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10 Best Winter Backpacking Packs

Winter backpacking backpacks are more specialized than regular three season backpacks, with a stronger emphasis on heavier weight loads, external attachment points, and durability for carrying bulky gear with sharp points like snowshoes, skis, ice axes, and crampons. They also favor more pockets and the ability to access and put away gear quickly, so you can avoid standing around between gear transitions and getting cold. Pack volumes can vary anywhere from a minimum of 50L to 100L, with 70L usually being the sweet spot for a comfortable weekend length trip.

Here are our picks for the top 10 best winter backpacking packs:

1. The North Face Cobra 60 L

The North Face Cobra 60 is a modular winter pack ideal for winter backpacking and mountaineering. It has a reinforced front stuff pocket that can be used to store crampons or layers, a floating lid, hip belt gear, rope carry, wand pockets, and a dual ice axe carry system. Weighing 57 oz, the pack can be stripped to bring the weight down to 30 oz for short trips or summit attempts. The Cobra is also a available in a lower volume 52L size.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

2. Cold Cold World Chaos 66 L

Chances are you’ve never heard of Cold Cold World Backpacks before, but their packs are famous in the mountaineering and search and rescue communities. The Choas is a frameless, top-loading backpack with a floating top lid, front crampon pocket, ski loops, gear loops on the hip belt, dual ice axe loops w/ shaft holders, and multiple daisy chains so you can lash gear to the outside of the pack.  It has an internal sleeping pad pocket so you can use a foam pad as a frame. Custom fabrics and colors are also available on request. A stock Chaos weighs in at just 3 lbs 12 oz, which is quite respectable for a pack that’s this technical and durable.

Check for the latest price at:
Cold Cold World

3. Gregory Denali 75 L

Gregory Denali 75

The Gregory Denali 75 has a top loading design with side zipper access. Daisy chains and expandable side pockets make it easy to carry bulky gear, while the hip belt has tubular gear loops, ice clipper slots, and sled pull loops. Strippable aluminum stays, a bivy pad, floating lid, and hip belt padding can all be removed. The fit is excellent and highly adjustable with an auto-cant hip belt. Weighing 6 lbs, the Denali 75 is a beefy winter pack, but provides a lot more comfort and adjustability. You might be surprised at the difference. A larger Denali 100 L is also available for expedition use.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

4. Hyperlite Mountain Gear 4400 Ice Pack (70 L)

HMG 4400 Ice Pack

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 4400 Ice Pack is a winter backpacking and mountaineering pack made with ultralight Dyneema DCF fabric, which doesn’t absorb water and is very durable. It gracefully combines a minimalist sensibility with a roll top and has an integrated crampon pocket, hip belt gear loops, numerous external attachment points,  and daisy chains. A reinforced back panel is provided to haul heavier loads. A ski mod option is also available. HMG also sells this pack in 3400 (55L) and 2400 (40L) volumes.

Check for the latest price at:
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 

5. Mountain Hardwear SouthCol OutDry 70 L

Mountain Hardwear South Col 70 Outdry

The Mountain Hardwear South Dry Col 70 OutDry is a waterproof backpack that’s loaded with features including a crampon pocket, wand pocket, ice tool holders, reversible compression straps and ski loops. Many of its components are strippable including the floating lid, hip belt (with gear loops) and even the aluminum stays. Due to its waterproof construction, the pack does not have hydration ports, something to consider if you want to use the pack in warmer weather.

Check for the latest price at:
Mountain Hardwear | Moosejaw | Amazon

6. Osprey Mutant 52 L

Osprey Mutant 52 Backpack

The Osprey Mutant 52 packs a wealth of great features into a smaller volume winter and climbing backpack. It has a floating lid, wand and picket pockets, a ski haul system, hip belt with gear loops, daisy chains, ice tool and shaft holders, and a helmet attachment option. The top lid and hip belt are also completely removable to save weight or for use with a climbing harness. Priced at $200, the 55 oz Osprey Mutant 52 is a great winter backpack for fast-and-light or hut-to-hut trips where you can streamline your gear list.

Check for the latest price at:
Moosejaw | Amazon

7. The North Face Phantom 50 L

The North Face Phantom 50 is an ultralight, alpine-style backpack weighing 40 oz (max) that can be configured for different types of trips ranging from winter backpacking to ski mountaineering or alpine climbing. It has a removable floating lid, ice tool holders, ski loops, hip belt loops, and numerous gear loops if you want to rig up your own attachment points. The pack can also be stripped of components including the lid, hip belt padding or framesheet bringing its weight down to 22.4 oz. That’s light for a winter pack!

Check for the latest price at:
Moosejaw

8. Black Diamond Mission 75 L

Black Diamond Mission 75L

The Back Diamond Mission is a top loading, four season backpack with a floating lid, front crampon pocket, hip belt loops, and a full length side zipper for easy gear access. It features a reactive suspension system with shoulder straps and a hip belt that move with your torso to keep your load stable. The Mission 75 is also fully strippable with a removable waist belt, lid, and framesheet. A lower volume Mission 55 Backpack is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
Black Diamond | Amazon

9. Exped Lightning 60 L

The Exped Lightning 60 is a streamlined, roll top backpack with an adjustable torso length than be used year-round. The elaborate strap and compression system can be configured many different way to secure gear to the outside of the pack from snowshoes and ice axes to skis and sleeping pads. The side pockets are large enough to hold insulated Nalgene bottles, while a map pocket in the pack bag can hold valuables and navigation instruments. A women’s version of the Lightning 60 is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
Moosejaw | Amazon

10. Alpine Luddites Alpine Machine 70 L

Alpine Luddites Alpine Machine 70

Alpine Luddite is a small pack manufacturer that has been making a big name for itself making its own designs and custom-made reproductions of classic backpacks. The Alpine Machine is a 70 liter pack with a removable floating lid pocket and hip belt, a rope strap, wand pockets, daisy chains, hip belt loops, ice axe loops, and haul loops. A 60 liter version is also available. The pack is made with ultralight and ultra durable Dimension Polyant DX 40 fabric which is combination of Dyneema, polyester, and X-Pac. Custom modifications and sizes are also available for an additional fee.  

Check for the latest price at:
Alpine Luddites

HOW TO CHOOSE A WINTER BACKPACK

Backpacks tailored for winter use have a different feature set than most 3 season packs. What follows are the features that I’ve found most useful for overnight and multi-day winter trips in mountainous terrain. While I think these translate fairly broadly across winter locales, you need to be the judge on the features you believe are most relevant for your needs.

Volume and Weight

If you mostly plan on doing overnight or weekend-length winter backpacking trips, you’ll probably want a pack that has 65-85 liters of internal capacity. The sweet spot is about 70 liters, but you might be able to shave that down as low as 50-55 liters if you carry less gear or need less insulation. Try to get a pack that has adequate compression so you can shrink its volume if not needed, while keeping the weight of an empty pack under 5 pounds. Pack and gear weight are even more important in winter than the rest of the year, because you’ll be wearing and carrying a lot more of it.

External Attachment Points

Winter packs need to have a multitude of external attachment points to carry sharp, pointy, or bulky gear that won’t fit inside the main storage areas of a backpack. The most useful external attachment points include compression straps, daisy chains, hip belt webbing or gear loops, and ice axe loops with shaft holders.

Compression Straps

Compression straps serve two purposes: to help compress a puffy load and bring the weight closer to your core muscles where it can be carried more easily; and to attach sleeping pads, snowshoes, avalanche shovels, or skis to the sides of your pack instead of the front, so that the load doesn’t pull you backwards and off-balance.

When choosing a backpack, try to find ones that have two or three tiers of compression straps that run horizontally across the sides of the packs. The compression straps should be adjustable and easy to undo while wearing gloves so you can slide snowshoes under them. Avoid packs that have compression straps that zig zag back and forth on the backpack using one strap to save weight. These are very difficult to use.

Daisy Chains

Daisy chains are often sewn onto winter packs and can be used to lash extra gear to the back or sides of the pack using canvas or velcro straps. They usually have many loops sewn into them that run the length of your pack from top to bottom.

Ice Axe Loops

There are two kinds of ice axes in this world – straight walking axes and curved climbing axes. If you need to carry a walking axe, look for a pack that has at least one ice axe loop at the base of the pack and a shaft holder, both off-center along the back of the pack. The shaft holder can be a simple cord lock like those found on many Osprey packs, or a more robust buckle. If you plan on carrying two climbing axes, look for packs with two ice axe loops and shaft keepers.

Hip Belt Webbing and Gear Loops

Some climbing oriented packs have canvas or plastic gear loops on the outside of the hip belt to clip climbing carabiners to. While not a substitute for a proper sit harness, these loops can be quite convenient to rack gear. Alternatively,  you can clip insulated water bottle holders to them so you can drink when you are on the move and don’t want to stop.  Extra hip belt webbing serves the same purpose and is often better than having belt pockets that are too small for winter use.

Crampon Pockets

Crampon pockets are a very convenient and safe place to store crampons when you’re not wearing them. Located on the side of the pack farthest away from you, they keep the crampon points away from your arms and legs, your head, and your gear where they can do real damage.

Floating Lids

It can be very helpful in winter to have a backpack that can expand in volume to carry more gear. One way to do this is to buy a pack with a floating lid, usually a top pocket that can detach from the main body of the pack but is still held down by 4 straps. Extra gear, say a coil of rope, can be sandwiched between the pocket and the top of your pack in this manner.

Backpack Pockets

Backpack pockets can be a two-way street in winter. While they can be useful for organization, they can also add a lot of unnecessary weight to a backpack. For example, having a backpack with a separate sleeping bag pocket is pretty useless, because your sleeping bag can just as easily be stored in one large main compartment without needing the extra fabric weight and zipper required for the additional pocket.

Accessory Pockets

Most of the hip belt pockets provided by manufacturers are simply too small to be of much use in winter, and there aren’t enough of them to carry everything you might need for a winter hike, such as a camera, sun tan lotion, lip balm, headlamp, compass, map, altimeter, and a pencil or pen. Many hikers add accessory pockets to their packs to provide more external storage or they wear an additional fanny pack backwards to provide another pocket that can store spare gloves, hats, and food.

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Backpacking a Gentian Pond Loop

Gentian Pond in Autumn

Gentian Pond is in the Mahoosuc Range, one of the hardest sections of the Appalachian Trail. I hiked a one night loop up to the AT shelter there, visiting two big waterfalls called Giant Falls and Dryad Falls on the way. My friend Ken and I had stopped by this shelter when we hiked this section in August, but the shelter and campsite had been full, so we’d skipped past it and camped a few miles south at Dream Lake.

This was a combination mental health and redline hike. It being Columbus Day week, the White Mountain National Forest is overrun with tour buses and cars with out-of-state license plates. It’s not so much their presence which bothers me, but the mile-long traffic jams, in a place where there are seldom more than a few cars stopped at a red light. So, I did what I do when confronted by crowds. I headed north to the less-visited wilderness areas in the northeast corner of the WMNF.

Redlining, for the uninitiated, is when you hike all of the trails in the AMC’s White Mountain Guide. There are 640 trails in the current 30th edition. It took me 10 years to hike all of the trails in the 29th edition (I finished last year) and I’m now working thru the 30th edition, revisiting all of the old trails that I’ve forgotten and the 12 or so new trails that have since been added to the redlining spreadsheet. Each one of those 640 trails is akin to a meal on a menu at a really good restaurant so it’s easy to get motivated to hike them all.

Being a solo hike, I mapped out a loop that would bring me back to my starting point. The trails I hiked are largely maintained by the Shelburne Trails Club, a small but quite skilled trail club that maintains a nice trail network off North Road, near Philbrook Farm, just south of the Mahoosuc Trail. There are many delightful destinations along these trails, which are easy enough for younger children, although there is still plenty of hard stuff to gnaw on if you want it.

Gentian Pond Loop

Here’s the route I took:

  • Austin Brook Trail (from North Rd) – 0.4 miles
  • Yellow Trail – 1.1 miles
  • Gates Brook Trail – 0.5 miles
  • Middle Mountain Trail – 2.1 miles
  • Peabody Brook Trail – 2.3 miles
  • Giant Falls Spur – 0.6 miles
  • Bald Ledge Spur Trail 1.0 mile
  • Dryad Trail – 1.5 miles
  • Austin Brook Trail (up to shelter, then back to North Rd the next morning) 4.7 miles

Besides Gentian Pond, there are two large waterfalls on this route: Giants Falls, off the Peabody Brook Trail and Dryad Falls off the Dryad Trail. Mount Crag, Middle Mountain, and the Bald Ledge Spur Trail also have good summit views of the Androscoggin River Valley, and Dream Lake is always nice to visit at the junction of the Peabody Brook Trail and the Mahoosuc Trail (A.T.).

Wooden Turnstile at the Austin Brook Trailhead
Wooden Turnstile at the Austin Brook Trailhead

I started my hike at the Austin Brook Trail Head on North Road with its quirky gate, a wooden turnstile, which I’ve always viewed as a local joke. The trail is an old logging road for most of its length. Down at the bottom, it’s gravel covered with a soft bed of spruce needles that makes for pleasant walking. I walked down that for 0.4 of a mile before turning onto the Yellow Trail which climbs Mt Crag on a well-blazed trail.

The views at the summit of Crag were fogged in, so I kept going past the summit toward the Gates Brook Trail, descending steeply. I turned right onto the Gates Brook Trail, passing a wooden foot bridge on the left and continuing straight. Don’t cross that bridge. There are yellow blazes marking the trail you want straight ahead, but they’re hidden from view when you turn onto the Gates Brook Trail.

Don't cross this bridge. It's not on the Gates Brook Trail.
Don’t cross this bridge. It’s not on the Gates Brook Trail.

The vegetation closes in as you approach a junction with the Middle Mountain Trail. The junction is well signed although it is always helpful to carry a map for quick reference. There are a lot of short interconnected trails in Shelburne and it pays to check your position every time you come to a landmark or trail junction.

I climbed up the Middle Mountain Trail and walked right past a turn, where the trail makes a hard right. The turn is signed and flagged with orange plastic tape, but I kept on going straight, following pink tape, which is commonly used to mark trails in the Whites. It took me a while to notice that I was on the wrong trail because it was blazed in orange. I think it is a trail to First Mountain and its ledges, which were also socked in by fog. I figured out my mistake when I started losing altitude in a place where I didn’t expect to lose it. So I backtracked and found the junction that I’d accidentally walked past. Doh!

Back on the correct trail, I climbed to the open summit ledges of Middle Mountain, which are capped with a large rock that someone has helpfully spray-painted with the word “TOP”. It’s still a pretty sight. From the summit you can see the summit ledges on Bald Cap Peak. I’d stand on those same ledges later in the day and look down at the big rock on the Middle Mountain summit, which is clearly visible from them. The fog had also started to lift, so I had clearer skies the remainder of the day.

Big rock on Middle Mountain
Big rock on Middle Mountain summit

The Middle Mountain Trail continues past the summit to join the Peabody Brook Trail. The trail passes through pleasant open woods before following a narrow logging road to the trail junction. This being October and moose mating season, I half expected a bull moose to pop out of the bushes on the side of the trail and challenge me. So I sang out “Mr Moosie? Where are you?” every fifty feet or so, to alert them to my presence.

When I arrived at the Peabody Brook Trail junction, I turned right onto the trail which follows another old logging road, before narrowing to a regular hiking trail. In 0.4 miles, I came to the Giant Falls Spur, which leads to the base of Giant Falls, a huge 100+ foot waterfall which was cranking when I visited. We’d just had an inch of rain and the falls were going full blast, flooding the narrow gorge below them.

Giant Falls after a heavy autumn rain.
Giant Falls after a heavy autumn rain.

Next, I backtracked to the Peabody Brook Trail and continued climbing toward the Mahoosuc ridgeline, heading north. The trail gets much wilder past the falls, with over-reaching shrubbery (something called hobblebush) that’s so dense, you can barely see the trail at your feet. It was still wet from the rain, so my pants were quickly soaked.

The upper part of the Peabody Trail has always been wet, muddy, and half under water for as long as I can remember, so none of this really surprised me. Nine years had passed since I last hiked this trail in its entirety and it hadn’t really changed a bit. Maybe that’s a good thing.

The new Bald Ledge Spur Trail Junction
The new Bald Ledge Spur Trail Junction

One thing has certainly changed though and that was a new trail junction to the new Bald Ledge Spur Trail. This trail passes through a giant fern meadow, probably the result of a logging cut, to south-facing rock ledges. It’s a very new trail maintained by John Compton aka 1HappyHiker, who’s a renowned bushwhacker in the Whites. It was also mostly underwater when I hiked it, the cold rain water soaking my socks and shoes.

Views of the Androscoggin River Vqlley from the ledges
Views of the Androscoggin River Vqlley from the ledges

The ledge views were worth it though, as long as you descend all the way down to the “edge” overlooking Middle Mountain and the Androscoggin River Valley. A ledge in White Mountains parlance is usually a horizontal rock face with open views, like the top of a cliff. Hikers are drawn to them like flies.

I backtracked to the Peabody Trail and followed it past the Dryad Trail Junction to Dream Lake and its junction with the Mahoosuc Trail. I resupplied my water there, at a stream that Ken and I had used when we’d camped there in August. Then it was back to the Dryad Trail Junction, where I started hiking down the very wet Dryad Trail. I’d snowshoed this trail fairly recently with my friend Josh, when we’d also visited Gentian Pond. The trail had been under snow then, so this was the first time I’d see it in non-winter conditions.

Top of Dryad Falls
Top of Dryad Falls

I hiked down the trail, which is also an old logging road, to the Dryad Falls Spur Trail. The trail leads very close to the top of the falls, which drop 300 feet below. It’s a pretty spectacular view, but you can’t see the bottom. My pictures don’t do it justice.

Trail to Gentian Pond
Trail to Gentian Pond

I hiked back to the main trail and followed it down to the Austin Brook Trail junction. From here it was a 1 mile hike and climb to Gentian Pond, the lean-to-and campsite. I had two hours before sunset and wanted to get my hammock squared away, resupply my water, and cook a hearty dinner. I was tired.

Hammocking at the Gentian Shelter and Campsite
Hammocking at the Gentian Shelter and Campsite

The next morning I packed up and hiked out the Austin Brook Trail back to North Road. It’s generally a pretty trail, but parts of it pass forest openings that have been logged. It wasn’t really guidebook material for that reason (not pretty enough), although small stream fly fisherman will definitely be interested in the stream access it provides. Austin Brook has small native trout in it, I checked. 🙂

Austin Brook
Austin Brook

All in all, a nice and quick 1 day backpacking trip, although you could certainly hike the complete loop in one day if you had more daylight.

Total distance: 16 miles with 4300 feet of elevation gain.

Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:

About Philip Werner: Philip is the 36th person to finish hiking and backpacking all of the trails in the White Mountain Guide (1440 miles). He’s also finished hiking many of the region’s peakbagging lists including the White Mountain 4000 footers, the 4000 footers in Winter, the Terrifying 25, the RMC 100, and the Trailwrights 72. Philip is a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a member of the executive committee for the Random Hikers, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont’s Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He also teaches several compass, GPS, and off-trail navigation courses each year, listed on Outdoors.org.

 

Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker’s unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

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Montbell Versalite Pants Review – Section Hikers Backpacking Blog

Montbell’s Versalite Pants are 2-layer ultralight waterproof/breathable pants that weigh just 3.7 oz (in a men’s XL.) They can be used as rain pants or wind pants or when you want light layer to keep your legs warmer in camp. Montbell’s Versalite Pants have been available for many years, but the company recently switched from an in-house waterproof/breathable membrane to Gore Windstopper, resulting in a big improvement in their water resistance and breathability (more below). That, coupled with their extremely light weight and minimal features, make the Versalite Pants an attractive option for anyone wanting to reduce their gear weight.

Specs at a Glance

  • Gender: Men’s and Women’s models available
  • Weight: 3.7 oz (men’s XL)
  • Sizing: 4 sizes available
  • Water Pressure Resistance: 30,000 mm
  • Breathability: 43,000 g/m²/ 24 hrs
  • 2 layer Gore Windstopper with DWR
  • 10 denier ballistic rip-stop nylon
  • Price: $139

Fabric upgrade

The previous generation of Versalite pants was a 15d rip-stop nylon, 2.5 layer pant that used Montbell’s proprietary waterproof layer called Super Hydro Breeze (Water resistance : 20,000 mm / Breathability : 15,000 g/m²/ 24 hrs). The new Versalite Pants, reviewed here, is a 10d ripstop nylon, 2-layer pant made with a Gore Windstopper waterproof layer (Water resistance : 30,000 mm / Breathability : 43,000 g/m²/ 24 hrs). The waterproofing and breathability performance of the new pants is considerably better.

Design and construction

The Versailte Pants are black and with a grey coating on the inside to protect the waterproof/breathable membrane from oils, suntan lotion, and dirt. The interior of the pants does not feel clammy, even when worn over shorts and directly against the skin. However, the grey coating is easily scratched off, particularly near the ankles if you put the pants on while wearing shoes or boots. Gravel stuck in the shoe sole scrapes against the grey coating and scratches it off.

The pants are cut from a single piece of fabric, which reduces the number of seams that have to be taped in their manufacture. This reduces the chance of water leakage and helps reduce gear weight. The pants do have one taped seam down the centerline, running down the crotch and up the backside.

I added a cord lock to make it easier to close the pants
I added a cord lock to make it easier to close the pants

The fit is relaxed but not baggy in the legs. The rain pants do run a bit long though, maybe an inch. They come in one length: 31.9″. The pants don’t have any pockets and there are no zippers, including ankle zippers.

There is an elastic waistband, augmented by a drawstring. The drawstring does not run all the way through the waistband and is sewn in near the front, which limits your ability to tighten the waist. The drawstring itself doesn’t come with a cordlock to hold any tension, so I added one to keep them snugged tight.

Sewn-in drawstrings are also a common point of failure in pants because they tear out easily and it is quite difficult to sew them back in unless you’re skilled in sewing repairs.  While the sewn-in drawstring on the Versalite Pants has resisted my tugs, and endured field use, I’ve had such bad experiences with pants (from other brands, too numerous to list) that use this type of drawstring anchor that I avoid it whenever possible.

I mainly wear rain pants to keep my legs warm in cool weather.
I mainly wear rain pants to keep my legs warm in cool weather.

Field performance

Montbell’s Versalite Pants are a dream to use in wind, rain, and cool weather to retain warmth in camp. The factory DWR sheds rain very well and they breath well when worn over shorts and lightweight long pants. The legs are also wide enough that I can put them on and take them off easily without removing my shoes (size 10.5 men’s trail runners), with some room to spare.

Elastic cords at the base of the legs help seal the bottom of the leg and prvent it from dragging on the ground
Elastic cords at the base of the legs help seal the bottom of the leg and prevent it from dragging on the ground. I never wear gaiters, so I appreciate this feature.

While the legs are a little bit longer than I prefer, the elastic cords at the bottom of each leg can be used to hold them at ankle height, preventing the hems from dragging on the ground, while sealing out drafts and splash-back. You simply pull on the exposed portion of the cord, twist it once, and pull it over your shoe so it rests around your ankle. The elastic cord doesn’t restrict blood flow and is hardly noticeable. Montbell calls it the Samue Leg Closure System and it harkens back to the technique used by the Zen monks of Japan to adjust traditional work clothing using ties sewn inside clothing instead of elastic cord.

However, the Versalite Pants are easy to tear and my pair already sport tenacious tape patches on the lower legs. I wouldn’t recommend them off-trail or wearing them on trail if you had to walk through waist high vegetation. The 10 denier fabric is simply too thin to rebuff contact with the point objects you find in forests.

Fit is relaxed but not baggy in the legs
Fit is relaxed but not baggy in the legs

Comparable Rain Pants

Recommendation

Montbell’s Versalite Pants are ultralight waterproof/breathable rain pants that weight less than 4 0z and are made with a thin 10 denier ripstop nylon. They’re very basic with a drawstring waist, but no pockets or ankle zippers in keeping with their minimalist vibe. While pants like this are great to wear in rain or as a lightweight warmth layer, they are fragile and easily torn. If the cost of occasional replacement isn’t a barrier, the weight alone is the main reason I’d buy them. The fact that they have superb water resistance and breathability rating is just icing on the cake.

Disclosure: Montbell provided the author with pair of pants for this review.

Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker’s unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

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Top 10 Backpacking Rain Jackets: 2018 Annual Survey Results

While there are thousands of outdoor rain jackets and hard shells available, most backpackers choose from a small set of common makes and models. If you’re in the market for a new backpacking rain jacket, here are the 10 most popular rain jackets that backpackers actually use today and recommend.

2018 Rain Jacket Survey

We been running surveys on SectionHiker.com for many years to find out about our readers’ gear-selection preferences because we feel that many manufacturers ignore their needs in order to court the higher-volume consumer market.

Backpacking is a remarkably simple hobby, but it’s easy to think otherwise if you pay too much attention to the hype put out by the outdoor news sites and printed magazines competing for gear manufacturers’ and retailers’ advertising revenue. Our reader surveys help us keep SectionHiker’s gear reviews and educational articles real and grounded in reality, rather than focused on the latest bright and shiny object or technology.

In this recent survey, we asked over 700 backpackers to answer the following questions:

  • What are the most popular rain jackets used by backpackers?
  • Would they recommend their rain jacket to their best friend?
  • How frequently do backpackers purchase new rain jackets?

Most Popular Backpacking Rain Jackets

We found that the 40% of the backpackers we surveyed use the following three rain jackets. They’re far and away the most popular choices.

We list the complete list of top ten rain jacket rankings below, including whether they’re available in distinct men’s or women’s models.

The top 10 rain jackets are used by 56.5% of the backpackers in our survey. The remaining 43.5% of those surveyed use a total of 153 other rain jackets from many different manufacturers. As an indication of product loyalty and satisfaction, we asked backpackers if they would recommend their jacket to their best friend.

Rain Jacket Replacement Rate

We also asked backpackers how often they purchase new backpacking rain jackets to replace the ones they currently own.

How often do you buy a new backpacking rain jacket

Our results show that 47.3% of the backpackers we surveyed, or nearly half, replace their rain jackets within 3 years. While that’s good news for rain jacket manufacturers and land fill owners, you have to wonder why the replacement rate is so high. We discuss some possible reasons for this below.

Discussion

There are a few conclusions that one can infer from these survey results.

Low Cost Preference

There’s a notable absence of premium makes and models from manufacturers like Arc’teryx in the top 10 backpacking rain jackets. The 10 most popular rain jackets are predominantly under $200 at retail prices, although you can often purchase them for far less during sales. Backpackers are either highly cost conscious or they have a healthy disregard for the performance claims of premium jacket manufacturers. I think both of these factors are in play in rain jacket product selection.

For example, backpacking brings out the worst in more expensive waterproof/breathable jackets. Shoulder strap and hip belt abrasion causes rapid deterioration of the DWR coatings in those jackets that incorporate a waterproof/breathable membrane. When you add in the fact that wearing a backpack blocks about 50% of the breathable area of a jacket, it’s no wonder that most backpackers perspire heavily when they hike in the rain. Carrying 20+ pounds on your back is exercise, after all. So I’m not surprised that many of the top 10 jackets use proprietary waterproof membranes with lackluster breathability performance, or none at all, since there’s little benefit in paying for more expensive ones.

Recommendation Scores

The backpacking community is closely knit and people commonly take the advice of friends or people whose opinions they trust when making purchase decisions. A common way of measuring brand or product loyalty and customer satisfaction is to ask people whether they’d be willing to recommend and promote it. A score between 90% and 100% is considered very high and favorable, which helps explain why people keep buying the same top three jackets year over year.

It also explains why savvy manufacturers (should) avoid retiring successful product lines or names, even when they significantly alter the design of existing models. A good name is a terrible thing to waste, even if it makes product changes less transparent for consumers.

Replacement Frequency

Close to half of the backpackers we surveyed replace their rain jackets every three years. There are a great many reasons to replace a rain jacket ranging from normal wear and tear to deterioration of DWR coatings. We didn’t collect data about the reasons why backpackers buy new ones so frequently, but it’s interesting to see how frequently they do. We plan to delve into this more in future surveys.

Consistency with 2017 Rain Jacket Survey

The results of the 2018 rain jacket survey (n= 728) are consistent with our findings in the 2017 survey (n=322), although more reliable because we had over twice as many respondents. We also screened out respondents who said they did do not backpack, something we did not do as carefully in the 2017 survey. While the percentages of products used differ, the top three jackets: the Marmot Precip, Outdoor Research Helium II, and Frogg Toggs Ultralight 2, are the same in both years.

Rain Jackets (2017) % Owned MSRP (USD) Satisfaction 1-5
Marmot Precip Jacket 28.8 $100.00 4.07
Frogg Toggs UL Suit 13.2 $24.99 4.10
Outdoor Research Helium II 8.14 $159.00 4.04
Patagonia Torrentshell 2.7 %129.00 3.44
North Face Venture 2.4 %99.00 3.60
Marmot Essence 2.4 %199.95 3.43
Columbia Watertight II 1.4 %90.00 4.00
Mountain Hardwear Plasmic 1.4 %139.95 3.80
Columbia Pournation 1.4 %90.00 3.75
Lightheart Gear Rain Jacket 1.4 %99.00 4.00

About this Survey

This survey was conducted on the SectionHiker.com website which has over 300,000 unique readers per month, so a large pool of potential respondents. Readers were incented to participate in the survey in exchange for a chance to win a raffle for a piece of backpacking gear.

While we’re confident that the results are fairly representative of the general backpacking population based on the size of the survey results where n=728 people, we can’t claim that the results are statistically significant because backpackers were not randomly selected to participate from a pre-screened population.

There are also a number of ways in which the results could be biased including: backpackers who read SectionHiker.com might not be representative of all backpackers, backpacker who read Internet content might not be representative of all backpackers, backpackers who respond to raffle incentives might not be representative of all backpackers, our methods for formulating questions and recording responses might have been unconsciously biased, and so on.

The author is an expert in statistical analysis, survey, and experimental design and is sensitive to these issues. However, given the size of the respondent pool and the very strong consensus among user responses, we believe that the survey results published here will be useful to backpackers who are interested in learning about the most popular rain jackets carried by backpackers.

If you’d like to notified of future surveys and gear raffles, sign up for our weekly newsletter in order to be notified when they occur. Not sure you want to subscribe? Check out some recent newsletter issues to see what they’re like.

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Backpacking a Speckled Mountain – Haystack Notch Loop

View of Mt Washington from Speckled Mountain summit.

Most of my backpacking trips this year have turned into guidebook chapters for Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 footers, instead of personal trip reports. But my latest backpacking trip through the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness doesn’t have what it takes to be a guidebook chapter. While scenic and wild, the route passes through some areas of logging activity that are pretty unattractive. There are also sections of trail that are very hard to follow, essentially bushwhacking, that I really wouldn’t want to recommend to the uninitiated. I had fun, but this isn’t the type of backpacking trip most people have in mind when they follow guidebook routes.

This trip started at Brickett Place in Evans Notch, a historic home and landmark, that serves as the Bickford Brook Trail parking area and trailhead. It’s just a few feet north of the Maine/New Hampshire border: this entire trip took place in the Maine portion of the White Mountains.

The first part of my route climbed Speckled Mountain, the site of an old fire tower, which has a great view of Mt Washington and the Maine peaks on a clear day. From there, I followed the Red Rock Ridge Trail east to Miles Notch, then north to the West Pleasant River, and then west back to Rt 113, which is the road that runs through the center of Evans Notch.

Speckled Mountain Haystack Notch Backpacking Loop

Here’s the trail sequence:

  • Bickford Brook Trail – 4.3 miles
  • Red Ridge Trail – 5.6 miles
  • Miles Notch Trail – 2.4 miles
  • Haystack Notch Trail – 5.4 miles
  • Hitch back to Brickett Place – 4ish miles.

It was a cool day as I started hiking up the Bickford Brook Trail, dressed in a wool sweater. Temperatures have already dropped into the 30’s at night. The autumn leaves are just starting to turn in Evans Notch, but they’re still not far along, with some yellow, but still mostly green. After months of weather in the high 90’s, it felt weird to be hiking again in cool and dry weather. I like it, but I do wish we had a few more warm days left before the deep freeze closes in.

The Speckled Mountain Spring looked pretty nasty. I might have drunk it if I had a pump filter, but not through a Sawyer.
The Speckled Mountain Spring looked pretty nasty. I might have drunk it if I had a pump filter, but not through a Sawyer.

I reached Speckled Mountain in about 2.5 hours (4.3 miles) and had a snack, sitting down among the summit rocks to get out of the brisk wind. The sky was a deep blue and I could see the weather towers on Mt Washington, probably 30 or 40 miles away. I’d hoped to top off my water bottles at the spring below the summit, but it was full of nasty looking stagnant water and not running. I still had a liter left and decided to hold off on refilling until the Great Brook Trail, about 2 miles farther along the ridge, which has a stream just below the trail junction.

From Speckled Mountain, I descended the Red Rock Trail which runs for 5.6 miles to Miles Notch. It’s a roller coaster of a hike, up and down, through scrappy woods and across a few open alpine areas. When I arrived at the Great Brook Trail junction, I turned and descended the trail a short way to filter some water.

Famous tree-eating sign
Famous tree-eating sign

That done, I hiked another 3.4 miles to Miles Notch turning north onto the Miles Notch Trail. This trail has two parts, a woods part, and a stroll down a logging road that’s marked with pink flagging tape. It’s in a pretty remote part of the Whites, and this being last September, I was a bit wary about running into a bull moose. The big males get very territorial during mating season So I was singing loudly as I hiked, ditties from the 60’s, in my terrible singing voice.

Just then an enormous bull moose crashed through the trail about 100 yards ahead of me. He had a big rack from what I could see as he crossed the trail, before he disappeared up the hill and into the forest. Well, you better believe I kept singing after that!

I soon met another hiker, Peter, who was also out redlining. He carried a heavy camera and got all excited when I told him about my moose encounter. We chatted for a while and then parted ways. I reminded him that it was moose mating season.

The forested part of the Miles Notch ended and the logging road portion began. It is covered in grass with a barrier of bushes and trees on either side. Not the best place for a while animal encounter, I thought. I kept singing. I followed the flagging, but also knew where I was, since I’d been down this trail before a few years ago.

The logging road section of the Miles Notch Trail follows a grassy logging road
The north section of the Miles Notch Trail follows a grassy logging road.

If you follow the flagging through this portion you’ll be fine. It leads to a big field, also the site of logging activity, and ends at a T junction. There’s normally a sign there pointing to the beginning of the Haystock Notch Trail, but the pole holding it up was broken and the sign was on the ground, pointing in a random direction. I had a fairly good idea of where I was from past experience, but I whipped out my phone and checked my position in Gaia GPSphone app. It’s an easy way to double-check your current position and make sure you’re headed in the right direction.

I turned left and continued following the flagging until I was on the Haystack Notch Trail proper. This trail can be a little tricky to follow. The east and west ends are easy to navigate because they run along two streams (so you know exactly where you are), but the middle part is a very lightly blazed and travelled foot trail. The only people I know who hike it regularly are White Mountain Redliners and there still aren’t many of those around.

West Branch Pleasant River
West Branch Pleasant River

I hiked about a mile down the Haystack Notch Trail (headed west) and then set up camp for the night. I could have kept going and finished the route in one day, but I was looking forward to sleeping outside (where I sleep the best.) I set up camp, cooked some dinner and was asleep by 9:00.

I broke camp 12 hours later and started hiking west following the West Pleasant River. The trail became harder to follow the farther west I got, although there were periodic blazes. Those completely disappear as you approach the height of land near Haystack Mountain. The trail follows old logging roads most of its length, but there are many intersecting logging roads and herd paths in places, that make it very confusing to follow. The tread is also very lightly trampled, so following the beaten path is often not possible and ill-advised.

Camping out in the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness
Camping out in the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness

There were times when I know I lost the footpath and had to bushwhack through hobblebush, but I found it again soon enough. You just have to pay close attention to the topo map and your compass to follow the trail, although a GPS app can come in handy too. I have a feeling hiking the Haystack Notch Trail west to east is a lot easier to navigate, something that’s been confirmed by other Redliners. This is the second time I’ve hiked it in a westerly direction. Maybe next time, I’ll hike my loop counterclockwise.

Once past Haystack Mountain, the trail becomes trivial to follow. It’s well marked and much more heavily used. I reached the unnamed stream at the west end and it was a short walk to the road. I stuck out my thumb and the first vehicle to pass me stopped and gave me a ride.

That’s how I spent my Autumn equinox 2018.

Total distance: 18 miles w/ 4300 feet of elevation gain.

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MSR Needle Stake Review – Section Hikers Backpacking Blog

MSR Needle Stakes are lightweight aluminum tent stakes with square-shaped shafts, a wedge tip, and a hook at the top. Weighing 9.6 grams each and 6 and 3/8″ long, they’re ideal for staking out tents and tarps that use cords as guy-lines. You can also use them to stake out webbing, of course, but there’s nothing better for staking out cord. The square stake shafts hold best in packed earth or mineral soil, but won’t break if you hit a rock when you pound them in. They’re not good for use in sand or snow, which require a wider stake or deadman for more purchase.

I’ve been using these Needle Stakes since 2016. For a while, they were hard to come by and you could only get them if you bought an MSR tent, which is where I got my first set. But they’re more widely available again and are usually sold in packages of 4 or 6 stakes. I never use the tent stakes that come with the tents I buy or manufacturers send me to review because they deform to easily, they’re too heavy, or the heads have sharp edges that tear my hands when I try to pull them out of the ground.

The red color of the MSR Needles stakes makes them hard to loose.
The red color of the MSR Needles stakes makes them hard to lose.

I’ve never broken one of these MSR Needle Stakes, although I have bent a few, by stepping on them accidentally. The soil where I backpack is usually soft enough that I can insert them into the ground by hand since the points are thin enough that they slide in with a little pressure. I have hit them with a rock in denser mineral soil, but they’ve stood up to the abuse without any issues.

However, you don’t want to push them (or any other tent stakes) into the ground with your foot. That’s a good way to bend a metal tent stake. If you need extra force, find a flat rock and pound them in at a 45 degree angle instead. To pull them out, simple grab the guy-line and pull it out by the cord. That usually does the trick.

MSR Needle Stakes are great for staking out tents that use cords for guy lines
MSR Needle Stakes are great for staking out tents that use cords for guy lines

I’ve probably used every tent stake you can name at one time or another including MSR’s ground hogs and mini ground hogs. but these MSR Needle stakes have stood the test of time. Most of the ultralight tents and tarps I use have cord for their guy-lines and the hooks built into these stakes are great for anchoring them down.

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Last updated: 2018-09-20 19:51:58

Disclosure: MSR gave me these stakes long ago when I reviewed one of their tents.

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Backpacking to Sawyer Pond Trip Plan

Sawyer Pond is a picturesque backcountry pond on the east side of the White Mountain National Forest, near Crawford Notch and Bartlett, NH. It’s easy to hike into, making it an ideal destination for families, small groups, or couples who want a quiet place to camp without undertaking a huge backpacking trip. The pond is 40 acres in size and quite scenic with a great view of nearby Mt Tremont and a smaller peak called Owls Cliff.

The pond has 6 large campsites (max 8 people per site), fire rings, two outhouses, and nearby lean-to shelter that can sleep another 6 people. Camping is free, but the campsites are first-come, first-serve. The pond is stocked with trout and fishing is permitted with a New Hampshire fishing license. You can also swim or mountain bike on nearby forest roads, XC, and snowmobile trails.

On the clear nights, the star-gazing from Sawyer Pond can’t be beat. There’s no light pollution and the large open space above the pond provides an unobstructed view of the heavens. Fall foliage is a particularly beautiful time to visit when the trees and surrounding hillsides have turned a golden yellow, orange, and red.

Backpacking to SawyerPond

Rating/Difficulty

Easy

Distance/Elevation Gain

1.5 miles with 150 ft of elevation gain.

Recommended Duration

2 days/1 night

Season

June thru October

Permits Required

None.

Regulations

Backcountry Camping Regulations for the White Mountain National Forest.

No Fires or Camping except at Designated Campsites in the Sawyer Pond Scenic Area

Trailhead Directions

  • Sawyer Pond Trail Trailhead.  Sawyer River Road is a gravel forest road (FR 34) located 1.6 miles north of Sawyer Rock Picnic Area on Rt 302. Turn left from Rt 302 onto Sawyer River Road and drive 3.8 miles to its end, where there will be a parking area on your right. This is 1.8 miles past the Signal Ridge Trail parking area, which you’ll pass earlier on the road.
  • Note: The south (other) end of the Sawyer Pond Trail leaves from Rt 112, the Kancamagus Highway. The directions above are from the north end of the trail, which is where you want to start the trip.

Trail Sequence

The route follows the following trails in sequence. Refer to the AMC White Mountains Trail Map 3: Crawford Notch-Sandwich Range (2017 ed),  although I’d recommend buying the complete AMC White Mountain Waterproof Map Set (2017 ed) rather than one map at a time, because it’s less expensive that way. Detailed trail descriptions can also be found in the AMC White Mountain Guide (2017 ed), which is considered the hiking bible for the region. Take photos of the relevant pages using your phone for easy reference, instead of carrying the entire book with you on hikes.

  • Sawyer Pond Trail – 1.5 miles from parking lot to campsites

Camping and Shelter Options

Campsite #4 at Sawyer Pond
Campsite #4 at Sawyer Pond

Sawyer Pond has 6 campsite platforms capable of holding multiple tents. There is a maximum of 8 people per campsite. An adjacent lean-to can house an additional 6 people. Campsites are first come, first serve. Each campsite has a fire ring. There are two outhouses. If the campsites are full, you must hike a quarter-mile away before camping at a dispersed site. Fires are prohibited in the Sawyer Pond Scenic Area except at designated fire rings.

Please observe all White Mountains Backcountry Camping Regulations and leave no trace.

Water

Water is plentiful on this route which parallels a small mountain stream before it arrives at Sawyer Pond. The use of a backcountry water filter or purification device is strongly recommended.

On the Trail

There’s a kiosk next to the trailhead parking lot, which has room for about 10 cars. Pass the kiosk and turn left onto the small pedestrian bridge across the Sawyer River to begin hiking up the Sawyer Pond Trail.

Cross over the Sawyer River and continue up the Sawyer Pond Trail
Cross over the Sawyer River and continue up the Sawyer Pond Trail

The trail enters forest and climbs gently over assorted rocks and tree roots, in other words, a typical White Mountain trail. The trail is well beaten down and very easy follow, with intermittent yellow blazes painted on trees. The 1.5 miles to the pond should take you anywhere from one to two hours to hike, depending on your pace and how much pack weight you’re carrying. There’s no need to load up with too much water for this short stretch and carrying one liter should be sufficient, provided you have a filter or purifier with you to process more water when you reach the pond and the campsite.

The trail is well maintained and easy to follow, alternating between roots and rocks
The trail is well maintained and easy to follow, alternating between roots and rocks.

You’ll soon hear a brook on your right as it flows through the forest. It runs along the trail for most of the way to the campsite and drains into the Sawyer River, near the bridge you crossed earlier. Just before you reach the campsite, you’ll take a right hand turn at a well-marked sign that has a diagram of the campsite locations.

Campsite map

When you reach a small stream fed by the adjacent pond, turn left 270 degrees, before crossing it. After you’ve turned, the pond will be on your right, and you’ll soon see Mt Tremont and Owls Cliff beyond its far shore. They’re two round knobs with distinctive profiles.

Mt Tremont (left) and Owls Cliff (right) overlook Sawyer Pond
Mt Tremont (left) and Owls Cliff (right) overlook Sawyer Pond

The lean-to shelter is another .15 miles down the spur trail. It’s in remarkably good condition and perfectly suitable for sleeping in.

The Sawyer Pond Lean-to is clean and in good condition. Sleeping 6, it's one of the few shelters left in the White Mountain National Forest
The Sawyer Pond Lean-to is clean and in good condition. Sleeping 6, it’s one of the few shelters left in the White Mountain National Forest.

The best time to visit the Sawyer Pond campsites is during the week when there are few people around and there’s little competition for campsites. The campsites become busier on weekends because they’re such a short hike in from the road. Access to the pond becomes much more difficult in late fall and winter because Sawyer River Road is closed to vehicles in winter and usually only opens in late spring.

About Philip Werner: Philip is the 36th person to finish hiking and backpacking all of the trails in the White Mountain Guide (1440 miles). He’s also finished hiking many of the region’s peakbagging lists including the White Mountain 4000 footers, the 4000 footers in Winter, the Terrifying 25, the RMC 100, and the Trailwrights 72. Philip is a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a member of the executive committee for the Random Hikers, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont’s Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He also teaches several compass, GPS, and off-trail navigation courses each year, listed on Outdoors.org.

Safety Disclaimer

This trip plan can not alert you to every hazard, anticipate your experience, or limitations. Therefore, the descriptions of roads, trails, routes, shelters, tent sites, and natural features in this trip plan are not representations that a particular place or excursion will be safe for you or members of your party. When you follow any of the routes described on SectionHiker.com, you assume responsibility for your own safety. Under normal conditions, such excursions require the usual attention to traffic, road and trail conditions, weather, terrain, the capabilities of your party, and other factors. Always check for current conditions, obey posted signs, and Backcountry Camping and Wilderness Area Regulations. Hike Safe and follow the Hiker responsibility code. 

Published 2018.

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10 Best Backpacking Sporks – Section Hikers Backpacking Blog

Sporks are one of the backpacking industry’s greatest inventions. It’s a wonder that they’re not more widely used since having multifunction utensils would be such a great way to cut down on the plastic utensils polluting our oceans and urban landscape. Perhaps more amazing, is the amount of creativity and design ingenuity that manufacturers have applied to making different types and styles of sporks to fit different needs and preferences. But surely there can’t be that many types of sporks! You’d be surprised. They vary by functional capabilities, length, strength, material, price-point, and so on. That’s only touching the surface. The differences are far more nuanced and defy categorization. They’re a mouthful.

So without further delay, here are the 10 Best Backpacking Sporks of 2018!

1. Sea-to-Summit Delta Spork with Knife

Sea-to-Summit Delta Spork with Knife
Weighing just 19.5 grams, the Sea-to-Summit Delta Spork with Knife is the last eating utensil you’ll ever need. Made of food grade glass reinforced polyproplene, it is much stronger and durable than other camp cutlery. Even the knife is multifunctional, combining an integrated spreader knife with a strong cutting edge incorporated into the handle. BPA Free, dishwasher and microwave safe, the Spork profile also matches the inside curve of the Sea to Summit Delta Bowl and Plate, sold separately, so you can scrape your plate clean. 

Check for the latest price at:
Amazon | Campsaver

2. bambu Large Spork

Bambu Large Spork
If you’re trying to kick the plastic habit, the bambu Large Spork is for you. Made with bamboo, it’s hand finished with a light treatment of all-natural, organic, food-safe oil that won’t warp and swell in soapy water. Naturally stain-resistant, this 11.3 gram spork is made without glues or lacquers and USDA certified organic. Just imagine! A compostable spork.

Check for the latest price at:
REI

3. Snow Peak Titanium Spork

Snow Peak Titanium Spork Purple
Snow Peak was one of the first backpacking gear manufacturers to make titanium pots and cutlery and their gear is the perfect match of form and function. You can tell right away that this spork was designed with the human mouth in mind. It’s just the right size to shovel down soup, stew, noodles, Mountain House, Ben & Jerry’s, oatmeal, etc. Super light and super tough, this titanium spork has a small eyelet at the end, large enough to loop paracord through so you can clip it to your pack. Available in purple, green, blue, and plain titanium.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

4. UST Spork Multi-Tool

UST Spork Multi-Tool
The Ultimate Survival Technologies Spork Multi-Tool is multi-function eating utensil combined with a can opener, bottle opener, flat screwdriver, pry tip, and hex wrench. Also available in a variety of colors including blue, green, and silver, this durable stainless steel includes a carabiner clip that you can attach to your pack, belt loop, or other gear. Need to repair your stove before you eat? Open a cold one? This spork has got you covered!

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

5. GSI Outdoors Campware Spork

GSI Outdoors Campware Spork
The GSI Outdoor Campware Spork is durable, lightweight, and amazingly affordable. It isn’t titanium, but it is a fifth the price, and only weighs 11.3 grams. It is comfortable to eat with and long enough to reach deep into a Mountain House meal. Best used for soupy and soft meals, it’s BPA-feee and dishwater safe. This is the spork I use because it’s the lease expensive thing you can buy at REI!

Check for the latest price at:
REI

6. Toaks Titanium Spork

Toaks Titanium Spork
The Toak Titanium Spork features a polished bowl and matte finish, for improved grip. Cutouts in the spork’s body help reduce the weight of the 17 gram spork and provide a way for you to attach it to your gear with a cord or ‘biner. The head’s tines are long enough to spear delicate morsels in addition to slurping down noodles or other soupy meals.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

7. Forestry Labs Bamboo Sporks

Forestry Labs Bamboo Sporks
Forestry Lab’s Sporks are an interesting variant on the traditional notion of a spork, which normally combines a spoon and fork tines at the same end of the utensil. The advantage of their approach is that the fork tines are longer so you can get a better grip on foods that are denser and tougher to penetrate with shorter tines. Made with bamboo, each spork only weighs 12.4 grams. They’re also available in two lengths, 6.5″ and 8.6.” Sold in sets of 4, but still quite inexpensive and ECO friendly!

Check for the latest price at:
Amazon

8. Toaks Titanium Folding Spork

The Toaks Titanium Folding Spork is easy to store inside many backpacking cook pots, which is its chief selling point. Weighing 18 grams, the bowl is polished smooth giving it a pleasant mouth feel. It’s a good sturdy spork when open, although it can take a bit of practice to get used to the folding and locking mechanism. You can’t beat the size though!

Check for the latest price at:
Amazon

9. humangear GoBites Uno Spork

humangear GoBites Uno Spork
Another spork variant with a separate fork and spoon end, the GoBites Uno Spork is an economic alternative to titanium sporks. Weighing 14 grams, it’s very comfortable to hold and spin in your hand when you want to use the other end. The sides are shaped to make it easy to scrape food out of bowls and bags so you don’t miss one calorie of your backpacking meals. Made of high-temp nylon that’s incredibly strong, BPA-, PC- and phthalate-free, it’s top rack dishwasher safe.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

10. Sea-to-Summit Alpha Light Long Spork

Sea-to-Summit Alpha Light Long Spork
Weighing just 12 grams, the Sea-to-Summit Alpine Light Spork is a long-handled spork, good for use with deep cook pots such as Jetboils (which you’re not supposed to cook noodles in, but everyone does). This spork is made from 7075-T6 aluminum alloy which is hard anodized for excellent durability. It includes a small accessory carabiner so you can clip the spoon (which has an end eyelet – hidden above) to a pack, mug or another utensil.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Backcountry

How to Choose a Backpacking Spork: Key Criteria

Here are the most important properties of a spork and some guidance about how to select one that will work best for you.

Length: If you need to reach deep into a freeze-dried or rehydrated meal bag, or a deep cook pot like a Jetboil, a long length spoon can be quite desirable. Look for spoons that are 7 to 8 inches in length, as opposed to shorter ones that are 6 to 7 inches long.

Color: Get a brightly colored spork if you’re prone to lose them on backpacking trips. The titanium colored ones are easy to misplace on the ground because they look like sticks. Garish colors like purple or neon green stand out best.

Folding: If you want to have a cook kit that folds completely into a mug or cook pot, getting a folding spork is the way to go. Metal folding sporks tend to be more durable than plastic ones. Don’t try to use them as tent stakes though. They’re not stiff or strong enough.

Multi-purpose: There’s something to be said for having a multi-purpose spork that can open beer bottles or cans, even if they do weigh more than other options. It all depends on your most frequent needs and priorities.

Material: Wood, titanium, aluminum, nylon, or plastic? Metal sporks will be the most durable, as plastic can break. Wooden and bamboo sporks tend to break down with use, but they are usually biodegradable.

Single Head or Dual Head: While traditional backpacking sporks just have the one combined spoon and fork-tined head, there is something to be said for dual head sporks, since you often get a more usable fork with longer tines for spearing food. Most backpackers eat mush though, so having a true fork is often not a requirement.

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Backpacking Survival Gear Checklist – Section Hikers Backpacking Blog

Backpacking trips and day hikes don’t always go as planned. The weather can change unexpectedly. You can injure yourself and you might come across someone who needs help. Different times of year can also necessitate carrying different types of survival tools or supplies. While you can technically view all of the gear that you bring on a backpacking trips or day hikes (including food, layered clothing, etc) as survival gear, many people leave out items that you’d want in true emergency, when your trip plan goes off the rails. It happens, even to people with a lot of experience.

Here’s a checklist of survival gear to help you decide what to bring, annotated with suggestions about their purpose and utility. A non-annotated PDF version of this checklist is available for download.

Emergency Communication Devices

Cell Phone: Dialing or texting 911 on a cell phone is the most effective way to summon search and rescue assistance in locations that have cell tower access. It should be tried before contacting search and rescue services with a satellite messenger or personal locator beacon.

Satellite Messenger: These devices include the Garmin inReach and inReach Mini, the Spot Gen 3, and Spot X. They provide two-way text messaging or email communication via a satellite communications link in areas where cell phone or land lines are unavailable. They operate over private networks and require a subscription fee, like a cell phone. They can also summon public Search and Rescue services in an emergency. Garmin inReach Explorer+, Garmin inReach mini, SPOT Gen3.

Personal Locator Beacon: These devices will send an SOS message via satellite over a public network, They are less expensive than Satellite Messengers because they run on public satellite links, but also more limited in their functionality. People carry a satellite messenger or a personal locator beacon, but not both. Arc ResQLink+GPS PLB.

Walkie Talkies: Good for medium distance person-to-person communications (up to 30-35 miles), although they are sensitive to local landforms and geography which can interfere with signal strength. Motorola T460 Two Way Radios (Pair),  Midland GXT1000VP4 Two Way Radios.

Loud Whistle: If you need to get someone’s attention, you can blow a loud whistle far longer than you can yell. They’re very handy to use when you lose site of a hiking partner but know they’re nearby. Fox 40 Classic Whistle, SOL Rescue Howler Whistler.

Signal Mirror: Used for signaling search and rescue aircraft to help them locate your position when flying overhead. UST Starflash Mirror, Coghlan’s Featherweight Mirror.

Emergency Shelter and Insulation

Emergency Blanket/Bivy Bag: Reflects your body heat to help keep you warm. Also good for warming a hypothermic person. An emergency bivy sack is warmer because it provides better wind protection. Space Emergency Blanket, Space All-Weather Blanket, SOL Emergency Bivy Bag

Sleeping Pad: Provides insulation from ground in case you unexpectedly need to spend the night out. Also good to prevent hypothermia induced by cold ground contact by an injured person. Foams pads are the most durable and lightest weight. Therm-a-Rest Zlite Sol, Blue Foam Pad

Bivy Sack: Minimalist emergency shelter in case you unexpectedly need to spend the night out. A significant step up from an Emergency Bivy in term of durability. Outdoor Research Molecule Bivy Sack, Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy.

Tarp: A tarp can provide a minimalist shelter at night or give you a place to shelter under during the day in heavy name. REI Camp Target 12, All Purpose Blue Tarp.

Tent: On long day hikes, it can be prudent to bring a tent if there’s a significant chance you’ll have to spend the night out. Carrying the rain fly of a double-wall tent may be sufficient by itself because you can wrap yourself up in it together with your insulation like a bivy sack.

Tools and Protection

Folding Saw: Good for cutting firewood or fashioning a splint. Silky Folding Saw, Sven Folding Saw.

Magnetic Compass: Reliable form of direction finding. Baseplate compasses like the Suunto A10 or the Silva 1-2-3 are inexpensive, reliable, and break resistant.

Paper Map: For local area.

Emergency Matches, Lighter or Sparker: Provides method for generating sparks to start a fire. Learn how to start a fire with tinder if you don’t know how. UCO Stormproof Matches, Bic Mini Lighter, Light My Fire – Fire Steel.

Fire Starter/Tinder: Vaseline dipped cotton balls, drier lint, or commercial fire starters like Lightning Nuggets, Wetfire Tinder.

Headlamp or Flashlight: One of the 10 essentials. In addition to being a psychological comfort, a headlamp or flashlight allows you to safely move around outdoors at night without falling. Petzl e+Lite, Fenix LD02 Flashlight.

Backup Water Purification Method: A second water filter or purification method in case your primary method breaks or fails. Chlorine Dioxide Tablets, Steripen, Lifestraw.

Extra Batteries: Match batteries to all of the vital electronic devices you carry, or carry a multi-purpose power pack with different recharging adapters. Ravpower 10,000,mAh Power Pack, Anker 10,000 mAh Power Bank.

Multi-Tool: Includes folding knife and basic tools. Good for gear repair, particularly in winter for repairing damaged skis or traction. Scissors can also be helpful for applying first aid. Leatherman Micra, Leatherman Squirt, Swiss Army Classic, SOG Baton Q2

Survival Knife: Sturdy knife that can be used to cut material, feather-stick, and split firewood. Mora Companion Knife, Gerber StrongArm Tactical Knife.

Bear Spray: Spray a cloud at the head of a charging bear as a deterrent. Primarily for use in brown or grizzly bear territory, only. Counter Assault, Frontiersman.

Extra First Aid Kit Items

These items are often left out of consumer first-aid kits or are not provided in sufficient quantities to be applied more than once. In a true emergency, you’d want multiple doses.

Anti-Diarrhea Medication:  Helps prevent runny stools and dehydration and increase personal comfort if you contract a stomach disorder or have eaten something that disagrees with you. Loperamide Tablets, Imodium tablets

Anti-Allergy Medication: Reduce allergic reactions to insect stings and other substances. Can also be used as a sleep aid. Benedryl tablets, Diphenhydramine Tablets

Anti-Inflammatory Medication: Helps reduce pain and swelling.  Ibuprofen, Allieve.

Aspirin: Specifically as a blood thinner to prevent a heart-attack.

Quick Clotting Agent: Trauma aid used to stop massive bleeding. Quick Clot

Sam Splint: Lightweight split that can be bent to splint many common injuries. Sam Splint.

Blister bandages: Padded and slippery to increase comfort, accelerate healing, and prevent additional irritation after blisters have occurred. Band-Aid Hydro-Seal Bandages, Compeed.

Blister Prevention Tape: Protective tape applied to the skin and over hot spots to help reduce foot friction and prevent blisters before they occur. Leukotape Sports Tape, Moleskin

Irrigation Syringe: Plastic syringe useful for irrigating cuts and wounds to clean out debris and prevent infection. Best used with clean and purified water. Also useful to back flush water filters. Plastic syringe.

Medical Exam Gloves: Protects caregiver against potentially infectious body fluids of patient. Nitrile Gloves.

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10 Best Freestanding Tents – Section Hikers Backpacking Blog

Freestanding tents are the holy grail of backpacking and mountaineering tents because they can be set up quickly just about anywhere, on wooden tent platforms, rock, sand, snow, and even climber’s portaledges, without having to be staked to the ground first.

Because they’re so desirable, many tent manufacturers claim that their tents are freestanding when in fact they’re not. This practice is common among double-wall tent manufacturers that make inner tents which are freestanding, but require that the outer rain fly be staked to the ground. These tents do not have the advantages of a truly freestanding tent and are not included below.

Most freestanding tents are wedge or dome-shaped, making them highly weather and wind resistant. However, truly freestanding tents tend to be slightly heavier than non-freestanding ones because they have to be self-supporting, with long tent poles that add additional weight. Some two-person models can be cramped, particularly ones designed for mountaineering where comfort is often sacrificed in the name of reduced gear weight. Still, the experience of setting up a freestanding tent is liberating because you can pitch one anywhere there’s flat ground. That kind of flexibility is highly valuable when you need to get out of the weather and into a secure and stable shelter.

1. The North Face Assault 2

The North Face Assault 2
The North Face Assault 2 is a rugged, single-wall expedition tent with a pole-supported ventilation system for increased stability. Sized for two, the 3 lb 4 oz Assault 2 is made with a breathable laminate to vent moisture, with a font door and rear escape hatch. Crossed poles make setup fast and easy. Dual top vents increase breathability, while ample ceiling tabs allow for hanging a stove, gear loft, or drying lines.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Backcountry

2. Hilleberg Unna

Hilleberg Unna
The Hilleberg Unna is a 1-person dome-style freestanding tent that weighs 4 lbs 7 oz. It is ideal for trips in any season where low weight is a high priority, but where the terrain makes for tricky pitching conditions. Rather than a vestibule, the Unna has a spacious interior that easily accommodates the occupant and gear. The corner of the inner tent can be detached to create a large protected area to cook, pack, or store gear.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Moosejaw

3. Black Diamond El Dorado

Black Diamond Eldorado
Black Diamond makes several other freestanding tents that look like the El Dorado, but it is the roomiest, longest and strongest, designed for taller individuals and more gear. Weighing 4 lbs 8 oz, the El Dorado has two crossed aluminum poles which are secured in the tent’s interior. The walls are made with a breathable waterproof fabric to help vent condensation while front and rear top vents promote greater airflow. A separate front vestibule is also available, but it is not freestanding.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Black Diamond

4. MSR Advance Pro 2

The MSR Advance Pro is lightweight, freestanding tent that weighs just 2 lbs 14 oz. Designed for high altitude mountaineering, its steep sides maximize interior room while shedding winds. Dual carbon fiber tent poles are anchored in sleeves and crossed overhead, providing the ability to handle heavy snow loads. In addition to the door, front and rear vents help remove moisture and reduce internal condensation, even in the harshest conditions.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Moosejaw

5. Hilleberg Soulo

The Hilleberg Soulo is a one person double-wall freestanding tent designed for 4 season use. It has a large front vestibule that provides access and ventilation and can be used for cooking or gear storage in poor weather. Weighing 4 lbs 7 oz, it is tremendously strong and can be pitched just about anywhere. The inner tent can hung inside the outer rain fly after it has been set up, a desirable feature to keep the inner tent dry if it is raining during setup. Most Hilleberg tents have this capability.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Moosejaw

6. Exped Orion II

Exped Orion II
The Orion II is a sturdy three-pole dome tent with two doors.  The full length ridge pole reaches the ground for enhanced wind stability and creates a high canopy with comfortable living space. Two large vestibules hold loads of gear and the wide doors make entry and exit quick and simple. Weighing 6 lbs 2 oz, the Orion is designed to withstand high wind speeds, with crossed poles, pole sleeves, and durable fabrics for maximum strength.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Moosejaw

7. Rab Latok Mountain 2

Rab Latok Mountain Summit 2
The Rab Latok Mountain 2 is a single wall tent made with breathable 3 layer eVent fabric. It has two internal crossed poles for strength and is easy to set up in poor weather. A rear vent provides additional airflow and internal humidity reduction. Weighing 4 lb. 1 oz, the tent can be guyed out for use with skis and mountaineering tools, while a 70 denier nylon floor is provided for enhanced durability and waterproofing. A separate front vestibule is sold separately.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Moosejaw

8. Big Agnes Shield 2

Big Agnes Shield 2
Weighing in at 3 lbs 12 oz, the Big Agnes Shield 2 is a single wall, four season tent made with a breathable fabric to vent moisture. It has a front door with a transparent front window so you can observe weather conditions before exiting. Crossed DAC poles, held in place by fabric sleeves, provide a strong shelter while over-sized guy loops let you anchor the tent with backcountry skiing or mountaineering gear instead of stakes.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Campsaver

9. Hilleberg Allak

Hilleberg Allak
The Allak is a comfortable and rugged two-person freestanding dome tent with two large vestibule doors and large ceiling vents that provide excellent ventilation and livability. Deep pole sleeves ensure excellent wind resistance and are large enough to accept double poles for maximum strength. Weighing 6 lbs 2 oz, the Allak’s comfortable ceiling height and long length will also appeal to taller users. If you’ve never owned a Hilleberg Tent, you’ll be blown away by the quality of the materials and construction.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Moosejaw

10. Fjallraven Abisko Dome 2

Fjallraven Abisko Dome 2
The Fjallraven Abisko Dome 2 is a double wall tent with 2 vestibules for maximum comfort and wide open views. The large vestibule provide ample gear storage and room for cooking and other activities in poor weather. The structure is set up with three poles which slide through sleeves for added strength and durability. The fly can be set up before the inner tent, allowing it to stay dry even if it’s raining. Ventilation openings at different heights provide superb airflow, enabling use in warmer climates as well as winter.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Amazon

Freestanding Tent Evaluation Criteria

When evaluating freestanding tents, it helps to research the climate conditions you expect to use the tent in, as this will inform the degree of tent pole strength and breathability required.

Ventilation: Important to minimize and reduce internal condensation. This is achieved by keeping the door(s) open when feasible, through peak and side vents, and in some cases through the use of breathable wall fabrics. You can never have too much ventilation in a tent, although the addition of doors and zippers can result in increased weight.

Pole Architecture: Most freestanding tents have a two or three crossed poles, anchored inside or outside the tent walls. Exterior poles that are anchored in sleeves are much stronger that poles that connect to an inner tent using clips or velcro tabs. They’re much more wind resistant and capable of withstanding heavier snow loads.

Interior Space: Freestanding tents designed for high alpine mountaineering use are often smaller and more cramped than those designed for four season use because weight savings are so critical when you have to climb many thousands of feet to reach your destination. When selecting a tent be realistic about your length and width requirements, particularly when choosing a two-person wedge style tent.

Number of Doors: Tents designed to hold two occupants are more comfortable and convenient to use if they have two doors and vestibules because you can come and go without waking your tent partner. Dome style tents often provide greater covered vestibule storage, which can make a significant different in livability.

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