Saturday 2 January 2010

A Decade of Backpacking Gear

As a gear tester for TGO magazine I try a wide range of outdoor gear every year. Over a decade this adds up to a vast amount of stuff. Out of the hundreds of items tried each year there are usually a few I really like and continue using after the test is over. Here are those items that impressed me, year by year, during the 2000s.

Pre-2000. A mention here for my favourite tent, which I’ve been using since it appeared in the early 1990s, the Hilleberg Akto, and my favourite Tilley Hat, from back in the days when there was only model.


Paramo Aspira smock. This has become a favourite for cold weather, especially when ski touring.

Jack Wolfskin Gecko microfleece. Used year round this thin lightweight fleece has proved very durable and should last a while yet.

Zojirushi Tuffslim Compact stainless steel flask. Filled with hot Rocks Organic Ginger this light small flask comes on cold weather day hikes and camping trips. It’s a little dented now but still keeps the contents hot.


GoLite Hex 3 tent. I first used this single pole, single-skin shelter on a trip with GoLite in the Uinta mountains in Utah where it stood up to torrential rain and very strong winds. I like it for winter camping in Scotland as there’s so much space, which is welcome on long dark nights.

Grivel G10 crampons. Reasonably light and able to fit lightweight flexible boots these have been used with many different models of boots over the years and are still going strong.

GoLite Coal Polarguard jacket. This is the best synthetic insulation jacket I have used. It’s a great shame it was discontinued many years ago. Mine is probably not as thick as when new but it still keeps me warm in cold, damp weather. I wish someone would make something similar.


Rab Quantum 200 sleeping bag. Very light, very compact, very warm for the weight this is my first choice for temperatures above freezing. It’s been used on hundreds of nights (and cleaned a couple of times) and is in fine condition.

ULA P-2 pack. The first lightweight pack capable of handling 15-20kg I used this pack a great deal until it was replaced by the similar Catalyst.


Smartwool & Icebreaker merino wool clothing. Once I’d tried this I dropped synthetic base layers for backpacking trips. Discovering I could wear the same shirt for two weeks without it stinking was wonderful!

Grivel Air Tech Racing ice axe. Lightweight but made of steel not alloy this is the axe I use if I think I’m likely to actually need it much.

Primus Micron gas stove. My favourite of all the tiny ultralight gas cartridge stoves that appeared in the 2000s. Tough, fuel efficient and simple.


Paramo Cascada trousers. I’d been wearing Paramo salopettes for many years for ski touring and snow camping trips but they always seemed overkill in less wintery conditions. The Cascadas give the same performance in a lighter, simpler garment and are my first choice trousers from autumn to spring.

eVent. The first eVent garment I tried was the Rab Latok and the breathability impressed me. Since then eVent jackets from Rab and Montane have been my choice from May to September, when I find Paramo jackets too warm.

A trio of down jackets. This year I tested down jackets, three of which I have continued using ever since. The Western Mountaineering Flight is very warm and very light. The PHD Minimus isn’t quite as warm but has a hood and is also very light. The Rab Neutrino is heavier but warmer and the one I take for really cold weather.


Shoes were a theme this year as I tested two models that have been my first choices ever since – the Keen Targhee II, which I used in winter and cold, wet weather as it has a waterproof membrane, and the Inov8 Terroc, which I wear the rest of the time and which have become my favourite three season backpacking footwear and been used on three TGO Challenges (the same pair).

Montane Terra trousers. Simple, tough, synthetic trousers that won’t wear out! Ideal for cool to warm weather.


GoLite Pinnacle pack. I’d been using the GoLite Gust for light backpacking loads for a few years but had always found problems with the design. The Pinnacle solved these and is my choice for loads up to around 14kg. It’s been on three TGO Challenges so I must like it!

Pacerpoles. I’d been using trekking poles for a decade without preferring any particular pair when Pacerpoles came along and I was instantly hooked. By far the most comfortable and efficient poles I’ve tried.

Windshirts. I’ve always used windproof as well as waterproof tops and my favourite had been the Buffalo Windshirt but mine wore out and the new version lacked a hood. Testing a batch this year two stood out and have been used regularly ever since – the Paramo Fuera Smock for colder weather and the lighter, thinner Montane Lite-Speed.


This was a year of new, impressive stoves. The Coleman Fyrestorm was the first stove designed to be used with an inverted cartridge for efficiency in sub zero weather. I’ve used it every winter since and it really does work well. The Primus EtaPower was the first heat exchanger stove that really impressed me – it’s too big for one but has been used for melting snow for groups on igloo trips and is my first choice for group cooking. Then there’s the Caldera Cone, a simple yet ingenious idea that provides an efficient windscreen and pot support for a meths burner whilst remaining ultralight.

Rab Phantom Grip gloves. Simple fleece gloves may not seem something to be enthusiastic about but these are the only ones I’ve had that are comfortable, quick drying, durable and wind resistant without being sweaty.


Therm-A-Rest Neo Air mattress. The most comfortable sleeping pad I’ve used. Luxurious in fact. Yet still very light and extremely compact.


It’s difficult to say which items from last year I’ll still be using in a few years time. Ones I suspect I might be are the Paramo Katmai shirt, an excellent warm weather trekking shirt, and the Rab Momentum eVent jacket, a lightweight well-designed waterproof.

And one I definitely will be is the TarpTent Scarp 1, the first tent that has challenged the Akto in my affections, especially for winter and snow due to the optional crossover poles and extra room.

Photo info: Camp on the summit of Ben Nevis in 2008 with Hilleberg Akto tent, Pacerpoles, Montane Litespeed windshirt, Montane Terra trousers, Inov8 Terroc shoes and GoLite Pinnacle pack. Canon EOS 350D, 18-55@23mm, 1/500@ f8, ISO 100, tripod, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.6


  1. re the GoLite Coal have you tried Alpkit's oHiro yet? I have one and it is excellent - light, simple and warm. Never tried the GoLite so I couldn't compare

  2. Interesting list. You should get Henry to send you a new flysheet for the Scarp, then it will overtake the Akto! Stoves are an interesting topic. If you get a chance to try the Snow Peak GST100, it's a beautiful piece of engineering and might supplant the Micron. I'll really have to try a pair of Pacer Poles some day. Keep up the good work. Your gear reviews are the ones most people trust. P.S. get a pair of Salomon Fastpacker GTX boots. Used with Superfeet insloes they are the best boots I've ever worn and the only ones where the GTX lining really works well.

  3. Hi Chris

    Thanks for the summary. Just one question, what happens to all the gear? Is your house bursting at the seams with kit or do you just give the mediocre stuff back and keep the rest?

  4. Chris, I haven't tried the Ohiro. It looks interesting. It's shorter than the Coal though - the latter is long enough to have a waist drawcord. I wonder what the loft is? There are other hooded jackets I like when it's not too cold, such as the Rab Photon Hoodie, but they're not as warm as the Coal.

  5. Blogpackinglight, Henry has sent me a new flysheet for the Scarp 1. It'll probably arrive when the snow recedes! I have tested the GST 100 and it is a lovely stove - however I didn't find it quite as fuel efficient as the Primus Micron. There's little in it though. I've reviewed the GST again in a gas stoves piece for the February TGO (not the Micron because the original version has been discontinued). I haven't tried the Fastpackers but I did like the XA Pro shoes. I'll see if I can get hold of a pair. Thanks for your comments on my reviews. I hope you go on finding them interesting.

  6. Up Jack's Rake, sometimes my house is overflowing with gear! Some goes back (including items I might have gone on using otherwise), some I go on using, some drifts away with friends and every few years a lot gets donated, twice to the John Muir Trust and a few times to the local secondary school for their outdoor pursuits programme (which is very good and which my stepdaughter enjoyed so I'm happy to support them).

  7. Chris - a question about wearing Paramo for ski touring. What do you layer underneath the Paramo and what do you wear in camp? Do you layer insulation pieces over the Paramo? I like the idea of a Paramo jacket being able to replace a mid, wind and waterproof layer, it seems like it will actually save weight in the backpack. I'm still worried about overheating in it though, I run hot and sweaty!

  8. I don't usually wear much under Paramo! Just merino boxers under the trousers and a lightweight merino shirt under the jacket. If it's really, really cold I might wear a thin fleece as well but usually I layer over the Paramo. Setting off in -25C temperatures a couple of years ago I wore an insulated vest over the Paramo until it warmed up. In camp I wear an insulated jacket over the Paramo. On the trip just mentioned I had a down jacket as well as the synthetic insulated vest, which I needed as it was -35C one night and I wanted to be outside looking at the stars and moon.

    I run hot and sweaty too but only find Paramo too hot in temperatures above around 8C. Most of the garments have good venting options for those ski days when it's quite warm.

  9. Chris - Are the Keen Targhee II you mention the shoes or mids and is the waterproof membrane eVent or the new KeenDry? I ask because both my wife and I have the mids with eVent (about 2 years old now) and they have leaked virtually from day one! Comfortable boots though.

  10. Gibson, I've had two pairs of Targhee mids and one pair of shoes. The first pair of mids were pre-eVent and had an unbranded membrane that stayed waterproof for a few months - which is about what I expect from membranes. I then had mids and shoes with eVent. I've worn the shoes most and they have just started leaking after what must be hundreds of days wear. Overall this is better than with most membranes.

    I'm sorry to hear about your leaking Targhees. Either the membrane or construction must be defective. Even the worst membrane footwear should remain waterproof for a few months. Glad you find them comfortable though!

  11. Chris - Thanks for that. We've probably been unlucky since we both bought them at the same time, at the same shop, so maybe they came from the same batch of defective boots! Might try the shoes. Happy New Year.

  12. I was reading thru' that list and nodding at almost all of it. I've bought a lot of kit on your recommendation over the years and I'm still using most of it.

    The Coal's one of my favourites and is a prized possesion indeed :o)

    So thanks for the advice over the years, Chris and all the best for 2010.

  13. Happy New Year, Chris. I've been reading your reviews for at least 20 years and have bought a few recommended items, though I don't always agree with your views. For example, you won't find me tripping across Scotland on cold May days with leaky footwear, if I can avoid it! Thank you for providing the balanced critiques that enable some of us to form our own opinions on what is best for us, even if your conclusions are different....
    Have a great 2010.

  14. I have a question about gloves. You must get a lot of them sent to you based on measurements you provide to manufacturers (as opposed to trying them on in a shop): in your experience, does this go wrong a lot?
    I ask because here in Belgium there is very little choice in gear shops and prices are very high because there is so little competition. Basic powerstretch gloves run 35€ compared to about 15pounds on your side of the canal.
    I was actually looking at those Rab Phantom gloves but am afraid they wouldn't fit if I bought them on the internet.

    I do enjoy your writings. May your trails be long and sunny in 2010.

  15. I've got a few things off the list as well. I sometimes wonder what you'd need to do to actually destroy the JW Gecko. It does bear out the point Chris made recently about the value, longer term, of good quality gear.

    On the downside of the argument, I've found the Sprayway Commanche continues to be a major obstacle to my prospects of justifying a new jacket. And I've had it since the days when it was considered to be lightweight.

  16. Anonymous, I've found Large size gloves generally fit okay. Some are close-fitting and some roomy enough to wear a liner underneath but it's not a big difference. All I ask makers for is size Large.

    Trousers are a much bigger problem! Centimetres and inches seem to be variable measurements here. I once tested a pair of 38" waist trousers that were actually smaller than a 34" pair in the same test.

  17. Most of my gear seams to have been recommended by you, so keep up the good work. I have a question regarding the Scarp tent . It weighs 1600g with the cross over poles so weight wise doesnt seem much different to the Hilleberg Akto. So what is the advantage?

    Thanks, Greg.

  18. Greg, the crossover poles are the big advantage in winter conditions. as they make the Scarp 1 much more stable than the Akto in snow. & they are optional. Without them the Scarp is lighter than the Akto at 1326 grams. I used it on the TGO Challenge last year without the crossover poles and it performed well.

  19. Thanks Chris for this very insightful article! I as well like my Momentum jacket and the Scarp 1, so great minds must think alike =)

    Happy new 2010 btw =)

  20. What a happy time I@ve had reading through this and looking things up in Google :) Many thanks indeed for posting it.