Top gear 

Essentials for every adventure

Arc'teryx Naos backpack, $700

It's a strong statement, but true: The Arc'Teryx Naos 70 backpack is the single best piece of gear I've ever owned. Hands down.

Built like a dry bag, the pack is a large compartment of polyurethane-coated nylon with a roll-top closure and pouch lid. All seams are taped and the main body is 100 percent waterproof. A soggy and dripping June in Glacier Park is no worry, and I've even forded swollen rivers in the Bob with the pack floating behind. Never has a drop of water sneaked inside.

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A rock-solid swivel hip-belt relieves any ilium rub and moves seamlessly with all motions—walking, bending, leaning and climbing. I can load it full and not have one sore spot on the hips. Two ice ax loops, two outer pockets and six straps make stowing gear streamlined and easy on this handmade Canadian gem.

Matt Holloway

Black Diamond Traverse ski poles, $70

Hey, wise guy: No, I did not forget my skis. I just prefer using ski poles when exploring the alpine. Yes, even in summer. Laugh all you want, but now I have better balance and share the load with my upper body, preventing knee strain and sprained ankles, to boot.

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Multiple manufacturers make poles with varying features—adjustment range, packed length, basket size, handgrip angle, newfangled materials and the like—but I prefer my Black Diamond Traverses. They're lightweight yet strong and simple, and employ BD's fail-proof FlickLock mechanism that tenaciously locks 'em to length. A rubber grip extension allows an immediate choke-up when traversing or climbing steeply. And when steep summer snow or ice impedes, swap out the pole's top half for a Whippet, BD's gadget that acts like an ice ax and converts your pole to a handy self-arrest tool.

Hesitant to add a half-pound to each hand? Not me. Instead I'm resting easy when they double as tent poles—the ones I didn't have to lug. Who's laughing now?

Chad Harder

SteriPEN, $50

If a pan of water is left out in the sunshine, the UV light will supposedly sterilize the liquid. This gadget makes me feel as if I have my own portable, non-scorching sun at the ready.

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The SteriPEN water filtration system fits into a water bottle and stirs away viruses, bacteria and protozoa. Always on the prowl for ways to shed weight from my pack, I found the 4-ounce device makes a perfect substitute for bulkier water filters. To use it, simply stir it in a liter of water and, 90 seconds later, by using UV light, 99.9 percent of the germs you pray you never get are eliminated. Quick, easy, effective—but admittedly kind of weird. I'm willing to take a chance, though. My sci-fi toy has found a permanent place on my pack.

Noël Phillips

GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Dualist Ultralight Cookset, $65

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There's a special feeling of elation only a backpacker can understand when gear fits together so strategically and perfectly that it resembles little Russian nesting dolls. That's exactly how I felt when I laid my hands on the GSI Dualist cook system two summers ago while perusing REI and wondering how to spend my dividend. Complete with two insulated mugs with lids, two bowls, and a hard-anodized 1.8-liter pot with strainer lid, it is the ultimate in lightweight cookware organization. My wife and I even cut out the set of bowls, use our mugs for both, and are able to fit a fuel canister, lighter, and bottle of Campsuds in with this tight little bundle of goodness. You definitely can't go wrong with this system, unless you like bulky and heavy, but then you have some other issues that need to be tended to.

Noah Couser

Coleman 425 camp stove, $80

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My Coleman 425 white gas camp stove isn't the newest, the most innovative, or the sexiest piece of equipment I own. In fact, the basic design is almost 100 years old and the dirty green box always looks like it came out of an ancient crawl space at a church camp. But it works. Quite well, actually. It's a robust, elegantly simple design that inspires me with confidence in the field. Yes, rookies will need a mulligan when lighting it for the first time. On the other hand, it's hard to break, and if it ever does malfunction (mine hasn't in 20 years), it's thoroughly user-serviceable. You can come by fuel and spare parts at most hardware stores. When I head out, I like knowing that it's going to be harder to find the ripe huckleberries for pancake batter than it will be to heat the griddle.

Matt Gibson

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