $220; 4 lbs. 1oz.; two m’s sizes, one w’s size; 57 liters. Buy Lowe Alpine Altus 52 : 57 Now
Mammut Trion Spine 50
When you have a dense load of gear and a long approach, a minimalist alpine pack—with its minimalist suspension—won’t do. For those trips, we like the Trion. “The pivoting hipbelt provided solid distribution for my 50-pound load of ropes, gear, and food,” one Yosemite National Park ranger says. “Hiking down from Half Dome, I high-stepped over logs and scrambled down ledges, but the pack adjusted to my stride with every step.” Tradeoffs: A lack of organizing pockets (it does have ski carry straps, though), and the price is high for a pack this size. $350; 3 lbs. 4 oz.; one size; 50 liters. Buy Mammut Trion Spine 50 Now
Mountain Laurel Designs Burn DCF 38L
This ultralight pack is designed for thru-hikers carrying minimalist loads of of gear and food. With no framesheet it requires careful packing to keep sharp objects away from your back, but thick, padded shoulder straps and hipbelt wings let us tote loads up to 25 pounds in comfort. The Burn’s Dyneema-composite fabric held up to a full summer of hiking in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest. A large mesh pocket on the back can fit a tarp or small tent, and side pockets each fit a 1-liter water bottle. $275; 1 lb.; S-L; 38 liters Buy Mountain Laurel Designs Burn DCT 38L Now
Mountainsmith Mayhem 45
The Mayhem is an affordable option for multiday trips that offers laudable access and organization. A gigantic zipper on the front let us flay the pack open to use as a rope bag during climbing excursions, and two organizing pockets on the toplid, as well as two on the hipbelt, two side pockets, and a kangaroo pocket, made sure we never lost track of smaller items. Its wide foam shoulder straps and hipbelt let us carry loads up to 35 pounds in comfort, and the backpanel’s foam pods allow enough air to circulate that our backs never got too sweaty. $180; 2 lbs. 15 oz.; one size; 45 liters. Buy Mountainsmith Mayhem 45 Now
Ortlieb Atrack 45
The Atrack is a waterproof pack that carries much better than the usual drysacks-with-straps. A thick, padded hipbelt and similarly comfortable shoulder straps allowed one tester to carry 25 pounds on a two-day trip in Olympic National Park. And although the rain didn’t let up the entire time, his camera equipment stayed dry thoughout. Bonus: The submersible Atrack is easy to load and unload thanks to a waterproof zipper that splits the packbag down the middle. $285; 3 lbs. 6 oz.; one size; 45 liters. But Ortlieb Atrack 45 Now
Patagonia Planing Roll Top Pack 35
This waterproof (but not submersible) pack is great for coastal adventures. With a large external mesh pocket, secured with a drawstring, you can keep wet gear separate while the rest goes in the waterproof main compartment. A light backpanel and a removable hipbelt strap mean it’s not meant for loads over 20 pounds, but testers appreciated its ability to fold up and stash in larger packs. $129; 1 lb. 11 oz.; one size; 35 liters. Buy Patagonia Planing Roll Top Pack 35 Now
Big Agnes V Notch UL 40°F
For a synthetic bag, the V Notch UL packs down to an impressively small size. “Because it compresses to about the equivalent of a football, I was able to stuff it in my overfull pack for the 9-hour slog to Margy’s Hut outside Aspen, Colorado,” one tester says. He found the plastic zipper guide “delightful” because it eliminated snags as he zipped it up, but was less thrilled with the hood, which doesn’t provide a lot of coverage. The V Notch UL lived up to its temp rating on a chilly summer night in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
$190; 1 lb. 6 oz.; regular, long; 40°F
Exped Comfort 25°F
Testers raved about the Comfort’s feature set, which includes glow-in-the-dark zipper pulls—helpful for getting in and out of the bag at night—and a full-length zipper that allows the bag to flay open like a blanket and can connect it to another bag to form a double-wide system. The Comfort also has an arm zipper opposite its main zipper, which one user appreciated on unseasonably warm nights in California’s Emigrant Wilderness.
$319; 2 lbs.; regular, long, XL; 25°F
NEMO Banshee Quilt
Our testers deemed the lightweight, ultrapackable Banshee an ideal warm-weather quilt. “You can zip the edges together and cinch the top and bottom to seal in heat, which helped on 32°F nights in Kings Canyon National Park,” one says. He also liked the quick-zip system for venting, but warned that the Banshee’s airy design might make for chilly nights closer to its temp rating.
$370; 1 lb. 11 oz.; one size; 25°F
Paria Outdoor Products Thermodown 30°F Down Quilt
The affordable Thermodown takes its cues from sleeping bag design, with a quarter-length zipper on the bottom coupled with a drawstring that creates a draftless footbox. One tester appreciated the straps on the bottom that secured the quilt to his sleeping pad, allowing him to toss and turn without slipping off. Drawback: The quilt’s 700-fill down, which isn’t dry-treated, became lumpy from tent condensation during a weekend in Big Sur, California.
$150; 2 lbs.; regular, long; 30°F
Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Air Sleeping Mat
Side-sleepers, rejoice: The Ether Light XT Air provides 4 inches of cushion, so you likely won’t feel the ground no matter what position you end up in. Testers loved how easy this pad was to inflate with its included stuff sack/pump, as well as deflate and pack up. Packed, it shrinks to the size of a 1-liter Nalgene. Note: With an R-value of 0.8, it’s better for summer trips.
$160; 12.3 oz.; regular, large
Therm-a-Rest Vesper 32°F Quilt
At less than a pound and compressing down to the size of a 1-liter Nalgene, the Vesper is a thru-hiker’s dream. It doesn’t skimp on features, though, with a large footbox and generous draft tubes around the neck and sides, as well as straps that can secure the quilt to a sleeping bag. It kept one tester warm down to its temp rating during his thru-hike of the John Muir Trail.
$320; 15 oz.; regular, long; 32°F
Zenbivy Light Bed 25°F
Restless sleeper? The Light Bed has you covered. It’s a cross between a traditional sleeping bag and a blanket that users can configure as a mummy bag, rectangular bag, or a quilt. “Even though it doesn’t have any zippers, the design and generous dimensions allowed me to toss and turn all night without letting any cold air in,” one tester said after a trip to Yosemite. He reports that it took him about 15 minutes to figure the hook-and-grommet system out. The Light Bed and its 800-fill down compresses down to the size of a soccer ball.
$359; 1 lb. 13 oz.; regular, long, XL; 25°F