Outfit Me! April 27th, 2022 Edition

Outfit Me! You Ask, We Outfit.

Hey Outside! I’m doing a three-night hike near Cutthroat Pass in North Cascades National Park. I’m pretty experienced camping in my nearby spots in Virginia (Smokies, Dolly Sods, Blue Ridge, etc.). But this is my first trip to the Cascades and my first backpacking trip out west. It’s going to be late October when I go with friends from Seattle, and I want to stay warm, dry and comfortable the whole time. Please Outfit Me!

-Elissa, 37 [She/Her/Hers], Annandale

At Outside, we’ve spent enough time rambling in the wild Cascades to know you are going to have an incredible time. Probably.

Why ‘probably?’ Because while the North Cascades’ craggy, glaciated peaks make for some of the best backpacking in the world, it’s also prone to some wicked weather. All those glaciers come from somewhere, and the range’s uber-steep peaks and prominent volcanoes can suck in Pacific storms pretty much any time of year. Weather is a bit more predictable July-September, but those squalls will intensify and become constant riiiiiiight about the time you’ll be showing up.

You’ll still have a great time: October is larch-peeping season, when the needles of these rare, high-altitude conifer trees turn a brilliant yellow. Cutthroat Pass is ground zero for finding larch groves, and we’ve had plenty of clear, crisp fall days in October looking for them, so you might luck out. But we’ve also been howled off the mountain by a surprise dump of rain or snow. Ick.

So best to be prepared. You’ve backpacked before, so we’ll skip basics like the 10 essentials and focus on a few pieces of Cascade-proven gear that will make your trip fun and safe—whether the mountains want to cooperate or not. Bonus: We’ll even give you $100 to help you get kitted out.

Outside | Shop | Sierra Designs Get Down 20-degree Sleeping Bag

Water-resistant Sleeping Bag

Don’t expect a balmy eastern-mountain night: A fall night in the Cascades at altitude can range from frosty to bone-chilling—and that’s without moisture in the forecast. Even if you have a bag, now’s the time to upgrade to a truly bulletproof model that will serve you well on chilly adventures yet to come. We’d prescribe either a synthetic or hydrophobic down bag, both of which will keep you warm even when wet. Hydrophobic down gets the edge over synthetic because they’re typically lighter and more compressible. The downside is they’re often too expensive. Not so with Sierra Designs Get Down 20-degree Sleeping Bag: We’ve vetted it in so many cold and wet situations that Backpacker declared it an Editors’ Choice winner.

REI | Big Agnes Sidewinder SL 20
However, side sleepers might prefer the Big Agnes Sidewinder SL 20, which is slightly wider and has hood openings and zippers that might accommodate you better if you’re prone to rolling over at night. It also features strips of synthetic insulation around the hips and ankle regions to help rebuff the cold ground.

Outside | Shop | Rumpl Puffy Blanket
If you sleep extra chilly or can’t afford a new bag, consider taking the Rumpl down blanket or a lightweight sleeping bag liner like the Sea To Summit Thermolite Reactor, which can boost your bag’s rating by 15 degrees or more.
Norrøna | Norrøna Falketind

Hard Shell Jacket

A hard shell waterproof jacket is a lifesaver when late fall Cascades squalls blow in. But it’s no good to keep rain out only to get swamped out on the inside: You’ll need to balance breathability with protection based on how much you sweat when you hike with a loaded pack. The Norrøna Falketind does both better than almost any other jacket, and features top-shelf details like asymmetrical cuffs that help funnel rain off your arms, a cut that fits over winter layers, and well-placed pockets. Caveat: It’s expensive.

Patagonia | Torrentshell
If the Falketind’s high price is too much to swallow, the Patagonia Torrentshell offers great protection and durability for a third of the price (it sacrifices some breathability, however).

Backcountry | Rab Downpour Alpine Jacket
Ultralighters who don’t need a full zip should consider the anorak-style Rab Downpour Alpine Jacket for women, or the men’s equivalent, the Rab Phantom Pull-On. At a gossamer 3.1 oz., it’s the lightest shell on the market. In spite of its minimalist features and design, the Phantom still stood up to driving Pacific Northwest rain and 70-mph wind gusts.
Outside | Shop | Jetboil Flash Cooking System

Hot Drinks

Statistically, it’s likely that at least one of your days will be mostly misty and wet — which means chill time with good company and a hot cup of your favorite bev. The JetBoil Flash cooking system shaves a whole minute off the stove’s already best-in-class boil time so you can cozy up to tea, coffee, or soup in about a minute and a half.

Outside | Shop | Stanley Classic Legendary Camp Mug
Once ready, this Stanley Classic Legendary Camp Mug will keep that drink as hot as the moment you made it for hours. One of our testers once fell asleep with an evening coffee and woke up to find it still hot the next morning for their alpine start. Hot tip: You might want to let your brew cool off a bit before pouring.

Backcountry | Mountainsmith Mountain Shade
Finally, you’re going to need a place to hang while you imbibe. Sure, you and your friends could cram into a single tent or holler at each other through your individual tent walls. But in all but the worst weather, you’ll be a lot more comfortable and have a lot more fun under a tarp. The 12x12 Mountainsmith Mountain Shade offers shelter for at least three adults and can be rigged as a picnic shade, lean-to, A-frame, and more. Since Cutthroat Pass is near treeline, you’ll need that versatility. And if you aren’t sure how to set up a tarp, here’s four methods every backpacker should know.


Outfit Me! You Ask, We Outfit.