The Worst Hiking and Backpacking Gear of 2016

Worst Backpacking Gear of 2016 has been called America’s Test Kitchen of Hiking and Backpacking Gear because we don’t pull any punches in our product reviews. We use the products we review in the field and try hard to explain the circumstances where they provide the most benefit. But if a product is defective or doesn’t deliver on the manufacturer’s claims, we’ll tell you about it. There aren’t that many other publications out there, online or in print, that will do the same.

We don’t expect gear to fail when we review it at SectionHiker. In fact, we view it as a waste of time because we want gear that performs properly when we go hiking and backpacking with it. We figure you do to, which is why we feel duty-bound to report it our readers when gear fails on our trips.

Here then are the absolute worst products we reviewed this year, the complete fails that didn’t come close to cutting the mustard because of manufacturing or design defects that were too egregious to overlook:

Coating the exterior of the ColdSparks with Freesole Urethane helped hold them together for a few weeks longer, but now they're toast
Coating the exterior of the Coldsparks boots with Freesole Urethane helped hold them together for a few weeks longer after the rand stitching popped out and tore.

Vasque Coldspark UltraDry Winter Hiking Boots (click for review)

Vasque is usually a reliable winter hiking boot manufacturer, but the Coldsparks were a complete fail. Contrary to the manufacturers claims, they’re not waterproof which is a problem when stomping through puddles full of cold rain and slush. We continued using them in the weeks following the publication of our review only to have the rand stitching pop out and the exterior softshell cover over the inner breathable boot tear open. Coating the exterior with urethane (Freesole) helped hold them together for a few more weekends worth of hiking, but they’re toast. These boots didn’t last more than 100 miles of autumn and early winter hiking. They retail for $140. Ouch.

The-Therm-a-Rest SpeedValve leaks unless you close it just so...
The Therm-a-Rest SpeedValve leaks unless you close it just so…

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite MAX SV (Click for review)

Therm-a-Rest’s SpeedValve Technology for rapidly inflating and deflating air mattresses met with a speed bump this year, when many customers experienced mysterious mattress deflations at night, only to wake up on the cold hard ground. What worked in the design lab, didn’t work when customers got their hands on it. Unless you close the SpeedValve so the inner black plastic liner doesn’t have any folds in it, it will leak air at night. However, there’s no way to know if there are folds in the plastic liner (cause you can’t see them) unless your pad deflates, something we experienced when we tested this product in the field. Therm-a-Rest acknowledged the problem and is working on a solution. The NeoAir Xlite Max SV retails for $180. Oops.

The CAMP Minima SL 1 tent becomes a steam bath when the front vestibule is closed in inclement weather transferring a massive amount of internal condensation onto the occupant despite being a double-walled tent.
The CAMP Minima SL 1 tent becomes a steam bath when the front vestibule is closed in inclement weather transferring a massive amount of internal condensation onto the occupant despite being a double-walled tent.

CAMP USA Minima SL 1 Tent (click for review)

CAMP is another company that usually makes awesome ultralight technical gear, but the Minima SL 1 Tent they sent us to review as a total fail. This tiny tent, one step up from a bivy bag, has very little interior space and suffers from very poor ventilation including massive internal condensation transfer even though it’s a double-walled tent.

Billed as a three and a half season tent sufficient for light winter camping, we were dumbfounded at how much internal condensation occurred when using the tent in early winter conditions and at how cramped and difficult it is to sleep in. Weighing just over two pounds, it’s a heady scratcher why anyone would want this miniaturized one person tent when there are so many tents available today that weigh far less, are more weather worthy, and provide far better livability at a comparable price. The CAMP Minima SL 1 retails for $249.95. Give this one a pass.

The sidewalls of the Zero 1 Tent billow into the interior in the slightest wind because tent lacks side pul out and has a fixed floor sewn to the walls.
The sidewalls of the Zero 1 Tent billow into the interior in the slightest wind because the tent lacks side pull outs and has a fixed floor, sewn to the walls.

Zerogram Zero 1 UL tent (click for review)

The Zero 1 is another miniature-sized tent that fails in anything but perfect weather due to lack of ventilation, internal condensation buildup, and the fact that the walls billow inward onto the occupant in the slightest wind. When I reviewed this tent, I though I’d received a defective model so I sent it back to the manufacturer for a replacement, explaining what I thought was wrong with the first tent I’d received. The second tent I received was identical to the first. Initially sold by MassDrop, the Zero 1 tent is now available on Amazon for $229.99. If you want a laugh, read the product description posted there.

What were your biggest new gear fails this year?

Written 2016.

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  1. Yipes. The description of the Zero Gram needs a wee bit of work doesn’t it?


    • Someone with a little product knowledge could have a nice job rewriting Amazon product descriptions for companies that sell there…this one reads like a lampoon of tent product descriptions.

  2. Phillip

    Keep up the good work in the honesty department. Pull no punches. I do not have access to as much equipment as yourself, and I need someone to cut through the hype before I lay my money down, or more importantly have it fail when I really need it the most. Wish more retailers, companies, and the gear industry as a whole would stop with the hype. Doesn’t help when a self titled magazine is not better.

    Thank you for your hard work!!

  3. With all due respects, please add Microspikes to that list. The basic product was great years ago, but it needs updating. Kahtoola needs a wake up call. Unfortunately, Microspikes are the only light-weight traction that fit my size 13 Olympus Mons–a gigantic boot. I use them because I don’t want to wear down my crampons (or boots which have a soft sole) in mixed season. Even when fitted with the proper size according to Kahtoola’s specs, Microspikes slide around on the boot on steep terrain, pop off, and wear down quickly. I just lost one half to a brand new pair over the weekend. Kahtoola should not make them in black (red was fine); you cannot easily spot them against a mixed terrain trail. Microspikes need a binding strap (like Hillsound, which cost less) or a “safety strap” like what skis used to have before snow break bindings were invented.

    • Ken domino – while it won’t solve the problem on terrain that is just way too harsh for the micro spikes, there’s an easy field modification you can make to help those things stay on.

      This is going to be hard to describe but I’ll do my best. Assuming you have the original red ones, you’ll notice two “holes” in the back of the microspiked on the upper rear rubber section that sits above your heel. What you’ll do is you’ll tie some thin webbing or another choice of material to those two holes and then you’ll lace that forward around the ankle of your boot.

      I believe this can be done from the front as well. At the least it’ll be very hard for them to come off going uphill. If you are able to alter the front in the Same way it’ll help with the downhill. Hope that makes sense.

  4. You would think paying premium prices for such expensive gear, that the stuff work work as intended! This just goes to show you don’t always get what you pay for. I’ve been able to find perfectly acceptable gear for lower prices a lot of times. Sometimes it’s a gamble, sometimes it’s compromise. Thanks for taking one for the team and testing this stuff :D

  5. That product description is pure genius! 1 means ZERO!? My life is now complete with this knowledge! Thank you Phil! Appreciate you taking the time to give us these honest reviews!!

  6. I returned a Big Agnes three wire bivy a few years ago because the foot box was not EVENT, unlike the rest of the bivy.

    The line between 1 person tent and poled bivy very blurry now

  7. Shoe Goo is perennially a fail for me. I’ve used it on soccer cleats and hiking shoes over the last 2 years. I’m finally out of the tube I bought and good riddance. My soccer cleats barely lasted a few more games before the sole would start falling off again. I used the last remaining Goo to try to hold together the toe/sole on old La Sportiva Ultra Raptors, and on my other foot used Seam Grip same spot. After one wet hike the Shoe Goo basically loses all grip and collects dirt. It reminds me of hot glue sticks when I was a kid.

    Other fail are Yaktrax Run. Yaktrax sent me a pair last year for free to gear test for my site. I also own Yaktrax Pro. The difference is the Pro are all coils, while the front of the Run has carbide steel spikes instead, supposedly an upgrade to have better traction. Although I like the extra webbing above the toe, the carbide spikes all bent after one use! I guess they didn’t realize the small base plates the spikes were attached to weren’t enough to keep the spikes stable. I bent all the spikes back into place, but they’re now less stable. Each time I hit a hard surface the spikes are rendered useless.

    • Use Aquaseal instead. Shoe Goo tends to not bind on a flexible surface. Aquaseal will. I have a 20-year-old pair of nylon waders that I’ve torn on barbed wire, thorns, and other things in and out of rivers. The stuff works.

      • I use Seam Grip, it works very well. I just used Shoe Goo as a comparison because it is cheaper in larger volume.

  8. Re the Vasque boots: the treads seem to have worn down on them awfully quickly too, didn’t they?

    • They were never that deep to begin with. I think the idea was to make it feel more like a trail runner than a boot. They certainly felt that way when I first tried them, which I did like.

  9. I wouldn’t say it’s a complete fail but I was expecting the Esbit stove to perform better.

  10. Komperdell Power Lock hiking poles. Not only do the power locks fail to the point of having to screw them so tight the poles are no longer adjustable, I broke two poles off in situations that they shouldn’t have broken in. Hasn’t happened with the replacement Lekis.

    And the Sawyer squeeze bags are still a major fail for me. No matter how carefully I handle them they eventually spring leaks.

    • We switched from Komperdell to the Fizan poles (which make frequent rounds on Massdrop) and hiked them all summer and fall with no locking (or any other) issues. They’re not the lightest poles ever, but we’ve not been gentle on them and they’re still surprisingly solid.

  11. I nominate Nikwax waterproofing wax for leather. It just has no durability; it doesn’t take long before the leather is wetting out again. I’m going back to Sno-Seal.

    • And I thought I was crazy or using it wrong. I’ve used it on some casual shoes and seen virtually no effect. I was just looking for some water to bead off rather than full waterproofing, but it didn’t even offer that.

  12. Big Agnes Insulated Double Z……. I returned TWO last year due to leakage. I could not locate the leaks.

    One of them went flat the first time out. Woke up on the ground. I re-inflated 3-4 times that night. Never buy one again.

    Big Agnes finally sent a Two Track self-inflating pad…… So far, so good.

    Klymit V for me……

  13. After reading the Amazon description for the Zerogram Zero 1 I wonder if perhaps they have launched every zig for great justice!

  14. Thanks for posting these honest reviews Phillip.

    I’ve always heard rumors, in whispered hushed words, that other big backpacking publications essentially write their reviews and publicize only products from their paid advertisers. It’s good to know that there’s someone outside field testing stuff in real world conditions that isnt a paid corporate mouthpiece.

  15. Absolutely Terrific !!! It’s about time someone writes the truth, You’d never see a write up of the “Worst Gear” in Backpacker Mag

    Well Done ? ?????

  16. RE: Zero 1 description. So Philip, by giving a negative review can we assume you do not care for “rain music?”

  17. Sea to Summit Nylon Poncho – The cheap plastic snaps would not stay fastened. Very aggravating. I took it to a local company that makes custom boat covers to have some real snaps installed.

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