Testing cold-weather gear is the definition of Type 2 fun. In the moment, you might be chilled, wet, and maybe a little scared. But later on? Those trips become your go-to campfire stories. That’s the stuff Backpacker editors and our 150-strong test team live for. After months of vetting the newest winter-ready products in every frozen region of the country, we brought the best of the best into Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains for a four-day ski touring trip. The six winners that emerged are this year’s top picks for turning Type 2 fun into unforgettable winter memories.
The Best Gear of Winter 2022
All-Purpose Pack: Deuter Freescape Pro 38+ SL/40+
- Price: $210
- Weight: 3 lbs. 5 oz.
- Size: One size each, m’s and w’s
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When it comes to outdoor gear, the term “quiver of one” has become a cliche. But the Freescape Pro gives credence to the phrase once again. We carried this pack on every type of backcountry mission: quick-hit powder laps in Grand Teton National Park, daylong tours in the Wallowas, and a multiday camping trip in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley. The Freescape Pro had the technical chops and the carrying capacity to ace every test, making it our pick for the only winter pack you need to own for dawn patrol tours or full-weekend outings.
This pack has a U-shape frame made of Delrin (a rigid, high-strength plastic), which flexes torsionally like spring steel but weighs much less. The design keeps the Freescape Pro light for a full-featured pack that still has the capacity for a multiday winter trek. A floating toplid, side access, and plenty of organizational compartments allow this 40-liter pack (the 38+ SL is the women’s model) to carry much more gear than its specs might suggest.
All that volume belies the Freescape Pro’s technical capabilities. It carries especially well—whether you’re sidehilling in snowshoes or barreling down a couloir on skis—thanks to a narrow silhouette that clings tight to your back, eliminating wobble. “On the sketchy downclimb into Turkey Chute in the Tetons, I was glad that I didn’t have to fight the pack, only loose rock and sloughy snow,” our gear editor says. “During the ski down, the Freescape stayed with me through every turn. I could scarcely believe it was the same pack that I’d loaded with 30 pounds of gear to haul on overnight snow camping trips.”
The Freescape Pro is beefed up with durable nylon (620-denier on the bottom and 420-denier elsewhere) and also stuffed with winter-specific features like a helmet holder, ski- and snowboard-carry straps, dual ice axe loops, and an avy tool pocket. It’s hard—actually, impossible—to think of a feature this pack lacks. But if you need us, we’ll be skiing and hiking with the Freescape Pro for the foreseeable future, trying to find one.
Ergonomic Midlayer: Kari Traa Voss Hybrid Jacket
- Price: $250
- Weight: 1 lb. 4 oz. (w’s M)
- Sizes: w’s XS-XL
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Want a well-designed women’s jacket? Get one designed by women. The Voss Hybrid is the product of Kari Traa’s mission to keep female ergonomics at the heart of high-performance winter apparel. It makes sense, then, that the fit is what our testers liked most: “By narrowing slightly at the waist, then widening at the hips, this smart silhouette feels roomy without being baggy. It’s also flattering,” one says. A droptail hem adds coverage.
There’s much more to the Voss Hybrid than its dialed fit, of course. This warm-yet-breathable jacket kept us comfortable on all types of winter adventures, thanks to synthetic PrimaLoft Hi Loft Ultra Black ECO insulation on the arms, chest, and back (it can get a little sweaty under a pack), which pairs with stretchy, breathable polyester softshell fabric on the waistline, shoulders, and bottoms of the arms. We never got too cold or too warm as we shoveled snow for a camp kitchen in the Wallowas; swung axes toward snowy, 14,000-foot summits in Colorado’s Sawatch Range; and skinned for backcountry ski lines in Rocky Mountain National Park.
When the Voss Hybrid finally met its match—sunny, mid-40s conditions in Oregon—we balled the jacket into its hood, where it compressed to the size of a rugby ball. Rough stowage was never an issue—and neither were the tree branches we skied through—thanks to a 50-denier, PFC-free DWR-coated polyester face fabric. The hood is helmet-compatible, and two hand pockets hold gloves and snacks. We do wish the Voss had hem and cuff cinches, but the rest of this jacket is as good as it gets.
Warmth-Trapping Magician: Seirus Heatwave Lite Base Layers
- Price: $75 (top), $70 (bottom)
- Weight: 8.8 oz (bottom, m’s M); 7.2 oz. (top, m’s M)| 8.8 oz. ]
- Sizes: m’s XS-XXL, w’s XS-XXL
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Like a good trip partner, a baselayer need to be reliable. The Heatwave Lite is just that, no matter the conditions. This set brings the warmth but leaves the bulk behind with its “dual-stage heating system,” a foil lining (similar to a space blanket, but more comfortable) that Seirus claims to reflect and generate heat. On paper, here’s how it works: The fabric converts the kinetic energy created by wicking action into another 5°F of warmth. In practice: We stayed cozy while backcountry skiing at 18°F, ice climbing at 15°F, and winter camping at 10°F. So although it’s thin, fabric-wise, the Heatwave Lite packs a big punch.
Made from 88 percent polyester and 12 percent spandex, the set’s fabric moves with you while holding its shape. When bundled under another layer the Heatwave Lite wasn’t as effective at wicking. Still, after breaking a sweat building a snow cave (for fun) on Wyoming’s Wapiti Lake trail, we didn’t have to change baselayers when turning in for the night; the fabric had dried in just 30 minutes.
On our camping trip in the Wallowas, we stayed comfortable through subfreezing nights, never got clammy, and received zero smell-related complaints after four days of backcountry skiing.
The Heatwave Lite is also surprisingly durable, given its silkweight stature. After dozens of outings and several washes, the material still looks good as new. While skiing Colorado’s Bear Mountain, one tester ran into a tree branch that cut and bruised her arm, but didn’t leave a scratch on the fabric. With a moderately high waist, the pants are comfy in a range of leg positions; the shirt strikes a satisfying balance between form-fitting and comfort. And that makes sense: Hitting the sweet spot of warmth and wicking while on the go is the Heatwave Lite’s M.O.
Eco-Conscious Energy: Foothill Fuels Bio-White Gas
- Price: $15 per quart
- Weight: 1 lb. 8 oz.
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Most of the eco-friendly gear innovation today focuses around materials: Green DWRs, recycled fabrics, and the processes that make manufacturing gear less harmful for the environment. One category that’s flown under the radar? Cooking fuel.
All backpackers—okay, maybe not you, ultralight cold-soakers—use white gas (petroleum) in liquid-fuel stoves or a mixture of propane and isobutane for canister models. But here’s the thing: No matter how green the rest of your gear is, those fuels are major pollutants with significant carbon footprints.
The answer to this conundrum? Plant power. Foothill Fuels Bio-White Gas is made from recycled, refined vegetable oil. It burns exactly like conventional petroleum white gas, but generates half—half!—the greenhouse gas emissions. And while that may seem small in terms of your personal output, think of the difference it would make if more backpackers—and guiding companies, outdoor education classes, and so on—minimized their emissions every trip.
Functionally, the bio-white gas isn’t a downgrade from conventional fuel at all. “It burned efficiently at 10,500 feet as I made food before a mid-spring ski of Mt. Elbert in Colorado,” our gear editor says. “Using an MSR WhisperLite, I boiled a liter of water in about a minute and a half.” Similarly, the fuel didn’t give us any issues in the Wallowas, when temperatures dipped into the high 20s in the evening. And while we weren’t able to test it in truly bone-chilling conditions, Foothill claims similar performance to petroleum fuel down to -20°F.
So, sure. Your ubergreen jacket from the company of the moment might turn more heads. But for trip-to-trip impact, bio-white gas is an easy, effective way to decrease your footprint without sacrificing performance.
Steezy Sun Protection: POC Devour Glacial
- Price: $250
- Weight: 1.7 oz.
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On backcountry ski days, cold and windy transitions make us appreciate any product that improves efficiency and keeps us moving. By combining everything we love about sunglasses for the uphills with the best parts of goggles for the downs, the Devour Glacial helps us skip the eyewear transition altogether. We never had to switch out our eye protection during long days of touring in the Wallowas, which meant we could spend more time shredding perfect corn instead of fiddling with gear.
The Devour Glacial’s first-of-its-kind hybrid design maximizes versatility. It offers a larger field of view than other shield-style glasses and fits equally well with a helmet or hat. Unlike most sunglasses and glacier goggles, the Devour integrates with a helmet as well as our favorite ski goggles, leaving no forehead gap and offering full protection from wind. A removable foam browpiece mimics ski goggles and seals out drafts, while peripheral shields like you’d find on a glacier goggle offer protection on bright days. With a large, full-coverage lens that’s almost the size of a full goggle, we were pleasantly surprised at how many differently-sized faces the Devour Glacial fits (canines included). Even on small testers, it stayed put thanks to grippy, adjustable nose pads and temples that make it easy to find a customized fit—even when we took a few tumbles in afternoon slush.
The hydrophobic treatment on the Zeiss Clarity lens deflects dirt and oil, and we found ourselves wiping it down less frequently than other lenses. And just like our favorite ski goggles, the lens is removable and interchangeable for varying light conditions. Thanks to the Devour Glacial, we’ll never have to choose between sunglasses and goggles again.
Ultrabreathable Outer Layer: Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Jacket and Bib
- Price: $349 (jacket); $349 (bib)
- Weight: 1 lb. 6 oz. (jacket, m’s M); 1 lb. 11 oz. (bib, m’s M)
- Sizes: m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL
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Time was—just five years ago—you could have a highly breathable, winter-worthy shell, or you could have an affordable one. Not both. True, there were some standout waterproof/breathable membranes on the market, many based on air-permeable technology that allowed sweat to sneak through the jacket while it was still in its vapor phase. But those options could cost as much as your month’s rent. Then AscentShell fabric hit the scene, and we’ve been having it all ever since.
First seen in the Editors’ Choice Award-winning Skyward Jacket and Bib in 2016, and now perfected in the new Skytour kit, Outdoor Research’s proprietary AscentShell makes use of an electrospun, air-permeable membrane. Zoomed way in, it looks like a tangle of superfine polyurethane fibers with billions of tiny spaces between them, a construction that’s proved over the years to be exceptionally breathable yet still protective. The technology also allows the membrane to stretch (many other waterproof/breathables can’t), making for a supremely comfortable, movement-friendly shell. There are other impressive technologies out there, but nothing hits the bullseye for winter-ready toughness, affordability, and breathability like AscentShell.
Outdoor Research didn’t invent this concept. It’s very similar to the electrospun membrane pioneered by Polartec’s NeoShell. But because the brand doesn’t have to pay to license AscentShell (it’s proprietary), OR’s outerwear will save you a Benjamin or more compared to the price of other brands’ technical garments. And the fabric just keeps getting better: This season’s iteration is 20 percent lighter than the original stuff. That weight loss helped the Skytour keep us comfortable even when dragging a 40-pound pulk sled on a sunny, 30°F day in Montana’s Beartooth Mountains. Yet the 40-by-65 denier nylon/spandex face fabric still feels bomber, and sealed out frigid winds and sloppy snow on Washington’s Mt. Baker. All that protection, without the sweat? That’s a shell for the ages.