Updated for Spring/Summer 2016
Backpacking season is kicking off, and there’s no better time to make upgrades to your kit. If you feel that upgrading is basically synonymous with cutting weight, then you’ve come to the right place. I’m going to outline the best OR product in every category of a summer backpacking layering system to use in the mountains. What’s particularly great about OR’s backpacking gear is that no matter how ultralight or thin a product is, it is still backed by our lifetime warranty called the Infinite Guarantee.
To make this list, a product must have come with me personally on multiple trips as well as be considered light for its class, multipurpose, and just durable enough.
Hard Shell Top - Helium II Jacket, $159 (M's 6.4 oz, W's 5.5 oz Simply put, this jacket is awesome. It’s totally waterproof, extremely lightweight, and very affordable. It’s everything you need in a backpacking shell and nothing you don’t. There is simply no downside to it. Of particular note is its most important feature (or lack thereof): Weight. At 6.4 ounces, it weighs about half as much as the average rain shell. Considering that this is a summer gear list and the jacket will mostly live in your pack, there is no need for something heavy duty. It comes with my highest recommendation. Shop Men’s Helium II Jacket. Shop Women’s Helium II Jacket.
Hard Shell Bottom – Helium Pants, $119 (5.4 oz). If the forecast is sketchy, it’s usually worth bringing rain pants. No matter the weather outcome, you always win if you packed Helium Pants. If it rains, you’ll be drier. If it doesn’t rain, you’ll have only carried 5.4 extra ounces and they still hold value as a wind layer for chilly traverses through the alpine. For most summer trips, rain pants will spend most of their time in a backpack, which is why weight is more important than anything else. Shop Helium Pants
Puffy - Filament Jacket, $265 (M's 8.8 oz, W's 6.7 oz). Like the Helium II, this jacket weighs roughly half of the average puffy and is still warm enough to get the job done on most summer trips. It’s the textbook definition of a high warmth-to-weight ratio and a go-to piece of gear. It represents one of the highest potential weight savings per dollar on this gear list, and I can’t recommend it enough. The Filament Jacket is the puffy I bring for nightly temperatures no lower than the upper 30s, depending on how much time I plan to spend around camp. If you're concerned that it wouldn't be warm enough, remember that you can always hang out in a sleeping bag. Shop Men’s Filament Jacket. Shop Women’s Filament Jacket.
Mid-Layer Top – Deviator Hoody, $185 (M's 10.7 oz, W's 9.3 oz). The Deviator is great because it combines the warmth of a light puffy vest with the breathability and stretchiness of a grid-fleece hoody (the fleece is ridiculously stretchy). It’s just as good for hiking in cool weather as it is for wearing around camp in the evening, and I especially love the zipper-free hand pockets. But don’t take my word, it’s also won endorsements from magazine’s like Backpacker and Runner’s World. Be prepared to size up though. Depending on who you ask, it runs between one half and a whole size smaller than average. Shop Men's Deviator Hoody. Shop Women's Deviator Hoody.
Base Layer Top – Echo L/S Zip Tee, $59 (M's 4.3 oz, W's 3.4 oz). Breathable, stretchy and light. Those are the three most important fabric traits in a base layer shirt, and the Echo has them in spades. As an added bonus, this chassis comes with my three favorite features for hot summer days: Long sleeves for sun protection (they can always be rolled up), a chest zip for venting, and a collar which provides a little extra insurance against any part of the neck that might not have been fully covered in sun screen. Shop Men’s Echo L/S Zip Tee. Shop Women’s Echo L/S Tee (Same great fabric, unfortunately with no collar or 3/4 zip).
Pants – Ferrosi Convertible Pants, $89 (M's 11.8 oz, W's 10.8 oz). There’s no sense packing shorts and pants or having to decide between the two when they’ve lovingly been combined into the same piece. On longer trips, you’ll almost always use both modes. The Ferrosi fabric is durable, breathable and extremely stretchy. These pants will never impair your stride, even on the longest, scrambling lunges you can imagine. Shop Men’s Ferrosi Convertible Pants. Shop Women's Ferrosi Convertible Pants.
Though I do work for Outdoor Research, I was not asked to write this article and the gear evaluations and recommendations are my own. See you on the trail!