Part of Recommended Outdoor Gear by
The question was raise on Backpacker.com's gear forum if people
owned any perfect gear. Below is my list of "perfect",
and a longer list of near perfect gear. Please keep in mind that
"perfect" is in the eye of the beholder. What is
"perfect" for me might be perfectly wrong for you. Also know
that over time what I might consider "perfect" can change as
new experiences are gained or expectations are revisited. This
means that over time items might fall off the list and items that I
once didn't like become "perfect" in my eyes. Related
articles include bacpacking.net
top 5 items,
backpackinglight.com staff's picks in
backpacker.com Editors Choice.
If you have found something that is perfect, send me mail.
I might try it out and put it on my list, or add it to the
Perfect for Others section at the end of this document. Further discussions
about issues related to each of these items can be found in my Recommended Outdoor Gear
Gear Gorilla: A perfect size pack for most of my trips and
handles my standard 15-25 lbs comfortably. The use of light weight
stays and a foam sit pad provides excellent carry comfort. The pack is
easy to use and made from a fairly durable material. The foam back pad
can do double duty as a sit pad. You can strip the pack down if you
want something more minimal (I don't do this) I would prefer a
rolltop, but the new top is ok.
Ghost Blanket: for three season sleeping. Light weight. Not too
hot in warm weather because it's easy to ventilate thanks to the
minimalist footbox. Good down to 30F wearing light base + a warm
hat. Warm enough for year round use in the sierras when combined with
high loft insulating garments. I have a second edition (they are now
on the third I think) which has 5 inch between the baffles and
the less developed foot box which I prefer on 3 season trips. More
perfect would be to refill it with some of the new, water repellent
15oz of sleeping comfort in California's four seasons when combined with
the Gorilla's foam pad when the temp is below 20F. The XTherm and NeoAir
have given me the best sleep I have had in the back country.
- Trail Designs UL Caldera Cone,
MLD 850ml Pot.
Cooking using esbits: Light weight, extremely easy to use, works well in
wind, with predictable fuel use. The UL Caldera Cone is not quite as fuel
efficient as the full size Caldera Cone but can pack into the stove making
it more compact and removes the need for a protective case. If you want more
economic fuel use the alcohol stove that comes with the Caldera. The MLD Pot
is a perfect size for my solo trips when I
cook in my pot. The ULC isn't made anymore, but the follow-on which is
Titanium (you can burn woods) looks superior in every way but cost.
Gossamer Gear Lightrek4 Trekking Poles: 3.9oz / pole for a stiff, carbon fiber hiking pole with a good quality grip. Adjustable between
90-140cm so it works well with numerous shelters. The adjustment systems
seems less prone to jamming or slipping that any other poles I have used.
- Altra Trail Running Shoes with light cushioning.
Good traction while miles of blister free hiking
- Injinji Outdoor Socks:
Socks made with toes. I prefer the nu-wool line of these socks because they are
a bit more cushioning that the coolmax. These greatly reduced blisters between
my toes with most shoes, and has complete prevented blisters when I wear
Five Fingers or Altra shoes. These socks took some
getting used to. The first several times I wore them I was very aware that
the socks were between my toes and it drove me crazy... but after a number of days
wearing these socks
around town, and a number of days on the trail I stopped noticing them after the
first 30 minutes or so.
Focus LT Hoody Rain Shell. This is a 9oz (size M) rain
shell made from eVENT DVL. Breathability is the best I have
experienced in a rain shell, though still not as breathable
as an unlined windshirt. This jacket is able to vent
moisture from normal level activities when it's 55F or
cooler, and even when I overwhelm it doing very heavy work,
it vents the excess moisture in 10-15 minutes allowing me to
dry out even when still wearing the jacket in the rain.
Excellent attention to detail and quality.
- Patagonia Capilene 4 Hoody (2012-later)
The very best base layer I have
used when it's <=60F. I use my Cap 4 hoody for all my done
in a day activities: hiking, skiing, biking, running, etc
whenever it's <55F. I have been reasonably comfort doing a
big uphill push when it was 55F and ok with sleeves pushed
up and zipper fully open up to 70F. With it zipped up, hood
up, and a windshirt worn I have been comfort hiking down to
35F. Cap4 with a windshirt to control how much air is
allowed to pass covers a huge range of conditions because
the Cap4 fabric is so air permeable thanks to the high void grid material.
Hat: Sun protection while keeping your head as cool as possible. Brim stays
stiff when wet and dries quickly. Only
downsides are that and the huge visor cuts down a bit of my field of vision and that it looks a "geeky" on
most people. I
can't imagine a hat this effective not being a bit strange looking.
- Polar Buff: I
can configure the Buff to suit my needs. In warmer conditions I double the
fleece section over my ears with just the light polyester fabric over the top of
my head to avoid overheating. When the temperature is down around freezing I
reconfigure the buff so the fleece covers all of my head for some extra warmth.
When it gets really cold the buff becomes a neck gaiter / face mask and I use
another hat to keep my head warm.
- Zebralight H51 Headlamp: For a do everything headlamp which is also
comfortable to hold in the hand. Fairly light and compact at 1.2oz
(3.5oz with battery and headband) this headlamp that runs on a single AA
batteries. It has 6 light levels from with good quality regulation
(lumens/time: 0.2/19 days, 2.5/3 days, 8/39h , 30/12h, 100/2h, 200/55min)
The beam has a hot spot with enough throw for way finding but also has
enough spill to be useful for around the camp.
Perfect... but mostly not using
The following items have my greatest recommendation, even though I am not
using them that much these days.
Western Mountaineering Versalite is a light and warm
sleeping bag with a great hood, the right dimensions for me,
and a zipper that doesn't jam. No side baffles so I can shift
the down around to control how much insulation is on top. The
Versalite is my winter sleeping bag, mostly used when the
temperatures are expected to be below 10F. It's been
several seasons since I have done intentional snow camping
so this bag hasn't gotten a lot of use.
People who are a bit more narrow than my
5'10" 160lbs should look at the Ultralite or the
Summerlite. More girth should look at the Alpinlite.. but
whatever you choose, you won't go wrong with a Western
Mountaineering bag. Everyone I know who has a WM sleeping bag
has been delighted. I have always been amazing how quickly WM
bags puff up and how I never get cold spots.
- REI(Evernew Wide) Nonstick Titanium 0.9 L pot:
Durable, light weight, perfect size for a solo packer who needs a good bit
of water or a couple that is cooking in freezer bags. Fold away handles stay
cool enough to pick up in bare hands after the pot has been on a stove for
an extended time. Wide bottom is more fuel efficient than taller & narrower
pots I have tried. Anti-stick coating has been effective and seem to be
reasonably durable. Just the right size to hold a canister or alcohol stove, fuel for 5 days,
and utensils. The REI(Evernew Wide) 1.3L pot is a great size when cooking for two or when boiling
with four people to cook in freezer bags. Evernew makes are number of other
wide bottom titanium pots which are equally attractive. Switched to MLD 850
because it worked with the UL Caldera and was narrow enough to drink from so I could do
away with my tea cup.
Platypus BigZip SL Hydration System: I find that I am more consistent in
drinking when I use a hydration system. The BigZip is lighter than most other
hydration systems, while still having a large opening which makes filling it
easy. The new zip top is much easier and more reliable to close than the first
generation platypus zip lock containers. The quick release value works well
making it possible for me quick switch from hydration bladder to the "dirty" bag
in a gravity filter system when I am using a combination of filtering and
- Five Fingers Spyridon LS:
When combined with Injinji socks I can walk any distance with no
blisters, even when my feet have gotten wet from multiple river
crossings. The material is tight enough that it keeps dust and grit
out. Soles are grippy. Downside is that it is much easier to stub toes.
Patagonia Houdini Windshirt: Windshirt with a full length zipper and
hood. Very light, reasonably durable, great size for me (I like my shells to
have extra long torso). Great at blocking wind. DWR is easy to refresh.
While this is still in my perfect gear list (though I think the current
version is a bit too baggy), I mostly don't use a wind shirt
backpacking. In warmer conditions I do without wind protection, enjoying the
cooling from the wind. By the time it's cold enough that the wind is
really bothering me, I have found my eVENT rain shell works adequately
on cool-cold trips.
Montbell Thermawrap Vest:
Moderate insulation layer with a micro fleece liner collar. Just 5oz and
very compressible. Gives good freedom of movement while keeping my core warm.
When combined with a medium weight base, wind shirt and a warm hat keeps me
adequately warm down to around 20F if I am moderately active, and good to 30F if
I am sitting. Many people might want something warmer since the Thermawrap is
somewhere between a 100-200wt fleece. I am not
using the Thermawrap Vest anymore. After five years of use the Thermawrap lost enough loft
that it needed
to be replaced. I would have purchased another Thermawrap but I had been given a
WM Flash Vest.
oLight i3 EOS is the replacement of the iTP Light A3 EOS Upgrade Edition. The iTP A3 was a bit more efficent and brighter. You may still fine some of the original
for sale. The original version of this light weights in at just .6oz
(18grams) for the flashlight and a AAA lithium battery. This light has good
regulation and a nice range of brightness settings (in lumens: 1.5 for 50h,
18 for 4h 80 for 55min). If the Zebralight is too heavy for you, check
this light out. I can't imagine going back to a button light after using
Runner Up: Packs
Granite Gear Vapor Trail (my review):
The most comfortable pack I have found for carrying 25lbs or less when I
have it perfectly adjusted. I have forgotten I was wearing this pack with
22lb loads. It would be perfect if it's side pockets were more usable, the
extension collar was a bit shorter, that the that the load lifter were
fully supported (frame sheet a bit longer). After six years as my go to pack, it's been
replaced by the Gossamer Gear Gorilla.
- Osprey Aether 60
(my review) pre-2006: This is the best
pack IMHO for transitioning from heavy-weight to light weight packing. The
strait-jacket compression systems holds a wide variety of loads effectively.
The suspension is one of the most comfortable I have used for less than
40lbs. Not perfect for me because it's heavier / larger than I need. The
current Aether 60 is heavier and has a removable waist strap.
Runner Up: Shelters
review): Super light shelter for protection against three season California
conditions. The Hexamid weights 8oz, a total of 12oz including stakes and ground cloth for a spacious, bug free
space. My two issues with this shelter is that the "doorway" is a bit
too low so I often brush against it when going in and out the door and I
struggle to manage to keep strong rain from pooling on my ground cloth and
then getting my quilt (which tends to be spread wide) wet.
Shelters by Henry Shires.
Light weight, easy to set up, good ventilation, provides good protection from
rain, reasonably resistant to condensation, provides protection from
insects, survive fairly strong winds provided you stake them down well, and
they have pretty lines. Every commercial design produced by Henry has been
amazing. He releases a product, I think "this is great, I can't imagine a better
compromise between weight and function" and then a year later a new product
comes out which is just as good but services a different application, or is
A16 bug bivy
A16 review): Light weight bug protection with room around the head to
move around. Makes use of sleeping bag to protect the lower body which
minimizes weight and size. Free standing system makes it easy to use in a
variety of conditions. Would be perfect is it was a bit more compact
when packing (and/or it could miraculously provide a larger bug free
Pyramid Tarps. Fast and easy setup. Light weight when made from Cuben, Sil-Nylon,
or Spinnaker cloth. Highly versatile. Can be used year round including
winter snow. Only downside is that the slope side means that you don't get
to take advantage of the full footprint because there isn't much headroom
near the edges unless pitch fairly high off ground. I like the cubins pyramid
tarps made by MLD the best. Oware, GoLite, and several other companies make
good pyramids as well.
Runner Up: Sleeping Systems
- BA insulated air core mummy sleeping pad
& pacific outdoors insulated air mattresses: Super comfortable to sleep on,
warm enough for 20F temperatures, reasonably compact, reasonable weight.
Available in a petite length to save weight. Some people have reported
durability issues, but we have had only one easily patched hole between
2003-2009. Replaced in 2010 by a NeoAir.
Runner Up: Clothing
- Cloudveil Four
Shadows Beanie: Wonderful hat in cool. incidental conditions (30-50F).
Protections without being too warm and it is very breathable. Doesn't
interfere with hearing. Would be perfect if I could get it in a slightly
smaller size. Use it as a "base layer" under an insulated hat or hood in
- Rab Vapour-Rise
Smock: Great all around jacket with fold away hood. It can be worn as a
base, as an insulation layer, or as a shell. Durable while still
having a soft hand and quiet movement. Wind and water repellent, I
have be able to use it without resorting to a hard shell in cool, rainy
conditions. Snow doesn't stick to it. When I am highly active it has kept me
comfortable in 20-50F temperatures wearing nothing but a technical tee on my
torso. If it dries as quickly as the Driclime jacket (e.g. if the liner was
bipolar) it will move to my
perfect list. Runs narrow. If you have a big chest or wide torso, size up
Rab Alpine Jacket: I have the pull-on version of this 9oz soft shell made from Pertex Equilibrium.
A great softshell for use in the winter. Sheds snow like a champ. Mostly
block wind, but air permeable enough to maximize breathability. Nice hood with wire & foam stiffener. Only down side is that
the sleeves only have elastic rather that loop and hook so it doesn't seal as
well as the Vapour, nor is it as easy to push up over the elbows when I want to
maximize ventilation. Great to combine with a Patagonia R1 hoody.
[In really high wind the air permeability which makes it extra breathable
can be an issue unless you have a second items which is wind resistant like
a high loft vest with a wind resistant shell.]
Atom Jacket is pricy insulated wind breaker. It has a
surface fabric over most of the body which seems to be the
same as their windshirt, a modest amount of high loft
synthetic insulation, and side panels made from
PowerStretch. The jacket has a body hugging tailored fit
which gives full freedom of movement without any sense of
binding. I find this jacket somewhere between a 100wt and
200wt fleece from a warmth perspective. At 11oz it is
warmer/weight than fleece, though an ultralight down jacket
will be warmer at half the weight. I don't typically use
this jacket for backpacking, but love it for done in a day
activities in the winter. I also use the jacket around town
because it's nice looking.
- Marmot ATV Pants: The original version made
from Schoeller Dryskin Extreme. Beyond Fleece's
ColdPlay Pants might be a good substitute but I haven't tried them. Comfortable over a wide
range of temperatures (moderate-cold). Very breathable. Reasonably water
resistant and moderately wind resistant. Soft and comfortable against the
skin yet very durable. I have found these pants comfortable over a larger
range of temperatures and conditions than any other pants I have tried. I
have found them to be perfect for skiing and snowshoeing in the Sierras.
They are not water resistant enough for snowboarding or other activities
which spend a lot of time being pushed into the snow, nor wind resistant
enough to be used in cold conditions which regularly face high winds.
- WrightSock Double Running Socks: Light
and thin socks which prove good blister protection and dry fairly quickly.
Would be nice if they were more durable... I only get a season out of them.
BPL Thorofare Trekking Pant: Very light weight pants (4oz) that are
moderately wind and water resistant. Drys quickly and doesn't see to "stick"
as much as supplex when soaked. Inner side is lightly calendared which feels
nice against the skin. Wide enough legs that they can be pulled up to the
knees to be used as knickers. The material seems to be piled fairly quickly
and I am concerned about long term durability, but in the mean time they see
to perform well. I wish the front pockets were a bit deeper... things can
fall out fairly easily.
Runner Up: Misc
Adventure Medical Ultralight Kits:
Great starting point to build a fire aid kit. For solo trips I use the .3
kit. Just needed to add aleve, pro-tick remover, a few
Spyroflex bandages, some small band-aids, superglue and duct tape (which is on my
hiking poles). On group trips (especially with kids) I bring a a .7
with some additional items.
Katadyn Micropur Purification
Tablets: Super light water treatment effective against pretty much all
biological containments and doesn't have the awful iodine taste. Would be perfect if you could drink the water immediately after
treatment rather than waiting and if there was not change in the water's
The following are items that others have found perfect. I list
them because they are each noteworthy products. Some I haven't used extensively,
some I have tried but they didn't quite match my sensibilities, and some I tried
but ultimately selected some other option which I felt had good performance at a
much more reasonable price:
- McHale Packs: Some of the best
internal frame backpacks made today thanks to the thoughtful design and
excellent construction. Dan has a set of core designs that he customize to
people's needs. This doesn’t come cheap, but it produces a quality outcome.
There are lighter weight packs on the market which I think are perfectly
comfortable for lighter loads, maybe to 20-25lbs. After that, I believe
McHale is likely to be the most comfortable pack around lb for lb. If you need
the BMW of packs, need to carry a lot of weight, or need something super
durable (100% spectra) you should check out McHale.
- Luxurylite Backpack: Ultralight
external frame pack with an innovative modular packing system which can turn
into a comfortable reclining chair. For whatever reason external frame packs
just don't work for me.. but an interesting, out of the box design that has
worked for a number of folks. Highly adjustable.
Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid
combined with the solo InnerNet. While there are shelters that are lighter,
nothing else can cover the same range of conditions combined with the ease
of use of this system. Depend on conditions
just the the tarp, the InnerNet, or both can be used to provide appropriate protection and
ventilation. There is enough room to comfortably ride out a nasty storm and
cook while protected. While not as light as some ultralight shelters, the
DuoMid can be used in shoulder seasons and into the winter. Some people might prefer it's smaller brother,
Gear Solo: Cuben version weights around 16oz provides a double walled solo shelter with plenty
of room, good views when the fly is pulled back, and good insect protection, but
not so great in a really heavy storm.
- Six Moon Designs Skyscape-X somewhat simular to the lghtheart gear solo. A bit less room by the feet but a bit more stable in a storm.
- Hennessy Hammock:
Especially the Hyperlite
Backpacker. This is a complete shelter system and sleeping "pad" weight less
than 1.5lbs. No worries about ground water or finding a flat spot to camp.
You just need a couple of trees. I don't sleep comfortably in hammock,
but many people do.
- Warmlite Down
Air Mattress: The original down air matress. Great for cold weather
camping. For years it was as light as anything pad except foam, while offering
more insulation and comfort.
Arc Alpinist: All weather version of the Ghost blanket that I use.
For three season use, I prefer a quilt that is more open at the bottom, rather than
the mummy style of the Arc Alpinist which comes up above the knees... but
many people love them, especially is colder conditions.
- Feathered Friends Light
Flight Sleeping Bags: Similar in quality to Western Mountaineering. Semi
custom made. Better selection of shells than most anyone else.
Montbell Down Jackets: Have some of the best warmth to weight
ratios without being super expensive. The Down Inner, and the Alpine
Light are my favorite models.
Marmot DriClime Windshirt: Many people seem to live in this jacket.
Highly effective wicking base + a high quality DWR polyester shell is
incredibly useful. It can be worn as a base, as an insulation layer, or as a
shell. BiPolar liner moves moisture away from your skin making it less
clammy when wet. Polyester shell which absorbs little water and dries very
quickly. Some people have called it the ultimate soft shell. My daughter's
jacket is called "The Amazing Blue" or sometimes "The Magic Blue" jacket
because it always seems to meet her needs from a cool evening around town,
or downhill skiing in the sierras. I find the liner irritates my elbows.
- Photon Freedom (Mk II): Amazingly small and light weight given the
amount of light it throws. I have found that it produces enough light for
all my tasks except navigation. The user interface is well
thought out, letting you select either dim or bright light when you turn it on.
The Freedom is more resistant to accident turn-on that most button lights when put into the push-to-light mode. The Freedom comes with nifty
stand that can be clipped to just about anything for hand's free use. Some
people place a velcro dot onto the battery compartment which can provide an even
lighter hand's free experience. The Freedom is moderately water resistant. If
you hold it in your month for extend periods of time, moisture will get in. If
you don't take the time to dry it out time-to-time, it will corrode on the
inside and then fail. The differ between the standard Photon Freedom and Doug
Ritter's Freedom is that it has a bright yellow case making easier to find, and
that it has the "covert" band around the sides of the LED which minimizes side