A few of our picks for the year
(1.1 kg, 2.4 lbs; $190; keencanada.ca)
Keen seems to have left its funky style behind with this traditional leather hiking boot. The sleek and nicely tanned full-grain leather upper (backed by Keen's proprietary waterproof-breathable barrier) looks more like Italy than Portland, Keen's home. Even the trademark Keen toe bumper is toned down to a size more in line with most backpacking boots. Happily, the outsole is still oversized with chunky lugs that bite into mud and shed it quickly. Inside is one of the best stock footbeds in the business. Like most Keen boots, there's lots of volume here for wide and high feet.
The North Face Alkaline GTX
(807 g, 1.8 lbs; $160; thenorthface.com)
Landing somewhere between a light hiker and a trail runner, the Alkaline is built to go cross-country fast. A protective forefoot plate, two EVA-cushioning densities, quick-pull laces and trail-runner looks speak to its fleet-footed heritage. A protective TPU heel cradle, mesh and synthetic Nubuck upper and Gore-Tex liner provide the hiking cred. On the foot, the shoe has the comfort and smooth flex of a runner, but also feels tough enough to handle off-trail hiking. It's perfect if a weekend backpacking route is your idea of a day hike.
Salomon XT Wings 2
(760 g, 1.7 lbs; $160; salomon.com)
We liked the first version of the XT Wings for its stable platform and durable performance; plus, the shoe made us feel fast. The new-and-improved sequel is indeed better, thanks to: a softer but equally durable midsole to cushion long runs; an adjusted quick-lace system that makes the toe box a little roomier; more flex grooves to improve comfort on the trail; and an updated look. All that and also 10 grams lighter.
Osprey Manta 25
(25 L; 1.2 kg, 2.6 lbs; $150; ospreypacks.com)
The Manta is part of Osprey's new hydration pack line-every model comes with a hydration bladder that Osprey designed with Nalgene. The bladder has a solid backing and an easy-to-use handle. Together, they compress the bladder, increasing drinking pressure and reducing slosh and sag. The pack itself is versatile and comes in three sizes: 20, 25 and 30 litres. All are zip access and fully featured, with quick-stash hiking pole loops, a sunglasses pocket, a rain cover and a dedicated helmet loop.
Eddie Bauer first ascent Big Tahoma
(70 L; 2 kg, 4.3 lbs; $300; eddiebauer.com)
Designed with input from elite mountaineers, the Big Tahoma is a utility pack with a climbing-inspired design. It's a simple top loader with a waterproof zipper running down the side to provide access to the interior. The floating lid-with three pockets for keeping essentials organized-clips on and off the pack and can be extended to accommodate excessive loads. Most of the pack is made from durable sailcloth, but a tougher panel of fabric on the back is designed for carrying crampons. One bummer: The stabilizing straps on the hipbelt are a bit short.
Marmot Never Summer
(-18°C; 1.64 kg, 3.6 lbs; $300; marmot.com)
This is a mummy masterpiece. It feels roomy for a mummy bag, yet it packs down relatively small. And it's true to its warmth rating. We were comfortable at —15°C sleeping on snow thanks to the 600-fill down, the baffles around the neck and along the heavy-duty zipper, and the hood that cinches smoothly. The outer shell is made from Marmot's Membrain Strata, a super-light, waterproof and breathable material that cuts weight and keeps condensation at bay. Paired with a liner or bivy sack, the Never Summer has the power to handle most winter-camping trips.
MEC Camper 2
(2.3 kg, 5.1 lbs; floor: 31 sq. ft., vestibule: 15 sq. ft.; $125; mec.ca)
As its name suggests, this is a simple tent. And simple is good, especially at this price. Two poles, two doors, two vestibules, two small pockets. Pitching is easy and fast with clips and symmetrical vestibules. There's enough room for two good-sized guys, though with slanting walls it feels smaller than the Sierra Designs Strike, which has a similar area. We're impressed with the bathtub floor, which is deeper-more than four inches-extra-waterproof and tougher than industry standards. For the price, this is a bomber tent.