Generally, winter months and winter sports get all of the publicity about proper layering for obvious reasons. For me, however, layering is just as important during the summer months, mainly because no matter where one goes and what one does, one will encounter long days, heat, and a lot of sun exposure. In this regard, having a reliable base layer than can keep one cool, not get soaked with perspiration, and hold up to the rigors of multi-sport activities is worth its weight in gold, especially if it does not become smelly after a long day.
From start to finish, the one consistent thing about each year for me is that I use a variety of products to do a number of things. In certain ways, I am a creature of habit and I use certain pieces of gear until they unravel, break or otherwise need to be replaced, because they are either that good or I see no need to upgrade just to upgrade. Equally as consistent, I also receive a variety of pieces of gear to test for a variety of companies; and on occasion, I also learn about products that I want to purchase, or need to purchase for a number of reasons. At the end of the year, I look back on what I did, what worked for me, what didn’t, and make up a list of things that I’d recommend for a last-minute gift guide. As always, if the product made my list, you can be sure that it was tested in a variety of situations over a period of time. So, without further ado, here’s what I’d recommend for 2016 on a variety of fronts:
Other than the ten essentials, one of the most important – and overlooked items that people need for any adventure is a quality night’s sleep. From helping experienced mountaineers to acclimatize or novice hikers to simply rest, a good night’s sleep provides a plethora of benefits, irrespective of whether one is in the front or backcountry. While many factors go into obtaining a good night’s sleep, the main factor is appropriate overnight gear, which in most outdoor adventures means a good sleeping bag. While over the last thirty years sleeping bag technology has advanced with new materials, synthetic materials, and better construction, even in 2016, not all sleeping bags are created equal.
On one of my more recent camping trips, all that I brought was my sleeping bag, and a groundsheet. Last year, when backpacking, I carried a hammock instead of a tent. When I am mountaineering, generally, all that I bring to sleep in is a bivy sack. The reason that I can use all of these lightweight products and be fine in the wilderness is that I have years and years of experience. But the thing that I, and many outdoors experts sometimes forget – or don’t mention is that before we could use all of the super-cool hi-tech lightweight toys responsibly, there was a period where we learned how to camp; how to backpack, and in my case, how to mountaineer. In short, there was a point where we were beginners – and we used normal, beginner, every-day use beginner gear.
One of the most important things, if not the most important thing a person can do when hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, trail running, or climbing is to ensure that their feet are healthy. While this may sound like a ridiculous statement, it is actually the key to both short term and long term success on the trail. Everything in all of these sports starts from the feet. A person’s feet are the only body parts that actually directly deal with the trail, and are the only parts that must adjust to differing conditions on and off the trails. Sure, these sports require conditioning and core strength to be effective, and sure, other parts of the body – such as the back can be affected by other pieces of equipment, but really, for most outdoor activities, where the rubber hits the road is where the road hits the feet.
When I started backpacking, the one of the main – and critical issues was what gear would be left behind. At that time, backpacks were heavy, external frame affairs, and it was common to see even experienced backpackers with sleeping pads, metal canteens, and heavy and bulky sleeping bags lashed or strapped to various places on the backpack. This was before the rise of synthetic materials, and the ultralight movement that has come to dominate not only backpacking, but the outdoor industry as a whole. When I look back on the gear that I and many other people used to carry, I realize that it truly was the dark ages in terms of how the sport has evolved.
Correspondingly, when I was offered the opportunity to test out the TETON Sports Mountain Ultra 1 a few months ago, I was slightly concerned. The Mountain Ultra 1 was billed as an ultralight backpacking tent; and in my experience, such products were not durable; or not breathable. Nevertheless, I was intrigued as to what innovations TETON had brought to the field as there had been a lot of social media buzz about the tent, so with an open mind I accepted the tent and began the testing process. Several months later, what I can say is this: this is a product that lives up to the hype it generated, and then some. Even further, I can honestly say that this tent is the best one-man backpacking tent on the market in 2014; and perhaps the best one-man backpacking tent that I have used in the last five years.