5 Can’t-Miss Values In the Outdoors

From a gem of the national park system to a do-everything backpack, these five things are the best value for every hiker.

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The best deals in the outdoors—and in life—are not necessarily the cheapest. They’re the things that help you have meaningful experiences and make unforgettable memories. They last. From a gem of the national park system to a do-everything backpack, here are five can’t-miss values for every hiker.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in the golden hour
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Kanab, United StatesPatrick Hendry

No entry fee. No backcountry camping fee. No reservations. Just some of the world’s best red rock terrain—slot canyons, natural arches, desert oases, ancient rock art, and some of the darkest night skies in the Lower 48. While Utah’s big 5 national parks get all the buzz—and all the traffic—Grand Staircase-Escalante remains a hassle-free zone for hikers who want simplicity, solitude, and world-class scenery. While the monument’s size and boundaries are now in dispute, what’s not controversial is this: Spend a few days hiking here, and you’ll think you really got away with something—because you did.

Mountaineering: The Freedom of The Hills

No less an authority than Conrad Anker called this book “the definitive guide to mountains and climbing.” But you don’t have to be an aspiring alpinist to benefit from The Freedom of the Hills. Now in its 9th edition, the instructional guide serves as a foundational text for backcountry self-sufficiency and safety. The latest edition has new advice on avalanche safety, which skiers and snowshoers alike will appreciate, and revamped chapters on clothing and camping will benefit everyone. Think of the timeless advice more like an heirloom to pass down to the next generation than a mere book, and the $35 price seems like a bargain. 

Stainless-Steel Cookpot

Stainless steel MSR Alpine Stowaway pots on a white background
BACKPACKER staff love the MSR Alpine™ Stowaway Pots. Photo courtesy of MSR

For 25 years, one BACKPACKER staffer has used the same stainless-steel pot to cook countless camp meals, from pasta to lentils to oatmeal to chocolate fondue. He’s fried trout in the lid, set the pot directly over a fire when fuel was short, and turned it into an oven by placing coals on top. The lid has been pressed into service as a snow shovel and the pot has survived expeditions and teenagers. It has no fancy nonstick coating, but a little extra muscle always gets it clean. To date, the cost works out to just under a dollar per year. But given the durability of stainless steel, he figures he’ll be using the pot for another 25 years, so the value just keeps going up.

America the Beautiful Annual Pass

The number one way to ensure you have an adventurous year? Buy this annual pass and use it. For $80, you get access to all the national parks, and with entrance fees as high as $35 at many premier parks, the pass pays for itself quickly. But that’s not the real value proposition. What most people don’t realize is that the pass also gets you into all of the country’s national monuments and national wildlife refuges, and also covers day-use fees at national forests, national grasslands, and BLM lands. That means pass holders pay nothing at more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. With a single day of skiing at Vail going for $219 this year, getting 365 days of outdoor access for 80 bucks is a steal. 

Deuter Backpacks

For hikers, no piece of gear is more important than a backpack. Heck, thru-hikers have done long trails without shoes, without a tent, without a stove. But you won’t get far outdoors without a backpack. This is one area where you don’t want to skimp on quality, but you still want a great value. Enter Deuter backpacks. Delivering packs that are comfortable, durable, lightweight, and feature-rich—for a fair price—is in Deuter’s DNA. That raincover you’re going to need? Included on most models. And for years, BACKPACKER testers have lauded the tough construction of Deuter packs, coming back with reports like, “I beat the heck out of this pack, but even after 80 miles of off-trail travel through alder and scrub oak in the California Sierra, it hasn’t suffered a rip.”

White woman sits on a rock holding a red Deuter Aircontact Lite backpack. Mountains are out of focus in the background.
Not only is the Aircontact Lite pack series lightweight and comfortable, sizes range from 40 liters for minimalist packers up to 65+10 liters for those carrying more gear ensuring there is one that fits your style.

It should be no surprise that every Deuter pack comes with a lifetime warranty. The Deuter Promise has no loopholes: “We promise to repair any Deuter pack free of charge, no matter its generation or the reason for damage or defect. Regardless of how many trail miles it has seen, we’ll attempt to stitch it up for many more adventures to come. If this pack is deemed to be truly at the end of its trail life and is irreparable, we’ll replace it with the closest comparable pack.”

And this commitment to quality extends to environmental impact as well. The company has been phasing out the use of toxic PFCs for several years, and in 2020 all its products are PFC-free. In May, Deuter will release an entire line of packs that are upcycled from plastic water bottles.

Of course, none of that would matter if a pack didn’t last. So consider this: The average return rate for Deuter packs is less than 1 percent, and the company’s repair shop in Boulder County, Colorado, has fixed packs that were made more than 30 years ago and returned them to the trail. Assuming you take 24 dayhikes and five backpacking trips a year—the average for a BACKPACKER reader—that’s a lot of memories with one pack. In an era when many products are designed to be replaced all too soon, Deuter is going in the opposite direction, with packs they want you to use for a long, long time.