The biggest challenge for backpackers is fitting all the gear you need for a multi-day trip into your pack, and keeping the weight low enough that you enjoy your hike instead of being pulled down like a pack mule. Vargo offers a solution with its BOT, a combo titanium waterbottle and cookpot in one.
The one-liter container has a screw top lid with a heat resistant o-ring. Screw the top on, and you have a leak-proof waterbottle that slides into the side mesh pocket of your favorite pack and weighs in at one ounce lighter than your standard Nalgene. Unscrew and flip the lid, and your waterbottle turns into cookpot with a cover, perfect for boiling water or a single serving of mac and cheese—it's also easy to clean. Both pot and lid are compatible with standard pot grippers.
Over recent months—well, years, actually—the debate concering hardshell fabrics and their capabilities has been heating up. Though waterproof, breathable materials have been around for quite some time, the quest for the perfect combination of the two characteristics has been something of a holy grail for textile producers.
One of the front runners in finding the perfect waterproof/breathable balance is Polartec, with its NeoShell fabric. So we asked our cross-country walking tester, Andrew Forsthoefel, to put Rab’s Stretch Neo jacket and pants through their paces to see how they would fare.
Over the course of his 3,000-mile journey, Andrew has been rained on in 10 different states, and he gave us a report on the gear he’s been using for the past 11 months.
By replacing traditional poles with inflatable "AirPoles," Kelty’s family camping-sized shelters set up in under a minute with a dual-action floor pump, the kind you’d use to pump up an inflatable raft. The rainfly is pre-attached to the body of the tent, so there is no futzing with inner and outer layers.
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.
Mountain bikers tend to get short shrift when it comes to high-quality apparel, especially shorts. While many companies make solid outers, the accompanying chamois is often thin and insufficient. We used to lament baggies that don't ship with pads but have recently changed our tune: Not only are they cheaper this way, but we always end up subbing our favorite bib or chamois underneath anyway. And while we've yet to find a combination set as good as the Mavic Stratos, we have come across a handful of solid performers. If you need a good pad, look no further than the Mavic Under Short ($80).
DYNAFIT SHORE U SHORTS ($130) These baggies would be our outright favorites except for one thing: Ours came in a bright white colorway, which quickly became stained and muddy brown. Dynafit has wisely discontinued the white, and while the green they've replaced it with is more durable, you have to be a Kermit fanatic to pull it off (we're not). Fashion aside, these shorts are brilliant. The stretch ripstop material is both comfy and bombproof, with baggy-but-tailored patterning that's flattering and smooth to ride in. The zip hip pockets aren't super useful since anything in them hops around with every pedal stroke, but the ample Velcro thigh pockets more than make up for it. Fit is dialed thanks to the elastic and Velcro band tucked in the rear of the waist, and our favorite feature is the venting, with the entire rear section of the short open and mesh-lined for air flow. Thankfully, along with the White Shore Us, Dynafit also discontinued the X4 Chamois Knicks, which were far too minimal for serious riding—don't get suckered into buying them on closeout.
BOTTOM LINE: Killer baggies. Now how about those colors...?