Field testing gear in real-world conditions is the only way to know which pieces are exceptional and which are run of the mill. So, immediately after the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt lake City wrapped, I hopped on a plane bound for Anchorage, Alaska, with Helly Hansen, Cascade Designs and Hayter PR to test select gear slated for a spring 2013 release.
For five days, we camped, fished, sailed, hiked, ice climbed and watched bears gobble salmon out of Alaskan streams. We took stoves, bags and apparel into the elements and put them through their paces. Here's what rose to the top:
HELLY HANSEN GUIDING LIGHT
Helly designers changed how they knit the inner layer of HellyTech three-ply, the company's own waterproof breathable membrane, to make this 14-ounce three-layer jacket. It's the most breathable waterproof jacket Helly has ever built. The circle knit inner layer is slippery against other layers of clothing, so whether hiking, climbing or backcountry skiing, you won't ever feel restricted by your clothing layers binding.
Helly builds all of their technical gear to handle Perfect Storm-like conditions, whether you're on the side of the mountain or at sea. So even though it's light and very breathable, there is no compromise in this jacket's waterproofness. The Guiding Light is not flashy or gimmicky—just highly functional and well made. Available spring 2013, $460; hellyhansen.com.
MSR REACTOR HANGING KIT
When MSR's Reactor debuted in 2010, we told you that the "completely enclosed and integrated pot-and-burner" Reactor Stove is "astonishingly fast," as well as "incredibly fuel-efficient, boiling a liter of water in as fast three minutes."
This coming spring, MSR not only adds new pot sizes to the Reactor family, but accessories that make this great stove even more versatile and functional.
MSR's Hanging Kit for the Reactor helps this stove shine in the extreme conditions it was designed for. Made from thin, tangle free wires, the Kit attaches to the stove's caniser and lid so that you can cook with it safely suspended.
While the hanging kit is most useful for big wall backcountry meals prepared on a portaledge, it's also handy for winter camping cooking or for high-altitude mountaineers who cook in their tents. Available spring 2013, $30; cascadedesigns.com/msr.
Boreas debuted its clean and functional Buttermilk climbing pack about a year ago. Now the company has created a highly water resistant duffel backpack conversion bag that will work just as well as a travel carry-on as it will a gym bag, beach bag or weekender bag.
The Erewan's spacious main compartment has a waterproof bottom that kept a bag of cameras and clothing completely dry in water sloshing around the bottom of a raft, while a spacious and expanding waterproof pocket inside kept wet clothing away from everything else. Detachable shoulder straps tuck away when you want to carry this bag by the handles. Hidden daisy chains along the pack's perimeter—a Boreas signature—are easy to grab when you need to clip this pack to something, or when you need to clip something to the pack. Available spring 2013 in 50L, 70L, and 90L, $150-$180; boreasgear.com.
THERMAREST ANTARES 20 F
To reduce sleeping bag weight and bulk, Thermarest moved the down in the 750 fill Antares into the spots where you really need it: the top, sides and hood. The bottom of the Antares 20 F has no insulation, just fabric and external stretchy straps that securely attach the bag to a NeoAir sleeping pad or other 25"-wide camping mattress without being restrictive.
The result: a warm, comfortable light pad and bag system that even works for side sleepers. Available January 2013, $350; cascadedesigns.com.