While my overall gear quiver is more-or-less stable, I do get to try new gear occasionally and need to replace old favorites after years of faithful use.
I am fortunate that I have a good relationship with three companies who gave me some gear to test.
As I’ve mentioned before, Montbell is a company whose clothing I’ve used since 2006. Their clothing is not inexpensive, but it equals Rab, Patagonia, and other similar companies for less money, in my opinion. Clean designs, attention to detail, and a mixture of aesthetics and functionality.
I also started using the products of a local Utah company this past year called NoBox. Their niche is gear for active general outdoors people (as opposed to a specific activity) that functions well in daily life, too. The fact that I use three of their products frequently (and two, almost daily) must mean I enjoy the product beyond just being provided some gear for a review.
Chad of North X North also provided some good pieces and let me put his clothing offerings through the paces. I appreciate it when a company lets me give real-world use of gear and not just an unboxing video for a “review.”
Otherwise, I replaced two long-time favorites with other budget alternatives and started using a (gasp!) free-standing tent when out with Joan while backpacking.
On to the new gear I used in 2020…
- The Montbell Down Sleeping Wrap #2 Long ended up being used for the many backpacking trips we did this past year. Very versatile, warm, and well designed. Joan stole mine enough where I purchased one for her birthday. She no longer steals mine, and we are both enjoy our many backpacking trips together with yet more gear that we duplicated for each other. 🙂
- Speaking of Montbell, their Montbell Alpine Light Down Parka may be my favorite puffy of all time. With just under 5oz of down fill, it fills many different niches for everything from ski tours to late fall backpacking. It is light enough to use it for three-season backpacking in particularly cool places, especially if hanging in camp (such as backcountry guiding). Continuing the duplicate gear theme, Joan bought and used this same puffy before Montbell gave me one to test. Joan runs cold, deals with Reynaud’s, and the fact that this parka (and the quilt above) are her mainstay gear is telling in its own right.
- The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 is something Joan purchased after some “spirited discussion” last December when the day turned drizzly and cold, we had fading daylight, and the rocky ground did not lend itself to easy staking. I never thought I’d use a free-standing tent for backpacking, but because we split the gear, I carry fewer ounces than carrying our previously used two-person tent that did not split easily. We purchased the 2019 version at a discount. Other than the awning, the new version has similar specs (if more expensive.)
- As I mentioned, we made great use of the NoBox products. The single blade folding knife is a throw-back in a good way: A simple locking blade made of high-quality material, not terribly expensive, and definitely not “tacticool.” I use this tool almost every day for opening boxes, cutting rope, slicing up food for camp meals, and a handy tool to prep group meals for backpacking when guiding. It is telling I don’t think about the knife. It’s always handy, and it works. And like any good tool, it is one I’ll use for years to come. We also make good use of the chef’s knife. But that’s more at home than in the field. We both enjoy using it daily.
- Speaking of NoBox, when fall came, the days grew shorter, and we camped out on Fridays before backpacking; the Globe Lantern ended up as another tool we use frequently. As in almost every weekend. USB rechargeable, two different light modes, hangs from the liftgate of our camper shell for easy cooking in the dispersed sites we favor. And easily transferable to maintained sites and their overhanging shelters. Another well-designed and simple product that I’ll undoubtedly use as a “go-to” piece of equipment. Tellingly, it is part of our “permacamping” kit and always in the truck cab for easy access.
- After many years, I replaced my beloved boonie hat with a $15 polyester version that I call Boonie Hat 2.0. This version has more sun coverage and is a lighter one. And still available in olive drab green!
- Another simple item I’ve started using for cold weather hiking is North x North hooded neck gaiter (balaclava). I’ve been using this item quite frequently for cold weather hiking rolled up as a hat and then combined with my fleece beanie for at night. It’s lighter in terms of warmth vs. my old balaclava, so perfect for hiking here on the Colorado Plateau winters when ~25F – 35F. I don’t overheat. At this time of the year, it’s on my shelf I have set aside for gear I always grab for any trip. I’ve used it on every trip since Thanksgiving just this past month. I’ve used their double-weighted one to good effect on ski touring with its colder temps and potentially windier conditions in the mountains.
- Speaking of hats, the $6 SP30 fleece beanie is the everyday hat I use in all four seasons. Only an ounce, not a lot excess material to trap heat, and stashes easily. I keep one in my backpack, daypack, and beater fleece jacket. All for the price for about a good twelve-pack of craft beer (non-Utah sin tax purchase)
- UPDATE: How could I forget the simple pair of fleece mittens I bought off Etsy?? A light, simple, inexpensive, and effective fleece over mitten would seem a practical item easy to find in most outdoor stores. But they are not. Luckily you’ll find these mittens easily on Etsy and often about $10 or less. I’ve extolled the virtues of a surprising amount of good gear and clothing before on Etsy, and I think it is worth a look. I think I forgot about mentioning these mittens because they are like all my favorite clothing and gear: If I don’t think about it, I know it works. No muss, no fuss. The fleece over mitts I use is sized large enough to use with liner gloves and work well in the high desert’s cold and dry conditions in winter. They are not as warm or weather-proof as my boiled wool mittens, but these fleece mittens serve a different niche. And they serve it well.
- Finally, two 1.5 liter bottles plus a 1-liter sports drink bottle as my inexpensive, rugged, and effective water system is carried in Utah. The least expensive version ends up being the best for me here in Utah. I used it in 2017 more by circumstance on my Utah walk and transitioned back to it this year because it works so well.
And that’s the gear I used in 2020 that is either new or a replacement of the existing gear. If we continue to get out as much as we can, I don’t look forward to gear replacement. But I certainly look forward to the time spent outside that mandates gear replacement.
Disclosure: Montbell provided the puffy and quilt to me; Joan purchased her puffy previously. The second quilt (Joan’s) I received a discount on. NxN provided the gaiters for my review. NoBox provided the lantern and knives at no cost. The boonie hat, beanie, fleece mittens, and tent we purchased with our funds. Finally, the Dasani bottles provided by fine gas stations everywhere!