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2004 Backpacking Light Staff Picks

Staff Favorites - Our gear picks from the 2004 hiking and backpacking season.

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by Staff | 2004-12-29 03:00:00-07

Getting a bunch of gear freaks like us to whittle their list of "favorite" gear down to three items is like asking an AT NOBO entering Maine to throttle back to ten mile days.

Nonetheless, what has to be done will be done, and we've managed to come up with a short list of favorite gear that we used in 2004.

This isn't really an "Editor's Choice" sort of deal in any formal sense, and it sure is heck ain't an endorsement of Great Gear That Works For Everyone. It's just a list of fine products that made their way - consistently - into our backpacking gear lists month in and month out over the course of 2004.

Enjoy - and don't forget to add your own 2004 favorites in the forum below! - Your BPL Eds

Backpacking Light Staff Member Favorite Pieces of Gear
Ryan Jordan PossumDown products Tilley LT3 Hat Bozeman Mountain Works Quantum Vapr Bivy
Carol Crooker Gossamer Gear Mariposa Salomon Tech Amphibian Icebreaker Superfine190 top
Vic Lipsey Bozeman Mountain Works TorsoLite pad AntiGravityGear pop-can Alcohol Stove Smartwool products
Alan Dixon Gossamer Gear G6 Backpack Tarptent Squall Garmin Geko 301
Ken Knight Ibex Icefall Jacket Tarptent Virga Nunatak Arc Alpinist
Jay Swan McHale Zero-SARC UL Pack Suunto Clip-On Wrist Compass Buff
Jay Ham Montrail trail runners Aqua Mira Clarke Original Tin Whistle
Doug Johnson Gossamer Gear Lightrek Poles Tarptent Squall Montbell U.L. Trekking Umbrella
Stuart Bilby Tarptent Squall Petzl Tikka Plus Snow Peak Titanium 1.4 liter Pot
Don Wilson GoLite Breeze Tarptent Squall Coleman F1 Powerboost
Will Rietveld Gossamer Gear G4 Pack Tarptent Squall ThermoJet Microlite Alcohol Stove
Blake Morstad SmartWool Socks Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Mattress Montbell U.L. Super Stretch Down Hugger #3 sleeping bag

Ryan Jordan, Publisher - Bozeman, Montana

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - PossumDown products

PossumDown - gloves, hat, vest, it doesn't matter (Backpacking Light store)

To have the temperature regulating and moisture management benefits of a natural fiber in a high-loft knit that is soft and comfortable next to the skin is like having sweet cream butter on your Sourjacks at Jedediah's - i.e., one of life's special little pleasures.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Tilley LT3 hat

Tilley Hat (

After several years and a few thousand miles on the trail, it's like an old friend: well-worn, comfortable, and a reminder of trials and good times. A great hat for sun, snow, and rain, and always breathable enough for high exertion activities. My favorite ways to use the hat: over a thin balaclava for winter hiking, or soaked in a stream and plopped soaking wet right on my head in the heat of summer.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Bozeman Mountain Works Vapr bivy

Bozeman Mountain Works Pertex Quantum Vapr Bivy (Backpacking Light store)

My go-to bivy sack for just about any three-season condition - and sometimes even in the winter. It allows me to sleep under a small tarp and have unrestricted views and connection with the surrounding wilderness, while keeping wind, rain spray, or spindrift at bay. The Vapr Bivy was even my sole shelter during a 2-bivy climb to control spindrift on an attempted mid-winter traverse of the Mt. Index massif in Washington State.

Carol Crooker, Editor-in-Chief - Phoenix, Arizona

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Gossamer Gear Mariposa backpack

Gossamer Gear Mariposa Ultralight Backpack (

I love the Mariposa backpack. It weighs about a pound and has a very comfortable suspension system including back stays! Not having used a pack with a built-in internal frame in years, I was amazed at how light a water-heavy 26-pound load felt during a summer Grand Canyon backpacking trip using the Mariposa.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Salomon Tech Ampibian shoes

Salomon Tech Amphibian shoes (

These shoes are very light (my pair of men's size 10.5 weigh 24.8 ounces), yet have just enough torsional and longitudinal rigidity to provide good support for my feet. The soles have a tread pattern with a defined heel that is aggressive enough to stop most slides on steep gravelly trails. The mesh keeps my feet cool in hot weather and allows the shoes to dry quickly in wet weather. With the one-pull lacing system and adjustable back, I usually just slide my feet into them. I'm happy wearing these shoes in 107 °F heat and while snowshoeing (adding some overshoes if my feet get cold) and just about every condition in between.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Icebreaker Superfine190 shirt

Icebreaker Superfine190 long sleeved top (

This is a very thin (190 g/m2) 100% Merino wool shirt. I like it for two reasons. First, the wonderful properties of high quality Merino wool. Second, my women's size large top makes me feel almost elegant. The material is very high quality and the shirt has a tailored shape that fits me closely but is not too snug, and it drapes beautifully. (And it's still machine washable!)

Vic Lipsey, Managing Editor - Seattle, Washington

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Bozeman Mountain Works TorsoLite pad

Bozeman Mountain Works TorsoLite pad (Backpacking Light store)

Just beautiful, especially in combination with a 2' x 2' piece of blue foam under my feet. For my 6'2" and 225 pound frame, its 10 ounces does a great job smoothing high rocky ledges, and minimizes impact at low elevations where Northwest rain marathons extend tent time.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Antigravity Gear pop can alcohol stove

AntiGravityGear pop-can alcohol stove (

For any trip under three days, this is my preferred noodle maker. The all-in-one stove and pot-stand is simple, reliable, and cool to touch 30 seconds after it is extinguished.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Smartwoold products

SmartWool. Almost anything made out of this stuff (

The new microweight t-shirt works great under a windshirt for fall temps. At night, lightweight tops and bottoms. And after a few days on the trail, the odor doesn't run your hiking buddy out of the tent. (Polypropylene wearers, get a bivy.)

Alan Dixon, Product Review Director - Washington D.C.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Gossamer Gear G6 backpack

Gossamer Gear G6 Whisper Backpack (

Finally! With the G6 I can get my base pack weight to below 5 pounds and not use a poncho for both my raingear and shelter. Now I can use a catenary spinnaker fabric tarp and Quantum bivy sack for shelter and a combination of a Montane Vapour wind vest and Integral Designs eVENT rain jacket. I'm a big fan of the simplicity, freedom of movement and low weight of hipbeltless packs. The wide shoulder straps on the G6 carry up to 15 pounds in complete comfort. A long weekend with 10 to 11 pounds in the pack is cinch. I can squeak out a six-to-seven-day trip and keep my pack plus a liter of water at 18 pounds. Now I get within a half pound of Ryan on a pre-trip pack weigh-in.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Tarptent Squall shelter

TarpTent Squall (

At a pound and a half this is a happy (possibly the only) solution to my desire for an extremely light and well ventilated shelter and my wife's desire to have something tent-like with complete bug protection. With our TorsoLite pads, and our Western Mountaineering Aspen bag spread over us quilt style the Squall is truly our backcountry "home." Its simple and elegant design sets up in a few minutes. Catenary curves make for a taut pitch that's surprisingly stable in the wind. Our Squall has weathered monsoons in coastal California, and sub-freezing, wind blown conditions on high Sierra ridges. What's not to like?

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Garmin Geko 301 GPS

Garmin Geko 301 GPS ( and National Geographic Topo! (

Why not travel smarter? Yeah I can do the map and compass thing and navigate fine (and one should be able to do this in case of GPS failure), but I do a lot of off trail-travel, and the Geko 301 more than makes up for its 3.5 ounces by aiding more efficient travel and better decisions. When used in combination with custom waterproof maps and waypoints from National Geographic Topo!, the Geko 301 is the ultimate navigational tool for the ultralighter. The Geko 301 has all the functions I need, fits in my pocket, and runs for about a half season (my use) on one set of batteries. I love the point and sight to a waypoint feature that the magnetic compass adds. In almost a year of use, the Geko 301 has already saved my butt in the featureless winter terrain of the Beartooth Plateau, and in the maze of mangrove channels and islands of the Everglades. And that doesn't count a number of times I've used it in whiteout.

Ken Knight, Production Editor - Ann Arbor, Michigan

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Ibex Icefall jacket

Ibex Icefall jacket (

The Ibex Icefall jacket has been a long-time favorite softshell of mine. The Climawool Lite fabric has worked exceedingly well for me under a very wide range of conditions. For my style of hiking, the mix of natural fiber and synthetic fabric layers provides great utility whether I am hiking through cool spring or fall days, resting at a windy lookout, or hiking along a path in the northern woods during winter.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Tarptent Virga shelter

Tarptent Virga with sewn-in floor (

This shelter has proven a solid performer for me. It sets up very easily and has weathered massive bug swarms during Midwest and Canadian summers and gales on the Californian coast. For a solo hiker with not much gear who wants more complete protection than a basic tarp, the Virga is hard to beat.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Nunatak Arc Alpinist sleeping bag

Nunatak Arc Alpinist Sleeping Bag (

I like the mix of a quilt with footbox. The design affords me considerable wiggle room and keeps my feet warm to boot. I have never felt constricted inside the Arc Alpinist and that is perhaps its single biggest selling point for me.

Jay Swan, Copy Editor - Durango, Colorado

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - McHale Zero Sarc UL backpack

McHale Zero-SARC UL Pack (

As a charter member of "Team Torso," I have a hard time finding packs that fit: even though I'm only 5'10", my stubby legs give me a torso as long as someone 6 inches taller. I like my hip belts to actually fit around my hips. Many lightweight packs aren't even manufactured in varying sizes, and when they are, even the large size usually has a belt that rides above my navel. Somehow, during a bleary-eyed web-surfing session, I stumbled upon the McHale Packs website.

McHale makes custom-fit packs based on each buyer's measurements. The packs are somewhat modular; most parts can be removed or replaced with minimum effort. This makes it easy to adjust the pack's size and features for a particular outing; it also facilitates repair. The Zero-SARC UL might be too large and heavy for the serious ultralight crowd, but it makes the perfect do-everything pack for my purposes. It's well under 4 pounds and over 3,000 cubic inches. It compresses extremely well and fits, well, like it was custom-made. McHale's prices were high when I bought it and have gone up since then, but I haven't had a single moment of pack-envy since the day it arrived. As McHale points out on his website, one of his packs is a lot cheaper than three or four other packs that don't work.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Suunto clip on wrist compass

Suunto Clip-On Wrist Compass (

Whereas the McHale pack almost falls into the "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" category, the $8 Suunto wrist compass is solidly in the stocking-stuffer price range. As a frequent business traveller, I actually use it as often for navigating in unfamiliar cities as I do in the mountains, I'm constantly amazed at how useful a compass can be when I have it with me 24/7. The rotating bezel even allows me to take reasonably accurate bearings. In terms of usage per dollar spent, this item easily tops my list.

Also in the stocking-stuffer category, the Buff is a simple microfiber tube that can be worn as a neck gaiter, hood, balaclava, hat, headband, face mask, and in various other configurations. I first read about it maybe five years ago in an article about adventure racing, and promptly ordered two from the then-exclusive North American distributor in Canada. They've since become reasonably popular after being picked up by REI and featured on the TV show "Survivor." They weigh next-to-nothing and compress to the size of a small apple, but can add a surprising degree of warmth or sun protection. I now keep one permanently in the top pocket of my pack.

Jay Ham, Packing Systems Section Editor - Flagstaff, Arizona

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Montrail trail runners

Montrail trail runners (

Just about anything in their line-up fits my wide feet while still locking in my narrow heel. They also have great arch support right out of the box. As a testament to how much I like them, I found a model I liked on sale and bought five pair (Wasatch II; 28 ounces). I am just wearing out the first pair...four more to go!

Repackaged, its weight goes unnoticed among the contents of my pack. It never clogs (I've burned up new Pur filter cartridges on a few trips where the water wasn't exactly transparent), doesn't require pumping, and doesn't taint the taste. I don't mind the wait time.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Clarke Original Tin Whistle

Original Clarke Tinwhistle (

At 1.1 ounces (key of D), it is absolutely the lightest way to beat the boredom of long winter nights. It is a six-hole whistle with three octaves made in the traditional "wood-plug" conical design. It sounds great and can play just about any tune, with practice; but is best suited to fast-played Irish folk. Cheap too, at around $15.00.

Doug Johnson, Shelter Systems Section Editor - Redmond, Washington

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Gossamer Gear Lightrek poles

Gossamer Gear Lightrek Poles (

They are so light - I hardly know they're there. They absorb shock, they're comfortable - they've made me into a full time trekking pole user. They don't compact for times that I need to use my umbrella (see below) but even when I connect the pair together with a couple of Velcro straps, they're still lighter than any telescoping pole on the market! Besides that, they also make this really cool sound when you swing them around. HIYA!

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Tarptent Squall shelter

Tarptent Squall (

Being the shelter editor, I've tested many, many tents. The simplicity, spaciousness, ventilation, bug protection, and stability of the Tarptent makes this my first three-season choice every time.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Montbell UL Trekking umbrella

Montbell U.L. Trekking Umbrella (

When you live in the Northwest, you get used to hiking in sprinkly rain that never ends. With a "brawlie," I get to dress for the temperature, not the weather, keeping me a happy camper. Sure, others laugh - but not when I hike by wearing only a windshirt for a shell. And at 5.8 ounces, the super compact Montbell is lighter than the sweaty shell I left at home.

Stuart Bilby, Sleeping Systems Section Editor - Auckland, New Zealand

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Tarptent Squall shelter

Henry Shires Tarptent Squall (

Only 27.8 ounces (787 g). Set it up in the cold, driving rain and in a couple of minutes I have a home away from home - for two. It withstands windblown rain, swarming bugs and strong winds. Elegant catenary curves, minimalist design - charming.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Petzl Tikka Plus headlamp

Petzl Tikka Plus (

Lots of light, sits on the front of my head so I can read in bed, three levels of brightness. Lasts for ages on three AAA batteries but still gives enough light to travel by. (2.8 ounces, 78 g with alkaline batteries)

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Snow Peak Titanium 1.4L pot

Snow Peak Titanium 1.4 liter pot (

Great big mug. Wonderful expedition cup. Big enough to cook for three. Ensures you always have space for the spare food being passed around. OK, I despair about the lid with the folding handle that regularly dumps my dinner in the dirt. Corrosion-proof except for fuming nitric acid (and I don't cook with that any more) and nearly indestructible - where even my most solid aluminum pots have become misshapen ruins, the Snow Peak has survived unscathed. (4.7 ounces, 134 g without the lid)

Don Wilson, Clothing Systems Section Editor - Tucson, Arizona

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - GoLite Breeze backpck

GoLite Breeze (

Although the Breeze has been around for a number of years, I still use mine more than any other pack I own (and I've got a closet full). For me, the Breeze is the perfect combination of simplicity, light weight and durability. And it has just the most needed features; huge outside mesh pockets and a big roomy collar. Some lightweight packs are too voluminous for me, but the Breeze seems just right for a three to five day trip when I'm going light. Mine is comfortable up to about 25 pounds, and bearable (for a while) up to 30 pounds. I love the freedom of hiking without a hip belt. At 13 ounces it is the pack I use when I am looking to cover a lot of ground. Sure, there are some lighter packs out there, but when I'm packing up for a trip and want to use my most functional lightweight pack, I usually come back to the Breeze.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Tarptent Squall shelter

Coleman F1 Powerboost Stove (

My family and I took the F1 Powerboost to Alaska this summer, along with another lightweight stove and we never took the other stove out of the bag. If you are looking to do some real cooking, the Powerboost is unbeatable for a small light stove. It spreads the flame out evenly over a large surface area. Most small canister stoves will generate enough heat for nuclear fission, but concentrate it in 1 square inch on the bottom of your pot. We entered new realms of culinary expertise with the Powerboost - actually cooking Jiffy Pop popcorn on the shores of the Koyukuk River without burning any kernels. It was great for pancakes, eggs and stir frys, too. It is extremely well made and has a reliable auto ignition. The pot stand is wide and very stable. We didn't feel like we had to constantly verify the center of gravity of our pot every time we moved it. It could be lighter, but at 4.5 ounces its still pretty light for such a functional stove.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Coleman F1 Powerboost stove

Tarptent Squall (

Several editors at Backpacking Light have included the Tarptent Squall in their list of favorites and I can understand why. The Squall is functional, with no wasted frills. At 27 ounces, including the sewn in floor option, my Squall is light, roomy enough for two, light enough for one, bug proof, stable in wind, and dry in all but the nastiest storms. Out here in the west, where it rarely rains for more than a day at a time, the Squall is all I need for three-season trips.

Will Rietveld, Cooking and Hydration Systems Section Editor - Durango, Colorado

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Gossamer Gear G4 backpack

Gossamer Gear G4 Pack (

This pack will soon be a collector's item, but it's still my favorite frameless pack. The Weminuche Wilderness is close to where I live, and I go backpacking every week in the summer. The G4 is great for a two to four day trip carrying 12-16 pounds. I love the large outside mesh pockets that will hold lots of stuff and keep it handy. And there's plenty of room in the main compartment to just stuff everything in, no need to use stuff sacks or fold anything up. I even use it as a pillow at night!

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Tarptent Squall shelter

Tarptent Squall

This 30-ounce single-wall two-person tent with floor goes up in a flash, two minutes max. It stuffs into a side pocket of my G4 pack, with the poles inside my pack. It's luxurious for one person and roomy for two. Why do I like the Tarptent over a tarp? I don't use trekking poles very much and the Tarptent's integral poles make it easy for me to camp in the alpine zone above timberline where setting up a tarp without poles is difficult. The Tarptent is a no-brainer; I can camp anywhere. It's plenty stormworthy; I have experienced some scary thunderstorms in the Tarptent, and stayed dry, although I was worried about being blown away with the tent a few times!

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Thermojet Microlite Alcohol stove

ThermoJet MicroLite Alcohol Stove (

What sets the ThermoJet apart from many other alcohol stoves, besides its light weight (3 ounces total), is that it is a cooking system, rather than just an alcohol burner. The components (alcohol burner, pot stand, and windscreen with simmer band) have been optimized to work together efficiently which is very important for an alcohol stove. This stove is fuel efficient, wind-resistant, and reliable. I have used it above 12,000 feet in breezy/windy conditions on many occasions. The ThermoJet is as easy to use as a canister stove, perhaps easier, because it comes with good wind protection.

Blake Morstad, Navigation Systems Section Editor - Bozeman, Montana

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Smartwool socks

SmartWool products (

I've used SmartWool socks extensively for trail running, backpacking, and skiing and have never had problems with blisters. I have a Lightweight Crew that is great for all season usage. Not only does SmartWool wick better than all of the synthetic products that I have, it is also odor free, a point where most synthetic products fail miserably.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Big Agnes Insulated Air Core mattress

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core mattress (

Yeah I know that there are lighter weight sleeping pads, but I can't go too long without this mattress. As a constantly tossing sleeper and one who sleeps on my side, the 2.5 inches of cushion has given me many restful nights. I've tried other pad options and usually experienced restless nights, which definitely affected my hiking performance. With PrimaLoft insulation this pad gives solid three-season performance. Another feature I love is the stuffed size of this pad, which is smaller than most self-inflating pads.

2004 BackpackingLight Staff Picks - Montbell UL Super Stretch Down Hugger #3 sleepb bag

Montbell U.L. Super Stretch Down Hugger #3 sleeping bag (

This 1.5-pound bag is a great option for those of us who don't lay perfectly flat and in one position when sleeping. Sewn stretch baffles allow the bag to conform to the body while sleeping in almost any position. I have even sat cross-legged in the bag while chilling out in the tent.


"2004 Backpacking Light Staff Picks," by Staff. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2004-12-29 03:00:00-07.


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Favorite Three Pieces of Gear Used in 2004?
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Janet Brewster
(jgranite) - F
Favorite Three Pieces of Gear Used in 2004 on 03/22/2005 14:28:36 MST Print View

1) Marmot Lithium sleeping bag (0 deg)
Kept me warm in a September snowstorm in the High Sierra. For women, a 20 deg bag just doesn't cut it above 10,000 ft -- reluctantly sold my Western Mountaineering Ultralite in order to buy the Lithium, because I froze using it on the JMT.... But it was worth it.
(y'all need more women as gear reviewers!)

2) Granite Gear Ozone backpack
Lightweight with great support, and can handle up to 40 lbs. Fantastic for thru-hiking.

3) Leki Ultralite Ti Air Ergo poles
Saved my knees when going downhill!!

(RavenUL) - F
Top 3 on 03/24/2005 00:01:05 MST Print View

#1 Toss up between my MountainSmith Ghost, or my MountainSmith Boogieman (depends on trip length)

#2 Anything Smartwool

#3 My homemade "Pocket Dragon" alcohol stove and Sgt Rocks "Ion" Ti Stove Stand

Edited by RavenUL on 03/24/2005 15:13:22 MST.

Richard Matthews
(food) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
favorite 3 on 03/24/2005 10:46:11 MST Print View

1. Six Moon Designs Starlite Pack

2. Hennessy Hammock.

3. Nunatak Arc Alpinist.

Best three things on 04/19/2005 21:38:41 MDT Print View

Granite Gear Nimbus Ozone--great compromise between weight and comfort

Lowa Banff boots--luxurious seamless leather on the inside

Vargo Triad stove--light and reliable, even at elevation, easy to empty excess fuel

Jan Unneberg
(BlueSkyII) - MLife

Locale: Pennsylvania
Favorite Three Pieces of Gear Used in 2004? on 05/08/2005 09:29:28 MDT Print View

1) Stovestomper's two-legged MSR Ti Kettle support/windscreen: The support legs are modified to be 1/8" longer and the sidwall is 1/16" higher for use with Esbit tabs. A piece of heavy duty aluminum goes under the stand to reflect heat and to eliminate ground moisture.

2)Henry Shire's Virga and Squall Tarptents: In the next two years he'll finally win the Backpacker Magazine award he deserves.

3) WildThings Nylon Windshirt: Great ventilation options, alway my favorite piece of clothing.

Carol Corbridge
(ccorbridge) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
Love these 3 on 05/08/2005 10:51:12 MDT Print View

Clark Jungle Hammock Ultra Light- So comfortable. Like an easy chair to sit in and read. You can sit on the edge and take off and put on your shoes. I use my home made ray way tarp as a rain fly (16 oz. about 9'x 9') instead of the fly that came with it, since it provides me with more options. This set up can be used on the ground too. Hammock has zipped bug netting built in. Only 28 oz without the fly. I usually hang it with the fly and then detach the fly on one side so I can rock under the stars and quickly deploy the fly if needed. Hands down my farvorite piece of gear.

Sierra Zip Stove- no fuel to carry, I like the camp fire smell, it's like a little elf fire. Can gather wood for dinner in one hand.

Possum Down Vest- So soft and light 6 oz, I wear it around town too. Incredible warmth for the weight and bulk. Also just plain feels good to wear.

Edited by ccorbridge on 05/08/2005 10:52:10 MDT.