SectionHiker.com 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:
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.
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.
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 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.Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.