THE TRAIL LED through a waterfall. Gusts of wind pushed the cascade around, so it felt like the water was following me as I dashed through, getting it full in the face on the way in and out. I was hiking around New Zealand’s Mt. Taranaki last November, on our final round of testing for this year’s Editors’ Choice Awards, and it was raining so hard that sheets of water poured off the trailside cliffs, creating falls where none usually existed. The rest of the BACKPACKER crew walked through the shower, grinning.
When the staff of this magazine heads out on an Editors’ Choice trip, we may be the only hikers in the world who wish for bad weather. How else are we going to find the gear that really works?
This year marks the 25th anniversary of our Editors’ Choice Awards, and over the decades we’ve found scores of category-leading products on trips like this one (see page 13). But as I hiked through the deluge in New Zealand, I realized we’ve established more than a credible gear-testing program. We’ve created a bond that connects generations of editors. Was this weather worse than on California’s Lost Coast, when we lucked into a storm spawned by a Pacific typhoon? Were either as bad as getting blown off Mt. Hood by a blizzard or sleeping in a mud-and-dung filled pasture in Wales?
When staffers launched the awards in 1993, the ground rules were clear: Hit the trail, thrash gear, and recognize only the best of the best. Don’t worry about what others think or say, just get out there and use stuff.
Not surprisingly, that’s also a recipe for a great backpacking trip. I recognized it instantly on my first Editors’ Choice trek, in the Grand Canyon, in 2000. I hiked down the New Hance Trail and joined the trip in progress. I was a tester at the time, and hadn’t yet met anyone on staff. I hit the bottom and encountered a half-dozen dirty hikers camped by the Colorado River. They could have been any group of lifelong friends out for an adventure—except for the heated debates about load transfer and wicking.
By the next year, I was planning the trip (I get credit/blame for the Lost Coast), and have been on many since. It’s become clear that these adventures—grounded in our love for backpacking and its ups and downs—have shaped the magazine we make, not just the gear we review. Turns out corporate team-building doesn’t get any better than pitching a tent in 40-mph wind and rain. Or jumping repeatedly into a glacierfed lake and flirting with hypothermia so the photographer can get “just one more shot.”
You’ve probably experienced your own selfinflicted challenges. Backpackers love to goad each other onward, to go a little farther, a little higher. Heck, it’s why we care about good gear in the first place.
Twenty-five years from now, the products will be different. The people, too. But I’m confident the Editors’ Choice trip will be, at heart, much the same. Just like all good backpacking trips.
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We couldn’t produce this issue without the help of scores of hikers, climbers, paddlers, and guides who head out all over the world, in all kinds of weather, to test gear and religiously fill out evaluation forms. Meet them here and in the pages that follow. Thank you, testers.
Chris Abercrombie, Jesse Albanese, Louisa Albanese, Max Albanese, Sofia Albanese, Anastasia Allison, Kam Altar, Justin Bailey, Ron Barczak, Kelly Bastone, Phil Bates, Jon Bausman, Eli Bernstein, Aaron Bible, Jason Bickford, Dana Birke, Heather Blackmon, Logan Boon, Tyler Booth, Alice Bouchard, Coco Bouchard, John Bouchard, Lili Bouchard, Nancy Bouchard, Jason Boyle, Carina Bracy, Michele Bradshaw, Tim Braun, Eugene Buchanan, Corey Buhay, Maijaliisa Burkert, Ryan Burkert, Evelyn Callahan, Donna Campbell, Irwin Campbell, Maura Cassell, Phil Clements, Kassondra Cloos, Kristen Coats, Tom Coffin, Marty Combs, Steve Conlin, Tiffiny Costello, Paulina Dao, Josette Deschambeault, Emylee DiCicco, Michael Dimitri, Abby Dorn, Jonathan Dorn, Terry Doyle, Eric Eagan, Sheila Eagan, Annie Emmanuels, Rob Ender, Alyssa Erickson, Nils Eriksson, Kevin Flint, Joe Flowers, Julia Frantz, Kevin Gallagher, Stan Gentry, Peter Gobell, Hank Grant, Summer Holt, Maren Horjus, Ryan Horjus, Kristin Hostetter, Ryan Irvin, Marisa Jarae, Amy Jurries, Krista Karlson, Carrie Keahey, Brendon Kerr, Leslie Kerr, Jeff Kilpatrick, Erik Klaus, Laura Kottlowski, Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan, Justin La Vigne, Patrice La Vigne, Diane Lancaster, Laura Lancaster, Eric Larsen, Jeff Laskie, Giovanni Leone, Micah Ling, Ben Luedke, Casey Lyons, Dougald MacDonald, Oshie Magturo, Justin Maimone, Dan Markey, Grant Martin, Merrill McCauley, Annette McGivney, Megan Melamed, Amber Mikluscak, Clara Mills, Dina Mishev, Jac Mitchell, Catherine Moede, Kailash Moore, Miranda Mosis, Grace Moynahan, Emma Murray, Bryan Nanista, Dan Nash, Joel Nyquist, Shayla Paradeis, Phil Pfanner, Michael Restivo, Kristen Richardson, Peter Rives, Heather Balogh Rochfort, William M. Rochfort, Jr., BJ Romines, Kel Rossiter, Adam Roy, Caesar Sangalang, Steve Santoro, Gerben Scherpbier, Mattie Schuler, Matt Schumacher, Jeff Schwartz, Keenan Seidel, Bob Shaver, Scott Simper, Norman Singley, Jenna Snyder, Anna Solovyev, Brad Stapleton, Maggie Stashak, Rebecca Stubbs, Karen Tam Wu, Jillian Terry, Tim Tewell, Ben Thompson, Kristine Thompson, Morgan Tilton, Kent Towerlton, Paul Townsend, Adam Tycaster, Dorn Van Dommelen, Lang Van Dommelen, Puck Van Dommelen, Dave Vanderzee, Lucas Vannice, Dominic Vellone, Cheryl Wallace, Lindsay Warner, William Wells, Ben Wu, Matt York, Scott Yorko, Erica Zazo, Rachel Zurer, Arianne Zwartjes
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[In my pack]
Synthetic-fill jackets are getting more like down every year, and this is one of my favorites. The 3M Thinsulate “Featherless” insulation is soft and compressible, and there’s plenty of it for freezing temps. It’s been in my pack for three months straight, from a trek in New Zealand’s Egmont National Park to a winter backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon. $200; 1 lb. 1 oz. (m’s M); m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL; marmot.com