The following gear reviews are my own. All of the equipment, boots, clothing, or any other outdoor related item I am reviewing here has been purchased by me or received as a gift (surprisingly, I still occasionally get one of those). I do not have any involvement with any manufacturer except as a consumer. Should this change (and admittedly I hope it will) I will amend this statement and any reviews accordingly.
Admittedly, I have too many backpacks. I can make an excuse for having each one but when it comes down to brass tacks I probably need only two, a day/overnight pack and a multi-day pack. That being said, I have no intention of getting rid of any of the ones I have any time soon. I have used each of them at least once this year.
The Gregory Alpinisto 50 is quickly becoming my go-to pack. This is an ideal pack for scrambling: it is lightweight, comfortable, well-constructed, easily seen (gold shows up very well against most backgrounds), has a helmet cut-out in the top lid so your helmet does not crash into the bridge of your nose when you look up, dual ice-axe attachments, crampon pocket, ski slots, sled attachments, and a side zipper for accessing your gear without needing to take the pack off. My only concerns are with the side zipper: the hydration port is at the top of the zipper making me wonder if the zipper will ever unzip without my being aware of it; and, the zipper is not waterproof and appears to be stressing under a normal load. Although these are my concerns, I have not yet experienced a failure with the zipper. At 5'8, 155 I opted for a medium and it fits very well. This is the third Gregory Pack I have used and I expect it will be of the same hi-quality as the other two, which I review below.
The Gregory Baltoro 75 is a roomy, comfortable, well-designed multi-day pack. I have had mine for a few years and it still looks and functions like new. It is a workhorse that travels well thanks to a hip belt system that moves with your body. I cannot think of a problem arising while using this pack and I really do not expect one. It is not as lightweight as some other packs out there but it feels solid when heading out on a multi-day trip and it carries well.
The Gregory Z40 was for a long time my favorite day pack and I still use it frequently but it has become second to the Eddie Bauer Bacon pack (reviewed below). It does, however, remain my favorite overnight pack. My only gripe with this pack is the rain cover: I have always rain covers in general to be essentially useless (I prefer to pack my gear into varying sized waterproof stuff sacks) and this one is no different. Rather than keep it in its zippered compartment on the pack, I leave it at home and use the pocket it was in for storing things I need to get at quickly (like a trowel and TP). Like my other two Gregory packs, however, the Z40 is comfortable, well-designed, and sturdy. I have had no problems with it and I am sure I will wear out long before it does.
I have never had much luck with sunglasses. They were either not dark enough or they were too dark; they fogged up too easily; they were not very comfortable; or they felt like they would break easily. Then I saw saw a review for a pair of Julbo sun glasses.
The Julbo Tensing Sunglasses are the ones I use most days. They are comfortable, lightweight, well-vented (although from time to time they have fogged up), and though they seem flimsy, these glasses have been through some rough treatment without any problems. Another plus: at $50 MSRP, they are relatively inexpensive. Shopping options can be found here.
The Julbo Colorado Sunglasses are not meant for driving but they are meant to handle the harsh, blinding light and glare from reflected ice and snow and they do the job well. The eye shades are removable and the temples and ear pieces can be shaped to give a comfortable fit. Like the Tensing above, they are lightweight but sturdy, comfortable, and inexpensive. You can find shopping options here.
My ice axe is a Black Diamond 65cm Raven. It is the only one I have ever used. It is lightweight, comfortable to carry, and it gets the job done. I have used it on ice, snow, and bare, steep slopes while belaying, cutting steps in the ice, and, as a means of self-arrest following a fall down icy and snow-covered slopes. I do not have anything to compare it to but I see absolutely no reason for getting rid of it for another, either. I have a leash for it but after do not use it. I find it awkward to have one hand/wrist tied to the ice axe when I switch hands to always maintain it in the up-slope one. I recommend learning how to use one and then practicing in a relatively benign environment prior to putting yourself in a position where you may need to depend on it. Some helpful videos can be found online. One I thought was pretty good is also one of the newer ones.
My basic traction devices are Kahtoola MICROspikes. They fit easily over most styles of footwear without difficulty. I like the fact that I can use them crossing an ice-slick log (albeit slowly) then climb an icy stretch of trail with confidence. You will find these in my pack most of the year; they are light-weight, pack down fairly small, and are my 11th essential.
My emergency whistle is The Storm Safety Whistle. It is extremely loud, weighs only .7 oz, and is inexpensive. It does not use a pea and this helps in the cold or when you are injured: it will not freeze up and it does not take a huge breath to get a loud sound. Plug your ears before blowing. Best of all, at least in my opinion, the company teams up with a packaging company that employs individuals with disabilities.
My first-aid kit