Like you, we routinely seek out the wildest places as the settings for our big trips. But what if evidence of past inhabitants can enhance a place, rather than detract from it? That’s the theory we tested in Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, which counts rich indigenous history among its treasures. Walking through Arch Canyon, in the monument’s southern unit called Shash Jáa, is akin to visiting an open-air museum. As we hike, we spy centuries-old granaries and dwellings tucked into the cliffs above. We marvel at the permanence of these structures, which have stood for centuries high above this hard-scrabble terrain.

The tribes who have called this area home for generations knew how to build things that last. The desert is as harsh on people as it is on stone, making this an ideal place to put hiking gear to the test.

We don’t have centuries to test these latest crafts of humankind, of course, but our methods pack years of use into five months. Out of the hundreds of new hiking products our team has used this year, we’ve whittled the list down to the top-performing handful, with the ultimate goal of separating out the very best. The gear that emerged from this final trial excels in comfort, durability, and on-trail problem solving. We can’t guarantee it’ll last as long as the dwellings in Arch Canyon, but precious little ever does. —Eli Bernstein