It’s award season again, which means that fans of the outdoors eagerly anticipate one of the biggies: Backpacker magazine’s Editors’ Choice Awards. The honor confers a kind of Holy Grail status on winners, so act fast if you have your eye on one of these stars.
Backpacker editors, no-nonsense experts with years of backcountry experience, gather annually for this sacred ritual. The selection process begins without predetermined categories or a set number of recipients. Extensive testing throughout the year drives the process, and only elite performers are left standing at the end.
Now it’s time to shine our 1,000-lumen headlamp on some of the big winners: the Exped SynMat Hyperlite Duo sleeping pad, men’s and women’s Columbia OutDry Ex Diamond rain shells, men’s Mountain Hardwear AP pants and the MSR Guardian Purifier. One entrée made the cut: Backpacker’s Pantry Chana Masala. And, perhaps to raise a toast to that tasty treat, the Stanley Stainless-Steel Shot Glass Set was also honored.
In addition to choosing the best new gear, Backpacker bestows its Editors’ Choice Gold Award on gear that’s ascended to legendary status over the past five years. This year that distinguished honor goes to men’s and women’s Vasque Skywalk Gore-Tex® Hiking Boots.
Editor’s Choice Award Winners for 2016
Exped SynMat Hyperlite Duo Sleeping Pad
Featherweight sleeping pads that are also warm and comfortable are few and far between. Finding that in a pad for two, though, is next to impossible. Until now. At just 1 lb. 12 oz., this pad weighs less than some solo-size air pads. The Duo also offers a harmony-preserving feature: independent side-by-side air chambers that allow each partner to customize inflation level to his or her slumber number.
Men’s and Women’s Columbia OutDry™ Ex Diamond Rain Shell
With varying levels of success, jacket makers have been trying to one-up Gore-Tex® technology for decades now. OutDry Extreme is a worthy waterproof/breathable contender. What’s unique about its microporous magic is that no durable water repellent (DWR) coating is required. Its surface has something more akin to “PWR” (perpetual water repellency), a quality that’s engineered directly into the material. So, unlike almost any other type of rain jacket, the waterproof/breathable performance of these shells won’t diminish over time.
Men’s Mountain Hardwear AP Pants
Mountain Hardwear markets them as a unique combination of performance and style. But style is subjective and outdoor chic has been a thing for years now, so their versatile performance is the crux of the matter. Truly cragworthy, these pants feature a stout-yet-stretchy fusion of cotton canvas, nylon and elastane. Rollup legs and reflective hits make them bikeworthy, too.
MSR Guardian Purifier
The fact that a pump filter can actually remove the nastiest, “microscop-iest” organism—the virus—is newsworthy in and of itself. Previously, devices had to combine mechanical filtration with chemicals or UV treatment to neutralize viruses. The Guardian goes even further, though, by having a unique self-cleaning feature: By redirecting some of the pumped water to backflush the inner workings, it eliminates the messy chore of scrubbing the cartridge. MSR claims an impressive lifespan for the Guardian of more than 10,000 liters.
Shop: MSR Guardian Purifier
Backpacker’s Pantry Chana Masala
This curry dish from the Punjab region of India features chickpeas and chiles over rice, so it’s not your ordinary pouchful of freeze-dried carbs. Exotic, spicy dishes attract both fans and haters, so this is a rare REI product that garners large numbers of both 1-star AND 5-star reviews. Smells like the perfect candidate for your next backcountry taste test.
Stanley Stainless-Steel Shot Glass Set
Offers everything you need to salute your expedition, minus the flask of single-malt. Admittedly not one of the Ten Essentials, there’s nonetheless some backcountry cred here: The glasses are unbreakable, the set nests, and the handle of the carrying vessel allows clipping to a pack.
Editor’s Choice Gold Award Winners
Men’s and Women’s Vasque Skywalk Gore-Tex® Hiking Boots
While the minimum for the Gold Award is 5 years of excellence, these boots have overachieved since the 1980s. Updated this year, they retain their rugged essence: waterproof leather, Gore-Tex® liners and surefooted soles. One REI.com reviewer was so smitten that she left a post about her (still-in-hiking-mode) 1990s-era Skywalks: “I was thrilled to see that they were still being made!”
For a full rundown and a full list of the year’s recipients, check out Backpacker magazine.