This is the best gear I’ve been able to find for what I do out in the mountains.
Over the past five years or so, this is the best gear I’ve been able to find for what I do out in the mountains—the stuff I use every time, the stuff that just works great, the stuff that lasts a long, long time and I would simply never go without, not even in summer (it can snow in summer!).
Links with each item are links to my review in most cases.
Five Ten 'Camp Four GTX' Super Grippy Waterproof Hiking Shoe.
HOT DEAL: as of 2017-10-03, the Camp Four GTX mid was 55% off at Amazon @AMAZON.
I hike a lot of difficult terrain: granite slabs, boulder fields, loose dirt and rocks, class 3/4 climbing, wet and sometimes icy or snowy slopes, and so on. I almost always hike alone, so I take shoes and other gear very seriously—one slip from a shoe or boot and I could be spending my day photographing vultures at close range (see also the SPOT GPS Messenger). So I don’t mess around with my shoes; I get what minimizes risk of slippage under any conditions.
The Five Ten Camp Four GTX is now my preferred hiking shoe because they latch onto just about anything except glare ice and the deep lugs cut through stuff like moss and mud. I use the waterproof GTX version in both the regular and mid ankle version. The mid version is better for spring and late fall where water and mud are more common; the lower cut version is better for summer (lighter, cooler).
Arc Teryx ACRUX FL GTX Waterproof Hiking Shoes
Get Arc Teryx ACRUX FL GTX @AMAZON at Amazon.
I use these less often now, but they are a terrific shoe with terrific grip, and waterproof. They fit snugly with the wonderful liner inside.
Five Ten Men's Guide Tennie Leather Approach Shoe
Get Five Ten Guide Tennie @AMAZON at Amazon.
The Five Ten Men's Guide Tennie Leather Approach Shoe also the mid-ankle Guide Tennie Mid Hiking Shoe. The Stealth C4 rubber sticks to rocks like glue and does well even on wet slippery rocks. The lace design allows “shaping” the tightness from the forefoot on up (very tight for class 4 and harder climbing, a bit looser for normal wear). Great for boulder hopping or scrambling on granite slabs.
Not good for sharp pointy rocks and not waterproof—get the Five Ten Camp Four GTX for that kind of stuff as noted above.
North Face Recon daypack
Get North Face Recon @AMAZON at Amazon.
The North Face Recon daypack is how I carry all my gear in the field: camera and lenses (in pouches), food, water, clothing. Current models also can fit a 15" laptop into a padded interior slot.
NOTE: the design keeps getting dumber and more oriented towards laptops and iPads, what shame: I like the older model (still available online, shown at left); the model being sold in late 2015 reduces the size of the outer stuff pocket, and the interor also balkanizes the space with pencil slots and similar while also reducing the size of the large slide-in pocket. It also loses the dual laptop/iPad slot in favor of a single slot. The model I do NOT like as much (the later one) is shown at right in tan.
Lupine Piko headlamp
Lupine Piko headlamp. I don’t leave for any hike that might approach dusk without this headlamp.
Revo Guide II sunglasses
Get Revo Guide II @AMAZON at Amazon.
For sunglasses, that varies by conditions but I always use polarized lenses, because these cut atmospheric haze, road glare and let me see my dinner (trout) through the water. When lighting is not extremely bright, I use the Revo Redpoint sunglasses for cycling and hiking.
The sunglasses in the image below are Revo Guide RE4054-01 polarized @AMAZON and with a blue reflective coating (models have change, the Revo Guide II sunglasses @AMAZON seems to be the closest match). These are my preferred sunglass for summer in the Sierra, where granite and/or snow can be very difficult on the eyes. See also Are your sunglasses protecting your eyes?.
For moderate temps, an Ibexwear hoody (preferably with front pocket; models vary each year too). This is what I wear from spring to fall in the mountains. The hood protects head and sides of face and neck from sun; the front zip pocket (models that have it) is great for stowing a smaller lens, lens cap, etc. Also terrific for bright snow and granite are the Revo Guide @AMAZON sunglasses which I am wearing below. I particularly like them because they tend to preclude getting sweat onto the lenses as most of my sunglasses do.
Western Mountaineering Sequoia GWS Sleeping Bag
The Western Mountaineering Sequoia GWS Sleeping Bag — the amazing thing about this bag is that it is good even into relatively warm temps, because its ultra high quality down “tents”. Or in really cold conditions (shoes freeze to floor mats inside the car), zip it up and stay warm.
This Western Mountaineering Sequoia GWS is one of the best investments I’ve ever made in camping comfort.
As goos as the Western Mountaineering Sequoia GWS is, when I spotted the new Western Mountaineering Cypress GWS , I got excited: it has a very wide footprint including the feet area, and it can be unzipped like a blanket (I am not a fan of tight feet or “mummy bags” and I’ll use a sleeping bag like a comforter when temperatures allow).
That’s what caught my eye: the Western Mountaineering Sequoia GWS has the widest foot box I have ever seen in a down sleeping bag of this quality. Too hot in warmer temps—not really—it lofts so well that it can be “tented” and hold its shape for less cold nights, or used as a comforter (zipped open) and thrown partly aside. That skeptical may have their doubts, but years of using the GWS prove it out up to the 60°F range or so.
* In Western Mountaineering “underselling” parlance, 850+ down means 910 fill power down—ultra high end and rare to find. That kind of down (I was shown a sample) is very expensive, very light and fluffy, the puff of the puffs when down is processed by grade.
Exped Downmat 9 DLX and Exped Megamat
Never sleep on hard cold ground again. Air mattress with down inside. If not backpacking, the Megamat absolutely rocks—just as comfortable as at home for me.
The only caveat with air mattresses in general: make sure they are deflated if going up substantially in altitude (e.g., near sear level to 10,000'). There is a risk of rupture if starting off with the mattress inflated at low elevation.
I use the Exped Megamat in my Sprinter photography adventure van.
Western Mountaineering Flash XR jacket
I would not leave for the mountains without it. Its XR fabric resists rain and slushy snow for hours, extremely light, perfect for hiking (stuffs small into bottom of pack, put camera gear on top.
Get the XR version if you want the rain resistance—the non XR is awesomely light, but does not resist rain/snow very well—and yes there are snowstorms in June and snowstorms in July and snowstorms in August in the Eastern Sierra and White Mountains. So I almost always carry the XR version when hiking at altitude.
Also, the Western Mountaineering Flash down pants are great for well below freezing stuff, or if you have to stand around in near freezing temps, photograph in cold nights, etc.
IbexWear wool jacket
Another must have that I often wear over the Flash XR for times when I need even more warmth. Also, Ibex Shak Two Layer Wool Glove and Ibexwear NZM gloves (you need both, for cool and cold conditions). Ibex changes their product line every year—a bit annoying if you want a replacement for a favorite, so if you find a piece you love, buy two or three, at least during the early spring sale. I have jackets and pants for which I did not do this, and I regret it, because they're gone forever.
Pearl Izumi Elite Thermafleece Cycling Tight
Get Pearl Izumi @AMAZON at Amazon.
Great for hiking, keeps sun off legs, greaet as a layer under another pant, or by themselves under shorts.
MSR Guardian Water filter
If everyone in hurricane-infested areas had one of these, many infections and deaths might be averted. It is a terrific disaster preparedness item. How much is your life worth?
While water is generally available in the Sierra Nevada, it is always a question of whether it is safe to drink: scat from rodents, deer and sheep, human campers and so on can all contaminate creeks and lakes. While the occasional seep or spring may be found, nearly all water in the Sierra Nevada is free-flowing and thus subject to nasties like giardia lamblia.
That said, higher elevations a are probably at little risk, but having had a majorly negative stomach issue with lasting nerve damage treating it, I don’t like to mess around.