My favorite innovation of the past decade is a concept: manufacturers are making gear that is tough, durable, and yet incredibly lightweight. On a three-day hiking or light-climbing trip, my pack weighs at least ten fewer pounds than it did a decade ago.
For that reason, the gear that most appeals to me is often highly functional and super lightweight. Outdoor gear stores have become saturated with the stuff. Still, these ten items stand out.
1. MSR Reactor Stove. I've used my Reactor for two years and can't say enough good things about it. It packs beautifully, barely weighs anything at 19 ounces (minus fuel), and has cut my fuel burn by half. Plus, it’s super fast. In the same category, the Jetboil is another great option.
2. Starbucks Via instant coffee. OK. OK. It's not gear, but Via has transformed my backcountry routine. I love coffee, and for years I stuggled with filters, wet grounds, and messy clean ups. Now I tip a slim packet of Via into a cup of hot water, and suddenly all is good with the world. Since each packet weighs next to nothing, it becomes pretty easy to start the day with two cups.
3. Patagonia Down Sweater. Nothing packs more warmth into a lightweight package than this down sweater. It's not cheap at $200, but remember this: 12 ounces.
4. Scarpa Kailash GTX. Are these the perfect all-around boots? Who knows, but they come close. I’ve worn mine on alpine treks, into the Grand Canyon, and on casual day hikes. They’re light yet supportive, have never so much as given me a hot spot, and are been impressively durable. $200.
5. REI Quarterdome T2 Plus. There are lots of great tents out there, but for general backpacking this is the best I’ve come across. It weighs a hair more than four pounds, sleeps two comfortably, and offers excellent weather protection. Its mesh canopy makes it a two-season tent, but for summer hiking there's nothing better. $299.
6. Carbon Trekking Poles. REI doesn't make my carbon poles any longer, but I'll likely choose Black Diamond's Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles ($140) when I need to replace them. Carbon poles are fantastic: they're light and naturally shock-absorbing, and I won’t hike without them.
7. Mont-Bell U.L. Super Spiral Down Hugger #3. Who named this bag? It’s a mouthful, but there's no beating those body-hugging elastic spirals. The number three is rated to 30 degrees, weighs slightly more than a pound, and packs to the size of a grapefruit. In case you weren't paying attention, grapefruits aren't very big. $295.
8. Arc’Teryx Gamma LT Pant. I haven't come across a better multi-purpose pant. I've worn the Gamma LTs hiking and climbing, and I've even taken them skiing in moderate conditions. They're warm, mostly windproof, and water resistant. Somehow they're still breathable, too. $169.
9. Icebreaker Velocity Crewe shirt. Wool has completely changed my life. It’s comfortable across a wider temperature range than synthetics, resists odor, and is extremely tough. The Velocity tee is my essential base layer fall through spring, and even gets some summer use. I own four. Patagonia's Capilene Silkweight T ($39) also gets a mention here: it wicks beautifully and feels great against the skin.
10. Petzl Tikka 2 headlamp. This light get major points for being effective, simple, and cheap. For $29, you get 90 hours of run time on high.