Thursday 18 December 2008

Favourite Gear 2008, Backpacking Light Staff Picks

A few weeks ago Backpacking asked me to choose three favourite items of gear for the annual Staff Picks article. This has just been published. It’s not a subscription article so anyone can read it here.

I chose a new favourite, an old favourite and a recent favourite. The Caldera Ti-Tri stove system is the new favourite, an improvement on the already excellent Caldera Cone that can be used as a wood stove as well as with alcohol and solid fuel. The old favourite was the Jack Wolfskin Gecko microfleece, which has been on most trips year round for the last eight years. I haven’t found a better simple and light fleece top. The recent favourite is the Inov8 Terroc. I’ve used these ultralight and comfortable trail shoes on two TGO Challenges as well as many shorter trips.

Of course I have many favourite items of gear and after choosing three for Backpacking Light I thought I’d briefly list some others here. First must come the Hilleberg Akto tent, which I’ve used for hundreds of nights over the last 14 years. I think it’s still the best solo tent for wet and windy weather – but then I can pitch it in a few minutes and I know just how it will perform. The Therm-A-Rest Prolite 3 Short has been my first choice in mats for many years but I must admit that it is likely to lose that place to the new Therm-A-Rest Neo Air Regular Mat which is more comfortable yet weighs less. A review of the Neo Air along with other new items shown at the Friedrichshafen trade show will appear in the February TGO. For sleeping bags I am torn between the Rab Quantum series – I’ve used the 200 on several TGO Challenges and the 600 on two ski tours in Yellowstone – and PHD Minim and Minimus bags. They are all excellent. When not using the Caldera Ti-Tri I like butane/propane stoves and my favourite here is the Primus Micron Ti for three season solo use. In below freezing temperatures the Coleman Fyrestorm Ti is my choice when solo, the Primus Eta Power for two or more. With packs the ones I turn to most are the GoLite Pinnacle for loads under 15 kilos and the ULA Catalyst for heavier loads. And I still have a soft spot for my old heavy load monster, the massive Dana Designs Astralplane. If I was carrying 30kgs plus again I’d still use this pack. (It’s still available from Mystery Ranch under the name G7000).

With clothes Paramo waterproofs are favourites outside of summer and I also like the Montane Litespeed windproof, Montane Terra Pants, Teko merino wool socks, Smartwool and Icebreaker merino wool tops, my old GoLite Coal Polarguard jacket and three down jackets - Rab Neutrino Endurance, Western Mountaineering Flight, PHD Minimus.

Pacer Poles have been my favourite trekking poles since I first tried them and I really like the carbon fibre ones. I also use the 2-section ones for ski touring.

My ski tours in Yellowstone have made Igloo Ed’s brilliant IceBox igloo building tool and Ed’s Wilderness Systems Expeditions Sleds favourites for snow travel.

With photography I’ve been delighted with my third and so far best DSLR, the Canon 450D, and with Canon’s two Image Stabilisation lenses, the 18-55 and 55-250, which really do make hand holding at low speeds practical. I’m also very pleased with the Sigma DP1, the only compact that takes images comparable with a DSLR. My review of the DP1 will appear on Backpacking Light next month along with a series of photo essays.

Photo info: The Caldera Ti-Tri in use on a cold damp December morning in Glen Tromie in the Scottish Highlands (see post for Dec 15). Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS@18mm, f5.6@1/20, ISO 800, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.


  1. It is always hard to pick our favourite pieces of gear, as some are more suited to one trip than another. I too like the caldera, but have wondered about the wood burning option. Chris have you used the wood burning option? I will be interested to hear more about the Neo in TGO

  2. Yes I have used the Caldera TiTri with wood. I reviewed it in the December TGO, along with other wood burning stoves. It works pretty well.

  3. Thanks Chris, just read my e version of the TGO for December, I obviously missed your article in my first scan of the magazine.

    Interesting report it seems that if your focus is on wood burning for cooking then the Bush Buddy is the ideal stove but if your focus is on the occasional fire to reduce the amount of fuel carried then the Caldera is the way to go. Interesting dilemma.

  4. Nielsen, I'd choose the Ti-Tri for long walks in the UK, reckoning on using it with meths most of the time and wood when time, weather and suitable fuel allowed. In fact I'm considering doing that on the next TGO Challenge.

  5. I always thought the Pinnacle would not be comfy with such a thin hip belt. Tried one, got one and just love it. What a pack. Simple, comfy, and performs.

  6. You'll be trying a tarp next Martin! ;)
    Mike fae Dundee

  7. A Tarp Tent maybe Mike. Tarp in Scotland on the Challenge. You know me. Tent all the way. Happy Xmas.

  8. It's nice to see the Akto still figures in you favourites list, and the Caldera Cone.
    Have a great Christmas and a better new year

  9. Thanks for posting the extra likings on here Chris! I finally stopped using the Pinnacle this year as the sweat was just too uncomfy on my back, every other ascpect of the bag is fantastic but I just couldn't handle the lack of venting on the back anymore, especially through the summer. My Terra pants still look today like they did several years ago when I first bought them and I've never ever worn anything else on a walk, backpacking or holiday, love em. I think everyone is dying to get there hands on the NeoAir mattress. By the way I can smell that Gecko from here Chris!