I’m notoriously bad at controlling my body temperature. Nine times out of ten I’m either hot or freezing, which has led to a fixation on layers. Maybe this will be the one, I think as I pull out yet another jacket that promises to keep me warm or cool at exactly the right time. The result is a closet stuffed with fleeces and puffies.
But the jacket I come back to most is a seven-year-old Patagonia Nano Air. I bought it before I knew “gear editor” was a job. The cuffs are blotched with mystery stains, the right arm marred with sticky residue from a patch I’ve replaced more than once. Recently, for a time, I resisted the urge to wear it, stubbornly assuming that one of my newer jackets—including an updated version of the Nano Air—had to be better. Finally, I accepted that amid a sea of top-notch breathable midlayers, the original is my favorite. It just fits, feels, performs, and looks exactly the way I want.
The gear world is fast paced. Every year, running shoes seem to get speedier, down jackets lighter, and shells more waterproof and breathable. This is a good thing. Gear advancements make the outdoors safer and more comfortable. But it’s also easy to get caught up in all the development.
With so much changing from year to year, purchasing equipment has never felt more difficult—to say nothing of deciding whether to buy something at all. Much of the hype is just noise: the best products are not necessarily the techiest or even the newest. They’re simply the ones that do exactly what you need them to do.
We know this is an ironic way to preface a 124-page Buyer’s Guide. Do we intend for you to ditch your duffel because the updated North Face Basecamp has slick new features, or replace your tent because the Sea to Summit Telos TR 2P maximizes space with an innovative pole design? Absolutely not. Objective measures of performance are only part of what makes a piece of gear “good.” The rest depends on you—your climate, your body, the demands of your outdoor life.
Our goal isn’t to convince you to buy new gear, but to help you find what you truly need. Ideally, of the 340 products here, you’ll find one to adventure with for years to come.