Women's Fall Gear 2008

Our female testers pick their favorite gear for fall hikes.

Pack | Bra | Rain Shell | Sleeping Bag | Pants | Vest | Midlayer


Granite Gear Nimbus Meridian Ki

It's light, but it ain't dainty: This women's pack handled a 40-pound load in Colorado's Park Range, and its Cordura-and-nylon pack bag survived bushwhacks unscathed. The brawny, water-resistant zippers on the lid and front panel let you wrestle any load. And the women's fit fits: A curved backpanel nestles into the lumbar and transfers weight onto hips and legs; contoured shoulder straps allow plenty of space for the well-endowed; and the hipbelt cradles curvy hips. Features allow versatile packing: plentiful compression straps snug up smaller loads; the removable lid doubles as a fanny pack; and capacity extends for up to an ultralight week. $270; 3,800 cu. in.; 3 lbs. 12 oz. (reg), 2 sizes. granitegear.com. Reader service #117

Pack | Bra | Rain Shell | Sleeping Bag | Pants | Vest | Midlayer


Ibex Balance Seamless Sports Bra

A comfortable, supportive bra is not an accessory item–it's core gear. Testers raved about this stretchy wool wonder, which delivers support rather than corset-style constriction. "The most breathable sports bra I've ever worn," said one fan, who found it comfy while hiking in temps ranging from 20°F to 75°F. "So comfortable, I even slept in it," said another tester. The wide chest band doesn't roll or pinch, and the gathered center fights off the dreaded "uniboob" look. Our one gripe: The bra is not truly seamless (as the name implies) because the edges of each shoulder strap are finished with bound seams, which left marks on our skin after long days with heavy packs. Best for low- to moderate-impact sports (it's not a running bra). $49; S-L; ibexwear.com. Reader service #118

Pack | Bra | Rain Shell | Sleeping Bag | Pants | Vest | Midlayer

Rain Shell

Mountain Hardwear Pegasus Jacket

The Pegasus is a shell for all seasons: Light enough for summer backpacking, yet plenty burly for winter hiking and skiing. The waterproof/breathable fabric kept testers dry and comfortable during spring sleet and sustained rain. "Even long, hard climbs didn't steam up the interior," said a tester, who credited the proprietary fabric's better-than-average breathability and generous pit zips. The slightly stretchy material also let testers reach and twist freely while scrambling. The cut is long for full coverage down to the upper thighs, and the two hand pockets sit above a pack's hipbelt for easy access. We also liked the versatile hood–it fit over a helmet or cinched down over our heads with fast, fumble-free adjustments. Bonus: The understated flower designs drew a bevy of compliments. $350, 14 oz. (M) XS-XL; mountainhardwear.com. Reader service #119

Pack | Bra | Rain Shell | Sleeping Bag | Pants | Vest | Midlayer

Sleeping Bag

Kelty Light Year 20°F Women's

Want the most bag for your buck? Get this ultralight cocoon, with extra 650-fill down in the hood, chest, and feet. Testers appreciated the generous cut from shoulders to legs–it let them wear extra layers and even curl up inside the bag. The temperature rating is accurate, but cold sleepers shouldn't push it because of the roomy shape. On warm nights, the moisture-wicking lining felt cool against skin and a zipper in the foot area allowed venting. Stuffed into its included compression sack, the bag is scarcely larger than a loaf of bread (a half-length side zipper cuts weight and bulk). Downsides: The hood is shallow and fussy to adjust. $180; 2 lbs. 4 oz. (reg); 2 lengths. kelty.com. Reader service #120

Pack | Bra | Rain Shell | Sleeping Bag | Pants | Vest | Midlayer


Mountain Hardwear Women's Petra

Our first priority in backcountry pants is protection from rock and brush with a fit and fabric that doesn't restrict hiking or scrambling. The Petra manages all that, and looks good, too. With stylish seaming, an elastic internal pull cord at the waist, and low-profile hand pockets, the Petra flatters a wide range of body shapes. The adjustable cuffs fold up and snap neatly in place to shorten the length by five inches, which provides extra clearance on muddy trails. The stretchy, quick-drying Switchback Plus nylon is impressively durable: After several months of abuse, they showed only one tiny snag. $75; 10 oz.; 2-14; mountainhardwear.com. Reader service #121

Pack | Bra | Rain Shell | Sleeping Bag | Pants | Vest | Midlayer


Isis Lucky Stripe

This 650-fill down toaster earned fans for its figure-flattering baffles and luscious fabrics. The collar and pockets are lined with soft fleece, and the silky, 100-percent recycled polyester shell slips neatly under a jacket. Compressed in its stuff sack, the Lucky Stripe shrinks down to soda-can size. TLC is required, however: The shell fabric resisted rips and tears, but it snagged easily, leaving faint pucker lines across the otherwise smooth finish. $129; 8 oz.; 4-14. isisforwomen.com. Reader service #122

Pack | Bra | Rain Shell | Sleeping Bag | Pants | Vest | Midlayer


Cloudveil Traverse Hoodie

"This fleece actually made me look forward to cold weather," said our Colorado tester, who reported that this low-bulk, lightweight layer slid unobtrusively under a shell and kept her warmer than many heavier tops. Though not windproof, the Polartec 100 fleece repels most chill breezes, and the hood provides an instant warmth boost (bonus: no fumbling for a hat). Seams placed well away from pack straps kept testers chafe-free on long days, and the embroidered design on one arm lends this layering workhorse a playful flourish. $90; 8 oz. (M); XS-XL. cloudveil.com. Reader service #123