Top gear of the decade

Keeping with my theme from yesterday, I thought I’d do another overview. This time about the gear I’ve used over the past decade. Rather than pick a piece of gear from each of the years, I’ll give an overall view instead.

Individual pieces of gear and clothing that worked well for me over the years. Equipment and apparel that kept me warm, dry, and let me hike the wild spaces in a manner that worked for me.

You’ll find a mixture of higher-end choices, cottage gear, military surplus, and even the oddball piece that you could find at a thrift store.

So here are my top choices of gear of the decade.

ULA packs have worked well for me over the years – lower weight, durable, affordable, versatile, and seems to hold up to the rigors of Utah backpacking. I’ve used my ULA CDT on longer hikes through Utah, Canada, New Mexico and other solo hikes, the Catalyst ends up being my workhorse pack for guiding and winter pursuits, and the Circuit is now my pack for when Joan and I go out together.  ULA packs are not cutting edge or “sexy,” but they work. And they work well.  Keep the cool packs for your favorite InstiYouTube viewing pleasure instead. 😉

With the Circuit in a local canyon in Moab. PCO Joan

As with the ULA packs, I’ve valued Six Moon Design shelters as simple, effective, and affordable shelters. The Lunar Duo has been the backcountry home for Joan and me many nights, and I’ve taken the Wild Oasis many places over the years. And plan on taking them to other places yet to come.

Winter campsite in Utah.

Montbell is not inexpensive. But the quality, style, and attention to detail make it comparable to clothing from more expensive manufacturers such as Patagonia or Rab.

I’ve used many pieces of Montbell clothing over the years, and I’ve always been happy with the performance.

You use Montbell stuff because it works in the outdoors. And not as a status symbol at coffee shops or yoga sessions.  Instead, you’ll be warm and dry in the backcountry.

Joan and I using our Montbell shells in Bryce Canyon over Thanksgiving weekend.  Photo by Elijah

  • Gossamer Gear Type II Utility Pack

A trusty day pack is a must for any outdoor enthusiast in my opinion. A solid day hike, be it camping or as something to do when you can’t get out backpacking, should be as reliable as any other piece of gear. I’ve been using the no-longer-made Type II Utility pack from Gossamer Gear for almost five years now. It’s taken a licking in the Utah desert, accompanied me on trail work, and has been a trusty companion over the miles. Joan recently “Utah-ized” the beat-up mesh water bottle holster, but this piece of gear has held up well.


The mesh water bottle holsters ended up getting torn to shreds over the years on this Gossamer Gear Pack. With an old ULA water reservoir holder, she “Utah-ized” the pack.

An item I’ve worn in all four seasons since they are inexpensive, durable, light (sensing a theme?), and work well from freezing cold temps to cool starts in the morning.  Pick them up at any surplus store or online. 

And lets me eat lunch while skiing. And wearing another Montbell piece.

Another four-season stalwart due to its versatility.  I find it keeps me warm enough while moving when skiing, takes the chill off during breaks, breathes well, and never seems to let me down. And typically for less than $20.  Though Polartec works well, any cheapie fleece I find does just fine.

On Mt. Peale in the La Sals

Sun protection,  repels rain and light snow, and I’ve worn the same hat for going on nine seasons now. The boonie is faded, starting to show wear and tear, but it is as much part of my outdoor gear as my favorite pack or shoes. Another surplus store special.

On my northern New Mexico loop just south of Cumbres Pass.

Yet another inexpensive, practical, light, and durable item. I like how the glasses are flexible,  not likely to bend, and the wrap-around lenses offer both sun and some wind protection. When possible, these are the sunglasses of choice for me. And I can purchase them three for $13.

Relaxing in Navajo National Monument.

I prefer polycotton blend shirts to “real” hiking shirts: they breathe better, don’t feel as clammy, dry quickly enough due to the thin fabric, and provides much ventilation and sun protection.  For under $20, or even $10 used, I have a shirt that sees me through many backcountry days.

In Comb Ridge. PCO Joan West.

Another simple piece of clothing that I’ve used extensively in all four-seasons: the balaclava.  Roll it up for a light hat, roll it down for a light neck gaiter, or wear it traditionally for fuller face coverage; it works well. At less than two ounces and often less than $15, it is among my more versatile pieces of clothing.

In Mt. Robson Provincial Park near the start of my GDT hike in 2018.

The best type of tent for car camping? A sizeable free-standing backpacking tent for three people if needing shelter for two.  Though too heavy to schlep in the woods and up the trail, a large backpacking tent provides stability, weather protection, and ease of setup that a car camping tent does not possess in addition to a smaller footprint.

Our, now discontinued, Hoodoo 3 that I bought back in 2011, served well over the years in many different places. The two vestibules end up being useful, and the overall space makes it a palace for us.

Though no longer available, REI has plenty of tents that still fit this niche and often a discount through their outlet store. 

Dispersed campsite during our two-week Nevada road trip.

My oldest piece of outdoor gear I still use is my simple circa 1996 Coleman Propane burner. I use it for quick camping trips, trailhead bivvies, road tripping, or even brewing up some coffee in a parking lot in between other trips.

You can find the propane fuel in any Walmart, gas station, bait and tackle shops, and even gift shops near popular outdoor areas. It’s never failed,  the 10,000 BTUs heats the water quickly,  simmers efficiently, it’s easy to use, and it works — a bargain at $30.

No doubt brewing up some hot water for some coffee at some trailhead parking lot.

The olive drab green nylon bag that I keep all my gear in on the road, staging for trips, or even as my luggage of choice is a flyers kit (parachute) bag.  It is so useful that my favorite trip partner adopted it as part of her kit and it also stores our pack rafting gear, too.



And speaking of coffee, where would my late-night drives to trailheads, early morning wakes ups at my trailhead bivvies, relaxing campsites, or traveling to and from trailheads be without my coffee mug? I must sheepishly admit I lost mine this past summer somehow in between trips.  I promptly replaced it as I feel lost without it.  That’s how much I used it and missed it. Worth the $15 I paid for it again.

And perhaps my new one will someday look like this one


Over the past decade, the gear and clothing above are the items I always turn to when enjoying the wild places.

And somehow, I do not think the gear I use in the next decade will be that different. I’ll always want functional, practical, and well-priced gear and clothing for the task at hand.   Whether I purchase a $10 fleece or a $300 winter weight puffy, I choose my equipment for two reasons: I need it to work, and I need it to work well.  A fact in 2010, 2020, or in 2030 for me.

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Harvey Halpern
Harvey Halpern
4 years ago

While Montbell gear might function just fine, Patagonia has gone all in on protecting our Public Lands and fighting for Wilderness. Since they support Wild Lands I plan on supporting them.