Record heat waves are tearing through the United States this summer, and while many of us are sweltering without AC, the smarter of us are filling 70-liter packs and planning a long backpacking trip high in the mountains. During the summer doldrums we often find ourselves opening Gaia and CalTopo and tracing enticing routes over Rocky Mountain ridges and passes in our home state of Colorado. We’ve been lucky enough to get some rain recently which allays some of our fears of wildfires and allows us to plan even longer trips. So in the spirit of summer—and hopefully a fat monsoon season—we’re going to offer you our opinions on the very best backpacking gear out there, to get you far from this 100+ degree hellscape and into the mountains we call our true homes.
Katmai 55 and Kalmia 50
We love Gregory packs for two reasons: durability and suspension. The things are just tanks. They last forever. The Freefloat 360 suspension system seals the deal—the mesh ventilated straps and padding keep airflow running behind your back, keeping you cooler and less of a stinky nuisance to your tent-mates. Polygene threads running throughout the frame are odor resistant; thank us later.
Aircontact 65 Men’s and Women’s
We’ve heard time and time again from friends and staffers that this pack is unbreakable. We also love the way the frame hugs our hips—snugly and without the penchant for hot spots that some packs deliver. The expandable body gives us some leeway for cramming extra luxury junk on our trips (because let’s be real—60 liters is plenty, unless you want to treat yourself) and we always appreciate the info for flagging down airplanes that Deuter provides in the pack’s lid.
Aether and Ariel Plus 70
This was the first pack I ever bought, and it will be forever in my heart. And my gear closet, because I still use it all the time over a decade later. Jam-packed with features including an ice tool carry and even a few ways to carry skis, the Aether and Ariel Plus prove that overkill is underrated. These are serious packs, built for everything from backpacking to ski mountaineering.
Torchlight UL 20 Sleeping Bag
If you’ve never slept in—or carried—an ultralight down bag, you seriously don’t know what you’re missing. The compressibility, warmth-to-weight ratio and comfort are simply unrivaled. And hey, three or four pounds less weight in your pack means you can cram in extra backpacking gear. Plus with the Torchlight UL, you don’t have to worry about a drizzle. The hydrophobic down will keep your insulation from collapsing.
Magma 15° Sleeping Bag
Another ultralight down mummy-style bag, the Magma 15 will keep you warm even through those sneaky Rockies summer snowstorms like we had last weekend. The Pertex 15-denier shell is slinky, light, and shockingly comfortable. It’s been our favorite liner fabric on bags for a few years running.
Seedhouse 2p Tent
We really like a good, roomy two-person tent because it’s endlessly versatile. We’ve taken two-person tents like the Seedhouse on solo trips where you want the luxury of space and couple’s vacations with the Siberian husky in tow. Big Agnes tents are among our favorite for their ability to nail the balance of lightweight materials and serious durability. Check this one out.
Sea to Summit
UltraLight Insulated Sleeping Mat
If you can sleep on a closed-cell foam mat, you’re a better outdoorsman than us. We’ve tried for years, but inflatables are the way to go. This Sea to Summit mat is ideal as a three-season pad for Colorado due to it’s 3.1 R-value and low weight (just over a pound!) The high-tensile fabric will ensure no sleepless deflationary nights.
X Ultra Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boot
For a while we weren’t sure about the future of hiking boots in the face of the burgeoning trail runner craze, but lightweight and waterproof boots like Salomon’s X Ultra have changed our minds. The added ankle support and sole stiffness that comes without the cost of much weight is a must-have for rocky trails and heavier backpacking gear.
Magma S Gore-Tex
On the other hand, if you like to travel fast and light on rugged terrain, Tecnica’s new Magma S is one of the most exciting trail runners on the market. Built with MTB-worthy sticky rubber and insane shock absorption, these kicks will stand up to the most durable hiking boots out there.
MCT Superlite Trekking Poles
Save your knees, save your soul. Or something like that. But seriously, if we had a dime for the number of times we’re out in the mountains kicking ourselves that we didn’t bring trekking poles, we’d be able to afford Kästles by now. These are Leki’s lightest carbon poles, so we don’t even notice them when they’re stowed in our packs and the cork grips feel amazing in the hand. Seriously, save your knees!
Zeta SL Jacket
When you spend enough time in the mountains in the summer, especially out west, you begin to realize that most rain shells are overkill. You don’t need 3-layer Gore-tex for an afternoon squall here in Colorado, you just need to get the hell off of that Ridgeline. Arc’teryx understands this and that’s why they’ve labeled their Zeta SL as a hiking emergency shell. Toss it on for half an hour while you’re in go mode and it’ll keep you warm and dry until the storm passes.
Ghost Whisperer UL Jacket
Ultralight down jackets are a godsend when things go to hell. When paired with a shell, you can shiver bivy til the cows come home and your family is frantic—but you’ll be just fine. Mountain Hardwear’s Ghost Whisperer delivers an almost unbelievable warmth-to-weight ratio. You’ll keep thinking you forgot it in the car while it’s in your pack. But in an emergency, it’s there and you’ll be grateful.
Storm 400 Headlamp
True to its name, the Storm provides a reliable 400 lumens of powerful spotlight when the rain is hammering you all night. Fully weather sealed and delivering a huge variety of light settings, this light has everything you need and nothing you don’t.
Collapsable Water Bottle
One of my favorite innovations in hiking and climbing tech lately has been the collapsible water bottle. Nothing is more of a pain than a now-useless item that still takes up a ton of space in your pack. Drink it, fold it, forget about it until the next stream.
Adventure Medical Kits
Mountain Backpacker Medical Kit
You wouldn’t BELIEVE the number of folks who go deep into the backcountry without a med kit. In fact I get mad at myself for the number of times I’ve done it. Well no more. This kit is perfect for those with a WFA, WFR, or basic first aid training to provide valuable aid to your party members or even a stranger when the shit hits the fan. If you’re bringing whiskey as backpacking gear, you can afford to bring one of these!
fēnix 6 – Pro Solar Edition
The final crucial piece of backpacking gear is a big ticket item, but when you’re in need, you’ll be VERY happy to have one. Unlike most GPS smart watches, you no longer have to worry about battery life. Garmin’s new fēnix 6 has a solar-charging face to keep you on track for weeks on end. This is the most exciting innovation in watch tech we’ve seen in years.