By Kiran Herbert
Hungry Hikers Meals
I’m a backpacker, but I’m still a foodie, so naturally I loathe MREs (the exception being the chef-produced Good To-Go meals). For about three ounces more in weight than an MRE, I carry a Hungry Hiker package—Beef Stroganoff, Shepard’s Pie, Murray’s Hurried Curry, and Chicken Pot Pie—instead, which require a minimal amount of actual cooking. Although they’re also freeze dried, dehydrated meals, you can see and taste the difference in the quality ingredients: Vegetables retain their natural shape and color, and the chicken or beef are dried in large, recognizable chunks—all the more satisfying after a long day on trail. Each package is flavorful without being a salt bomb, and requires a pot, some water, a stove, and a few minutes to cook—you don’t just dump the hot water in the bag. The downside? For a Portland, Oregon company, there are surprisingly no vegetarian options.
Bergans Helium W 40
The Claim: Bergans markets the Helium as a comfortable pack thanks to the latest generation of QuickAdjust Pro—made of ventilating foam and mesh—which offers a custom fit with little added weight. The Helium is also available in a men’s model with a longer hip belt and taller back panel.
Field Test: Of all the packs I’ve owned, the Helium is best when it comes to finding gear fast. A full vertical zip opens the bag’s entire front side. Weighing just over two pounds, the Helium is still sturdy enough to handle 30 pounds of load comfortably, and comes equipped with two deep mesh side pockets and endless attachment points for your skis, ropes, shoes, helmet, ice axe, poles, and sled. Three dings: There’s a tendency for the pack to balloon at the top, it could use a few more zippered compartments, and there’s no built-in rain cover. (Bring a plastic garbage bag.)
Why It’s Timeless: It’s the perfect weight and size for a night or two in the backcountry; even better for hut trips.
Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 mtnGLO Backpacking Tent
The Claim: Big Agnes claims the new iteration of the award-winning Fly Creek offers more room to move—thanks to a vertical door and steep wall architecture—with little added weight. A hybrid of a simple fly and a screen tent, the materials are ultra light yet resilient enough for three-season use.
Field Test: With just one pole, the Fly Creek is not only lightweight, but also incredibly easy to setup alone—you just stake it out first, then raise the roof. On a backpacking trip along Maryland and Pennsylvania’s Great Allegheny Passage, my Big Agnes endured regular thunderstorms, haphazard packing, and high winds. It performed well in all conditions. Without the fly, the tent vents beautifully, and in the rain, water didn’t seep in or wet my gear stashed in the vestibule. Want to bring a lantern but don’t want to haul the extra weight? The built in LED mtnGLO lights make reading or packing up camp before sunrise infinitely easier. My only gripes? The front zipper occasionally snags and two people would be a squeeze.
Why It’s Timeless: With a trail weight of just two pounds, I use this two-person tent for solo excursions.
Sierra Designs Backcountry Bivy
The Claim: Designed to fit Sierra Designs’ own Backcountry Bed and 2.5-inch inflatable pad, this lightweight, four-season bivy promises a comfortable night’s sleep.
Field Test: The Telluride Bluegrass Festival has a longstanding tradition: festivalgoers sleep in line overnight, every night of the festival, rain or snow, in order to dash in early to procure tarp space for the day’s shows. A good bivy is ideal. This one from Sierra Designs takes up little cargo space, but keeps you cozy and comfortable whether you’re sleeping on the dirt or the pavement. Weighing just over a pound, I bring it on quick trips when the weather doesn’t demand a tent.
Why It’s Timeless: A mesh window lets me stargaze, but keeps the mosquitos out.
Primus OmniLite Ti Stove
The Claim: A four-season stove designed “to handle demanding situations and environments,” Primus says the OmniLite Ti is a durable option for regular backpackers.
Field Test: At 12 ounces, the OmniLite is indeed incredibly lightweight—thanks to a titanium body and pot supports—and it fits in the palm of your hand. It’s also fuel-efficient: Camping at 9,600-feet, just outside of Breckenridge, Colorado, it boiled a liter of water in just over three minutes and simmered well. Those who adventure internationally will also appreciate that the OmniLite TI works with all fuel sources, including butane, gasoline, diesel, kerosene, white gas, and even aviation fuel.
Why It’s Timeless: Camping in the cold and wind? Use the included windscreen and keep on your gloves—you can still operate the flame control knob.
Arc’teryx Women’s Zeta LT Jacket
The Claim: The Zeta LT is billed as a lightweight, breathable, and versatile shell for trekking and hiking.
Field Test: I didn’t really get the Arc’teryx hype until I actually owned some of the high-end company’s gear. Standing in the midst of a sandstorm in Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park, wind blowing and rain falling, I pulled on my Zeta LT. I felt the force of the elements dissipate immediately. I’ve since worn mine hiking in Alaska’s subarctic tundra for three hours in the rain and, thanks to the waterproof Gore-Tex fabric, stayed dry throughout. On a recent hike of Colorado’s 14,265-foot Mount Quandary, I wore it at the summit, where it once again cut the wind almost completely and upped my body temperature significantly. At festivals from Maryland to Oregon, I’ve worn it in nonstop in summer monsoons, and not once felt too hot or stuffy. With all of its technical properties, the Zeta isn’t stiff or noisy, and it packs down small.
Why It’s Timeless: It’s the only windbreaker and raincoat I ever see myself needing.