Must-Have Gear for Fall and Winter
Outdoor gear and tech for adventurers—with its use of performance fabrics and smart design to keep you comfortable, warm, dry, and connected—tends to be pretty great. But every season, a few products are better than great. They’re so extraordinarily designed, creative, or innovative, they can only be called one thing: the best. This year's selections are as functional as they are fantastic, from a bamboo water bottle to cold-repelling down sweaters to an electric motorcycle with a tax credit. —By Steve Casimiro
Photograph by Arc'teryx
With the Alpha SV, Arc’teryx reinvents the gauntlet glove: No longer does hand protection for the coldest, snowiest days have to feel like wearing oven mitts. By attaching the Alpha’s waterproof membrane directly to the outer shell, Arc’teryx reduces bulk, increases dexterity, and still retains warmth. The seams on the fingers have been moved, too, allowing unprecedented sense of touch with the tips ($275; www.arcteryx.com).
Photograph by Julbo
Photochromic sunglasses don’t work when you’re driving—or they didn’t until Julbo’s new Zulu sunglasses. The reason? Most photochromic lenses react to ultraviolet light, not visible, so when you’re driving behind UV-absorbing windows they won’t darken if the light gets brighter. But Zulu’s Falcon lens reacts to visible light, transitioning between 9 and 20 percent light transmission—and it’s polarized, too ($190; www.julbousa.com).
Photograph by The North Face
The North Face Kishtwar is a sublimely designed alpine jacket, perfect for a range of mountain activities from climbing to skiing and boarding, thanks to its fabric. Polartec Powershield Pro is a softshell—stretchy, soft, and comfortable—that comes amazingly close to hard shell waterproofness without giving up softshell’s biggest attraction, breathability. Unless you run a marathon in it, you’ll stay dry inside and out ($279; www.thenorthface.com).
Photograph by Scott USA
Cyclocross racing (think bike steeplechase) might be one of the most exciting and fastest growing segments of the bike world, but it’s still pretty small. So why are cross bikes like Scott’s CX Team selling so well? Because they make for perfect adventure rigs. The road-style frame is faster and lighter than a mountain bike, but it’s beefed up more than a road bike to handle the thrashing and mud of a cross course. Throw a leg over the 20-pound Scott and you can commute across the potholed urban landscape, then ride a dirt singletrack home. Cross bikes can go for as much as seven grand, but by using Shimano Ultegra components and other less weight-conscious parts, Scott keeps it within reach ($1,700; www.scottusa.com).
Photograph by Bamboo Bottle Company
The most strikingly beautiful new water bottle also gives you the purest drinking experience. Inside the bamboo shell is a 17-ounce glass bottle, which doesn’t contain BPA, doesn’t need a liner, and doesn’t retain the taste of liquids. The whole thing disassembles to throw in the dishwasher. While it’s a little heavy, it’s the best combination of good looks and safe drinking we’ve seen ($25; www.bamboobottleco.com).
Photograph by Montbell Co., Ltd.
Where have you been all our lives, MontBell U.L. Super Spiral Down Hugger sleeping bag? Despite the awkward name, the Super Spiral is the most comfortable bag we've ever spent the night in, thanks to a clever construction technique: MontBell placed the baffles at 45-degree angles and used a “gather stitch” to create elasticity, so if you wiggle and toss the bag stretches and moves with you. No more feeling like a sausage in a casing. This 0-degree model is stuffed with 800-fill goose down and weighs just under three pounds—ideal for crisp fall nights ($469; www.montbell.us).
Photograph by Canon U.S.A.
As camera phones improve, the only way point-and-shoots will remain relevant is to stay well ahead of their ubiquitous competition. Canon’s PowerShot S95 is so far ahead it’s in another time zone. It borrows a fat 10-megapixel sensor from semipro cousin G11, slips it into a smaller body, and adds 720p HD video capabilities—kind of like putting a race car engine in a Mini Cooper. You get better pictures, a smaller chassis, and video quality that will blow away the low-res you see on YouTube ($400; www.usa.canon.com).
Photograph by Patagonia, Inc.
Most of the time, you don’t need extreme protection, but when you do, you really need it. Patagonia’s M10 alpine shell is the jacket for just those blowing, sleeting, sporting kinds of situations. At almost 11 ounces, it’s the lightest three-layer waterproof-breathable Patagonia makes, but it’s a seemingly impenetrable fortress against the weather that makes inexpensive competitors feel like tissue paper. M10 has a slim fit—you don’t get to 11 ounces being bulky—but there’s some give built into the stretch-woven fabric for comfort ($399; www.patagonia.com).
Photography by Petzl USA
Although it sounds like something only geeks could love, the coolest development in the headlamp world is Petzl’s OS software and the XP2 light–combined with the CORE rechargeable battery pack, you now can control the light output and run time of your headlamp. Planning a ten-day backpacking trip? Reduce the lumens and stretch battery life to last. Night trail run? Pump up the brightness and batteries be damned. You have the power ($110 including software; www.petzl.com).
Shoe: Barefoot Running
Photograph by Vibram FiveFingers
Barefoot running, the biggest trend in the sport in decades, mostly isn’t—barefoot, that is. But Vibram’s unconventional FiveFingers come closest while still protecting your feet, and the recent model, the Bikila, is the most directly oriented toward running. The sock liner is more comfortable, the 3mm insole more protective, and the 4mm outsole better girded with thin plating. If you can get over your feet becoming a conversation piece wherever you run, there’s no better way to adopt “barefoot” fitness ($99; www.vibramfivefingers.com).
Photograph by Mervin Mfg
Split snowboards long ago became the tool of choice for backcountry riders, but rarely have they boasted heritage or technology as impressive as Lib Tech’s 164.5-centimenter (5-foot) Voila. Split boards, if you aren’t familiar, can split into two skis; their bindings rotate to point forward, and you apply climbing skins to the bottom to ascend under your own power. The Voila is based on the design snowboarding rock star Travis Rice rode to X Games glory: It features serrated edges between the bindings for hard-snow grip and a slight rocker, or curve, between your feet that helps flotation ($769; www.lib-tech.com).
Photograph by POC Sports
What matters most in your snow helmet isn’t venting, music, or Bluetooth phone connection—it’s protecting your egg. For the first time, a new helmet from POC Sports aims to reduce injuries and impact from the most common falls. If you do dump it and hit your head obliquely, the liner and shell of the Receptor Backcountry helmet are designed to rotate away from one another (a thin plastic pin holds them in place and breaks under stress), which absorbs some of the force to cushion your noggin and what’s in it ($250; www.pocsports.com).
Alpine Touring Boot
Photograph by Dynafit/Silvretta/Salewa North America
When you climb under your own power for your ski turns, every ounce counts. Manufacturers have long struggled to make lightweight boots sturdy enough to power today’s fat skis. At last, Dynafit has achieved the holy grail of alpine touring models, with the TLT5 Performance. The upper cuff is ultralight carbon fiber—that carbon makes it superstiff for downhill performance—but the tongue is the key to its uphill comfort. The detachable piece snaps off to give your foot and leg the fullest range of motion when climbing, then pops on for the descent ($1,000; www.dynafit.com).
Photograph by OtterBox
For all the exuberance surrounding Android smartphones, the iPhone 4 from Apple is easier to use, sports a sharper and brighter screen, and snaps higher quality photos and videos. And there are lots more apps, like the fantastic MotionX GPS ($2.99). Match the iPhone with MotionX and the rugged protective Defender case from OtterBox ($50; www.otterbox.com) and you get a weatherproof backcountry guide, too ($199-299; apple.com).
Photograph by Gerber
Opinions might be divided on survival TV host Bear Grylls, but they won’t be on his new signature model knife from Gerber. The Ultimate Knife is the real deal when it comes to outdoor utility. Despite our fascination with multitools, most survival experts say this is all you need: a reliable full-tang blade. Gerber’s is stainless steel and half serrated, with a stainless pommel for pounding, and a comfortable five-inch grip. Tucked into the sheath are sharpening stone, flint, and, folded into a pouch on the back, a mini waterproof survival guide ($60; www.gerbergear.com).
Photograph by Zero Motorcycles
While automobile makers are struggling to figure out electric plug-in vehicles, motorcycle companies have it wired, none better than Zero Motorcycles and its DS model. The Dual Sport is street legal and trail ready. So long as you watch the 50-mile (80-kilometer) range, it’s an amazing adventure rig—silent, nonpolluting, and costing just pennies per mile. And it qualifies for a federal tax credit that knocks a grand off the price ($9,995; www.zeromotorcycles.com).
Photograph by Equip Outdoor Technologies, LTD
These three extraordinarily warm and comfy down sweaters are so perfectly suited to the season, and so close to one another in fit and insulation, we had to feature all of them.
A) Rab’s 18-ounce Infinity jacket has an outer and inner shell of mega-light Pertex Quantum, the newest and lightest nylon from Pertex, and is puffed with 850-fill European goose down ($280; us.rab.uk.com).
Photograph by Westcomb
B) Westcomb’s first down product is the Chilko sweater, which uses Pertex Quantum, the same fabric used in high-end sleeping bags, and 850-fill down, but dispenses with the hood for a more streamlined look ($250; www.westcomb.com).
Photograph by Patagonia, Inc.
C) Patagonia’s Down Sweater Special Edition redefines lightweight warmth: Its helium-esque 900-fill down and gossamer nylon shell produce a midwinter staple that weighs about 10 ounces ($275; www.patagonia.com).
Photograph by V.I.O. Inc.
The top-notch imagery and ability to play back your videos in the field made the V.I.O. POV an early leader over the last four years in the booming helmetcam category, but its slow adoption of HD capability let competitors like GoPro catch up. Well, the race is on again, because POV.HD is here: The newest V.I.O. shoots high-def 30 frames a second at 1080p and up to 60 fps at 720. The quality is terrific—a clear leap ahead—and the camera itself is smaller. With 32GB of storage (five hours of HD footage) and battery life of 2.5 hours on HD, that HD might soon mean “high demand” ($599; www.vio-pov.com).
Photograph by SCARPA
Approach shoes have always been “tricky” to perfect and even trickier to describe accurately, but SCARPA’s Dharma Pro nails the first and we’ll attempt the second. This hiking/climbing hybrid was developed with input from Exum Mountain Guides in the Tetons where the approaches in question—hikes to the bases of climbs—are exceptionally long (two to five hours is common). Because hiking comfort is critical, SCARPA built more flexibility into the sole than a traditional approach shoe has, so each step rolls smoothly from heel to toe. Yet all the climbing features are still there—sticky rubber sole, lacing to the toe, and a well-defined edge for tiptoeing along ledges ($169; www.scarpa.com).
Photograph by Sugoi
As you become more devoted to road cycling, the first leap you make is into Lycra shorts; the second is into bibs, which are far more comfortable (and gap-free) when you’re in riding position. Women haven’t embraced bibs as fully as men have, likely because of their, um, less than expeditious removal when nature calls—but Sugoi’s RSEs could change that. Ten panels of fabric create an ultraflattering, comfy fit, and the chamois must be the most sophisticated women’s pad ever designed, with an air channel and mesh vents ($200; www.sugoi.com).
Photograph by Marmot Mountain, LLC
Cold-weather aerobic activities—the uphill part of ski touring, for example—require a garment as unique as Marmot’s Variant jacket. Your torso is protected by a layer of synthetic insulation, which keeps your core warm, while the arms and back are covered by breathable microfleece, which helps all that moisture you’re generating escape. It’s the coolest hybrid since the Prius ($140; www.marmot.com).
Photograph by Wenger Footwear
Whoever designed the Wenger Footwear Boar must have once suffered miserably cold feet and vowed never to do so again. Its first line of defense, 400-gram Thinsulate, is one of the toastiest insulations available. The second is OutDry, a new waterproofing barrier that’s laminated right to the outer. The third—and this is what convinced our feet—is a heating unit that sends wonderful radiating waves from beneath the ball of your foot. The battery is as no-nonsense as the boot, too—it gives you eight hours of heat on the high setting ($250; www.wengerna.com).
Photograph by Bell & Ross
Bell & Ross is nudging a half step away from the fighter plane instrumentation look, and the results are nice. The Vintage Original Beige opts for a more subtle look than you’d expect, but a timeless one, with classic leather strap and understated dial. The B&R looks like an heirloom timepiece, but you needn’t baby it—the 1.7-inch case is stainless steel, and, like any great gentleman’s watch, it’s submersible to 330 feet ($2,500; www.bellross.com).
Photograph by Nikon Inc.
With the introduction of the D3100, Nikon now offers a DSLR camera with the ability to shoot 1080p, the highest resolution video. But this entry-level rig isn’t just a catch-up to its rival—the 14-megapixel D3100 leapfrogs past Canon as the first DSLR to feature autofocusing in video mode. It’s a huge improvement that should bring DSLR videos out from the dark ages of manual focus ($700; www.nikonusa.com).
Photograph by Snowpulse SA
If you’re caught in an avalanche, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to whether you’ll get buried—but if you do come to a stop beneath the snow, your chances of staying alive plummet. That’s why the Snowpulse 30L backpack is one of the most exciting survival developments in decades. This daypack contains a large, 150-liter inflatable air bag that you deploy if you’re caught in a slide. By creating a larger silhouette, it keeps you atop the snow using the principle of “inverse segregation”—the way larger potato chips float to the top of the bag and crumbs go to the bottom. The air bag provides a protective barrier around and over your head and shoulders, too, to guard against injury ($1,099; www.snowpulse.com).
Photograph by El Naturalista
There’re boots and then there’re boots. If global weirding throws deeper snows or bigger storms at you, the El Naturalista Taiga 804 is ready, with a chunky tread made of natural and recycled rubber and a knee-high design of vegetable tanned leather ($350; www.elnaturalista.com).
Photograph by DeLorme
SPOT’s Satellite Communicator pairs with Delorme’s Earthmate PN-60w GPS to create nothing less than a communication revolution: Smart as they are, personal locator beacons such as SPOT are the equivalent of a signal fire—you can’t customize the message on the fly. But the Delorme/SPOT system lets you tap out a 41-character message to anyone (so long as you’ve set up their email or phone before leaving the grid). Now you can differentiate between getting lost, spraining an ankle, or a real emergency, like running out of coffee ($549.95 plus $100 per year SPOT service, assorted message plans available; www.delorme.com, www.findmespot.com).
Photograph by Briggs & Riley Travelware
For a simple product, the duffle can be remarkably sophisticated, and it’s the details that make the difference. High-end luggage maker Briggs & Riley brings the finishing of its most blue-blooded models to a new line of more rugged pieces: The BRX Exchange 26 duffle has a huge U-shaped opening to make packing or unpacking effortless, there are hidden backpack straps, and an expansion sleeve adds three inches of depth to the 4,000-cubic-inch carryall. Best of all, it weighs just three pounds, less than half the weight of smaller wheeled units ($160; www.briggs-riley.com).
Photograph by Rossignol
Picking a ski that can slide from East to West, in-bounds to out, and groomed runs to powder isn’t easy, but the Rossignol S6 does it and then some. For the last three years, every ski manufacturer has experimented with rocker in their skis, but Rossi has perfected it with its U-Rocker technology. The simplest way to grasp rocker is think of a banana shape applied to tip and tail—it makes turning in deep snow effortless, but requires a sophisticated application to not lose hard-snow grip. Rossi’s S6 Jib nails it. The twin-tip is 140 millimeters wide at the front, 110 at the waist, and 133 at the tail, which allows quick turns on the groomed trails but still has enough float for powder. ($800; www.rossignol.com).
Photograph by Rip Curl
When you’re clawing to make some ginormous Arctic storm-generated wave of the day, the last thing you want is your wetsuit holding you back. Rip Curl’s E-Bomb Pro Chest Zip 3/2 is the most stretchy we’ve tried: Its new E3+ neoprene in the back panel is 30 percent more flexible than previous models, which means paddling strokes aren’t inhibited in the slightest. The result? More energy, faster paddles, and an easier suit to get on and off ($270; www.ripcurl.com).