Gear Reviews: Camping Gear and Backpacking Gear

Looking to buy new gear for camping or backpacking, but you’re not sure where to start? I’m here to help! Here is a list of some of my favorite (and least favorite) backpacking and camping gear – happy camping!

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My Vasque boots are great for Yosemite hiking! What were we afraid of? Well, clearly the bearded monster next to us…

I. Love. Gear. Always have, always will. As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, I was lucky enough to have a pool in the backyard (no, we were definitely not rich). I remember this one time my grandparents bought me this big yellow raft – looked a bit like this one:

Anyway – the night that I opened this raft I was so excited to use it that I decided I wanted to sleep in it in the living room. My grandparents, choosing their battles with the 8 year old they were raising carefully, brought me down some blankets and pillows and there I slept. In my new gear. I also loved tents – I had those tents that were made specifically to go on twin beds. For some reason I would bring all of my belongings in my tent with me – stuffed animals, music boxes…you name it, it came in with me.

I’m not the kind of girl who gets crazy for a Prada purse, but I get real excited anytime I buy new gear. With backpacking, it’s more about function than look – but of course the look of the gear matters too, so there’s a balance. And then there’s cost – since I like to buy a lot of gear, I do tend to look for great deals. I don’t mind spending good money on gear that’s going to last me, but I’d rather spend a little less and be able to get two pieces of gear!

That being said, here are a few pieces of my favorite and least favorite gear. Some are newer, some I’ve had for years – hopefully it helps!

Backpacking and camping gear recommendations

Tent Recommendation:

ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 2 Tent: 2-Person 3-Season

I bought this as my first backpacking tent, and haven’t traded it in yet – and that was like 7 years ago! I love Alps because they made great gear, and it’s very affordable.

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Camping near Onion Valley in Inyo National Forest

Pros:
-Good size for 2 people, but not overly spacious if you’re one person sleeping alone. I do recommend a 1-person tent if you’re going to be sleeping alone often as the extra space can equal extra cold.
-At 5lb 2 oz, it’s not the lightest tent ever, but it’s not terribly heavy if you’re one person going on your own – definitely nicer if you have two people to share.
-Entrances on both sides – this is great not only if you have 2 people that have to get in and out, but also if it gets warm, it’s nice to open up both flaps and let the breeze come through.
-Rain cover does a great job of keeping out any rain/snow.
-Two separate poles and snaps for the rain cover makes for very easy setup – seriously, I can have this thing up in less than 5 minutes.
-Sufficient storage inside – mesh net for the top and mesh pocket are nice for storing sunglasses, headlamps, phones, etc.
-Zippers don’t get caught easily – don’t get me wrong, the material does get caught, but it pulls out very easily and I haven’t had a tear (knock on wood) yet!
-Sturdy poles – I have a dog and he sometimes likes to jump on the tent, which he knows he’s not supposed to do. But, the poles have held up just fine so far. I have another tent (not ALPS) and the poles broke the first time I used it.

Cons:
-Mine didn’t come with a footprint, so I had to buy one (REI Used Gear sale $5) that is a completely different shape, but it does the job. Without the footprint, if the ground is wet, the water will seep through the bottom.
-Vestibules are big enough to store gear under, but there isn’t much room if you’re trying to cook outside of the elements…it’d be snug. I’ve cooked with one flap open and one closed to keep the wind away and that worked fine.
-Zippers can be a bit tough to get open/closed if you aren’t holding one side tight – easier to unzip from top down rather than bottom up. Really a very minor con.


Hiking Boot Recommendation:

Vasque Women’s Breeze 2.0 Gore-Tex Hiking Boot

I have an older version that doesn’t have pink that you’ll find on some sites, which I prefer. I mean, just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean you need to put “girly” colors! I like greens and yellows and blues too, bro….

Anyway – I do love these boots. I bought them about 6 years ago and what I’ve estimated to be just under 700 miles, and they’re still wonderful. You want to make sure that you get the right size because the wrong size of any boot will mess up your toes and heel. My feet are tough – I’m actually a size 10 in one foot and a 10.5 in the other, but I have very narrow feet so most of the time I fit a 9.5/10 in most shoes. In boots where I’ll be wearing socks, I wear a 10 and the 10 in these fit perfectly.

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I’ve put these Vasque boots through many, many miles…here they are at the top of Mount Baldy in California

Pros:
-Mesh is great for letting your feet breathe on fairly dry hikes, but see below for hikes with rain/snow
-The leather has held up real well – I recently treated it with waterproofing stuff and so far so good
-I prefer a high ankle when carrying a backpack for the extra support. When I was first buying boots, I thought the high ankle would be annoying but this one is really quite comfortable.
-Haven’t broken a shoe lace yet – but I always carry spares just in case…
-After 80 miles trekking to Everest Base Camp and back, my feet didn’t hurt at all, and I didn’t have any blisters on the back of my feet. Of course, when you first get a pair of boots it’s always important to break them in before any big hike, and find the right socks, but these have been great to me.
-Love the Vibram sole – great for gripping.
-Not terribly heavy – some boots feel so heavy I can’t imagine walking far with them, but these are relatively light.

Cons:
-Mesh is great for letting them breathe, but if you’re going to be hiking in the rain of the snow, prepare for wet feet. I wore these on my Everest trek in 2 feet of snow and I had wet, cold feet every day. These may have been improved since my pair from 5 years ago – worth testing!
-Even with the high ankle, I’m pretty prone to twisting my ankle in general, and it’s no different with these. For full support, I need to wear a brace or just watch where I’m stepping.


Sleeping Bag Recommendation:

REI Joule – Women’s

A good sleeping bag is a must. The worst thing is to be cold in the backcountry where it keeps you from getting a good night’s sleep. I tend to sleep fairly warm in general, but I like to not have to sleep with a lot of clothing on so this bag is amazing. I have an older model – bought mine about 3 years ago – and it’s purple (again with the girly colors!).

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Sleeping bag kept me warm in 0 degree (F) temps on our trek to Everest Base Camp
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There’s even room for my best friend to cozy up inside
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Dog not included with purchase of sleeping bag – but, look at that face!

Pros:
-I’m 5’7 so I got the long bag and it’s perfect. There’s just a few inches of space by my feet, but not so much that I have a ton of extra space for heat to escape.
-Love the water resistant down – I’ve spilled a little water on my bag before while I was in it (okay, okay, it was hot cider and whiskey) and it never came through and dried pretty quickly.
-There’s a flap by your neck that helps to keep cold air out.
-Adjustable mummy head – I don’t like being completely mummied in, I like to have my face out (because I sleep hot), so it’s nice that I can adjust this to my comfort mummy-ness.
-Packs down real small and is very light weight – I can usually fit this in the bottom sleeping bag compartment of my backpacking along with my sleeping pad.
-Comfort rating of 23°F – I’ve had this outdoors in a tent down to about 20°F with light base layers (and sometimes a handwarmer or boiling water in my Nalgene) and it was perfectly comfortable.
-My 25 pound cocker spaniel fits pretty comfortably in the sleeping bag with me!

Cons:
-If you need something for warmer temps, this probably isn’t it. Sure, you can open the zipper and sleep with it open and probably be comfortable, but this is better suited for someone who needs it for both warm and cold camping.
-Some people don’t like the mummy bags because they like to pull their legs up. You can’t quite do that IN the bag, but I just pull my mummied legs up and I’m perfectly comfortable.
-Zipper can be a bit tough sometimes, but with all the pros above, I’d buy this again in a heartbeat.


Water Bottle Recommendation

Hydro Flask

This thing is awesome! It’s fully insulated so that the outside temp doesn’t affect the inside temp. We used it in Nepal for our Everest Trek – put hot tea in it, and 3 hours later after hiking through the rain and snow in 30°F temps, it was still piping hot – too hot to even drink without burning your tongue!

Pros:
-Keeps water the temp hot/cold without being affected by outside temps.
-No condensation on the outside from cold water, and no burned hands from hot water.
-Has all kinda of add-ons that you can buy if you don’t want the wide mouth – and on Etsy you can buy cool personalized stickers!

Cons:
-It’s pretty heavy. If you’re looking for minimal weight, a Nalgene is a better choice for weight, but this thing is just amazing.

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And I love this color green 🙂

Compression Sack< Recommendation/strong>

Outdoor Research Ultralight Compression Sack

Whether you go waterproof or not, compression sacks are amazing and well worth the money spent. It’s amazing how much you can pack down with these things! And I recommend getting a few in different sizes so you can pack things separately – ie/sweaters vs underwear and socks, etc.

Pros:
-So easy to use – simply put your stuff in, close the top, snap the cords together, and pull the straps.
-Very lightweight material.
-Multi-functional – I wrap this in a fleece and put it in the hood of my sleeping bag and it makes for a great pillow! Just don’t over-fill it and don’t keep it fully compressed.
-There are water-resistant and water-proof models, so choose what you want!

Cons:
-Um….yea, I don’t have one.

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Light material, super easy to use
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Packed up with clothing
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Compressed!!

Stove Recommendation:

MSR PocketRocket

I see the value of a Jetboil, I do – it boils water incredibly fast. And I have one that I use to get water boiling quickly. But, I also have the MSR Pocket Rocket stove that takes up very little space and is great for cooking food in a larger pot. It comes in its own little red carrying case, and is super easy to use – and for a great price. I’ve had this now for about 7 years and it’s still in perfect condition!

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MSR Pocket Rocket Stove, with fuel and a perfectly suited pot – no tipping

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Pros:
-Really small and lightweight.
-Easy to setup.
-Easy to adjust flame up for a boil or down for a simmer.
-Relatively inexpensive.

Cons:
-Only good for smaller pots that can be balanced.
-No wind-protection, but easy enough to bring some foil.


Hiking pants Recommendation:

prAna Women’s Monarch Convertible Pant

These pants are super comfy and it’s great to have the convertible bottoms that zip off. They do run a bit large, so I wear a smaller size than I do in jeans normally. And they make you butt look great!

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Wearing my prAna Monarch pants up in Alaska

Pros:
-Comfortable fit.
-Long enough for us tall people.
-Drawstring to help cinch the waist.
-Two back pockets, two side pockets, and a zipper side pocket (perfect for a cell phone).
-Make your butt look great.
-Stretchy material that makes it comfortable for moving while hiking.
-Lightweight, but still warm.

Cons:
-I wish the shorts aspect of the pants were a little bit shorter (above the knee).
-Although the idea of convertible plants is a good one, I’m usually too lazy to have to take my boots off to take the bottom part off.


Fleece pants Recommendation:

Millet Super Power Fleece Pant – Women’s

Just got these recently, and they’re wonderful. Fleece breathes and dries a lot better than cotton, and keeps you nice and warm – a must have if you’re going to be hiking and camping in the cold (also good for snowboarding/skiing).

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Warm in my fleece pants at Flower Lake in Inyo National Forest – it was about 40 degrees and mostly overcast here and I was nice and warm!

Pros:
-Thick material keeps you warm, but not restricting – easy to get them on and off.
-Nice and long for us tall folk.
-Waist is higher than I normally like, but when you’re in the cold, you’ll want a high waist to keep you warm.
-Breathable – I wore them to bed camping in about 20°F and I wasn’t too hot – perfectly comfortable.

Cons:
-Not waterproof (duh) so if you’re going to wear them in weather, wear a water-resistant/proof layer over.


My not-so-favorite backpacking and camping gear

Wind/waterproof layer

The North Face Women’s Resolve Jacket)

I bought my North Face Resolve Jacket about 5 years ago, and I have to be honest – this jacket isn’t perfect, but it’s done a good enough job so far…but I’m definitely ready for a new one. A wind/waterproof layer is pretty crucial for backpacking/trekking, and it looks like North Face has made some updates to this jacket, so maybe the newer model is better! To be clear, I don’t hate this jacket – it’s lasted a long time and nothing has fallen apart. But, I’m sure for higher price, you would get something a bit better.

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This jacket has been through a lot! On this trip, it started snowing as we were finishing our morning coffee – by the time we packed up and hiked the 3.5 miles to the car, the jacket was soaked through and through

Pros:
-Over some layers, the seals on this jacket really do keep out the wind.
-Hood is always a good thing to have, and this one has cords that let you cinch it in to tighten it for really windy conditions.
-Light and packs down small.

Cons:
-Fricken zipper – constantly unhooks from the bottom and then I have to struggle to unzip the whole thing and re-zip it….it really is quite annoying.
-Only pockets are on the outside – would be nice to have an inside pocket.
-Not really waterproof for heavy rain – wore it in 3 hours of rain and I was soaked. It does work fine for light snow or drizzle.


Water Treatment:

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter

DNBTPOC (Do. Not. Buy. This. Piece. Of. Crap.)

No, seriously. Here’s the thing. I get that no piece of gear is perfect, and things will happen – but what DOES matter is customer service. Let me tell you a quick little story…

I walked into REI one day looking for a water filter – I had been borrowing my friend’s pump, but was ready to spend money on my own. The REI rep was great and explained a few options to me, but this squeeze water filter from Sawyer looked interesting, easy, and it was pretty inexpensive – sign me up!

The system comes with 3 bladder bags – you fill the bag with water from a stream or river, connect it to the filter piece, and then squeeze the water through the filter into your water bottle/bladder/whatever. Really, the one large bag is the only one you end up using because the other two are just too small. So, the filter worked great for the first few times in the backcountry, but then I noticed the seam of the filter was leaking water – which meant that unfiltered water was dripping into my water bottle of filtered water…pretty much defeats the purpose, no?

So I reach out to Sawyer to ask them if they have seen this issue before. What was their response?

Sawyer

Essentially, they told me that I was handling the product wrong. User error. Not the fact that you’re making a piece of gear for people to use in the backcountry that’s not holding its own. Nope, it’s my fault. I’m apparently that strong that I can tighten it that much to break it.

Sorry, no. You guys need to go back to Research & Development and make a product that won’t break when it’s tightened “too much”…and stop blaming your customers (I feel like United has done that once or twice?). Obviously, from looking at the reviews, this is an issue that your customers run into often so rather than blaming them for your shortcomings…fix it! I haven’t used this since, and I won’t ever buy another Sawyer product.

Pros:
-Small and convenient for packing down small.
-Filters and sterilizes the water nicely – except when the bag leaks un-sterilized water into your sterilized water.

Cons:
-If there is no running water, it’s hard to get the bag to fill up.
-Not built to last – you’ll have to buy more bags (and they’re not cheap) when yours leaks because you’ve “tightened it too much”.
-Slow moving filtration – the stream of water that comes through is fairly slow – fills slower than a water pump, but overall not terrible.
-Terrible, terrible customer service.

That’s it for now – happy trekking!


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