2011 Backpacking Light Staff Picks

Backpacking Light staff pick their favorite gear/cool dealio/thingy-dingy of 2011.

Print Jump to Reader Comments

by BackpackingLight.com Staff | 2011-12-27 00:10:00-07

Getting ready for this year's Staff Picks was entertaining. One editor suggested all photo thumbnails should, when clicked, jump to a full-size photo to better display the gear. When asked precisely how much work he intended for me (Addie), another editor jumped in and requested that each photo hyperlink to a professionally produced HD video of me using the actual product.

Challenge. Accepted.

It didn't work out, mostly because my videographer husband had other things to do and because we Bedfords were busily moving from tiny condo to roomy home right before Christmas. WHAT were we thinking?! Next year, faithful readers. Next year...

Then I passed off the initial editing and loading to my trusty intern. Our actual chat transcript:
D: Feminine products will be big on the list this year...
A: There will be TWO, which is more than in years past, yes, but still not very representative of the ladies.
Men are so weird about that stuff.

So don't be weird, enjoy the fun. Some contributors went with straight gear, others, well... not so much. Most folks provided me with a bigger photo, so click on the thumbnails and see who coughed up and kept me hopping in between wrapping gifts, unpacking boxes, and hosting family. This isn't an "Editor's Choice" or formal endorsement, just a list of stuff we like. Don't forget to add your own favorites in the forum below!

BPL Staff Member Favorites  
Ryan Jordan Bivy Sacks Boilerwerks Backcountry Boiler TroutSticks
Chris Wallace HMG Porter Backpack The Stateless Society Custom Quilt Max
Will Rietveld Outdoor Research Versaliner Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter MontBell Versalite Pant
Janet Reichl EZ Reacher Rain Skirt Goat Poles, Fixed Length
Roger Caffin Canon Powershot G11 Camera Poncho Victorinox Knives
Mike Martin Páramo Waterproof Cap Patagonia Nine Trails Jacket Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid
Damien Tougas Patagonia Houdini Arc'Teryx Gamma LT Pant Downsizing
Dave Chenault The Flathead River Watershed Werner Shuna Paddle 2000 Nissan Xterra SE 4x4
Danny Milks CAMP G-Comp Wind Rab MeCo Baselayers Couchsurfing
Kristin Tennessen Aclima Sports Top Diva Cup Cuisinart DLC7 Pro 14-cup Food Processor (from 1983)
Ray Estrella Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season KookaBay GoosePad Camp-Tek Microburst
Doug Johnson Boilerwerks Backcountry Boiler EnLIGHTened Equipment Protege Quilt Geocaching.com iPhone app
Daniel Paladino MontBell UL Comfort System Pad 120 + UL Comfort System Pillow Tip 116: ‘Liberate yourself from toilet paper’ from Mike Clelland’s Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips Scarpa Maestrale Alpine Touring Ski Boots
Addie Bedford Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater NPR Podcasts e.p.t.

Ryan Jordan - Bozeman, Montana

Staff Picks 2011 - 1

Bivy Sacks I'm not recommending or endorsing any particular model over others here, because the bivy sack experience can be replicated with just about any decent waterproof bivy on the market today from Mountain Laurel Designs, Integral Designs, Outdoor Research, and others. I will say that I'm partial to three-layer eVENT bivy sacks, because I get less condensation in them when temperatures are below freezing. The one in the photo is the Integral Designs Micro Bivy, and currently, it's my "favorite," and I've been using it for a few years on a consistent basis now. Bivy sack camping - whether under a starry sky or in a snow shelter (pictured) - is still my favorite way to enjoy a night in the Wilds.

Weight: Varies by brand
MSRP: Varies by brand

Staff Picks 2011 - 2

Boilerwerks Backcountry Boiler Take an entrepreneur that has no idea what he's getting himself into and mix it with innovative thinking, support from the fantastic community at Backpacking Light, and creative crowdsourcing for funding, and you end up with the Backcountry Boiler. In spite of it being one of the most beautiful new products on the market, and refreshingly tactile and joyful to use, it's one of the neatest success stories of 2011. Kudos, Devin.

Weight:  (Ryan didn't mention his iteration)
MSRP: (so ^ab has no idea what he paid)

Staff Picks 2011 - 3

TroutSticks Daniel Galhardo (pictured in the photo) of Tenkara USA joined me for a weekend of fishing in Montana this spring, and he introduced me to one of the most fantastic inventions I've ever seen: TroutSticks. TroutSticks allow you to grill fish over an open fire in a way that minimizes gear, thus maintaining a light pack, while still affording you the luxury of wonderfully flavored wild trout. TroutSticks are available almost anywhere trout are found, and only require an ultralight pocketknife, sea salt, and sake to round out the complete system.

Weight: Varies by length
MSRP: Freebie!

Chris Wallace - Asheville, North Carolina

Staff Picks 2011 - 4

HMG Porter Backpack The Porter has become my go-to pack. The body is large enough to use when guiding, but compresses well enough for a quick weekend out. The construction is almost completely waterproof, and the latest harness is all I could ask for. One of my favorite features, though, is its modular capability. I currently have a front mesh pocket, two water bottle pockets, and two hip belt pockets to choose from and will take only what I need for a specific trip.

Weight: 32 oz / 907 g
MSRP: $275

Staff Picks 2011 - 5

The Stateless Society Custom Quilt I've had my TSS quilt for a couple of years now and have used it on every trip I've taken when it wasn't frigid. It's been in multiple states in the southeast, as well as several areas of the northern Rockies. My version is a custom taper specifically made for my size and shape and designed to be good to around 30 degrees. The quilt has kept me warm to around the mid-20s with additional clothing and compresses very well due to the top notch materials.

Weight: 16 oz / 454 g
MSRP: Varies

Staff Picks 2011 - 6

Max My wife, Robin, and I rescued Max around the first of this year. We were still in Georgia, and a local lady had found him wandering her neighborhood during the winter storms we experienced. Our decision to take him was almost instant, but our first trip to the vet was as bad as our worst fears. Max had heartworm disease. After a lot of money, some trying times with his mood adjustments, and a successful treatment, everything is wonderful. These days Max keeps us both busy with twice daily walks of 1-5 miles each, which he needs because of his Border Collie background, so we have all become quite fit. Thanks to Max, I walk an average of 40-50 miles a week, which keeps me ready for that next big trip.

Weight: About 45 lbs / 20 kg
MSRP: $$$ (a lot)

Will Rietveld - Durango, Colorado

My previous favorite gear picks are still favorites, but I like to feature something new each time. I have been testing gear that is really lightweight and functional for an upcoming article on "Mountain Super-Ultralight Backpacking," and here are some favorites that have really performed well for me.

Staff Picks 2011 - 37

Outdoor Research Versaliner This is a shell and liner combo that weighs just 3.1 ounces per pair in men's size XL. The inside liner gloves are plenty warm for summer backpacking or active cool weather pursuits, and they’re water-resistant and fairly durable. They are smooth on the outside, fleecy on the inside, and have silicone gripper dots on the palm side. The shells weigh just 0.8 ounce per pair in size XL, which makes them the lightest currently available. The Versaliner is worth the price just to get the waterproof/breathable shell gloves, and the bonus is a pair of high quality lightweight liner gloves. The liners have a zippered pocket on the topside to stash the shell, or use it for a heat pack. Men's and women's sizes available.

Weight: 3.1 oz / 88 g per pair
MSRP: $45

Staff Picks 2011 - 38

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter I have tried a lot of different water treatment systems, and this is my current favorite in terms of light weight, simplicity, and efficiency. The Squeeze filter comes with three lightweight flasks that the filter will attach to, but I personally prefer to attach it to a disposable beverage bottle. It will fit any threaded beverage bottle – it is available in a range of sizes – but it does not fit a Platypus flask which has a different type of thread. For mountain backpacking, I use a 1-liter Coke bottle because it is easy to fill from a stream and easy to reach and replace in a pack side pocket. To drink, simply squeeze the bottle and suck at the same time. The filter removes organisms down to 0.1 micron (which catches most everything), has a good flow rate, and is claimed to be back-flushable forever. The filter itself weighs just 2.4 ounces and a 1-liter Coke bottle weighs just 1.2 ounces. Admittedly, it is not as light as a chemical treatment, but it’s a lot simpler and faster – no mixing and waiting, just fill and drink. (Watch a video on the process here.)

Weight: Filter only is 2.4 oz / 68 g
MSRP: $60

Staff Picks 2011 - 39

MontBell Versalite Pant Remember the original GoLite Reed Pant? It weighed just 4 ounces, but people gifted with big feet (like me) couldn’t get their boots through the cuffs. Then GoLite added ankle zips, which bumped the weight up. Then GoLite discontinued them. The new MontBell Versalite Pant for spring 2012 weighs the same, fits well, and I can get my size 12s through the ankle openings. They don’t have ankle zips, rather they are sized just large enough to get hiking boots through (a size 12 or 12.5 is about the limit). They have an elastic band and tie cord at the waist and an elastic cord in the cuffs. Removing the waist cord will get the weight of men's size Large down to 3.95 ounces. I find rain pants to be very versatile because they can be used as rainwear, windwear, campwear, and sleepwear – I even wear them in my sleeping bag when it gets really cold.

Weight: 4.2 oz / 119 g for men's L
MSRP: $109

Janet Reichl - Durango, Colorado

Staff Picks 2011 - 40

EZ Reacher This resides in our vehicle, along with a plethora of plastic bags, and is used whenever I have a few moments to spare, like when dropping Will off or picking him up at a trailhead. When car camping, it’s great for leaving one’s campsite cleaner than how one found it (like any well-trained former Girl Scout would). It is also my constant companion whenever I go on a walk around town. Having used mine for 12 years, it has paid for itself many times over. For my 5’2” height, the 20" length ($13 for Outdoor Standard) is perfect. I just need to squat slightly, and no arm contortion is needed to drop an item in a bag.

Weight: 11 oz / 312 g for 32" length
MSRP: $15 for 32" length

Staff Picks 2011 - 41

Rain Skirt I started off using the Etowah Rain Wrap, but I wanted one that overlapped at an angle and would lie flat for use as a ground cloth. Since making it, I rarely wear a rain pant. The skirt is quick and easy to put on, moisture from sweat doesn’t build up inside, and it seems to provide a little extra warmth when left on after a rain on a chilly evening. Mine is a rectangle that measures 31 x 60 in and weighs 3 oz. Etowahs come in 30- and 33-inch lengths.

Weight: 2.5 oz (71 g)
MSRP: $24

Staff Picks 2011 - 42

Goat Poles, Fixed Length These aren’t available in fixed length anymore, so I better not break one. They’ve gone with me on nearly every hike since 2006. Each 41" pole weighs 3 oz. Without any wrist straps, I can easily adjust where and how I place my hands, sometimes just cupping my hands over the top, sometimes holding the poles below the handle. The strapless version also gives me greater confidence that I won’t break a wrist in a fall, like a friend did this past summer. The current version adjusts from 30" to 51".

Weight: 3.5 oz / 99 g per pole, current version without basket
MSRP: $145

Roger Caffin - Berrilee, NSW, Australia

Staff Picks 2011 - 7

Canon Powershot G11 Camera Some years ago I listed my Canon A95 as one of my Staff Picks. Well, I am going to list my Canon G11 camera this time. Why? For three main reasons. The first is technical: the G11 sits in between the typical point-and-shoot (P&S) and the DSLR. It gives far better image quality than a P&S because the sensor is larger, the optics are better, and, starting with the G11, Canon switched from competing in the MegaPixel race to improving the noise levels in the sensor. Other camera companies are starting to follow suit. As for phone cameras - yuk! The second reason is because the G11 offers me every one of the typical SLR features - except for interchangable lenses. But for ergonomic reasons I don't want interchangable lenses as I explain below. If I want to do an SLR-type thing with this camera, I can, and easily: the Canon User Interface is very good. (Actually, the camera has far more minor "fancy-that" features than I could ever want, but they do not get in the way. I guess some programmer had memory space to spare.) The third reason is more ergonomic, and is the reason why I don't go for a DSLR. This camera rides in a small waterproof pouch mounted on the shoulder strap of my pack. I can get it out with one hand, turn it on, and take a good photo in seconds. The lens has adequate zoom and Macro, down to a few centimetres. Compared to how long it takes to get a DSLR out of its larger carry-case, using the G11 is fast. It is also fairly splash-proof, so I can use it in bad weather without worrying. The credo here is that the only bad photos are the ones you don't take.

Weight: 12.5 oz / 354 g (camera body only)
MSRP: ~$600

Staff Picks 2011 - 8

Poncho This design was the subject of an MYOG article some years ago. They have been with both my wife Sue and I for many years now, in sometimes very severe weather. Photos in my article on the GR5 show our ponchos being worn in really bad rain and snow conditions, and yet we were warm enough inside them. To be sure, one gets damp inside them, from condensation, but what do you expect from any gear under those conditions? The photo here shows Sue heading down the hill from Bokkarschart Pass on the Via Alpina in Europe, in some nasty weather. Just above us it was snowing, wiping out the track, plus thick fog and wind. It was bad enough that the local farmer (in front of Sue) offered to drive us down to the town (quite some distance away) rather than see us go up in that weather. Sue accepted his kind offer with alacrity - I wasn't even consulted! The ponchos were quite adequate even under these conditions - and were not our main concern right then! Two days later the sun was out and the snow had melted away. We had a pleasant crossing of the Pass.

Weight: 6.7 oz / 190 g
MSRP: ~$30

Staff Picks 2011 - 9

Victorinox Knives Forgive me if I soapbox slightly. I know many people love their great big knives, citing survival needs and so on. I've got a stack of such knives as well, but I never use them. The reality is that all we really need is a knife to cut food and spread butter and jam. Crocodile Dundee knives need not apply - we prefer to stay out of trouble in the first place. But we do like our knives to be sharp. You will see two knives in the photo. The red one (16 g) started life with a point as well, but I carefully ground it off to make the current rounded shape. This knife is for spreading butter and jam, and scraping it out of containers. A sharp point is seriously obstructive here, even damaging to the Nalgene bottles we use. The black one (27 g) is shared between the two of us. It is for cutting up bread, sausage, cheese and so on - food preparation. I could use the red one for that, except that its tip is blunt, and the blade is now a bit short. Since we do a lot of walking in Europe, buying fresh bread every few days for lunch, having a knife long enough to cut slices off a loaf is worth the extra weight. The grey thing below the two knives is a sheath for the sharp black knife - or at least for its point. Cut out a rectangle of plastic from the side of a PET juice bottle, fold twice into a flat sheath, and wrap a couple of turns of stout packaging tape around. The tape is much lighter than 'duct' tape, but that hardly matters. The entry is angled to match the handle. The steel on these knives is excellent. They stay sharp for a long time and don't rust. I could lighten the handles a bit more maybe - but why bother?

Weight: .6 & 1.0 oz / 16 & 27 g
MSRP: $8-$15

Mike Martin - Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

Staff Picks 2011 - 10

Páramo Waterproof Cap Backpacking Light contributor, Chris Townsend, introduced me to this cap during a 2008 winter trek in Yellowstone National Park. It's been my favorite cold-weather headwear ever since. If I keep the DWR refreshed, it is “functionally waterproof” while being much more breathable than membrane-based wp/b alternatives. I can even dry out wet hair while wearing it. The generous brim keeps the sun off my nose and snow off my glasses. The ear flaps can be raised for ventilation or lowered for wind protection. Its chinstrap has held it secure on my head in winds above 50 mph. The smooth shell sheds snow, while the hydrophobic directional microfleece liner provides just the right amount of warmth for moderate exertion activities. For extreme cold, I just layer a balaclava under it. If it has a drawback, it is that I have yet to convince my wife how stylish it truly is.

Weight: 2.8 oz / 79 g (size L/XL)
MSRP: £32 GBP

Staff Picks 2011 - 11

Patagonia Nine Trails Jacket As a trail runner, cyclist, skier, and Backpacking Light staffer, I've had occasion to use an embarrassing number of windshirts over the years. The Patagonia Nine Trails Jacket is by far my favorite for high exertion activities. For backpacking, there are certainly lighter alternatives with hoods and better weather protection. But for trail running, the Nine Trails jacket is hard to beat. It uses Patagonia's particularly long-lasting Deluge® DWR. It compacts down small enough to stuff into a fanny or hydration pack. Its trim cut minimizes flapping in the wind. 1.1-oz 15-denier ripstop nylon fabric on the front and arms perfectly balances wind protection with air permeability, while highly permeable 3.5-oz 75-denier stretch woven polyester panels on the back and armpits really move moisture when you are working hard. When you are trail running or cycling, your movement creates an apparent wind that is disproportionately at your chest rather than at your back. The dual-fabric design of the Nine Trails Jacket provides wind protection where it is most effective, and high air permeability elsewhere to achieve outstanding breathability. It's also available in non-purple colors so as not to clash aesthetically with your choice of cap.

Weight: 4.8 oz / 136 g (size Large)
MSRP: $99

Staff Picks 2011 - 12

Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid Maybe it's a sign of... ahem... “maturity,” or maybe it's my personal penchant for camping in cold, windy, snowy locations. But for the past few seasons, I've found myself stepping away from the SUL edge and enjoying more substantial shelters. My Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid just plain sees more use than the other options in the Martin gear closet. I like the sturdy A-frame trekking pole setup. I like the 360-degree weather protection. I like being able secure it with deadmen and seal the edges to the ground in snow. I like the fact that it is long enough so that my head and feet don't collect condensation in the middle of the night. I like that the floorless design allows me to cook (with due care) inside during harsh weather. Yes, there is weight to be saved with a non-woven laminate micro tarp. But, except in very mild summer or very harsh winter conditions, I've found my Solomid to be the perfect balance of size, weight, design features, and weather protection. For the ultralight adventurers among us, a 9-oz Cuben Fiber version is also available at a premium price.

Weight: 14 oz / 397 g (Silnylon version)
MSRP: $170

Damien Tougas - Gaspė Peninsula, Quebec, Canada

Staff Picks 2011 - 13

Patagonia Houdini For combating sun, wind, bugs, or a light shower in three-season conditions, this is probably my single most versatile and loved piece of clothing. It weighs almost nothing and squeezes into the tiniest of spaces, making it a no brainer decision to bring on virtually any outing.

Weight: 3.3 oz / 94 g
MSRP: $125

Staff Picks 2011 - 14

Arc'Teryx Gamma LT Pant Arc'Teryx has really nailed the fit on these pants. Although they are billed as a soft-shell pant, they are basically a lightweight stretch nylon. Not too heavy for summer and not too light for winter, they make for an incredibly versatile piece of kit. They are durable, comfortable, breathable and work equally as well around town as they do in the backcountry.

Weight: 10.9 oz / 309 g
MSRP: $170

Staff Picks 2011 - 15

Downsizing This past year has been a huge transition for our family. We have simplified and downsized considerably - we are not just going light with our packs, but striving to go light with the rest of our life as well. The end result is that we are a family of five living in 750 sq.ft. cabin near the mountains of the Gaspė Peninsula in Quebec. It has been hard work learning what is most important and figuring out how to make due with less, but the benefits have been well worth it. Having less clutter means we can spend more time, energy, and resources on the things that really matter.

Weight: Varies
MSRP: Priceless!

Dave Chenault - Kalispell, Montana

Staff Picks 2011 - 16

The Flathead River Watershed It is not a coincidence nor a matter of luck that I live two miles from the Flathead River, whose three headwater streams (the North, Middle, and South Forks) drain one of the greatest backcountries on the planet. The human side of the Flathead is peculiar, it's a rather isolated place, fairly far from almost everything else, and people need a purposive reason to end up living here. For me, that reason is the Flathead. It drains half of Glacier National Park, most of the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex, and has some of the best hiking, fly fishing, and wilderness packrafting available anywhere. Living with such a vast and nuanced ecosystem within an easy after-work drive has allowed me to get to know it in a leisurely fashion across the seasons, and I'm beginning to appreciate flower blooms, river levels, and the placements of game trails in the macro context of annual variance, something which takes years to see and lifetimes to understand. There are downsides. Winters are long and, on the Pacific side of the rain shadow, tend to be rather grey. Any change of scenery takes quite a bit of driving. I'd make 30-40% more doing the same day job in a more populous part of the country. But the payback of living where others go to vacation is as vast as it is inexpressible. Flying back from my summer holiday, to Alaska, I sat next to the father of a very boisterous family flying in from (where else?) California. His default question, making conversation, was where was I from? The assumption was that no one actually lives here. It was fulfilling to give him my answer.

Weight: Incalculable
MSRP: Priceless

Staff Picks 2011 - 17

Werner Shuna Paddle All my best trips in 2011 involved packrafting; not a coincidence, given the unrivaled way a packraft opens up the landscape to human experience. I like my Alpacka Yukon Yak, but it still has refinements to undergo before it earns this sort of endorsement. My Werner Shuna (210 cm, four-piece, fiberglass blades and carbon shaft) on the other hand is one of those transcendent pieces of gear which unites lighter and better into one inextricable whole. This paddle gets me excited to go paddling, just and simply paddling, because it does what it does so well. It's a pure tool with seeming 100% efficiency; all my effort goes into paddling the water, not paddling the paddle. The lighter touring blade won't stand up to the gorilla treatment a nylon blade will, but the quantum leap in performance and pleasure is worth it. We may be the tool-making ape, but few of our creations unite form and function so seamlessly, and towards such a profitable end.

Weight: 32 oz / 907 g
MSRP: $310

Staff Picks 2011 - 18

2000 Nissan Xterra SE 4x4 Horrid indictment of our car culture though it is, a capable automobile is essential for just about any American adventurer. Our country is big, one of the reasons our backcountry is so good, but also the reason it's so hard to get to and around without a car. Public transit is effectively non-existent in many places, and hitchhiking increasingly difficult. We bought our Xterra used in 2004, with 90,000 miles on it. It now has 270,000 (and on the original automatic transmission), and while the number of broken things is too extensive to list, it is still going strong. More importantly, the memories and experiences in which our Xterra has been a prime mover are innumerable and priceless. We've lived out of it for extended stretches (the back seats are long gone, in favor of a plywood sleeping platform), gone on trips summer and winter, hauled all manner of gear, driven down some truly appalling roads, and only gotten it stuck three times (two of them involving snow, ice, and stupidity, the third pictured here). Yes, it only gets 21 mpg under the best of circumstances, yes, it is underpowered, and yes, it's ugly, but my wife and I have quite the attachment to our Xterra. Its time is running out, but the memories and gratitude for a great tool aren't going anywhere.

Weight: 2 tons
MSRP: $24,560 for the 2012 version

Danny Milks - Davis, California

Staff Picks 2011 - 19

CAMP G-Comp Wind These are my go-to gloves for all but the coldest conditions. They are light and thin enough to use during most high-intensity backcountry winter activities. Breathability is about as good as fleece liners, but the synthetic leather is tough enough for several years of use without being so heavy-duty as to inhibit dexterity. A wind-proof mitten shell is permanently attached, tucked away in a little buttoned pocket on each wrist. When the temps drop, like on a windy summit or a speedy descent, I pull the mitten shell over my gloves for extra protection without losing my stride. The only flaw I’ve found is the Grip’r strips on the palm and fingers fall off too easily, but the gloves work nearly as well without the strips.

Weight: 3.2 oz / 92 g
MSRP: $80

Staff Picks 2011 - 20

Rab MeCo Baselayers I’m a big fan of merino wool for numerous reasons, but given the high price of wool and the relatively low durability (as compared with synthetic), it is not pure love. In my experience, a 150 g/m2 wool t-shirt falls apart after around 150 days of use, with laundering after ten days of use. Enter Rab MeCo Baselayers. These garments are made of 65% merino and 35% Cocona, which is a yarn recycled from used coconut fibers. MeCo is made with 100% natural fibers, has all of the odor-fighting properties of pure wool, and can be made thinner yet more durable. It wicks well, dries fast, and is comfortable against my skin. It’s a win-win-win. My favorite product is the MeCo 120 g/m2 Long Sleeve Tee. This shirt is good for everyday travel, running, backpacking and spring skiing. I appreciate the ability to wear a thin shirt but also protect my forearms from sun exposure. This shirt shows no signs of wear after months and months of use.

Weight: 4.9 oz / 140 g for Long Sleeve Tee
MSRP: $80

Staff Picks 2011 - 21

Couchsurfing Couchsurfing.org formalizes the process of meeting other like-minded folks - those who value traveling. You can find a place to sleep for a few nights or a local to have tea with or walk around town. I used this site extensively in fifteen countries over the last two years. I found places to stay where there were no hotels and met locals who taught about their heritage and region. I learned more, laughed more, lived more, and spent less. Now that I have a permanent residence, my couch is open to other travelers, helping them along their way. The enjoyment of other cultures, the value of learning, and the pay-it-forward mentality is alive and well through Couchsurfing.org.

Weight: 0 oz / g
MSRP: Freebie! (donations accepted)

Kristin Tennessen - Davis, California

Staff Picks 2011 - 22

Aclima Sports Top When your tent is too small to change clothes while inside, it is too cold to strip down, and you'd rather not expose your best parts to your ski companions, the perfect solution is the Aclima Sports Top. The fleece pile lining wicks sweat away from my skin while the exterior merino layer insulates my core. I wore this bra comfortably for eight days without taking it off. Until my skin started to itch a little on day seven, I didn't even notice it was there. I was warm, dry, odor-free, and appropriately clothed while skinning uphill, skiing downhill, bootpacking, making dinner, reading in the tent, and sleeping during the coldest hours of the night. After almost a year of heavy use, it is a bit stretched out, but there is no visible wear. With the Aclima Sports Top, there is no reason to pack, or even own, a second bra.

Weight: 2.8 oz / 79 g
MSRP: £55 GBP

Staff Picks 2011 - 23

Diva Cup The Diva Cup has allowed me to minimize the time and cost needed to manage that once-a-month special event. It is especially useful while backpacking, because no waste needs to be packed out. Because the Diva Cup only needs to be changed every 12 hours, I can hike all day long without having to stop. I am most grateful for the Diva Cup on alpine start mornings, when the exposure makes even a quick pee break uncomfortable.

Weight: 0.5 oz / 14 g
MSRP: $38

Staff Picks 2011 - 24

Cuisinart DLC7 Pro 14-cup Food Processor (from 1983) My favorite backpacking food is made in my own kitchen. With the Cuisinart, I can quickly slice whole apples for the food dehydrator, make my own nut butters and chocolate-hazelnut spreads, and mix up a quick batch of cookies or oatmeal bars. I can eat healthier on the trail, reduce packaging, better control calorie intake, and all at a lower cost. Does anyone want my Raw Date Ball cookie recipe?

Weight: More than your entire backpacking kit
MSRP: $40 at garage sale

Ray Estrella - Moorhead, Minnesota

Staff Picks 2011 - 25

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season This fall and into the start of winter, I have been very happy with my new NeoAir All Season. While the Large weighs 6 oz more than my traditional NeoAir (Large also), it has much more robust material and almost twice the R-value at R-4.9. I have been able to go as low as -1 F (-18 C) with a quilt, but did get chilly that night. While I will switch to an R-9 pad as we continue dropping in temperature here in northern Minnesota, for many areas the NeoAir All Season may truly be a pad for all seasons.

Weight: 25 oz / 710 g
MSRP: $170

Staff Picks 2011 - 26

Kooka Bay GoosePad All last winter I used a GoosePad from Kooka Bay and was very happy with it. As I plan even colder trips this winter, I upgraded to a warmer one. A large pad at 24.5 x 74.5 in (61 x 191 cm) when inflated, it is 3.5 in (9 cm) thick and has 900-fill power goose down to achieve a stated R-value of 9. The pad has a new style of valve that is easier to use and a new baffle system to keep the down in place. It also comes with a Millair Company Instaflator with a Kooka Bay-specific adaptor to make inflation easier. As the pads are made to order, prices and weights vary, but mine is listed below.

Weight: 31.3 oz / 887 g
MSRP: $269

Staff Picks 2011 - 27

Camp-Tek Microburst One of the biggest pains about backpacking in extreme cold is inflating pads without introducing moisture to the interior, which will freeze inside. I have used many forms of inflation devices over the years and have to say that the Microburst is hands down the easiest. With most pads that have a standard size valve, it is literally a set-and-forget process. For my Kooka Bay pad and down pillow, I do have to hold it in place to use. About the size of two golf balls, the tiny unit inflates my Large NeoAir or All Season in around three minutes time.

Weight: (w/2 AAA batteries): 2.3 oz / 65 g
MSRP: $30

Doug Johnson - Redmond, Washington

Staff Picks 2011 - 28

Boilerwerks Backcountry Boiler I love exclusive items. Getting a first generation Backcountry Boiler from Boilerwerks was the ultimate version of this experience. From prototypes and all the way through the manufacturing process, my son Henry and I witnessed Devin Montgomery creating our new stove. With each video and detailed update, we grew more excited; we saw how it was turned in a lathe, the laser etching process, and even the final packaging - it was all there, and all done in Devin's home town of Pittsburgh! But the final product far exceeded my expectations - it is highly refined, beautifully manufactured, and very practical. It is lightweight, durable, packs small, and boils in about 5 minutes. It is now my favorite stove. Knowing how it was built and the process it took to create it - and feeling it was built by a friend - well, that only adds to the experience.

Weight: 9.7 oz / 275 g with full sleeve and second generation stopper
MSRP: $60-$125, depending on accessories (and availability)

Staff Picks 2011 - 29

EnLIGHTened Equipment Protege Quilt My custom EnLIGHTened baby and toddler bags were one of my Staff Picks back in 2009. Here we go again! As my kids have grown, this year we picked up a pair of larger Protege quilts from Tim Marshall - and these will last my kids for years. He made them for us in custom colors with rainbow for my daughter and bumblebee for my son. Tim even added a stinger to my son's bag- his favorite part! The craftsmanship is outstanding and the price is very reasonable. The bags use synthetic Climasheild APEX insulation, which can handle moisture, and at 12.3 ounces, they are far lighter than any other kid option on the market. The bags feature a foot drawcord for ventilation, a footbox zipper to create a blanket if needed, snaps all the way up, and no cords anywhere except the feet to ensure safety. These bags are brilliant - all parents take note!

Weight: 12.3 oz / 349 g
MSRP: $75 (base price)

Staff Picks 2011 - 30

Geocaching.com iPhone App These days, many of our trips include a geocache at some point and this adds a great deal of fun. Geocaching is basically a GPS-enabled treasure hunt, but it's not just for kids: geocaching is an activity that can bring you to incredible places, and the challenge can range from a simple suburban walk to elaborate puzzle-based multi-caches. While we love geocaching near home, we also love backcountry geocaching, and it adds a lot of fun to our family trips. The Geocaching.com app allows me to save caches in advance, making descriptions, maps, pictures, and hints available even when a cell signal is not. It's quick and easy for the me and has made map-usage and trip planning a huge draw for my son. We love geocaching, and this app is the easiest way to add this to your next trip!

Weight: 0 oz / g (just add smartphone)
MSRP: $10 (available for iPhone, Android, or Windows Phone)

Daniel Paladino - Bozeman, Montana

Staff Picks 2011 - 31

MontBell UL Comfort System Pad 120 + UL Comfort System Pillow One frigid night in the Crazies, I awoke to the grunting of a grizzly bear in close proximity to my face. As the beast sniffed my forehead and I struggled to remain completely still, I thought, “At least I’ll die in comfort,” as I lay on my MontBell UL Comfort System Pad and Pillow. The pillow and pad attach together using MontBell's “Quick Connect” system, ensuring that you don't wake up with your head on a rock. This combination comes in at 17 oz and is, by far, the most comfortable setup I’ve owned. It's quite warm and the price isn’t too bad either!

Weight: 17 oz / 482 g
MSRP: $69 for the pad, $29 for the pillow

Staff Picks 2011 - 32

Tip 116: ‘Liberate yourself from toilet paper’ from Mike Clelland’s Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips As a recently 'liberated' backpacker, this tip will always hold a special place in my heart. From the cherished Mule’s Ear that is plentiful around Lake Tahoe and the Sierra to the uncomfortable but effective grass brush, I shall never bring TP into the wilderness again. The one landscape I found myself regretting leaving the TP at home was in Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni. With crusty salt flats as far as the eye can see in every direction, the landscape is not conducive to 'liberated' backpackers. Aside from Salars, the need for TP is negated by plentiful resources provided by mother nature.

Weight: 0 oz / g
MSRP: Freebie!

Staff Picks 2011 - 33

Scarpa Maestrale Alpine Touring Ski Boots After suffering through the foot torture of skinning in stiff, heavy downhill boots, the Scarpa Maestrales, my first pair of touring boots, made climbing a comfortable and enjoyable experience. With rugged soles and a huge range of motion in ‘walk mode,’ these boots have carried me up some very sketchy surfaces with confidence. Best of all, the Maestrales have four buckles and are still stiff enough to make the descent enjoyable. Scarpa claims that they are the world's lightest four-buckle AT boot.

Weight: 3 lbs 6 oz / 1.5 kg
MSRP: $600

Addie Bedford - Bozeman, Montana

Staff Picks 2011 - 34

Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater I love all the head knowledge I get from my job. After editing and publishing Will's 2010 UL Three-Season Down Jacket SOTM, I was painfully aware of my lack of a down jacket (lost to an alteration gone terribly wrong a few years earlier). I don't care how nice they are, wool coats do not cut the mustard when it's sub-zero at the Christmas Stroll. In my budget with a rating I trusted from someone who would put it through tougher paces than I, I ordered my down sweater with my 2010 Christmas money. It's thin and light enough to layer over wool and under further hard- or softshells, extending my comfort as far as I need it in my dangerous, icy treks from the car to the store. Or from the woodpile to the back porch. Yeah. I'm pretty hard core.

Weight: 13.4 oz / 380 g
MSRP: $179

Staff Picks 2011 - 35

NPR Podcasts It's amazing how quickly a few hours of chores or a long drive pass by when you're listening to something engaging, entertaining, even funny. From NPR! Who knew? I subscribe to six podcasts that each make my heart beat faster for various reasons. The Sunday Puzzle, which I like to save to listen to with Rob and flex my wordy/nerdy muscles by coming to the answer faster. It sometimes even works (he's awfully clever). Planet Money keeps me advised of financial news in a format that doesn't make me want to shoot myself in fear or extreme boredom. Selected Shorts makes me feel all literary without having to build my own library or visit the public one more frequently (my business degree was obtained largely because I wanted to own a bookstore). This American Life tells often interesting stories, though it can take itself far too seriously at times (skip!). Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! is a weekly news quiz that invariably makes the whole family laugh (and is my favorite). Finally, Radiolab takes on intriguing scientific questions and addresses them in either a regular podcast (one hour) or shorts (~20 minutes). It's fascinating, often funny, and their sound engineers do a fantastic job at bringing what could be dry content to life, also known as "making the hippo dance."

Weight: Depends on your player
MSRP: Freebie!

Staff Picks 2011 - 36

e.p.t. I'd like to simply say I chose this for telling me what I needed to know, when I needed to know it, but the first test this fall turned out to be a false negative. Second one was a winner, and, God willing, baby Bedford numero dos will be making their appearance in early June, 2012!

Weight: Before, or after use? Never mind, I didn't weigh it.
MSRP: $10 for three


Citation

"2011 Backpacking Light Staff Picks," by BackpackingLight.com Staff. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/2011_bpl_staff_picks.html, 2011-12-27 00:10:00-07.

Print

Reader Comments

You must login to post comments.

New Visitors: Create a new account
Username:
Password:
Remember my login info.

2011 Backpacking Light Staff Picks
Display Avatars
Sort By:
Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
2011 Backpacking Light Staff Picks on 12/27/2011 15:45:24 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

2011 Backpacking Light Staff Picks

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
2011 Backpacking Light Staff Picks on 12/27/2011 16:19:30 MST Print View

Addie, congratulations!!!

Next year's pick will be a baby carrier, no doubt!

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: 2011 Backpacking Light Staff Picks on 12/27/2011 17:51:57 MST Print View

Loved the picks this year, because the reasons for the choices were not merely an exercise in tech specs and gram counting. Instead, it reflected a greater appreciation of simplicity and making use out of things already owned. And if there is a silver lining in this long recession it is the realization that things rarely make us happy - but experiences do. So go out there with your friends, your family and enjoy the outdoors. Enjoying it lighter usually helps, but the gear is just a conduit to the experience.

James Schipper
(monospot) - MLife
Arc'Teryx Gamma LT Pant on 12/28/2011 00:08:07 MST Print View

Are the Arc'Teryx Gamma LT Pant really 5.7 oz? Seems a bit light.

Dave U
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Rockies
Re: Arc'Teryx Gamma LT Pant on 12/28/2011 00:22:10 MST Print View

Yeah - that is a misprint.

Hendrik Morkel
(skullmonkey) - MLife

Locale: Finland
Baby Bedford on 12/28/2011 03:47:58 MST Print View

Congratulations to you and your husband, Addie!

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Staff Picks on 12/28/2011 05:19:09 MST Print View

Congrats on the new hiker, Addie!

Yeah, a strange mix of choices, as always. I really like the Backcountry Boiler. This is the esscence of what cottage industry in a niche market should be. Slow to order, slow to deliver, but a singularly GREAT product. So good it makes you forget the wait.

Damien Tougas
(dtougas) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Gaspé Peninsula
Re: Re: Arc'Teryx Gamma LT Pant on 12/28/2011 06:10:00 MST Print View

Yes, that is a misprint, they are actually 11 oz in a men's small. I will make sure that gets fixed.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Awesome on 12/28/2011 08:37:02 MST Print View

Congrats Addie!

Konrad .
(Konrad1013) - MLife
misprint on 12/28/2011 09:21:46 MST Print View

Is the Houdini's weight off too? I would love a full zip hooded windshirt for 2oz

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: misprint on 12/28/2011 09:24:25 MST Print View

Yes on the houdini weight being inaccurate.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"2011 Backpacking Light Staff Picks" on 12/28/2011 09:28:02 MST Print View

Houdini comes in around 4oz. . 2oz is more in line with the Montbell Tachyon windshell.

Either way, you'll notice neither of them in your pack.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - M

Locale: Cascadia
2010 Picks on 12/28/2011 09:36:38 MST Print View

For reference, here are the BPL communities 2010 picks:

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=40800

I'm mulling over my 2011 picks now....

Those OR Versaliner gloves looks awesome Will.

Konrad .
(Konrad1013) - MLife
versaliners on 12/28/2011 09:41:18 MST Print View

I've been eyeballing the Versaliners for a few months now myself. Those shell's look stellar. I was able to confirm with Heath Pitts on these forums, who recently got a pair for x-mas, that the shells are not seam taped. So, not 100% waterproof if you're wondering.

Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Weight mistakes on 12/28/2011 10:34:48 MST Print View

The two mentioned mistakes have been fixed. Thanks all!

Jonathan Ryan
(Jkrew81) - F - M

Locale: White Mtns
Re: 2011 Backpacking Light Staff Picks on 12/28/2011 11:07:02 MST Print View

Interestingly enough 2011 has seen my favorite gear picks move away from pure BPL standard stuff we see here all the time. My wife and I had a son this year so my attention has moved from spreadsheets and hypothetical trips to what gear works the best with the time I have to use it so here are my top four (could not decide on three).

Saucony 4MM drop shoes: The Kinvara’s and the Peregrines have changed my outdoor experience. I have learned I am not meant to be a super minimalist runner but a low drop shoe with cushion is where it is at for me. Can't wait for the 4mm drop Exodus 3.0

Osprey Talon 22 with Osprey Hydration bladder: Don't even care that it is not UL b/c it just works. I have never owned a pack that carried 100oz against my back so comfortably. Was able to complete a 1 day 26 mile half Pemi loop this year and did not have to waste time planning water stops.

Rechargable LED's: My daily outdoor life now takes place in the dark before and after the little guy goes to bed. Be it a 5:30am run or an 8pm cyclocross trail ride the Petzl Core Tikka and the Niterider MiNewt 600 keep me going.

Honorable Mention
Patagonia 9 Trails Jacket: I agree with Mike, for the last 3 years this has been my go to softshell for running/biking/XC skiing and even backpacking. The super breathable back panel is awesome and the hoodless design is great for layering under a hardshell. Glad I have the old model with the softshell cuffs.

Elizabeth Tracy
(mariposa) - M

Locale: Outside
Backcountry Boiler on 12/28/2011 11:23:37 MST Print View

This is the first I've heard of the Backcountry Boiler.

What's the scoop? What is it and when might it become available?

- Elizabeth

Carol Crooker
(cmcrooker) - MLife

Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
Congratulations Addie and Rob! on 12/28/2011 11:50:51 MST Print View

What great timing. You'll be playing with the baby by the time it gets really hot (living in AZ I'm always thinking about the heat factor):)

jeffrey armbruster
(book) - M

Locale: Northern California
rab latok gloves vs. versaliners on 12/28/2011 13:32:46 MST Print View

so I just received the rab latok gloves--event outer, "waterproof", fleecy lining, excellent dexterity, grippy palm. Sized tight. Haven't been able to try them yet in the snow. Now I see these Versaliners...hmmm. I'm sure that I'm going to love the Latoks. Maybe too warm while Nordic skiing? Probably not. Anybody have experience? Sorry if this is drifting...These gloves may be on my top three list.

Kathy A Handyside
(earlymusicus) - M

Locale: Southeastern Michigan
Camp-Tek Microburst Inflator on 12/28/2011 13:38:07 MST Print View

This is the first I've heard of this. I've been steering clear of pads that are not self-inflating because after an experience with one of those pads going flat halfway through the night because the warm breath I introduced into it when inflating it cooled off. I just went to Camp-Tek's website and I'm sold! I'm definitely going to order one of these. This means I can go to a lighter-weight non-self-inflating pad! Thanks Ray!