Backpacking Gear Review – 2010 Edition
Finding good backpacking gear seems to be an exercise in trial and error. Preferences are wildly varied and highly subjective, so we thought it would be fun and informative to share our gear assessments as we go along.
This backpacking trip was the first time we field tested our new gear, and (thankfully) most of it worked out really nicely!
Adam – I’m a big fan of the Gregory Z65. My back tends to give me a lot of problems due to my long torso. I feel that the Z65 gives me good back support with the extra padding. My back also tends to be the part that sweats the most, so I like the air flow that is created between the pack and my back. It definitely holds a good amount of gear that could last for a weeklong trip. Even though we will not be doing a lot of long backpacking trips, this pack has a lot of ability to tighten around the gear you have, making it versatile for smaller trips. The only two cons I would have is that it doesn’t have a pocket to slide some easily accessible stash in the front and the pockets for water bottles are a little hard to reach personally. It does have a sleeve for a hydration bladder. For daytrips, I use the Gregory Z30. It has all the benefits listed above for the Z65, but of course doesn’t hold as much. It holds enough that you could possibly use it for an overnight trip also.
Christine – I chose the Gregory Z55. I liked the air flow channel between my back and the pack. It kept me nice and cool, despite the hot weather. I was easily able to fit 28 pounds of gear inside the bag, with lots of room to spare. I wish the pack had water bottle holsters built in, but it does have a sleeve for a hydration bladder. Gregory makes a women’s model (the Jade 50/60) that is similar to the Z55. I ended up going with the men’s model pack because I have wider shoulders than the average woman. The men’s shoulder straps just seemed to fit me better. I’m not sure the frame is exactly the perfect size for me, but it’s close. I fall sort of between a small and medium in Gregory’s sizing.
Adam – We chose the Mountain Hardware Drifter 3 tent. We decided to go with a three-person tent to give us a little extra room. We had more than enough room in our tent for our bags, with plenty of space on either side and the foot and head for essential gear storage. The tent is easy to set up and is about a typical weight of 6 lbs. I carried the tent, fly, and footprint and had Christine carry the stakes to split up the weight a little.
Christine – I love the design of the Mountain Hardware Drifter 3. It felt a bit bigger than a queen size bed inside. It was easy to pitch and the mesh allowed plenty of air circulation. What I didn’t like was that the rainfly seemed to have few seams that were not sealed well. When we had a thunderstorm roll through in the late afternoon, the tent dripped slowly at several places where hooks attach the fly to the tent frame.
Adam – I can sleep fairly easily. I went with a Sierra Design Tomichi 35 degree (discontinued) sleeping bag. Being down-filled, it is extremely light and is quite warm. The mummy-style bag does work for me. I found a great price on it at Sierra Trading Post. During the summer, it is too hot to sleep in but does provide good padding underneath you. It also has straps that you can fit your sleeping pad underneath to keep your bag from sliding around on top.
Christine – I tend to be an active sleeper. I roll around a lot and don’t like to have my feet bound together, so I wanted to avoid a narrow mummy-style bag. I also preferred the lighter weight and compressibility of a down bag. It was really hard to find a bag that met both of these specifications, but I came across a nice semi-rectangular bag at L.L. Bean. Most of the night, I slept on top my bag because it was so hot and humid. I crawled inside for a little while, in the hour right before dawn. I found the bag to be soft and just spacious enough to not make me feel claustrophobic. The zipper ran very smoothly and didn’t catch at all. It packs down nicely in a stuff sack and weighs in at just over two pounds. Not bad!
Adam – Christine coaxed me to get the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core pad. It does give you a good amount of padding between the ground and your body. I never once felt like I felt anything sticking into me. Inflating and deflating the pad was easy and it compacts down to a very small size. I have heard these aren’t the best in cold weather, since the amount of air in this pad can get cold, but I think this is great for three-season camping.
Christine – I thought the Big Agnes pad was very comfortable. I could roll from my back to my stomach to my side without feeling even the slightest hint of hard ground under me. The pad does require you inflate it manually, but this really wasn’t a big deal. It took less than five minutes of puffing to fill the pad completely.
Adam – We decided to get the Katadyn Hiker Pro pump filter. It does have a good filter system and packs down fairly well. You can clean out the filter and it includes an adapter so you can pump directly into a Nalgene bottle.
Christine – Personally, I’m still undecided on the Katadyn Hiker Pro pump filter. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it per say… I’m just still not completely reconciled to the idea of drinking stream water. I’m sure I’ll get over it in time, but I still feel the urge to treat my water with multiple methods of purification – boiling, SteriPen, Micropur tablets and then filtering.
Adam – Right now, I’m just using water bottles, but I plan on picking up a CamelBak or Platypus reservoir soon.
Christine – A few days before our trip, I picked up a CamelBak 3 Liter reservoir. I give this item two big thumbs up! Instead of hassling with water bottles, I could sip water as I walked. I stayed hydrated much more easily than usual on this hike. The full reservoir added about seven pounds to my pack weight, but it was well worth it. The water stayed surprisingly cold all day long, too.
Adam – I use the Trail Ergo Cork trekking poles from Black Diamond. The cork grip keeps your hands dry and from slipping and the locking mechanism keeps the poles from moving. I can’t believe that I hiked without them before.
Christine – I got a pair of Komperdell Mountain Explorer poles about a year ago, and they’ve become indispensable. I used to think hikers with trekking poles were just gadget-hounds who bought into a bunch of hype. But now that I’ve used them, I can say with certainty that they conserve energy and take a lot of strain off the knees. I hike farther and faster when I use poles.
Adam – For backpacking trips, I will definitely bring along my Oboz Sawtooth boots. Comfort on the bottom of my foot is key since I suffer from plantar fasciitis, but these didn’t make my feet hurt at all. They are waterproof, provide great ankle support, and also felt quite light compared to leather boot options.
Christine – When we started the Backpacking 101, a couple of the instructors swore up and down that everyone needed tall, leather boots with a steel shank and Vibram sole. I took their advice, and chose a pair of Garmont Sitka boots. They’re comfortable, but they are also hot, heavy and make my ankles feel stiff and immobile. Since the class ended, I’ve been paying attention to the footwear used by other backpackers and thru-hikers. I noticed that most of them use trail runners and hiking shoes over traditional boots. This is the footwear I have always hiked in, so I decided to go back to it for our backpacking trip. I went with a pair of Columbias on this most recent trip, but also have shoes by Merrell and Vasque. They worked out great! My feet stayed cool, light and comfortable the whole trip.
Other Bits & Pieces
- For hiking, navigating, and geocaching, I use the Garmin eTrex Venture hand-held GPS. It does have some limits, but is a good basic GPS to find your way.
- A big hit at camp were the REI mugs we brought. They are clear and insulated and have measuring amounts on the size, which make it great for scooping.
- For good dental hygiene on the trail, pick up some mini Colgate Wisps. These are easy to pack, provide a tooth pick, and are easier to carry than the standard toothbrush/toothpaste.
- I *hated* my Crocs. Apparently, a lot of people think they make great camp shows. I thought they were uncomfortable and allowed the mosquitoes to feast on my toes (and they’re ugly!). I’ll try them one more time, but with socks. I’ll be the biggest dork in the forest, but I suppose it’s worth a try.
- Using a stuff sack as a pillow didn’t really work out for me. The slippery fabric allowed my head to slide all over the place. I tried wrapping the sack in my hiking pants, but that wasn’t much better. One person in our party had two nice camp pillows – one by Slumberjack and one by Thermarest. I’ll definitely be adding a pillow to my gear before I head out again.
- In the warm summer months, I decided that I don’t necessarily want to carry a sleeping bag. I’m going to ask my mom to sew a sheet for my Big Agnes pad and carry a lightweight blanket. I think that will be a lot more comfortable in the heat.
- I decided that I don’t really like and probably don’t need sock liners. I hiked one day with them and one day without them, and I found I definitely prefer the soft, looped pile inside my merino wool socks to the slick, silky material of the liners.
- Next time, I’ll bring a spare bandanna. It looked silly on me, but it did a great job keeping the sweat from dripping into my eyes.