Record snowfall is a beautiful thing. So is a mid-winter trip to warmer climates and being ready when the drifts start disappearing. With these picks, you’ve got a head start on happier trails.
High Sierra Karadon 65
The most renowned brands have nothing on this 65L backpack from High Sierra. A combination of useful volume, a metal-reinforced frame system and right-sized hipbelt do the shrewd owner proud. The same for the curved shoulder straps complete with an 8”-travel sliding sternum strap. Generous pull loops, high abrasion resistance and plenty of attachment points contribute to an outstanding value. During more extreme climbs and hop-scotch descents on sharp talus, High Sierra Karadon hung with us through fast-paced overnight outings. There’s nothing here to make you reconsider your purchase. The same for the $50-$100 left in your pocket for fuel, beer and trail snacks.
Best For: Long weekends and extended trekking (after trimming your load)
Lowe Alpine Trail Zone 25
Active Junky testers got more sophistication in this 25L day pack than expected. The esteemed Lowe Alpine name should have been a giveaway but it took a high-ventilation back, side-zip bonus outside pocket and trekking pole tip locks to wake us up to the extreme differences offered by Trail Zone 25. Our list of smile-worthy features kept growing from the included raincover to split-foam waistbelt (with twin zipped storage pockets), divided top flap pocket and narrow profile. All of this comes at only a modest premium over less-capable packs with a build that handles heavier payloads including camera equipment and climbing gear. Spend more, carry more and keep your balance over marginal terrain.
Best For: Day travel over rugged terrain; managing heavier camera and climbing gear
Slumberjack Pursuit Vest
Apparently, men’s vests were a big deal back in the late 70s and early 80s. If the disco scene had embraced apparel such as the Pursuit Vest, perhaps things would have turned out differently. Or not. In any case, this rugged ridge-running vest is camo but doesn’t require a hunting license to help photographers and minimalist hikers get free as a bird. Or perhaps as fleet-footed as an antelope as the 19oz piece stores nearly 500cu. inches of on-trail essentials. An eight-point adjustment dials Slumberjack Pursuit Vest in, and Active Junky favors adding fishing and mountain biking to the growing list of applications. Molle webbing on both left and right sides boost capacity with hiker-supplied pouches. Here, finally, is your chance to experiment with ultra-light travel as the main compartment accommodates up to a 70oz reservoir. Unless carrying a LifeStraw is your style (as it was for our testers). Let’s go.
Best For: Four-season outings with multi-sport applications particular for day hikers, fisherman and photographers
Snow Peak Mini Flame Lantern
Drifting off in tent or RV after basking in the glow of this tiny gas lantern is, well, nearly surreal. Adding nominal weight to pack at 102g, snow peak contributes a canister-fueled improvement to solo and group outings. Testers favored Mini Flame Lantern for diving in on topo maps after sunset as well as adding accent lighting to ukulele jam sessions. Depending upon the cylinder employed (and using fuel for cooking), Mini Flame stays awake for up to 71 hours. In addition, precise adjustment of the brass, glass, aluminum, rubber and stainless steel mechanism is easy. An included carrying capsule prevents damage and on-trail dirt accumulation. All for pure joy when daylight fades – or before the sun rises in the morning. Glorious.
Best For: Backcountry and paddle trips; car camping to save weight and space
gomacro Thrive Bars
The backstory on this brand and product is chilling, thrilling and provides a literal sense of grounding for this product line. A journey back from cancer through organic vegetables and fruits was the impetus for the company, and the Thrive Bars line captures the benefits of hemp hearts, quinoa and sprouted flax in each flavor. Certifications line the walls but help to unclog your arteries with gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, kosher and soy-free credentials. And they taste incredible during hectic days in the office and long pushes on the trail. Flavors fit any preferences, and Active Junky can only say: You must try them. Too much is at stake in this life.
Best For: Improving your life, energizing your future and elevating your standards