2014 has been a great year, full of adventure and amazing gear to help that happen. Just because 2014 is over, that doesn’t mean the year old gear isn’t useful. Here are my top picks, and why they’ll be great for years to come.
A couple notes: These aren’t necessarily items that were released this year, and it’s a completely arbitrary list of things that I personally liked. No numbers, no ranks, just the gear that has held my attention and a permanent place in my pack. It was tough to narrow it down to a few key pieces of gear, but here it is.
The Sierra Designs Lightning UL 2 broke a lot of design rules this year, and it worked. The gear storage was moved out of the way to the sides, the door was moved to an easy enter and exit vertical position, and an awning was added so you can leave the mesh window exposed during storms to add to the experience and keep the air flowing. Clever designs choices like the hybrid single/double wall means you can pitch it in the rain without soaking the interior, and it goes up faster. Top this off with solid build quality, light weight, and a great price and you have a tent that shows you why tried and true designs cane produce not only something unique, but something better.
The Big Agnes Double Z Introduced a new baffling system, 4 inches of thick luscious padding, and an ultralight, packable design that breathed new life into my sleep system. It’s held up to a long year of backpacking, with no signs of wearing out anytime soon. A unique valve lets you inflate without loosing air, and quickly deflate the pad in a matter of seconds. I’ve slept better on this pad than any other before it, and without breaking the bank. It’s light weight, durable, and oh so comfy.
The Helly Hansen Odin Insulator Jacket reminded me that warmth, light weight, and comfort isn’t a combination reserved only for down fill. The Odin provided plentiful warmth even below freezing, snugly comfort, and ease of mind knowing it would still function and provide warmth even when wet thanks to the synthetic fill. Packability is also great, dissapearing into the deepest crevices of my pack when I needed it out of the way. It does everything that down does, and a few things it doesn’t.
L.L.Bean managed to completely replace fleece from my pack this year, with the Primaloft Packaway Jacket. It’s lighter, more compressible, and more comfortable than any fleece jacket that I’ve ever tested. Silky construction paired with performance that kept me warm easily into the high 30’s with no supplemental layers, certainly impressed me. This jacket knows how to perform. It provides just as much warmth as fleece, and still manages to perform well when wet. Unmatched comfort of course must be paired with style, and the packaway makes that happen too.
Sierra Designs clawed their way onto my list once again with the feather-light, yet warm, Backcountry Quilt. Incredibly light weight and packable, but without sacrificing comfort like many other quilts on the market. The quilt has a deep foot box, tons of shoulder room, dedicated hand pockets for side sleepers, and even a small head pocket and breathing slit for your face for when the temperature really drops. It was a tough choice between this, and Sierra Designs own Mobile Mummy, when it comes to comfort, I like the freedom of a quilt.
Granite Gear is well known for producing ultra-light, minimalist packs, but they can also produce something a little beefier and supportive when the job calls for it. The Leopard A.C. 58 has a stiffer frame, more organization, an included lid and generous padding while still falling in around the 3 lb mark. Lugging 35 pound loads was never painful thanks to the direct load transfer to the hips, rigid frame, and studly padding around the hips and shoulders. Every piece of gear found it’s spot inside the spacious interior, and I never had to search for small items thanks to the pack having just enough pockets to keep everything organized. This one is very much overlooked, and it’s a keeper.
Because sleep, to me, is more important than a couple extra ounces of pack weight, the Kelty Luxury Pillow has found a place deep inside my heart, and a permanent place inside my pack. It’s light enough, and provides real comfort and an at home feel that is rarely associated with backpacking. It has quality, soft materials on the outside, with fluffy down fill on the inside, and an extra pocket for stuffing that jacket or shirt into for added loft with no weight penalty. After all, a good night’s sleep keeps you moving on the trail the next day.
So, these are my favorites. There are lots of other quality pieces of equipment out there, so don’t limit yourself. These are my picks, and I’ll be carrying them with me for a long, long time. Anything you feel I’ve forgotten? Let me know below.