The Right Gear: Comfort to Go

Credit: Steve Casimiro
When the phrase "fast-and-light" was coined in the early nineties, it was a watchword for sawed-off toothbrushes and packs made from parachute material. The movement was inspiring, for sure, but left most of us wondering where to stuff that extra pair of underpants.

As Contributing Editor Dan Duane discovers in Range of Light, going fast-and-light today doesn't mean sacrificing comfort, thanks to a revolution in materials and design. This summer a slew of pack makers are introducing new super light day and weekend haulers that key in on hiker satisfaction, with innovative suspension systems and sweat-free technologies.

Apparel companies are following suit with a new generation of high-performance, ultralight shells that you'll look forward to wearing. After a month of trail testing, here is the best of whats new.

Editors Pick
Multipurpose
Packing more features than a shiny new Treo, the seven-ounce North Face DIAD is the lightest full-function waterproof shell we've found. The hood is smartly designed to move with your head, pit zips provide air-conditioning, and welded seams cut the compressed size and weight.

Cushy
Waterproof like a hardshell, stretchy like a softshell, the GoLite Xirtam is the most comfortable weatherproof jacket available, period. A polyurethane membrane repels moisture, and a layer of soft tricot provides warmth and insulation. Its perfect for fall and unpredictable mountain weather.

Windproof
Whats next, spray-on wind protection? At two ounces, the womens Helly Hansen Venus barely caresses the scales, yet it still has the fortitude to block wind completely. The full-zip, no-hood design is ideal for cool morning runs or bike rides, and the jacket crushes down to the size of an orange. Be advised, though: It performs better in a drizzle than in a downpour.

Ever Dry
Gear geeks will argue the virtues of breathable and waterproof fabrics ad infinitum, but the Integral Designs eVent Rain Jacket defies debate. When I wore this shell on a hike in a moderate rainstorm and high humidity, it outperformed comparable jackets. Its the best way to combat the soupy conditions of the East, Midwest, or Northwest.

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