Gear Review: Backpacking Essentials

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Salewa Alp Trainer Mid GTX
I’ve always been a tennis shoe hiker. I’ve never been able to get into the whole boot thing. Last winter I did a little hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park, and overnight I wanted to become a boot guy. Fact — wet, soggy tennis shoes suck for hiking. I went out and got my hands on a pair of Salewa Alp Trainer Mid GTX boots. First of all, these boots are not your typical, light-duty hiking boots. They find a way to bridge the gap between mountaineering boots and regular hikers — bringing you the best of both worlds. The supportive shank is excellent for when the terrain gets rocky. I found the grippy Vibram sole to be especially helpful when my hike turned into more of a scramble. Although the boot is stiffer than my old sneakers, I didn’t feel like my movement was limited. I still have a full range of motion, but with ankle support that only a boot can provide. One of my favorite features of these boots is the GORE-TEX lining. No more tip-toeing around puddles and streams. Now I get to plow through mud and water without worrying about soaking my feet. I did get a blister the first time I wore these, though. Not being a boot guy, I didn’t realize the importance of breaking in a pair of boots. I took them on a seven mile hike the first day out. But after logging close to 30 miles on them, I haven’t had a blister since.
Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 3-Season
Sometimes I’m a side-sleeper. Sometimes I’m a stomach-sleeper. I’m the kind of guy that tosses, turns and untucks all the sheets by morning. Restrictive mummy bags have always been a bit of a challenge for me. I don’t like having my arms tucked down by my sides all night. I like room to move. The Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 3-Season solves pretty much every problem I’ve had while sleeping under the stars. Sierra Designs put some extra thought into this one. They have eliminated the zipper completely. Instead, they have opened up the top of the bag and then covered the opening with a quilt. I can just slip right in the bag and then pull the quilt up over my shoulders. There are even hand pockets built in. And there’s an opening at the bottom for my feet when they get too toasty. I thought I would have issues with cold air getting in the bag as I tossed and turned. I was pleasantly surprised – I stayed warm all night. However, I haven’t had a chance to test it out in anything below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It honestly is as close to sleeping in bed at home as you can get while outside. Now if someone could just make a super comfortable, yet lightweight sleeping pad for side sleepers, maybe with a built-in pillow, I would be set. (Hint, hint, Sierra Designs.)
Primus ETA Lite Stove System
The Primus ETA Lite Stove System is my new go-to stove for any backpacking adventure or small camping trip. Priced at under $100 and weighing only 14.1 ounces, it is a great tool for the job. After testing it out in Moab and in Grand Teton National Park, I discovered this stove heats up water fast. It boiled water from ice cubes in under six minutes for me at both locations. The stove and included pot have a built-in locking mechanism that turns all the parts into one piece. It feels really solid but also comes apart easily, which makes it great for moving around to get away from the wind. The pot also has a sleeve that does a great job of keeping the heat internal to keep it cool enough for you to grab with your hands — no extra tools required. The lighting mechanism works quickly but is pretty close to the element, so be careful if you’re relighting it. It also swiftly cools down and packs up nice and small, with the gas can fitting inside the cup.
Barebones Forest Lantern
If you have a little extra cash and want a way to charge your electronics outdoors, check out the Barebones Forest Lantern. With a maximum light output of 325 lumens, you’ll be able to see anything you need at your campsite at night, plus you can charge your phone with it. I have yet to run into a problem with the battery dying. I typically run it at about half the full output without any devices plugged in, and it works great. I tested charging my phone through the USB charger, and it charged at the rate of an average outlet. One of my only complaints is how short the USB charging cord is. I found it difficult to set it on anything easily and still have enough length to plug it in. I would highly recommend this lantern for car camping — the weight, one pound, two ounces — is a little too heavy for backpacking. The lantern is also built with a steel cage and frame, which gives it a cool old-fashioned look. Mine has proven to be pretty tough so far and isn’t showing any dents or major wear and tear. This lantern works great paired with Goal Zero products when you are on the go.