I’ve used an extensive array of outdoor gear over 20 years of hiking, camping, and backpacking. Here are my top five most used, most abused, most durable, and most loved items. Please share yours!
Mountain Hardwear Subzero Parka
I purchased this ultra-warm, super-sized down parka a decade ago—and still revel in its delicious warmth every time I put it on. It’s the biggest gun I have in my cold-weather arsenal (I bust it out only when temperatures drop into the 20s and below) and it has held up without issue despite regular use during 10 winter seasons (including three very long and cold Alaska winters).
Looking back, I am very happy that I purchased a parka not a jacket, and that I went with a larger size than I typically wear so that I could readily put it on over all of my layers—a nice convenience on winter hiking and camping trips. Though this particular model is no longer available, plenty of similar Big Puffs are—I would highly recommended investing in one if you haven’t already.
REI Half Dome 2 Tent
Simple, durable, roomy, and weather-tight, I purchased this tent shortly after it was released in 2002 and have spent more nights in it than any other tent or shelter I own. Over the years, I’ve restrung the elastic in the poles three times and patched numerous small holes in the mesh, but overall it’s performed flawlessly.
I particularly like the simple two-pole design (easy to fix or replace if needed), avoids the clunkier hub system featured in the Half Dome’s current iteration. My only issue these days is the weight (roughly 5 pounds), which is heavy by today’s tent standards.
North Face Badlands Pack
If you find a pack that fits you perfectly, never let it go—especially if it’s bombproof and virtually indestructible. After nearly 15 years, the mesh side pockets are shredded, the shoulder straps are duct-taped in multiple places, and I’ve replaced various clips multiple times—and it’s still my go-to pack for big hauls and long trips.
Mountainsmith Vision Sleeping Bag
At some point in your life, make the splurge and buy an ultralight down sleeping bag. Though plenty of great options are available, the Mountainsmith Vision is the one that came into my life about eight years ago.
Weighing just under 2 pounds, packing smaller than a volleyball, and sufficiently warm to near the freezing point, it has been my favorite and most used sleeping bag ever since I acquired it. It’s like sleeping in a puff of warm air.
Best. Sleeping. Pad. Ever. Lightweight, indestructible, and instantaneously packed and deployed, this has been my sleeping pad for many, many years. (I did have to replace it at one point, however, as the little egg carton dimples eventually started to flatten out.) It’s not the cushiest night’s sleep, but if you can handle it, do it.