In an effort to help your wallet (and mine), I've looked back at gear touted by Backpacker Magazine in their 2014 and 2015 gear guide issues and scoured Sierra Trading Post's website to find durable backpacking products that won't break the bank.
Gear Guide: Backpacks
High Sierra Tech 2 Lightning 35 Backpack: Testers loved the gear storage this smaller bag packed with its stretch mesh pouch, bungee lid, daisy chain attachment options and detachable shoulder strap pocket. The backpack's well-padded suspension system keeps heavy loads stable, but it does make the pack's weight a little heavy for its size. Our price: $79.95 (compare at $119.99).
Bergans of Norway Rondane Backpack - 65L: Field testers were impressed at how well this lightweight backpack held up after more than 30 days in the field. Testers also loved the pack's three openings for easy access: a top-loading space, a sleeping bag compartment at the bottom and a U-shaped opening in the front. Our price: $129.95 (compare at $199.00).
Gregory J63 Backpack: This women-specific pack was touted for the breathability its tensioned suspension provides. This pack's suspension system actually allowed testers to feel a breeze between their back and the pack. The detachable rainfly is an added feature that kept the bag dry in rainstorms and slot canyons. Our price: $179.95 (compare at $239.00).
Gear Guide: Trail Shoes
Saleway Firetail Evo Gore-Tex: Testers raved about this shoe's protection and grip. This light trail shoe is nimble and sturdy, making it a top pick for backpackers and climbers carrying heavy loads. Our price: $69.95 (compare at $149.00).
Dynafit Pantera S: This trail runner's Vibram outsole helped testers grip wet rock and loose dirt but slipped in mud. The layer of blown rubber at the top of the midsole helped hikers stay comfortable even on hard-packed trails. Our price: $69.95 (compare at $139.95).
Hoka One One Mafate Speed: With a sole that was compared to a monster truck, the absorption powers of this shoe allowed testers with achy joints cover 10 plus miles with no complaints. Despite the sole's thickness, this shoe remains light in weight. Our price: $99.95 (compare at $170.00).
Vasque Breeze 2.0 Low: Testers said the support of this trail shoe is similar to that a of a higher cut boot. The low cut helps keep the shoe agile for tough terrain. Minor complaint: its lack of a rubber toe rand caused scuffing to show after 150 miles of wear. Our price: $69.95 (compare at $130.00).
Gear Guide: Tents
Sierra Designs Flashlight 2 Tent: Testers were nervous about this non-freestanding tent's unconventional appearance, but the awnings and waterproof walls that replace classic vestibules kept campers dry in an Olympic National Park rainstorm. The appearance trade-off keeps the tent light (3lbs, 12oz) and spacious, providing comfort for a 6'7" tester. Our price: $169.95 (compare at $269.95).
Sierra Designs Flash 2 Tent: Another tent with an unconventional design, the Flash 2 offers gear sheds (just large enough to fit a pack and boots) in place of vestibules. This tent works to save weight in its design rather than in pricey, lightweight materials, which allows the durable tent to remain affordable. Our price: $189.95 (compare at $299.95).
Gear Guide: Sleeping Bags & Sleeping Pads
Exped Synmat Lite 5 L: Testers loved the average-sized version of this sleeping pad (Sierra Trading Post carries it in a long size) for its price point and year-round warmth. While this pad is warm and provides plenty of cushion, it doesn't pack down quite as small as some ultra-lightweight sleeping pads. Its weight (1lb, 8.9oz) still makes it a great pad for long trips. Our price: $59.95 (compare at $99.00).
The North Face 20 Degree Cat's Meow: This sleeping bag kept testers warm in chilly conditions with a cinchable hood that was compared to that of a puffy expedition jacket and a size that was roomy, but not spacious enough to leak heat. Thin quilting on the bottom of this bag makes it best for back sleepers. Our price: $129.95 (compare at $169.00).
Sierra Designs 29 Degree Backcountry Bed: This zipperless sleeping bag won the hearts of editors enough for them to make it one of their top choices in 2014. The zipper-free design allows for a wider comfort range and easy exits. It was said to have "the thermal efficiency of a mummy with the roll-around comfort of a mattress-and-quilt system." Our price: $149.95 (compare at $239.95).
Gear Guide: Shell Jackets
Marmot Crux: This waterproof shell kept testers dry on Colorado mountain passes and in all-day rainstorms in the Mt. Hood Wilderness. Patches on the shoulders and hips increase abrasion resistance, and a helmet-compatible hood that cinches can keep your noggin dry with or without protective headwear. Our price: $139.95 (compare at $275.00).
Mountain Hardwear Super Chockstone: Praised for its durability, this lightweight softshell jacket didn't sustain any snags through miles of off-trail forest travel in Wyoming and Indiana. The DWR finish on this jacket kept testers dry in light, all-day rain. Our price: $79.95 (compare at $135.00).