Backpacker staff members test a lot of gear. We all have our favorite go-tos, though, products that always make it into our packs no matter where we’re headed. Here’s what gear editor Eli Bernstein depends on in the backcountry.
Ortovox Merino Fleece Light Grid Jacket
Over the last couple years, this fleece has been my most-worn piece of apparel by some measure. A merino layer on the interior keeps me warm down to about 35°F over just a baselayer, while its grid structure helps wick sweat away when things heat up (it evaporates quickly from the polyester exterior). Polyamide patches on the shoulders and arms have resisted wear and tear from heavy packs and rocks over multiple hiking and backcountry skiing seasons, and the merino pulls double duty by (mostly) mitigating odor after multiple days of use.
$190; Buy Now
Katadyn Gravity BeFree Water Filtration System 3.0 Liter
In terms of in-camp convenience, this gravity filter is as good as it gets. The BeFree is light and packable, relatively inexpensive, and its 3-liter size means that one set-and-forget filtration session is usually enough for myself and a hiking partner to do dinner, beverages, and cleanup without having to refill. (It’s fast, too, at just under 2 liters per minute.) I also like that the .1-micron, hollow-fiber filter is easy to clean; just remove it and swish it through any water on hand.
$70; Buy Now
Big Agnes Torchlight UL 20°F
I’m pretty sure I’m the most restless sleeper on the Backpacker staff, but this bag goes a long way towards alleviating the problem. Although the Torchlight weighs just over 2 pounds and compresses down to the size of a football thanks to 850-fill down, it boasts a seemingly impossible volume thanks to two zippers along its sides. When they’re closed the bag has a traditional mummy shape, but opening them pumps the shoulder circumference up to 70 inches and the hip girth to 64 inches. So, I have all the room I want to fidget and find the right position without having to lug a bulky bag around.
$400; Buy Now
UCO Switch Spork
Gear that nests inside itself is always rad to me (yes, I know, I’m cool), and while small, this utensil may be my favorite entry in the genre. The Switch gives you a knife, a fork, and a spoon that all stash together to the size of a single utensil for easy storage. But the best part: If you eat straight out of the dehydrated meal bag like I do, you can connect them, Voltron-style, to make a superlong spoon or fork for hitting those hard-to-reach corners without making a mess. Plus, this set is more durable than many collapsible utensils.
Zoleo Satellite Communicator
This device is the best combination of performance and price I’ve found in a satellite messenger. The Zoleo’s companion smartphone app is clean and easy to use (messaging looks just like regular texts), and it can grab weather reports and send check-ins and SOS signals with the push of a button. Its pricing plan is still flexible, though, and the device itself falls towards the low end of the price spectrum. Bang for your buck might not enter into your backcountry safety equation, but the Zoleo delivers.
$200; Buy Now