Backpacking products for a better outing


When times get tough, people go hiking. That’s the news from a CBS News/New York Times poll released a couple of weeks ago, which found that recession-wracked Americans are now getting by on less, doing more and valuing experiences over things. High on the list: inexpensive, exciting family-bonding adventures like canoeing, biking and backpacking. Coincidentally, backpacking was the theme of the mammoth Outdoor Retailer trade show that began Thursday in Salt Lake City. Straight from the showroom floor, here’s a look at some standout backpacking gear that can offer assistance on the long, adventurous trail to recovery.

-- Roy M. Wallack World’s coolest pack

Gregory Z65: Top end of a lightweight backpacking line with Jetstream ventilation, featuring a concave back panel that keeps the pack off much of your back

Likes: Very comfortable, smartly designed, and practical for overnight treks and all-out fast-packing. The 65-liter (about 17 gallons) top-loading pack doesn’t touch your back between the shoulder straps and the small of the back, so you feel the breeze and stay cooler than with normal packs. Includes numerous zippered cargo compartments and compression straps and many practical touches: exterior stretch side pockets for water bottles and hiking poles, bottom cinch straps for a sleeping bag, dual hydration ports and a bladder sleeve (bladder not included), and small zip waist pockets that allow you to grab an energy bar in full stride, something many brands still don’t have.

Dislikes: None.

Price: $230. (877) 477-4292;

Poles apart

Leki Corklite Aergon trekking poles: Cork-handled, three-section telescoping hiking sticks with innovative SpeedLock shaft-locking system

Likes: The red SpeedLock lever, made of fiberglass-reinforced polyamide and resembling the adjustable quick-release clamp of a bike seat, is simpler, faster and more secure-feeling than typical length-adjustable pole shafts. The latter use a twist-compression system that I’ve found can slip over time and fail with heavy use. These can’t. Also, cork handles are quite comfy and tactile, even with sweaty hands. The 16.6-ounce Corklite can adjust from 67 centimeters (26.4 inches) to 135 cm (53.1 inches), and is one of five Leki poles (from $99 to $179) with this superb SpeedLock feature.

Dislikes: None.

Price: $119.

Jacket to tent

JakPak: World’s first all-in-one waterproof-jacket/one-man bivy tent/sleeping bag

Likes: Originally designed for disaster victims and emergency aid workers who needed quick shelter and rest, the JakPak is a thin, uninsulated, hooded jacket with pit zips and internal suspenders. It also has a one-man bivouac tent/sleeping bag folded into a large pocket on the back. At rest, your head and feet are fully enclosed in hoop-supported compartments, with your jacket-outfitted torso shielded from the elements by bug-repelling nylon netting. Total weight 2 pounds.

Dislikes: There is no insulation in the bag, so you could get a chill at night. The bivy sack rests in a pocket on the upper back of the jacket, so you can’t wear it very comfortably while carrying a backpack. Price: $299. (877) 271-5147;

Light light

Coghlan’s Micro Lantern: 1-ounce, 1 7/8 -inch-tall LED lamp with a 6-foot light zone.

Likes: A good tent and walking lantern, this itty-bitty torch is ideal for lightening a backpacker’s load. Powered by two dime-size 3-volt batteries, the Micro has a rubber on/off button and emergency flashing mode, is water resistant and will last for 25 hours in regular lighting mode. Includes locking hook and small chain to attach to a key ring or pack strap.

Dislikes: Not bright enough to read well with.

Price: $7.98. (877) 264-4526;

Wallack is the author of “Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100.”