What to buy when you want the BEST in outdoor gear
There are a lot of blogs, magazine articles, and store associates recommending what to buy when purchasing gear for outdoor. The interesting thing is, the gold standard in outdoor gear do not change that much from year to year. More likely every decade or so when something revolutionary comes out.
To be clear, the gold standard does not imply that product is the best product in its category. They are perceived as the best product in its category by consumers like you and myself. They are usually one of the more expensive product in its category, though. In many instances, by purchasing the best product in its category, you may be over outfitting yourself.
Please note that this list is very USA centric since I live there and most outdoor gear that are available are from USA companies. If I live in one of European countries, Canada, Japan, AU/NZ, or Korea then the list would change to reflect products available in those countries. Outdoor gear seem to be very localized — for example, you usually can tell where people are from by the outerwear brand they are wearing.
This list can be very subjective, but I have tried to be objective in compiling this list. The metrics used to compile this list is where there is the most number of instances of outdoor gear (i.e., gold standard) that was compared with comparable outdoor gear. An example of this would be “Ghost Whisperer vs …” in google search.
I have not provided any justification on why these products are considered as gold standard since you should do your own research on these products yourselves before purchasing any of these products.
The following categories are covered in Gold Standard in Outdoor Gear:
- Camp Kitchen
- Winter Gear
Following sub-categories are covered in Outerwear:
- Shell (Jacket)
- Shell (Pants)
- Mid Layer — Natural (Down)
- Mid Layer — Synthetic
- Mid Layer — Fleece
- Base Layer — Natural (Merino Wool)
- Base Layer — Synthetic
- Belay Jacket (Fourth Layer)
- Gaiters (Three Seasons/Hiking)
- Gaiters (Winter)
- Neck Tube / Neckwear / Neck Gaiter
- Winter Footwear Traction
Outerwear can be divided into three layers from outside layer to inside layer:
- Shell: Jacket that protects you from elements like rain, snow and wind, but usually not from cold.
- Mid Layer: Insulating jacket that keeps you warm from cold and light protection from elements like rain, snow and wind.
- Base Layer: Thermal underwear that keeps you warm from cold, but provides no protection from elements like rain, snow and wind.
The gold standard in Shell (Jacket) is Arc’teryx Beta AR. They retail for $ 599.00, but you usually can get them 25% off throughout the year. The jacket is expensive because it uses GORE-TEX PRO, which balances maximum durability (you can drag yourself on jagged rock) with breathability (keeps the elements from coming in and keep the vaporized body sweats out).
Arc’teryx Beta AR may be a great shell jacket for climbing Mount Rainier in winter, but something like Arc’teryx Beta FL, which weighs 100 g less and not as stiff, maybe a better fit if you are climbing Mount Rainier in summer or any other mountains in lower 48 states.
There is an on-going love affair between Arc’teryx and W. L. Gore & Associates (Gore-Tex), ever since Arc’teryx revolutionized Gore-Tex Shell Jacket in 1995. There is no other company that loves Gore-Tex more than Ar’cteryx, with an exception of Gorewear (part of W.L. Gore & Associates), which conveniently does not compete with Arc’teryx. If you want to buy outerwear with Gore-Tex, your best bet is Arc’teryx.
There is no gold standard in shell pants, so I have no recommendations. I am also conflicted about the need for Arc’teryx Beta AR Pants since softshell pants like Arc’teryx Gamma MX pants would be far more comfortable to wear.
Please note that people rarely take off their pants when it gets hot or cold because they usually only have a base layer underneath their shell pants.
Mid Layer — Natural (Down)
The gold standard in Mid Layer — Natural is Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer. There are four variations of Ghost Whisperer where I recommend Hoody to keep you warmer. Four variations are Vest ($ 225.00), Jacket ($ 300.00), Hoody ($ 325.00) and UL Hooded Down Jacket ($ 375.00). You usually can get them 30% off throughout the year. The jacket is expensive because it uses 800-fill goose down (UL Hooded Down Jacket uses 1,000-fill goose down) to keep you warm and it is light at 249 grams.
People rarely buy mid-layer for the bottom half where they wear shell pants and base-layer, sometimes thicker base-layer. The good news is that if you want to buy Ghost Whisperer pants then you can usually get them 50% off throughout the year. One more thing, Ghost Whisperer pants does not look good on no one.
Mid Layer — Synthetic
The gold standard in Mid Layer — Synthetic is Patagonia Nano-Air, which is both warmer and less expensive than Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer. There are 3 variations of Nano-Air where I recommend Hoody to keep you warmer. Three variations are Vest ($ 199.00), Jacket ( $ 249.00), and Hoody ($ 299.00). They are discounted on a regular basis.
Mid Layer — Fleece
The gold standard in Mid Layer — Fleece is Patagonia R1/R2.
Base Layer — Natural (Merino Wool)
The gold standard in Base Layer — Natural is Smartwool Merino Base Layers where they vary by warmth — 150 is warm, 200 is warmer then 250 is warmest:
- Merino 150 (Retail price range from $ 70.00 to $ 100.00)
- Intraknit Merino 200 (Retail price range from $ 110.00 to $ 160.00)
- Merino Sport (Retail price range from $ 95.00 to $ 120.00)
- Intraknit Merino 250 (Retail price range from $ 130.00 to $ 160.00)
- Merino 250 (Retail price range from $ 130.00 to $ 160.00)
They are discounted on a regular basis. There is some debate about which company produces a better merino wool base layer — Smartwool or icebreaker. Please note that both are clothing brands under VF Corporation.
Base Layer — Synthetic
The gold standard in Base Layer — Synthetic is Patagonia Capilene Midweight Zip-Neck and Capilene Midweight Bottoms. They retail for $ 69.00 and $ 59.00. You can get them as much as 50% off throughout the year, especially if you choose an unpopular color (i.e., camouflage, which was renamed to kelp forest — Patagonia, who are you fooling — this is camouflage). These are inexpensive, especially at 50% discount and they will last a lifetime. More than likely you will donate them because you want something new before they fail on you. These have been the gold standard for over 35 years and counting!
Belay Jacket (Fourth Layer)
Some people recommend there should be a fourth layer to keep you insulated between winter activities. For example, when you are ice climbing, you are more likely to be cold between climb and while belaying a climber. Look for a puffy yet compressible down jacket for these scenarios. These jackets are belay jackets and examples of these jackets are Patagonia Fitz Roy Down Parka (Retail price is $ 449.00) or Arc’teryx Ceres SV Parka (Retail price is $ 925.00) or Mountain Hardwear Phantom Parka (Retail price is $ 400.00).
The gold standard in balaclava for winter activities is Outdoor Research Balaclava where the retail price range from $ 34.00 to $ 58.00. They will provide neck, head and face protection designed to provide maximum protection from harsh weather, with the technology to wick away moisture from the inside out.
Gaiters (Three Seasons/Hiking)
The gold standard in gaiters for hiking activities in three seasons is Dirty Girl Gaiters where the retail price is about $ 20.00. They will prevent dirt and debris from entering your hiking shoes.
The gold standard in gaiters for winter activities is Outdoor Research gaiters where the retail price range from $ 25.00 to $ 500.00. They will keep your boots warmer and ensure no winter elements will enter between your shell pants and your boots.
The gold standard in gloves is Outdoor Research Gloves where there are more than 97 gloves to choose from for every outdoor activities. The retail price range from $ 25.00 to $ 500.00 (It uses two batteries per glove to warm your hand).
Neck Tube / Neckwear / Neck Gaiter
The gold standard in neck tube/neckwear/ neck gaiter is Buff where the price is about $ 20.00.
Please note that they are not scientifically proven by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to prevent you from: (1) contracting a virus/disease/illness or (2) passing a virus/disease/illness to someone else.
The gold standard in shorts is Patagonia Baggies where the retail price is $ 55.00. They are used for every kind of warm-weather adventure one could imagine. They’ve been worn by thru-hikers and by river guides during a summer of work. They’ve kayaked and climbed and run on adventures around the world. These are inexpensive, especially on discount and they will last a lifetime. More than likely you will donate them because you want something new before they fail on you. These have been the gold standard for over 38 years and counting!
Winter Footwear Traction
The gold standard in winter footwear traction is Katoola MICROspikes Footwear Traction where it retails for $ 69.95. They are used to confidently hike on frozen trails and mountainous terrain.
The gold standard in camping blanket is Rumpl where the products range from Original Puffy Blanket (Retail price is $ 99.00) to Down Puffly Blanket (Retail price is $ 259.00). They are discounted on a regular basis and there are a lot of competitors that offers similar functionalities at lower prices.
The gold standard in camping chair is Helinox Chair One. They retail for $ 99.95 and they are occasionally discounted.
The gold standard in camping table while you are hiking where both the weight and the size is very important is SOTO Field Hopper Mini Pop-Up Table. They retail for $ 39.95 and they are rarely discounted.
The gold standard in camping table while you are hiking/car camping where you are willing to carry little more weight and occupy little more space is Helinox Table One Camping Table — Hard Top. They retail for $ 139.95 and they are occasionally discounted.
The gold standard in camping trowels is TheTentLab The Deuce #2 UL Backcountry Trowel. They retail for $ 19.95 and they are regularly discounted. These trowels are used in special occasions.
The gold standard in hammock is Warbonnet Blackbird XLC. They retail for $ 180.00 and they are rarely discounted.
The gold standard in camp heater is Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Heater. They retail for $ 114.32 and they are regularly discounted. If you are using heater indoor like tent then be sure to also use Carbon Monoxide Alarm Detector like Kidde Carbon Monoxide Alarm Detector to keep you safe from carbon monoxide exposure.
The gold standard in multi-tools is Leatherman where the products range from Leatherman Micra (Retail price is $ 29.95) to CHARGE+ TTI (Retail price is $ 169.95). They are discounted on a regular basis and there are a lot of competitors that offers similar functionalities at fraction of its prices.
Portable Power Station
The gold standard in portable power station are Goal Zero Yeti where they range from Goal Zero Yeti 200X (187 watt-hours) to Goal Zero Yeti 6000X (6,000 watt-hours). Pair these portable power stations with solar panel(s) to ensure you can stay off-grid and power all your devices as many days as you want to. The retail price range from Goal Zero Yeti 200X ($ 299.95) to Goal Zero Yeti 6000X ($ 4,999.95). They used to be discounted on a regular basis.
For those of you who want extra comfort while sleeping, I recommend sleeping cot in addition to sleeping pad. The gold standard is Helinox Cot One Convertible Camp Cot. They retail for $ 299.95 and they are rarely discounted. It really does make world of difference in your sleeping arrangement, though.
For three seasons (Spring, Summer and Fall), the gold standard in the sleeping bag is not sleeping bag at all. It is Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt ($ 280.00), which is 850-fill down blanket in sleeping bag shape without a zipper. It assumes you do not need an insulating layer at the bottom because your sleeping pad will provide insulation. It is more comfortable than a sleeping bag since your movement is not restricted by the enclosure of a sleeping bag. This item is rarely discounted.
For winter, the gold standard in the sleeping bag is Western Mountaineering sleeping bags (example in pricing where their 0-degree bag is Kodiac MF @ $720.00) where you worry about freezing to death while camping. Their sleeping bags are rarely discounted.
Please do not go overboard in choosing the warmest rated bag unless you are planning to sleep in extreme weather conditions. You will not be able to sleep if your sleeping bag is too warm as well.
For three seasons (Spring, Summer and Fall), the gold standard has been Therma-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad ($ 174.95) for over a decade.
This is one area where the gold standard is shifting to NEMO Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad ($ 174.95) where it is thicker (3 inches vs 2.5 inches). Both of these items are discounted on a regular basis.
For winter, the gold standard in sleeping pad is Exped DownMat XP 9 LW ($249.00) which is 3.5 inch thick and has R-Value of 8.0. This item is rarely discounted since it is such special gear for special purpose.
For car camping, the gold standard is Exped MegaMat Duo 10 Sleeping Pad ($ 349.00), which is 3.9 inch thick and has R-value of 8.1. This sleeping pad is for car camping because it weighs over 10 lbs. and it is big when packed as well. This item is discounted on a regular basis.
There is no gold standard in tents, so I have no recommendations.
The gold standard in camping mugs are one of the following where they vary by size:
- Snow Peak Titanium Single 450 Cup (Retail price is $ 29.95)
- Snow Peak Titanium 600 Mug with HotLips (Retail price is $ 36.95). It could also serve double duty as small camp stove as well. HotLips is needed since they are single wall mug and they are scorching hot to touch.
Snow Peak products are generally very expensive, but they are discounted on a regular basis.
When bringing in camping stoves to your hiking adventure, most people consider weight, size and durability. There is no gold standard in camping stoves, but you will not go wrong if you buy one of the following items:
- MSR PocketRocket 2 Stove (Retail price is $ 44.95)
- MSR PocketRocket Deluxe Stove (Retail price is $ 69.95)
- Snow Peak LiteMax Stove (Retail price is $ 59.95)
- Jetboil MightMo (Retail price is $ 59.95)
One interesting note — I always thought MSR products were bit expensive. Seeing that their products are cost competitive with Snow Peak products makes me think their products are really expensive. Snow Peak sells chopsticks for $ 39.95. It looks really nice and comes with a case, but it is still $ 39.95.
In most cases, you do not need one of those Jetboil fast boil stoves or MSR fast boil stoves unless you are in the alpine area where your only source of water is snow and you will need to melt a lot of snow to get water. Good advice — try to find free-flowing water in the alpine area since melting snow is painful and time-consuming. One more thing, the above stoves are discounted on a regular basis.
For car camping, any stoves will do where the most popular stove is one of the most affordable — Coleman Gas Camping Stove (about $ 50.00 since they are always discounted). The cutest stove is Kovea Mini Stove (Retail price is $ 99.95), the minimalist stove is Kovea Cube Stove (Retail price is $ 39.95) and the sleekest stove is GSI Outdoor Pinnacle Pro Ultra-Thin Camp Stove (Retail price is $ 234.99).
The gold standard in coolers is Yeti Hard Coolers where coolers range from size (24 (pounds of ice) to 350 (pounds of ice)) and styles. With good preparation (cool the cooler for 1 day prior to use and make sure all items are cold before adding to the cooler), these coolers should keep your food cool for days. The retail price range from $ 199.99 to $ 1,299.99. These coolers are discounted on a regular basis.
The gold standard in Electric Coolers is Dometic CFX3 series where cooler range from size — CFX3 35 (36 liters) to CFX3 100 (99 liters). Make sure you plug in these electric coolers into portable power station and not to your automobile to ensure they do not drain your automobile battery. The retail price range from $ 899.99 to $ 1,399.99. These electric coolers are discounted on an occasional basis.
For years, the gold standard in water bottle has been Nalgene Wide Mouth, which has shifted to metal-based water bottles like SIGG, but it is slowly shifting back to plastic-based water bottles like Nalgene Wide Mouth. The retail price varies based on style and size and they are discounted on a regular basis.
For years, the gold standard in filtering water has been Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System, which retail for $ 36.95.
Recently, Katadyn BeFree Collapsible Water Filter Bottle — 33.8 fl. oz., which retail for $ 44.95 has been gaining traction since it is easier to clean in wild and comes with water bottle. Both items are discounted on a regular basis.
There is no gold standard in backpack, so I have no recommendations. The popular brand of backpack is Osprey. For those of you who want ultralight backpacks, the popular brands are Zpacks and Hyperlite Mountain Gear. Please refrain from purchasing any backpack that is greater than 55 liter in volume size to enjoy your camping.
If you want to drag your duffel on the ground behind you while hiking/climbing and still survive this experience then the gold standard in duffel is The North Face Base Camp Duffel. They range in size from XS to XL with corresponding increase in retail price — Base Camp Duffel — XS retails for $ 100.00 to Base Camp Duffel — XL retails for $ 169.00. These duffels are discounted on a regular basis.
If you do not want to drag your duffel on the ground then this may be a lot cheaper option — AmazonBasics duffel that sells for about $ 20.00.
This is one category where the gold standard changes on a regular basis, but in recent years, the gold standard has been BioLite HeadLamp. There are three variations of headlamps and they are:
- BioLite HeadLamp 200 (Retail price is $ 44.95)
- BioLite HeadLamp 330 (Retail price is $ 59.95)
- BioLite HeadLamp 750 (Retail price is $ 99.95)
These headlamps are discounted on a regular basis.
To provide regular updates of your locations to your friends and families as well as limited communication with them when you are in wilderness (i.e., off-the-grid or no cellular service), I recommend a satellite communicator. It works everywhere you have access to clear sky. The gold standard is Garmin inReach Mini. They retail for $ 349.99 and they require satellite subscription plan as well. They are occasionally discounted.
When you hike for a while, one of the most taxing activity you can do to your body is descending with large backpack, especially on your knees. To protect your knees and to assist in your balance, I recommend purchasing trekking poles. The gold standard is Leki Micro Vario Carbon Black Series. They retail for $ 249.00 and they are occasionally discounted.
This is one category where the gold standard changes on a regular basis, but in recent years, the gold standard has been Garmin fenix series of watches where the latest iteration is Garmin fenix 6. There are over 25 variations of watches to choose from where the retail price range from $ 599.00 to $ 1,149.00. These watches are discounted on a regular basis.
Ice Axe for General Mountaineering
The gold standard in Ice Axe for general mountaineering is Petzl Summit Evo, which retails for $ 179.95. They are rarely discounted.
The gold standard in snow shoe is MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes, which retails for $ 319.95. They are occasionally discounted.
Backcountry/Resort Ski Bindings
The gold standard in backcountry/resort ski bindings is Salomon S/Lab Shift MNC, which is hybrid ski bindings that starts out with pin-ready options when trekking up inclines, but easily shifts to a traditional downhill design when in ski mode. The retail price is $ 599.00 and they are discounted on a regular basis. This item is also sold under Atomic and Armada brand.
More to come…
Companies referenced in this article. Some companies have two different countries next to their name. An example would be Arc’teryx where it is Canadian company/brand that is a subsidiary of Chinese company - Anta Sports. You would be surprised by how many well-known outdoor brands are owned by this company, including Armada, Atomic and Salomon in this list. They even own America’s most iconic baseball brand, Louisville Slugger.
- Armada (USA/China)
- Arc’teryx (Canada/China)
- Atomic (USA/China)
- BioLite (USA)
- Buff (USA)
- Coleman (USA)
- Dirty Girl Gaiters (USA)
- Dometic (Sweden)
- Enlightened Equipment (USA)
- Exped (Switzerland)
- Garmin (USA)
- Goal Zero (USA)
- GSI Outdoors (USA)
- Helinox (South Korea)
- Hyperlite Mountain Gear (USA)
- Jetboil (USA)
- Katadyn (Switzerland)
- Kovea (South Korea)
- Leatherman (USA)
- Leki (Germany)
- Mountain Hardwear (USA)
- Mr. Heater (USA)
- MSR (USA)
- Nalgene (USA)
- NEMO (USA)
- Outdoor Research (USA)
- Patagonia (USA)
- Petzl (France)
- Rumpl (USA)
- Salomon (France/China)
- Sawyer (USA)
- SIGG (Switzerland/China)
- Smartwool (USA)
- Snow Peak (Japan)
- SOTO (Japan)
- The North Face (USA)
- Therma-a-Rest (USA)
- TheTentLab (USA)
- Warbonnet (USA)
- Western Mountaineering (USA)
- Yeti (USA)
- Zpacks (USA)