Gear Picks of the Year: Desert
1. The SunglassesMost interchangeable-lens sunglasses require Greco-Roman wrestling between fingers and frame to swap lenses. With the Smith Optics Interlock shades, available in three styles, you simply twist the temple piece to unlock the frame, pop one of three included lenses in or out, twist to secure and you're done ($139; smithoptics.com).
2. The Solar ChargerGo Green Yes, the Solio Classic pulls power from the sun like any portable solar charger—but it's how the device works that's revolutionary. Instead of all-day trickle-charging, it stores power in a battery, which then charges your small electronic device (phone, iPod, digicam) at normal speeds whenever you want ($100; solio.com).
3. The Overnight PackYou lose enough water in the desert—who needs a sweaty back on top of it? As in many of its competitors, the suspension in the 2,500-cubic-inch (40,968-cubic-centimeter) Kelty Locus 40 creates a space between your back and the pack, but it also vents on the top, bottom, and sides, even when fully loaded ($150; kelty.com).
4. The MultitoolThe desert pares things down to their most essential, which is what Leatherman did with its Skeletool CX. By eliminating the casing to expose the bones, Leatherman lightened its newest offering to a trim five ounces (142 grams). The beautifully sculpted hunk of steel doesn't go overboard—it has only a knife, pliers/wire cutter, and a screwdriver with extra bits—but it has exactly what you need ($96; leatherman.com).
5. The Hydration SystemThink of it as assisted drinking: Pump a little air into the 70-ounce (1,984-gram) PolarPak Moflow hydration reservoir and water runs like a river. No more sucking like mad to get hydrated. And, with the optional shower head (available this spring), dishwashing and backcountry hose-downs are easy options ($32; polarpak.com).
6. The OpticsThe vast open space of the desert (not to mention the search for rock art or ruins) begs for binoculars, but who wants the weight? At just 3.2 ounces (91 grams), the Brunton Echo Zoom monocular is the solution. The one-lens wonder goes from 10x to 30x with a twist of the dial ($44; brunton.com).
7. The Off-Road VehicleThe roughest path to the trailhead is in the desert, and no stock vehicle is better engineered for loose and broken tracks than the Volkswagen Touareg 2. The small SUV is capable of navigating 35-degree side slopes, sports adjustable ground clearance, and has a computer to control descents so you don't have to touch the brakes. The gasoline-driven V-8 gets miserable mileage, but the new V-10 diesel is more powerful and still gets 22 mpg on the highway ($59,140; volkswagen.com)..