Monday 17 July 2017

Favourite Outdoor Gear

Tilley Hat, Paramo Katmai shirt & Pacerpoles on my Yosemite Valley to Death Valley walk last autumn

Looking through old files recently I came across this piece I wrote for The Great Outdoors in 2010. Back then I choose eight pieces of gear as my absolute favourites, based on years of usage. Surprisingly, seven years later I’d still pick all bar one of them, the GoLite Pinnacle, which isn’t available anymore but for which there are now alternatives I prefer, such as the Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus. The Inov8 Terroc shoes are also no longer around either, sadly as I haven’t yet found an alternative I’m really happy with.

Do I still use these items regularly? Yes. Good design lasts. Would I add anything to the list? Yes, the Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar and the Paramo Katmai shirt. Do I still use these items regularly? Yes. Good design lasts.

Having tested hundreds and hundreds of items gear over the years I’ve had a unique opportunity to find out which ones I really like. These often creep up on me slowly. After a test is complete I find that I keep selecting one of the items for trip after trip until I realise it has become a real favourite. With other gear I know immediately that it’s something special so I’m not surprised when it becomes a favourite.

Favourite items can be surpassed by newer ones in terms of weight or performance of course but sentiment keeps them as favourites even if I don’t use them as much as previously. Memories are important and gear that has been on many trips collects them. I can look at a hat or a stove on a shelf and be transported back to a spectacular camp site or a wonderful day on the trail. One of these items that now mainly serves as a decoration is my old Optimus Svea 123 petrol stove. Back in the 1980s I used this little stove on the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails, the longest walks I have undertaken, and just looking at it takes me back to those marvellous wilderness adventures. There are many lighter weight and more efficient stoves now though and I haven’t used the Svea for over a decade. Maybe I’ll take it out for a nostalgic weekend soon.

In some cases it’s groups of products rather than specific items that are favourites. To be fair to the ones that fall into this category here they are: Paramo (waterproofs), Rab (sleeping bags, insulated jackets, waterproofs), TarpTent (tents), Western Mountaineering (sleeping bags, down clothing), Mountain Equipment (down sleeping bags, down clothing, waterproofs), PHD (down sleeping bags, down clothing), Berghaus (clothing), Therm-A-Rest (mattresses), Exped (mattresses), MSR (stoves), Optimus (stoves), Primus (stoves, cookware), Montane (waterproofs, trousers), Icebreaker (wool clothing), Teko (wool socks), Smartwool (wool clothing), Superfeet (footbeds), Patagonia (clothing), Terra Nova (tents), Lightwave (packs, tents), Mountain Laurel Designs (tarps, tents, packs), Granite Gear (packs), Petzl (headlamps), Silva (compasses), ViewRanger (GPS mapping). All these companies make products I have enjoyed using and will continue using.

Here, though, are my absolute favourites, gear that I have used again and again and found near perfect.

Hilleberg Akto

Hilleberg Akto in the NW Highlands

I have to start with the Akto, in which I’ve camped on hundreds of nights including my continuous round of the Munros and Tops and several TGO Challenges. For me this single hoop tent has been just about ideal. It’s strong, durable and lightweight with enough room inside for gear storage and cooking. I can sit out a storm in it without feeling claustrophobic. I also know it so well that I can pitch it in a few minutes without much thought or effort, which is useful when tired after a long day. Since the Akto first appeared over twenty years ago lighter weight tents based on the same design have appeared. Some of these are very good but I doubt any will prove as durable as the Akto. I still think that if you want a tough solo backpacking tent that will last the Akto is a great choice.

Tilley Hat

I discovered Tilley Hats in 1990 ago at the start of my walk through the Yukon Territory in northern Canada. Over the years I’d tried and discarded several sun hats but not found any that were really comfortable. The Tilley felt right immediately and I bought one within minutes of trying it on despite the high price. It was worth the money and the hat was worn for much of the walk, fending off rain as well as sun. Since then the Tilley has been around the Munros and Tops, along the Arizona Trail and the Pacific Northwest Trail, across Corsica and to Everest Base Camp as well as on many other trips. When I bought mine there was only one style. Now there are many styles. The model I prefer is called the T3. I like the fact that it’s cotton, despite the weight, as this breathes well and is cool in the heat. Soak it in water and it keeps your head cool for a long time. I like the tall crown, which doesn’t press on the head and so is more comfortable and cooler than ones that do, and I like the wide, stiffened brim, which shades the face and neck better than floppy ones.

Caldera Cone Stove System

Caldera Ti-Tri & Evernew 900
On my first long distance walk, from Land’s End to John O’Groats, I used a Trangia meths stove. Although it worked well I never took it on another long walk due to the weight and bulk plus the need to carry lots of fuel. Now after years of using petroleum fuel and cartridge stoves I’ve returned to meths for long distance walks. This is due to the ingenious Caldera Cone, a curved cone of thin metal that acts as a wind shield for a drinks can meths burner and as a pot support. It works just like a Trangia at a fraction of the weight. It’s fuel efficient too and boils water quite quickly for a meths stove. The basic Caldera Cone, made from aluminium, is excellent. The Ti-Tri titanium version is even better as you can also burn wood in it. And best of all is the Ti-Tri Inferno, which has a smaller inverted cone that fits inside the Caldera and makes burning wood much more efficient.

Evernew 900ml Pan

This simple titanium pan was another love-at-first-sight item. Having gone through several sets of aluminium pans, which soon became dented and scratched, I’d changed to heavier but tougher stainless steel when I saw my first titanium pan in a US outdoor store well over twenty years ago. It looked wonderful and felt even better as it was so light. The price was high but I bought it anyway. That pan has been used extensively ever since and is still in fine condition. I think it will easily outlast me. It’s also just the right size for my kind of solo cooking.


My conversion to poles came through ski touring. After a few years it dawned on me that I didn’t need to be on skis for poles to be useful and I started using them when walking. There didn’t seem to be much difference between various brands until I discovered Pacerpoles with their specially shaped handles. These felt natural and comfortable to hold and I liked not having to use straps. I also found them easier to use and more efficient. Eventually I came full circle and started using them for ski touring, where I discovered they were better than standard ski poles.

GoLite Pinnacle Pack

I’m a minimalist when it comes to packs. I prefer simple, clean designs without lots of bells and whistles. The Pinnacle fits this description well and has all the features I require – a pocket for small and light items, mesh side pockets for water bottles and maps and side straps for attaching bulky or long items and for compressing it round a small load. It’s also very light yet made from a very tough material. With 72 litres capacity it’s very roomy, which I like because it means I can carry many days food if necessary and I don’t have to pack it carefully if I’m tired or packing in a storm. I find it comfortable with loads up to 20kg and it will handle more if necessary.

Inov8 Terroc shoes

Drying sodden Inov8 Terrocs on the Pacific Northwest Trail

When I first tried Inov8 Terroc shoes five years ago I was astounded at the light weight. It felt almost as though I had nothing on my feet. I was even more impressed when I found the shoes excellent for hillwalking and backpacking. I’ve worn them frequently since and they are the most comfortable walking footwear I’ve used. The grip is excellent, they are very breathable, they dry fast and the toes and heel are quite tough. They’re obviously not as durable as a pair of leather boots but they’ve outlasted some other trail shoes and the same pair did three TGO Challenges plus other walks for a total of over 600 miles.

Grand Shelters Icebox

Building an igloo on the Moine Mhor, Cairngorms

Perhaps the most fun piece of gear I’ve used in recent years is the Icebox, a unique tool designed for building igloos. With this shaped plastic form you can make an igloo from any type of snow from powder to slush. Building your own snow shelter is exciting and satisfying. The Icebox is also practical. Igloos are strong, windproof, silent, very roomy and warmer than any tent. I’ve done three trips into the Rocky Mountains in winter without a tent but with an Icebox and have been warm and comfortable in an igloo every night, even when the temperature fell to -35ÂșC in Yellowstone. I’ve also built several igloos in the Scottish Highlands. The Icebox weighs 2.2kg and can be easily strapped to a pack or a sledge. I’ve also built several igloos in the Scottish Highlands.


  1. Hi Chris.
    The guys at Backpackinglight reckon you can advise me. Hope you can! I'm looking for a 1.5 man (1 man & a medium sized dog) lightweight tent (under 2kg preferably) for wet & windy exposed conditions in Scotland.

    Restrictions are the budget (around £400 tops) and it must be either fly first or all-in-one.

    I am currently considering (but open to more suggestions)

    Nigor WikiUp 3 (w half inner)
    Luxe Hexpeak
    TT Scarp 1: Space may be an issue as well as carrying the cross-poles (i have a Moment DW (too small) and find the cross-pole fiddly and not of great help in high winds)
    TT StratoSpire 1: a potential – stated as coping well with high winds. Looks big enough but not sure. Would welcome comments on its footprint / set up and wind tolerance. I would need to buy poles as i don’t use walking poles.

    Trekkertent Phreeranger: would welcome info on specs, especially footprint & dimensions, as well as wind tolerance. Weight looks good at 40D for UK conditions.

    I would be interested in the Trekkertent Edge but its not in production with a replacment still to be announced.

    The new Vaude Terra Hogan looks good and, while not UL, is 2.2kg. However, its new and no onlie reviews, so wary.

    Sorry to bombard you with that, but I'm kinda stuck and need to make my mind up!

    Many thanks

    1. Hi Ed,

      The best shelter I've used for Scottish conditions is the Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar - This is more wind-resistant than anything else except much heavier tents.

      The Wickiup 3 is pretty good and the Luxe Hexpeak looks similar. The Wickiup 3 would be a better choice than the Trailstar if you're tall as it has good headroom.

      I've used the Scarp 1 a great deal and it's also pretty good. I only use the crossover poles when heavy snow is expected.

      I haven't used the StratoSpire. It have read good comments online by people who know what they're talking about. I've not see the Trekkertent Phreeranger either but it's based on the Phoenix Phreeranger, which was my favourite tent back in the late 80s. It was very much a solo tent though. The Terra Hogan is quite stable but the porch is small.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Hi. Yes. Thanks for the reply. Naturally, if money no object, I'd get them all! Will look into the Trailstar.