Zpacks Arc Haul Backpack

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What I like:

  • The Weight: You simply can’t write a review about this pack without mentioning the weight. At 24 oz, it is one of the lightest framed packs made. This is obviously a huge advantage. When you put this on your back without anything in it, you can’t even tell you’re wearing anything! Lowering pack weight was very important to me on my PCT thru-hike, and getting a pack that is practically weightless was a good first move.

  • Customizability: While some will be annoyed that an already expensive pack has barely any “bells & whistles” like hip belt pockets, and must pay more for these add-ons, this is the way of the business. I appreciate being able to select the extras that I really want on a pack. For mine, I chose a shoulder pouch, 2 hip belt pockets, a lumbar pad for extra cushioning, ice axe loops, and a V-strap top closure. There are other options too: water bottle holder clip, a 4-in-one backpack top lid, key pouch, top side pockets, trekking pole holders, shoulder strap pads, etc. These after-market accessories are nice for many reasons: in case you break an attachment, you can buy a replacement. If you realize you want to add on another accessory after using the pack in the field, you can buy it and it’s easy to add on. The hip belt itself can be removed and swapped for a larger/ smaller size if you’re sharing a pack or gain/lose weight. All changes are easy to do yourself, too.

  • Adjustability: Another surprising feature of an ultralight pack: it’s highly adjustable. The hip belt has a dual tightening system with a bottom and top pull, which makes load transfer more comfortable, and you can fiddle with it throughout the day to put more/ less weight on your hips. The shoulder straps can be moved up and down to ensure a comfortable fit. This pack also comes with load lifters, so you can pull heavy loads closer to your body. The roll-top closure allows you to roll down the pack tight as you eat food during a trip. And the main differentiator from other UL framed packs: The Arc! This adjustable arc-frame keeps the backpack lifted or, “arc-ed”, away from your back. This helps comfort: you won’t have a heavy, sweaty pack trapping more heat and sweat against your back. It allows for air flow, which was amazing, because most days on trail are warm-hot, and back sweat is real.

  • Size: For an ultralight pack, this thing is roomy! The main compartment is 49 L, with each side pocket being 2.5 L, and the back mesh pocket 8 L. I had more than enough room for all of my gear on my thru-hike. In fact, my base weight gear sat in the bottom 1/3 of the pack and in the outer pockets. The rest of the room was taken up by food! This pack can also fit a BV500 bear canister (vertically), one of the largest on the market. Not to mention, if you add on belt pockets, each one of those has a capacity of 1 L, aka enough room for all of my hiking snacks on a typical day. The back mesh pocket is really handy for storing things you don’t want to dig around in your pack for: rain gear, bathroom kit, etc. And is good for storing wet gear that you don’t want to put in your pack.

  • The Fabric: The Gridstop fabric is pretty tough. There were times on trail where the brush was really overgrown, and definitely times where I brushed against barbed wire in the desert, and there was no damage to the body of the pack. The material is also highly water resistant, and ZPacks seals all seams on the pack. I still keep my gear that absolutely must stay dry in a pack liner, but I wouldn’t hesitate to not bring a liner on a trip that wasn’t going to see any rain. Even through days of rain in Washington, the inside of my pack was always dry, and I didn’t use a pack cover. The material itself wets out, but in my experience, the water didn’t soak through. I’d always use a pack liner though, if bad weather is a possibility.

  • Design: I like the simplicity of the pack. For a thru-hike, simplicity and ease of use is crucial. Granted, I did need to purchase add-ons to make this claim. But the size of the hip belt pockets and having the shoulder pouch made it so I really never had to take my pack off during the day. Everything I needed was literally right on me - in the belt pockets or shoulder pouch, or in the side pockets. I kept my phone, knife, sunscreen, body glide, bug spray, and chapstick in the shoulder pouch. In my left pocket, all of my snacks for the day, and in my right pocket, my Sony a6000. On my right shoulder, I was able to hook my Garmin inReach onto the daisy chain webbing. The side pockets are designed very well. Its so easy to get a water bottle into and out of the side pockets, which is crucial for me.

What I Don’t Like:

  • Comfort: Overall, the pack is comfortable. BUT, it really is not in a few circumstances. I did not care for carrying a bear canister in this pack. I wasn’t able to position it in a way where the weight felt well distributed. It also does not feel good carrying more than 4 days of food. I guess I should put it this way: If you’re loading the pack over 30 lbs, I don’t think its comfortable, even though the rating is 40 lbs. I think the pack can handle loads of up to 40 lbs, but it certainly won’t be comfortable. The sweet spot is 20 lbs and under, which I generally get to experience the last 2 days before getting to town to resupply. On days where my pack was really heavy, it was mostly painful on my hips, and I would adjust the pack to carry a little more weight on my shoulders so my hips wouldn’t scream in pain. I should note that they wouldn’t start screaming until I hiked about 10 miles at the top weight, but that might only be me & my body.

A good transition pack from brand-name framed packs to the cottage industry.

Name: ZPacks Arc Haul

Specs:

  • Size: 62 Liters

  • Weight: 24 oz. with no added accessories.

  • Recommended Load: 40 lbs.

  • Access: Top

  • Tool attachment loops: none; option to add on

  • Sleeping pad straps: Yes, removable 

  • External pouch: Yes

  • Hydration sleeve: No; has a port

  • Top lid: No; option to add on

  • Hip pockets: none; option to add on

  • Material: 4.8 oz/sqyd Gridstop fabric

  • Frame: Peripheral

  • Gender: Unisex 

  • MSRP: $299

 

Some action shots of me & my Arc Haul

I was very happy with this pack for my PCT thru-hike. I do want to mention though, that there were some people I chatted with who had failures of this pack, or didn’t like it so much. With these complaints, it’s hard to accurately assess how the pack was treated and how much weight was regularly being carried in it. This is a true ultralight pack, and should be treated as such: packing the smallest, lightest kit you can muster inside of it, and treating it gently (i.e. don’t sit on it, don’t throw it around, don’t pick it up by random straps, etc.). I think overall, if you know what to expect from the pack, and what the limitations are, this would be an excellent pack for a thru-hike, or for UL weekends.

Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System

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A wonderful, easy to use, fast-boiling backpacking stove. Perfect for beginner backpackers, it makes a good addition to your cook system, no matter what outdoor activity you're doing!

Name: Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System

Specs:

  • Fuel type: Canister, Isobutane-propane
  • Integrated Pot: Yes
  • Liquid Capacity: 1 Liter
  • Auto-ignition: Yes
  • Average boil time: 4 min 30 sec (1 L)
  • Dimensions (packed): 5 x 6 in
  • Weight: 15.5 oz
  • Best use: Backpacking
  • MSRP: $140

What I Like:

  • Ease of Use: This was my very first backpacking stove, and let me tell you, it is SO easy to use. All you need to do it screw/snap the parts together, and it's ready to use! Then fill with water, turn the gas on with the valve and press the ignition button! You'll have boiling water in under 5 minutes. This is great for people who don't really like lighters - I know I get nervous I'll burn myself with a Bic or a match! In my experience, it's not finicky, I've never had any issues lighting it - it's literally as easy as pushing a button!
  • Convenience: Since it's so easy to use, it's super convenient. There's never any hesitation about bringing it on any trip (even regular camping trips) just because its the best way to boil water quickly.
  • The Whole Package: It's literally an all-in-one deal. You have the stove, the pot, the bowl, the lighter, the windscreen all together. Yes, the "windscreen". I know there's not technically a windscreen, but the flame is really protected from the elements by the coils on the bottom of the pot. And yes, you should carry a back-up fire starting method in case the ignition fails - otherwise, no hot food for you! But so far I haven't had any issues (but, I have read reviews of the self-ignition failing over time). Another plus: a small (I think 4 oz) fuel canister + the stove fit together into the pot, the "bowl" snaps on to the bottom, and the lid holds the fuel stand, so it really does pack into a nice package.
  • The Jetboil "Family"/ Versatility: The nice thing about this stove is that you can buy an add-on for the stove that gives you more pot/pan support, so you could use another larger pot or pan with the stove, which makes this even more versatile, in terms of cooking style and type of food you can make.
  • Simmer Control: I have personally never used this, since my idea of backcountry cooking = boiling water to rehydrate some Mountain House/ eat ramen/ pour into instant coffee. But, if you're doing "real" cooking, being able to control the flame would be important so you don't burn your food.
  • The Cozy: The insulation is super great so you don't burn your hands if you need to move the pot and its hot! Plus, the designs are customizable and super cute - I love mine (see pics below)!

What I Don't Like:

  • Size: It's very bulky, which is one of the main drawbacks of this stove. It's awkward packing this into a backpack, especially if you also have to carry a bear canister. There are so many smaller set-ups, even within the Jetboil family: like the MicroMo, the Flash or the Zip.
  • Weight: Coming in at just under a pound, this is pretty heavy for a stove. Yes, it also has everything in that "whole package" deal I noted above, and if you're not concerned about pack weight, I guess this doesn't really matter, but the fact of the matter is: You can get a stove + pot set up for under 5 ounces, a full 10.5 ounces lighter than this. There are other Jetboils (Flash Lite) that are lighter too.
  • Cost: This is pretty expensive for a stove. Just like you can get a set-up for much less weight, you can also get a set-up for much less money. Some of the cheapest I've seen hover in the $30-40 range for a stove and pot/cup! That's $100 cheaper than this stove, lighter, and more compact! Just food for thought.

No doubt about it, I love my MiniMo. It's super great for 2 people, which is usually the group size I'm backpacking with, and I love the convenience of the whole package and not really worrying about it failing or breaking or feeling fragile. Since all I need to do is boil water, it has never let me down. However, in my never-ending quest to lighten my load, I'll be trying out some other cook systems in the future.

Patagonia Nano Puff Bivy Pullover

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Name: Patagonia Nano Puff Bivy Pullover - Women's

Specs:

  • Weight: 12.7 oz (Large)

  • Pockets: 2 - 1 kangaroo zippered pocket, 1 handwarmer pouch

  • Wrists: Elastic

  • Waist: Drawstring

  • Back Length: 26.5 in

  • Hood: Yes

  • Fabric: Pertex Quantum ECO recycled polyester

  • Insulation: PrimaLoft Gold Eco polyester (55% recycled synthetic)

  • MSRP: $219

What I Like:

  • Pockets: The pockets on this jacket are awesome. I can fit my Sony a6000 in the zippered top pocket and still have room for my hands/ headlamp/ snack in the hand warmer pocket, so plenty of room.

  • Hood: I love having a hood on a puffy, mainly because I'm not a big fan of beanies: they always fall off my head. So the hood on this is a big plus. It kinda looks funny because it does cinch further down on your forehead, but who said you're supposed to be stylish in the outdoors?

  • The Style: I really like the pull-over style of this. It feels more cozy and less fitted. Plus, it still has good venting since the zipper is a half-zipper. This is totally a personal thing, but I really like it.

  • Versatility: This jacket can be stuffed into the zippered pocket, and the resulting size doubles as a pretty good sized and moderately comfortable pillow! However, I've noticed that after only a week or so using it as a pillow it has some hair/ face oil and dirt stains on the fabric, so I decided to not use it for that anymore. But it was ok while it lasted! My inner fabric is a light blue, so maybe if you had a black jacket you wouldn't notice/ care.

What I Don't Like:

  • Weight: At over 3/4 of a pound, this is not the lightest insulated jacket out there, and definitely is not as warm as some lighter jackets out there, so for me, the weight isn’t justified, for a backpacking jacket.

  • Warmth: This jacket is ok with warmth. It does a much better job of keeping you warm if you're already warm when you put it on, but if you're already cold and putting it on, you better do some jumping jacks to jump-start the warmth. However, most backpackers would agree that you should put your puffy on right after you stop hiking, so you don't even have the chance to get cold in the first place.

  • Packability: Because this is synthetic, it won't pack down as well as down would. This jacket in particular is pretty bulky, and takes up a decent amount of space in my pack. It didn't bother me too much until I realized that my new down jacket and ultralight pillow weighed less and took up less space combined than this jacket, so the switch was easy to make.

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Overall, I think this is a fine jacket, but I will be retiring it from my backpacking gear set-up and instead be using it for day hikes & outdoors travels where it doesn't get too cold.

REI Magma 850 Down Jacket

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I originally bought this jacket because I really liked the color & it was on sale - but I soon discovered that it's actually super awesome and functional!

Name: REI Co-op Magma 850 Down Jacket - Women's

Specs:

  • Weight: 9.3 oz (Large)
  • Pockets: 3 - 2 hand warmer, 1 inner chest pocket
  • Wrists: Elastic
  • Waist: Drawstring
  • Back Length: 27 in
  • Hood: No
  • Fabric: Pertex Ripstop Nylon
  • Insulation: DWR 850-fill goose down
  • MSRP: $189

What I Like:

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  • Warmth: This jacket is super warm, and super puffy. I love it! I honestly don't wear it in the outdoors too much, opting for other puffys instead. But my house is freakishly cold (like, always at 62-65* F) and when you're not moving, you get cold fast. I always put this on when I want to warm up quickly, and it works! I frequently wear it in temps of about 50* F and it keeps me toasty too, so I believe it will be great in even lower temperatures too.
  • Weight: This is actually a pretty lightweight jacket - 9.3 oz for a large! It's actually lighter than the puffy I've been taking on my backpacking trips, which I only just realized when writing this review. So maybe a gear change is in order. But the warmth-to-weight ratio is important when it comes to down jackets & backpacking, and this jacket has a pretty amazing warmth-to-weight ratio!
  • Pockets: The hand pockets are humungous. They're at a slightly awkward height (super tall - my boobs are like, in the pockets) but that's because REI wanted to put them above your backpack's hip belt, so I guess that makes sense. But they're incredibly roomy when you're not wearing a backpack. When you are using a hip belt, the space gets slightly cut-off, even though they're placed high, but still, you can get a lot of stuff in there.
  • Packability: One of the great things about down (especially when you get into the 800-fill power & higher) is that it packs down pretty small, into its own left-hand pocket. This jacket packs down to about the size of a 1 L Smartwater bottle, so it really doesn't take up much room in your pack. 
  • Cost: For the warmth & weight, this is an AMAZING price for a down puffy. For some comparison, the Patagonia Down Sweater is $229, 800-fill, and 12 oz, the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer (no hood) is $325, 800-fill, and 6.4 oz, and the Montbell Plasma 1000 is $329, 1000-fill, and 4.1 oz. Plus, you'll have access to REI's product guarantee and return policy, and REI frequently has sales on their items, especially on out of season colors.

What I Don't Like:

  • No Hood: This doesn't really matter for what I have been using the jacket for, but if I was going to really use this jacket backpacking, I would want it to have a hood, especially for it being 9.3 oz. But, lots of people don't care about hoods, so whatever suits you!

Overall, I think this is a super awesome down jacket that will definitely keep you warm when you're not moving. For the warmth, weight, packability, and cost, you really can't beat this jacket!

Big Agnes Fly Creek HV 2 Platinum

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My very first ultralight backpacking tent that is great for solo use and the occasional guest.

Name: Big Agnes Fly Creek HV 2 Platinum

Specs:

  • Best Use: Backpacking
  • Seasons: 3-season
  • Size: 2 person
  • Doors: 1
  • Weight: 1 lbs, 10 oz
  • Poles: 1, DAC Featherlite Aluminum
  • Tent material: Polyester Mesh & Ripstop Nylon
  • Set-up: Semi-Freestanding
  • MSRP: $550

What I Like:

  • Weight: This thing is so light! In fact, as of the posting date, it is the lightest 2 person semi-freestanding tent on the market. Of course, the footprint is not included in this weight, and adds 4 more oz, but that still makes the tent sub-2 lbs, which is pretty amazing for a tent. Needless to say, it basically feels weightless compared to other things in my pack.
  • Set-up: With only 1 pole and 3 sections, this tent is super easy to set-up. Some may struggle: this is not a freestanding tent, and the back sides need to be properly staked out, but it is still super fast & easy.
  • Weatherproof: Big Agnes waterproof seam-taped all of the seams on this tent, which is essential for weathering any storms. And having used this tent in the rain, it really does the job. With staking out the fly as much as possible (both guy lines on each side of the tent, plus the 2 guy lines on the front sides of the tent), the tent stayed bone-dry inside and inside the front vestibule. During a freezing night on the trail, there was absolutely no condensation on the inside of the fly, most likely due to how breathable the tent is: the majority of the body is mesh, and the side vestibules are lifted off the ground a decent amount, so air can flow well. However, when sleeping with 2 people in the tent, both of our sleeping bags were slightly damp at the bottom, I believe due to pushing against the mesh walls during the night (the rest of the bags were dry). I have not used this in high winds yet, so cannot speak to its capabilities here.
  • Organization: The inner mesh pockets are super helpful and are placed right next to your head on either side of the tent, perfect for keeping anything you may need in the middle of the night easily accessible. There's also 2 loops at the top of the tent, which are perfect for hanging a backpacking lantern.

What I Don't Like:

  • Space: OK, yes, something had to give if you want the lightest semi-freestanding tent. The vertical space is good, as long as you're the only person in the tent and sitting right in the middle. The horizontal space is good also as long as you are the only person in the tent and laying in the middle. Sleeping with 2 people is definitely doable (I survived 3 nights doing this), but it is tight, so you'll want to be comfortable sleeping very close to your tent partner. Even using this solo, it feels small, but much more spacious than with 2 people. However, I had plenty of space at my feet for my pack, so its a give/ take kind of thing. Basically, if you're buying this, you're probably a UL wannabe and are willing to sacrifice some space and comfort in the name of ounce-savings. If you're looking for something spacious, you need to look at another tent. Maybe the Copper Spur HV 2 Platinum if you want to stay lightweight. Disclaimer: I'm a 5'4" woman.
  • The Vestibule Door: I'm a 2-door, 2-vestibule gal who switched to a 1-door. So, I'm a little spoiled. But this door is just kind of annoying. After staking the door out (with both guy lines), and even reinforcing the lines and stakes with rocks, I have found it impossible to enter the tent without the stake pulling out of the loop closest to the door zipper. It's annoying having the door flop on you while you're getting into the tent, and then having to re-stake that part of the door once you're in the tent. I guess you can avoid this if you only stake out one of the door's loops, but you'd want to stake both out if it's going to rain. You also basically have to crawl out of the tent since the zipper for the door doesn't go all the way to the top. Or you could not crawl out, and again, pull out both of the door stakes. This isn't really a huge issue if you only enter & exit the tent once, but if you need to get up in the middle of the night, I imagine it would be irritating to have to re-stake in the middle of the night.
  • The Mesh: It's not that the mesh is bad, there's just a lot of it. The whole tent body besides the floor is made of mesh. So, you're not going to get any privacy unless you put the fly on. This isn't too big of a deal since the mesh decreases weight significantly, and I almost always use the fly anyways.
  • Cost: It's expensive. It will cost you over $600 if you're also buying the $70 footprint. I got an awesome deal on this tent due to a campsaver.com sale, but its still expensive if you're budget-minded. However, this is what you will pay for anything that is "ultralight" and also durable. UL materials are more expensive, so you have to pay for less weight.

Overall, I think this is a great tent for the weight. If you are considering lightening your load, a tent is a really good place to start since many "lightweight" backpacking tents are 3-5 lbs. This is truly an ultralight double walled tent. That being said, it is important to understand the limitations of going UL. You need to treat this tent well to prevent wear, and realize that you'll sacrifice a little comfort for weight.

REI Quarter Dome 3 Backpacking Tent

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The purchase of this tent was a direct response to my complaints of my Passage 2 tent. I wanted more room for a second person, with less weight. I own the previous version (2014) of this tent.

Name: REI Co-op Quarter Dome 3 Tent

Specs:

  • Best Use: Backpacking
  • Seasons: 3-season
  • Size: 3 person
  • Doors: 2
  • Weight: 4 lbs, 9 oz
  • Poles: 1, aluminum
  • Tent material: Ripstop Nylon
  • Set-up: Freestanding
  • MSRP: $399

What I Like:

  • Space: Like most people (I think?), I like the idea of buying a tent for one more person than you'll actually be sharing the tent with. AKA, a "3-person" is a "2-person + gear" tent. Even with the 2014 version, this tent is super spacious for 2 people, and I can see that yes, 3 people could fit, but it would be tight. The headspace is really nice. Since there are more "arms" on the pole that connect to tabs on each side of the tent, it creates a lot more horizontal and vertical room, so you can easily sit upright from almost anywhere in the tent. I noticed that REI re-designed the foot-end poles to create even more horizontal & vertical space near the foot area, which is really nice.
  • Durability: I've taken this tent on a few trips and it has help up pretty well. The mesh parts feel strong, and the ripstop nylon also feels strong. I can't attest to how it holds up over long periods of time, but I have a feeling it will last.
  • Set-Up: The first time I set this up, I was slightly confused. There seemed to be too many sections/ poles and two of them swirled around (2014 version). However, after putting it up a second time, it was super easy. When I had to deploy it for 5 nights in a row, it was just second nature.
  • Doors/ Vestibule: 2 doors, 2 vestibules. It just makes life so much easier when you've got multiple people using the tent. Plus, the vestibule doors are really easy to open and secure back, which is always a plus.

What I Don't Like:

  • Weight: So, the above weight doesn't include the footprint. The footprint is an extra like, 5-6 oz, so you're definitely looking at an almost 5 lbs tent at that point. But, I would never use this tent by myself, so someone else could help share the weight, so it's more like 2.5 lbs per person, which isn't too bad. Plus, it is freestanding, so the weight is understandable.
  • Weathering the Weather: OK, I haven't used the tent so much in bad weather. But, I've noticed on particularly cold nights/ mornings, there is a considerable amount of condensation on the inside of the tent fly, and sometimes the tent itself. I actually think it does fine in the rain, but the condensation issues are annoying. It looks like the 2017 version has more venting, so maybe its a little better now.
  • The "Third Door": So there's an odd zipper on this tent that you can unzip to expose mesh & vent, and if you use the other set of zippers, can use to open the body of the tent. It's honestly kind of like a doggie door and I don't really understand why it exists. The 2017 model doesn't have this bizarre feature, instead opting for the top half - 1/3 of the body to consist of mesh, so its unnecessary. 
  • The Cost: $400 (+$60 for the footprint) seems kind of steep for a non-ultralight backpacking tent, but you get REI's return policy and warranty, and a solid tent, so I guess it's fine. But, if you're a penny pincher, cheaper alternatives can be found.

This is my favorite 3 person backpacking tent. That being said, I haven't used any other 3-person backpacking tent intimately. Still, I think this is a solid tent that most people will be happy with, especially beginners. Its spacious, light enough, and easy to set up. Plus, you can easily score a deal on this tent if you're an REI member: those member coupons are gold!

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REI Passage 2 Backpacking Tent

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Ohhh, my very first backpacking tent... that I never actually took backpacking! I still did get about ~1 week of usage out of it, and have some thoughts, so read on for my take!

Name: REI Co-op Passage 2 Tent

Specs: 

  • Best Use: Backpacking
  • Seasons: 3-season
  • Size: 2 person
  • Doors: 2
  • Weight: 5 lbs, 3 oz
  • Poles: 2, aluminum
  • Tent material: Polyester
  • Set-up: Freestanding
  • MSRP: $160

What I Like:

  • Ease of set-up: If you've never, ever set up a tent before, it literally doesn't get easier than this. It take about 2 minutes to set up. The poles are laid diagonally across the body, just snap the hooks to the poles and push the poles up and click them into the reinforced holes and you're set!
  • Shape & Space: The rectangular shape without any taper is really nice and makes the tent feel so much roomier. It's nice to have plenty of room at your feet for extra gear or your pack. This also makes it easier to actually have 2 people use this tent. It is a little cozy, but having used this tent with another person for almost a week, it really wasn't that bad. 
  • Durability: So, I haven't used this tent that much. But, I can tell because of the material that this is definitely a heavy-duty backpacking tent and can take a beating. I can't imagine tearing this fabric very easily, of the tent or rainfly. It is much thicker than other lightweight tents I've used.
  • Doors: Having two doors really is a god-send. If you are using this tent for two people, it makes a difference in comfort for each person to have their own door and vestibule.
  • Freestanding: This is convenient if you find yourself in an area where you can stake out the tent well, or maybe you're sleeping on a non-dirt platform (like I was). But, I usually need to stake out a rainfly anyways, so this doesn't really matter to me.
  • Cost: One of the reasons I purchased this (and did absolutely zero research on it beforehand) was because of how cheap it was! The current version is $160, but I think it was cheaper when I purchased it in 2014. So, its definitely a great deal for a good backpacking tent.

What I Don't Like:

  • Weight: This is a big one, and its the main reason I never used the tent after the first trip. It is just way too heavy. Newer technology has given us light and strong tents, and I can't imagine carrying a 5 lbs tent into the backcountry by myself. Plus, the footprint (sold separately) is a whopping 8 oz! Half a pound for some ground cover is a little ridiculous, so at this point you're pushing 6 lbs for one tent. I guess if you're splitting the weight of the tent with someone else, it's better, but I didn't see myself continuing to use it for legitimate backpacking.

Overall, this is a solid tent, that is ideal for beginners who maybe aren't as concerned about pack weight, or those who will be splitting the weight of this tent. The price is hard to beat, plus you get REI's warranty and return policy. For me, I bought this tent for a study abroad trip to the Peruvian Rainforest, and we were required to bring a backpacking tent. Since I never actually had to hike with it (no more than 0.5 miles), the weight didn't even cross my mind when purchasing it. But since I've turned more ultra-light and started doing longer backpacking trips, I knew it was time to part with this tent.

Osprey Sirrus 24 Day Pack

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A good pack for longer day hikes where you may be carrying more weight. Note: This is a review of the older version of the Sirrus. There is a new version for 2017.

Name: Osprey Sirrus 24 Pack - Women's

Specs:

  • Size: 24 Liters
  • Weight: 2 lbs 5 oz (S/M)
  • Number of Compartments: 3
  • Access: Top
  • Tool Attachment Loops: 1
  • Material: Ripstop Nylon
  • External Pouch: No
  • Hydration Sleeve: Yes, Internal
  • Frame: Aluminum
  • MSRP: $120

What I Like:

  • Comfort: This is probably the most comfortable day pack I have ever owned, to date. This pack, like Osprey backpacking packs has the breathable, mesh back panel with ample airflow. The lightly padded hip belt is helpful to have if you're carrying heavier loads, so you can distribute the weight to your hips. The shoulder straps are well padded, though can cause a rash if you're wearing a tank top & sweating.
  • Integrated Raincover: What's nice about this pack is you don't need to purchase an extra rain cover for this pack, because it's built in to the bottom of the pack! Super easy to deploy, and fits over the pack nicely. Also very easy to stuff back into its pocket! This is obviously really nice so you don't have to always remember to bring a rain cover, and if unexpected weather moves in, your pack is covered!

What I Don't Like:

  • Space/ Size: I thought that 24 L would be fine for a day hiking backpack, and generally it is. However, the problem I have with this pack is that a full hydration bladder just takes up SO much room in the main compartment. It bulges into the space, making it difficult to fit stuff in there. I am also not a fan of the small pockets on the top of the pack. One is larger than the other, but it's placement is right above the hydration bladder, and the hose winding out of the pack through one of the ports kind of gets in the way of this pocket. The other small top pocket is where the "Osprey" logo is, and its pretty small. You can shove a couple of snacks in it, plus maybe your chapstick & sunscreen. Overall, it just doesn't feel like a lot of space.
  • The "Extras": There are a fews things on here that I don't use and just kind of get in the way. One is the compression straps at the top/ on the sides that buckle to the front of the pack. I don't use them, because I'm not carrying enough weight that I need to stabilize the pack. So I never buckle them because then they just get in the way of unzipping the pack. Now they just dangle around. There's also buckle straps at the bottom that sort of block the rain cover pocket. What are they for? A sit pad maybe? I find them useless.
  • Lack of a front pouch: I didn't really know I'd want a front pouch until using this pack and not having one. I wanted a front pouch for stashing random things in there: dirty things, snacks, water filter, maps, etc.
  • Hip belt pockets: They're small, don't fit my phone, and don't fit many snacks either. Honestly, I'm used to small hip belt pockets, but I just wish I could find a pack that fits me & has decent hip belt pockets!

The cons of this pack aren't really that big of a deal. I'm kind of getting over the stuff I've mentioned above, mainly because I've spent money on this and don't have any intention of dropping over $100 on a new daypack for some minor annoyances, when the pack otherwise fits well and is comfortable. But, if I was in the market for a new day pack, I'd probably go in the direction of the Mira AG 26/34 or the Tempest 20, whichever fit better.

REI Flash 22 Day Pack

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A functional day pack for quick trips.

Name: REI Co-op Flash 22

Specs:

  • Size: 22 Liters
  • Weight: 14.5 oz
  • Number of Compartments: 3
  • Access: Top
  • Tool Attachment Loops: 1
  • Material: Nylon
  • External Pouch: No
  • Hydration Sleeve: Yes, Internal
  • Frame: Frameless
  • MSRP: $55

What I Like:

  • Organization: I like the compartments on this bag a lot. The top one on the lid is perfect for my car keys and wallet along with some other "10 essentials", while the large main compartment is perfect for some extra layers and snacks for the day. I honestly didn't know about the front zippered pocket for a really long time. The zipper is pretty hidden in the front panel. But it can be good for stashing other smaller items, like a headlamp, or a beanie/ gloves.
  • Size: This pack is the perfect size for a short day hike. Plenty of room for anything you'd need on a hike, and the hydration sleeve fits a 3 L hydration bladder without taking up so much room in the main compartment.

What I Don't Like:

  • Fit: I found that this pack does not sit well on your back when it is not fully loaded. It gapes out so that the bottom hits your lower back but curves out until the shoulders. I tried multiple times to fix the problem by adjusting the shoulder straps to get the backpack to hang differently, but nothing worked for me, except loading it up full, and using a full hydration bladder in the hydration sleeve helped as well.
  • Side pockets: Without any compression, water bottles just don't stay in these pockets. If you bend over, they will fall out. If you put your pack down, and its not fully loaded, the pack will sag and the bottles will fall out.

This pack is OK. It will definitely do the job for a day hike, but it just really didn't work for me due to the fit when not fully loaded and the side pockets. Could just be my experience with it, though. 

Osprey Exos 58 Backpack

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A comfortable, breathable, lightweight, and super roomy backpacking pack for both men & women.

Name: Osprey Exos 58

Specs:

  • Size: 58 Liters (varies slightly depending on torso length)
  • Weight: 2 lbs, 8 oz (size SM)
  • Access: Top
  • Tool attachment loops: 1
  • Sleeping pad straps: Yes, removable 
  • External pouch: Yes
  • Hydration sleeve: Yes, internal
  • Top lid: Yes, removable 
  • Material: Nylon
  • Frame: Peripheral, Aluminum
  • Gender: Unisex 
  • MSRP: $220

What I Like:

  • Comfort: I'll admit, I was a little scared about using this pack at it's top weight. As I was coming from the Aura 65, I could already see that the hip belt was not as padded and was a different webbing style, so I was concerned. But, I was happily surprised! My first experience with the pack was on a 6-day backpacking trip to Yosemite where I was carrying max 45 lbs to begin with. I didn't experience any rubbing or digging-in, and as usual, the airflow from the suspended back panel is amazing, just like all Osprey packs. I did experience some hip rubbing on the most recent trip with this pack, but I was wearing a different top, and different underwear under my pants, which may have contributed.
  • Accessibility: Unlike my Aura 65, I have not had any problems reaching for water bottles in this pack, which I appreciate since I use SmartWater bottles for drinking. I also love the shoulder strap mini-pockets, which are perfect for stashing lip balm, a small sunscreen, or an energy gel pack.
  • Space/ Size: I love when I open up this pack that there is just so much room in it! Even though I have decreased the size of my backpack from 65 L in the Aura, this pack feels roomier, and I feel like I have an easier time shoving things into this pack. I can fit a bear canister horizontally. I always feel like I have more than enough room in this pack. Also, the front mesh pocket is amazing. It's huge and is great for stashing things I want to access quickly, like my trowel and water filter, and also for storing wet things: my rain jacket, or tent rainfly.
  • Customization: By this I mean that things can be easily removed. Like the top lid, saving about 3 ounces. Since this pack has the built-in FlapJacket, I can use that as a lid and save weight. I can also take off the sleeping pad straps, which is convenient because I don't use a pad that straps to the outside of the pack.
  • Weight: Sub-3 lbs! Lightweight! And comfortable! Obviously, this pack is not ideal for those carrying heavier loads, but for someone who is upgrading their gear into the ultralight category, this pack is definitely a good option. There's a reason many thru-hikers of long trails use this pack.

What I Don't Like:

  • The Hipbelt: Unlike the Aura, the hipbelt is "non adjustable", meaning there isn't an extra piece of padded material that can be pulled out/ pushed in and velcro-ed in place to accommodate for a larger hip. This is slightly uncomfortable, but really only when you're loading the pack to its limits. I'm also not a fan of the hipbelt pockets. They are pretty tiny, and definitely don't fit my phone. They can really only fit some snacks (like, 2 Clif bars), and my phone half hanging out. The last thing is the adjustment/ tightening on it. I find that its difficult to adjust because of how the straps work, and that they frequently loosen during the day. In fairness, it pretty easy to adjust once you've tightened the belt a little bit, but if it gets loosened completely, you have to wiggle the adjustment strap forward until you can get your thumb in there to tighten it. Honestly, these small issues were a small trade-off to what I perceived as pros of this pack.
  • The Side Compression Straps: I find these to be annoying. They have two adjustment points: one towards the top/ middle which lands under the lid when closed, and the other in the side pocket area, which makes it annoying to adjust them. They're pretty small and I feel like they don't do much, especially if your bag is packed solid. 

Overall, I really like this pack. I've only put about 75 miles miles on it so far, but it has held up really well and I've been happy with my switch from the Aura to this one. I encourage other women to check out this pack, even though it is not "women's specific", though if you have a super small torso, this may not work for you.

Note: Osprey is set to release a new version of this pack for men and a separate version for women in Spring 2018, and it has some changes. You can check out some early reviews here.

Osprey Aura 65 Backpack

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The perfect beginner's backpack. Note: I am reviewing the Non-AG pack, which is an earlier version of this pack and is no longer available. The packs are basically identical though, the only difference being the hipbelt/ Anti-Gravity suspension.

Name: Osprey Aura 65

Updated Version: Osprey Aura AG 65 

Specs:

  • Size: 65 Liters (varies slightly depending on torso length)
  • Weight: approx. 4 lbs
  • Access: Top & Bottom
  • Tool attachment loops: 2
  • Sleeping pad straps: Yes
  • External pouch: Yes
  • Hydration sleeve: Yes, internal
  • Top lid: Yes, removable 
  • Material: Nylon
  • Frame: Peripheral, LightWire 
  • MSRP: $260

What I Like:

  • Comfort: The non-AG pack is super comfortable, so I have to believe that the AG pack is even more comfortable! This pack has been stuffed before - probably in the 45-50 lbs range, and I loved it. Once I adjusted the load lifters the suit my needs, everything felt very light on my back. I never had issues with the hip belt rubbing my skin raw. The hip belt is adjustable, so you can extend it out if you're a little wider at the hips. The frame with the mesh arc-ed backpanel is amazing. Having airflow on your back while backpacking is critical for me, and I don't think I'd ever be able to use a pack that didn't have this type of backpanel. 
  • Organization: For a beginning backpacker, I think all of the organizational pockets can be really helpful when you don't know where you want to put things. The bottom compartment for a sleeping bag is something I really liked, and the external side zippered pockets were nice to put random things I wanted to access easily: first aid kit, trowel & TP, etc. or to keep dirty clothes separate from cleaner ones.
  • Load Capacity: I said this earlier: you can weigh this pack down. Osprey advertises a load limit of 50 lbs, but you could probably push 55 lbs if you needed to for some reason. Which is why I think this pack is great for a beginner who may or may not have a gear list dialed-in, or someone who is a comfort backpacker and wants to bring extra luxury items to the backcountry with them.
  • Space: This pack is big. You can fit all of your necessities into the pack with plenty more room to spare. You can even fit a bear canister horizontally!
  • Durability: This pack can definitely take a beating. I threw it on an airplane in checked baggage on an international flight to Peru and it didn't die! Its rolled around in dirt and on rocks and has never ripped, even the mesh pockets. And, even if it did get injured, Osprey's own warranty is so amazing: they will repair FOR FREE any defect or damage in product, no matter when/ where it was purchased.
  • Leave No Trace Reminder: LNT ethics are printed on the inner fabric at the top of this pack! Gotta love that, and Osprey's dedication to promoting LNT. This was actually my very first introduction to LNT, so thanks Osprey!

What I Don't Like:

  • Top Lid/ Closure: This has been rectified on the new version, but my style has a "removable" top lid that I would never remove because there was no "FlapJacket" lid to protect the top if it was lightly raining, for example. The drawstring closure does not close the top of the bag fully, so there is always space for water/ dirt/ bugs/ whatever to creep in if you were not using the lid. Like I said, the new version has this, so you can still securely close the top with a fabric lid if you are not using the bulky top lid.
  • Accessibility: For me, it was difficult to access items in the side pockets without taking off the pack. Even when using water bottles in the slanted, "easy access" configuration where the bottle points forward instead of up, it was difficult for me to reach. Maybe I'm just not flexible enough, but the pack is pretty far away from your body (hence, comfort), so this is a trade off. 
  • "Bells & Whistles": As I backpacked more and dabbled into lightweight gear, I found the extra organizational features were unnecessary. Bottom access? Not necessary, everything eventually explodes out of my pack at camp. Bottom compartment "separator shelf" thing? Waste of extra fabric, straps, weight. External zippered areas? I didn't really need them - everything in there can go into the body of the pack. There also seemed to be straps I didn't really need and use. Why does one need 2 tool attachment loops? No idea, I don't. There was a lot going on with this pack which I thought was great and cool and definitely necessary when starting out, but I have come to realize that its just extra stuff (and weight) that I don't need.

Overall, I think this is a great pack, especially for a beginner or a comfort backpacker who will be carrying more weight. People use this pack for travel, weekend backpacking trips, and even thru-hiking long trails, and it consistently gets good reviews. Osprey is a great brand that stands behind their products, and I can't think of any reason to not buy from them unless their packs just don't fit you. P.s. if you're a man, or looking to buy for a man, their version is the Atoms 65.

Thermarest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Pad

Durable, ultralight, 3 season sleeping pad. 

Name: Thermarest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Pad

Specs:

  • Weight: 10/ 14 oz (S/R)
  • Length: 51/ 72 inches long
  • Thickness: 0.75 inch 
  • R-value: 2.6
  • Shape: Rectangular
  • Type: Closed-cell foam
  • MSRP: $35-45

What I Like:

  • Weight: This is a super lightweight pad and has a superb warmth-to-weight ratio. You probably won't find anything warmer and lighter on the market (besides the NeoAir XLite).
  • Cost: If you're on a budget, this is the pad for you. Lightweight, warm, and decently comfortable make this pad a great choice.
  • Shape: The rectangular size of this pad is great for people who move around a bit in their sleep.
  • Durability: This is one of the most durable sleeping pads out there. Air-free means no punctures that ruin the sleeping pad, so you have less to worry about when you're beating this pad up.
  • Versatility: Sleeping pad? Yes. Butt pad? Yes. Ground chair? Yes. This pad is great because you can whip it out mid-day while hiking and simply unfold it and use it to protect yourself from the dirty ground, and make it a little more comfortable to lounge around during lunch break. It's also handy to have if you're into winter camping: bring this along with another pad (like the NeoAir XLite) and you increase your R-value!

What I Don't Like:

  • Packability: While this pad is ultralight, it is very bulky. This of course, isn't an issue if you just carry your pad on sleeping pad straps that come on your pack, strap it to your pack with a shock cord, or if you have a roll top bag, slip it under the compression strap.
  • Comfort: Some people can deal with a sleeping pad that is less than an inch thick, some people can't. I definitely think this is less comfortable than an air mattress pad, but in some instances (desert hiking, perhaps) I would carry this pad over an inflatable one.
  • Durability: This pad is very durable. But, after many, many nights of sleeping on it, the pad will eventually compress and lose even more thickness and warmth.

Overall, this is a great, versatile sleeping pad. I think it is always worth having while car camping (so many uses), and would choose this pad over others if I was frequently sleeping outside of a tent or in the desert, due to its durability. P.s. the silver side goes up!