- Which ultralight pack doesn't sacrifice comfort?
The Osprey Talon 22 ($99) is the La-Z-Boy of the light packs. This 1-pound, 11-ounce workhorse earns high marks for ergonomic flourishes such as an adjustable torso harness, a sliding sternum strap, and a mesh-covered back panel that puts space between your spine and the 1,300 cubic inches of stuff that the pack holds. On an 8-mile hike and boulder scramble through Utah's slot canyons, the Talon's stretch woven back pocket was ideal for stuffing my rain shell, and the hip belt kept snacks, water, and camera equipment easily accessible.
- Is there a single-person tent that's more than just a glorified tarp?
North FaceSolo 12 ($199) weighs a mere 2 pounds, 8 ounces because it integrates a rain shell into the core design of the tent (something that's typically an extra layer), and it uses unfathomably light aluminum tent poles. Thankfully, it doesn't require a two-day wilderness survival seminar to pitch. And unlike other solo tents, it's no coffin. When something went bump in the night after I'd set up camp near the ridgeline of a 2,000-foot mountain in the southern Appalachians, I was able to sit up straight without hitting the silicone-impregnated tent roof.
- What's the fastest light stove I can buy?
With the ability to boil 1 liter of water in three minutes, MSR's Reactor ($140) is being billed as the fastest-boiling stove on the market, a claim we confirmed in field tests in the Louisiana swamplands. For this reason, it's also the most fuel efficient. The design breakthrough: the 1.7-liter, concave-bottom aluminum pot that connects directly to the convex surface of the radiant burner (total weight: 21 ounces), rendering it virtually windproof. After brewing coffee and hydrating oatmeal, the burner and fuel canister fit securely inside the pot for space-saving transfer.
- I need a sleeping bag that'll fit in my side pocket.
Mountain Hardwear's Ultralamina 45 ($165) is as small as a coconut when compressed down in your pack, where it weighs just 1 pound, 8 ounces. And it's like a comforter once unfurled. To avoid cold spots, smooth-as-velvet ripstop nylon is welded together rather than stitched and a new-fangled insulation known as Thermic Micro, with a high loft retention, ensures fluff even after being stuffed in a ball all day. Its streamlined "mummy cut" trims superfluous fabric in concert with the less-is-more mandate, but it's still functional. My sack time in the North Georgia mountains didn't feel cramped, thanks to the extra foot room and the ability to zip it down on both sides for extra range of motion during my toss-and-turn routine.
- Can I get a high-power flashlight without all the D batteries?
Rather than a rough-and-tough, police-style Maglite weighted down with D batteries, ounce-shaving hikers opt for something the size of a kiwi, only lighter. But that's not to say they're wimpy. The new Petzl E+Lite ($29.95), for instance, works in minus-30-degree-Celsius cold and 140-degree-Fahrenheit heat. It guided me through adventures in Utah, Tennessee, and Louisiana. The E+Lite is submersible in up to 3 feet of water, offers 45 hours of continual use, and shines up to 87 feet. It also features a red light and a strobe light—not to mention high- and low-beam settings. Wear it as a headlamp, or strap it to your pack for stargazing hikes.