Must-Have Gear: Fall/Winter
Lighter, tougher, and smarter—that's what characterizes this season's best equipment. Whether it's an improvement on nature (such as water-resistant down) or more sophisticated use of electronics (such as a headlamp that anticipates your needs), these 24 items are better attuned to keeping you fresher, safer, and happier in the outdoors. —Steve Casimiro
Snow Goggles That Display Speed, Vertical, Weather Conditions
Photograph courtesy Smith
Smith’s Recon I/O
References to Top Gun, ironic or not, are inevitable when you’re wearing Smith’s Recon I/O goggles with a fighter pilot-style head's up display in the lower right corner of the lens. The MOD Live technology, licensed from Recon, shows your speed, location, vertical, air time, friend locations, temperature, and more—and with a recently released developer’s kit that allows customization, there’s no end to what can be created. Integration with phone? Yep. Heart-rate data? Yep. See what your GoPro sees? It’s possible. The metrics are tucked discreetly in the corner and appear to be floating about five feet in front of you on a 14-inch screen, so your eyes aren’t forced to refocus every time you peek at a speed check. You don’t need the I/Os ... but you’ll want them.
Get It: $650; www.smithoptics.com
World's Lightest Down Jacket
Photograph courtesy Mountain Hardwear
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer
The world’s lightest down jacket is light in everything but its ability to keep you warm. At fewer than eight ounces, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer is filled with an extremely high-lofted 850-fill goose down that starts toasting the second you put it on. And because high-loft down can be compressed easily by a heavy face fabric, Mountain Hardwear built the jacket with a soft, seven-denier nylon that lets the down puff to its puffy heart’s content. The minimalism doesn’t extend to features, though—there’s a helmet-friendly hood, full-length zipper, two zippered pockets, and drawstring hem.
Get It: $300; www.mountainhardwear.com
GPS Watch With Extended Battery Life
Photograph courtesy Garmin
Garmin Fenix GPS
The obvious selling point of the Garmin Fenix GPS watch is that it’s a darn good-looking altimeter-barometer-compass-global-positioning device. No nebbish calculator-style here. But underneath that pretty skin is a more important point—the Fenix’s rechargeable lithium battery runs up to 50 hours in GPS tracking mode. Compare that with 20 hours or so in a typical handheld GPS. Mapping is of course smaller and restricted to waypoints and tracks (no topo lines), but you can store up to a thousand points and share them with other Garmins and smart phones. And used right, it’ll still tell you where you are a week into your trip.
Get It: $400; www.garmin.com
Headlamp That Automatically Adjusts Light Intensity
Photograph courtesy Petzl
It takes some adjustment getting used to Petzl’s “reactive” Nao headlamp, which automatically alters its beam and intensity depending on where you’re looking. But once you’ve adapted to the dimming and brightening you realize you never want to go back to a “dumb” headlamp again. Point down the trail as you’re running and the Nao casts a bright, focused tunnel up to 355 lumens. Stop to tie your shoe and it shifts to a soft, wide blanket of about seven lumens, so you aren’t blinded. It switches modes quickly, without flickering, but if you’d rather a constant beam there’s an easy manual override. The one weakness of the rechargeable? Battery life. In smart mode, it gets from four hours and 40 minutes to eight hours, depending which of the two intensity ranges you’ve picked.
Get It: $175; www.petzl.com
Airbag Avalanche Vest
Photograph courtesy The North Face
The North Face Powder Guide ABS Vest
Inflatable avalanche backpacks have proven to be lifesavers in Europe and North America, and now the technology is expanding into apparel. The North Face Powder Guide ABS Vest uses the same system as ABS backpacks to fill airbags with nitrogen and help you float to the top of a tumbling snow torrent. The vest is worn over your shell and stashes the canister in a pocket, which is triggered with a small handle. There’s a plethora of pockets on front and back, including compartments for shovel head and handle and probes. Obviously, with its limited capacity, the vest is oriented toward sidecountry use, but adds one more significant bit of lifeline when you might not normally carry one.
Get It: $1,200; www.thenorthface.com
Minimalist Winter Running Shoe
Photograph courtesy New Balance
New Balance Winter 110
Barefoot running in winter? Sounds like a recipe for frostbite, right? But actually, with the New Balance Winter 110, you don’t have to abandon your minimalist running style when it gets wet, goopy, and cold. Based on the brand’s MT 100, the Winter 110 has a low-to-the-ground 4mm drop, an excellent feel for the trail, and, most important, a waterproof softshell upper and water-resistant gaiter. Too warm for the gaiter? It folds down and stays out of the way.
Get It: $125; www.newbalance.com
Photograph courtesy Burton
As the name would imply, Burton’s not telling a whole lot about their pricy, most hi-tech board ever. What they will say is that it’s the lightest board in their history. And if you’ve ridden a really light board in the past and are thinking ... whippy, you’d be mistaken. Because Burton took a whole lot of fiberglass out of the mix and replaced it with stupid-rigid carbon fiber to make a board that’ll rip hard and hold edges like nothing ever invented. They kept it playful, too, with camber underfoot for quick turn initiation and rocker everywhere else, for greater float in crud and powder. Lastly, you get stainless steel edges so they won’t rust and will stay razor sharp longer.
Get It: $1,500; www.burton.com
Super Light Travel Bag
Photograph courtesy Osprey
Osprey Ozone 22
Whether you’re checking a bag or stuffing it into an overhead compartment, every ounce counts. And most 22-inch rolling bags—the standard compatible with overheads—weigh seven pounds or more. But Osprey’s Ozone 22 tips the scales at slightly more than half that: four pounds, seven ounces. It feels like helium by comparison. But there’s still plenty of organization, with zippered pockets on the front outside and a rear panel perfect for stashing an iPad. And while the styling isn’t exactly inspired, that’s not such a bad thing. Why call attention to a bag so easily carried away?
Get It: $230; www.ospreypacks.com
Comfortable Backcountry Ski Boot
Photograph courtesy Dynafit
Alpine skiing boots have it relatively easy—make ‘em stiff, don’t let them pinch, who cares how they walk. Backcountry touring boots—make them light, let them flex easily for the climbing, give them just enough oomph for the down. High-performance freeride backcountry boots? That’s trickier—but Dynafit killed it on both fronts with the three-buckle Vulcan. The 1,600-gram boot is stiff as the dickens, ideal for ripping a high-speed line or banging precision turns in scoured snow. But rather than using an ineffective flexing ski/walk mode for the uphills, the Vulcan’s lightweight carbon cuff simply opens wide and the tongue pops out so your leg can move freely as you skin. The effect is like walking in a sneaker, and what could be more comfortable than that?
Get It: $999; www.dynafit.com
Stylish, Functional Food Canisters
Photograph courtesy Klean Kanteen
Klean Kanteen Food Canisters
By accident, I discovered that Klean Kanteen water bottles keep things cold a surprisingly long time—I filled a bottle with ice, topped it with water, and set it beside the bed. The next morning, most of the ice was still there, and the water stayed cold more than a day. Now Klean Kanteen is bringing sleek stainless steel styling and impressive insulating properties to food canisters. Available in 8 and 16 ounces, insulated and non, the canisters are perfect for car camping—they’re leakproof, durable, airtight (though not bearproof)—and look pretty sweet on the kitchen counter, too.
Get It: Starting at $18; www.kleankanteen.com
Down-Fleece Hybrid Jacket
Photograph courtesy Patagonia
Patagonia Nano Puff Hybrid
“Hybrid” is often code for neither fish nor fowl, but Patagonia’s Nano Puff Hybrid combines fabrics in a clever way: The upper arms, shoulders, and chest are covered with quilted face fabric atop a synthetic insulation, while the lower reaches use Polartec Thermal Pro High Loft fleece. The quilted area keeps you warmer in wind, snow, and light precip, while the fleecy section allows better breathability and venting. It’s designed to handle the tricky scenario of generating moderate body heat on a cold day—more warmth than a full fleece, less sweaty than a puffy—and it does it very well.
Get It: $249; www.patagonia.com
Resort-to-Backcountry Ski Binding
Photograph courtesy Salomon
Salomon Guardian 16
Backcountry, sidecountry, front country—to today’s adventurous skier, it’s all the same. And the pursuit of first tracks has gotten a lot simpler with Salomon’s Guardian 16 bindings, which combine traditional alpine binding stoutness with the ability to pivot for touring. Until the Guardian, the only touring binding from an alpine company was the Marker Duke; the Salomon sits lower on the ski, however (26mm lift compared with 36mm), which gives you a more traditional, natural, and comfortable feel, whether you're using it at the resort or in the backcountry. And you don’t have to exit the binding to switch between uphill and downhill modes.
Get It: $550; www.salomon.com
Waterproof iPhone Case
Photograph courtesy LifeProof
The iPhone does a lot of things, but surviving a dunking isn’t one of them—unless it’s covered with the LifeProof case. The gold standard for protecting your iPhone, the LifeProof is waterproof down to six feet (underwater video, anyone?), dustproof, and shock resistant. Putting your precious camera/GPS/fitness coach into the brine takes a leap of faith, but LifeProof water-tests every case before it leaves the factory (and you should verify at home, too). Phone controls are easy to use through the plastic screen, and you can even make speaker calls through it without sounding muffled. The case isn’t much bigger than the phone itself, so you can slip it into a pocket, unless you’re on the water, in which case LifeProof’s big foam bumper ($40) is recommended—so it will float if dropped overboard.
Get It: $80; lifeproof.com
Almost Silent Ski-Snowboard Roof Rack
Photograph courtesy Yakima
Whispbar WB300 Snow Mount
You don’t realize how loud your traditional rooftop rack is until you’ve driven with Yakima’s almost silent Whispbar. And you don’t realize how cool a ski rack can be until you’ve used Whispbar’s new WB300 Snow Mount. A cool ski rack? Actually, yes—the Snow Mount slips on top of the Whispbar and looks like it was sculpted from the fairing of a high-end German sports car or nabbed from some NASA Mars rover. In fact, it holds (and locks) up to six pairs of skis or four snowboards, and if you have high bindings you can get a three-inch lift for more roof clearance.
Get It: $249; www.yakima.com
Hands-Free Camera Accessories
Photograph courtesy GoPro
GoPro Wi-Fi BacPac and App
Love the GoPro hands-free camera, but taking off your helmet to change settings or verify that it’s recording is kind of a drag. Or, it was—the new Wi-Fi BacPac and remote control let you control your camera (up to 50, actually) as far away as 600 feet. The easiest hands-free camera just got easier. And it also got cooler: GoPro’s smart phone app lets you preview and control up to five cameras, then quickly upload clips to YouTube or Facebook—or send them to another phone or tablet.
Get It: $100; www.gopro.com
Water-Resistant Down Jacket
Photograph courtesy Sierra Designs
Sierra Designs Gnar Lite
Down has never been the insulation of choice as a midlayer except on the coldest days because your sweat squashes its ability to insulate. The radical new water-resistant DriDown in Sierra Designs’ Gnar Lite jacket has a hydrophobic treatment that stays dry ten times longer, holds its loft better, and dries faster than untreated down. The 800-fill Gnar makes for a thin, versatile piece under a shell or on its own—it’s not quite as puffy as a traditional down jacket—even when you’re working up a head of steam. It has five pockets, no hood, and runs about a size big.
Get It: $229; www.sierradesigns.com
Stove That Cooks, Charges Electronics
Photograph courtesy BioLite
The BioLite stove burns found fuel—twigs and small bits of wood—and uses the heat to create electricity to charge your electronic devices. It’s a fascinating application of energy, developed in a larger form called the HomeStove as a more efficient wood stove for developing countries, but as a camping device, the BioLite stove is a little heavy. The BioLite weighs 33 ounces and with cooking vessels would be closer to 40. If you took a canister stove or Jetboil and carried extra batteries or a solar panel, the weight would be less and cooking time would be lower. But there’s another consideration: sales of the BioLite support the HomeStove, which uses 50 percent less wood and cuts smoke by 95 percent, huge issues in the developing world.
Get It: $129; www.biolitestove.com
Multitool That Opens With One Hand
Photograph courtesy Leatherman
There are countless knives you can open with one hand (they’re called, um, switchblades), but multitools? Only one: The Leatherman OHT. Every feature of the OHT is accessible by right or left hand—pliers with wire cutter, saw, serrated and flat knife blades, three screwdrivers, can opener, and emergency seatbelt cutter. It’s so easy to operate, you’ll find yourself opening things with one hand just because that’s all you need. All the tools lock, and if you’re nimble you can even close them with one hand. The only concern? At nearly ten ounces, this might not be the tool for ultralight campers.
Get It: $82; www.leatherman.com
Modular Backpack System
Photograph courtesy Mission Workshop
Mission Workshop Arkiv Field Pack
The Mission Workshop Arkiv Field Pack is less a backpack than a whole new backpack system. It’s a modular pack, but nobody’s done modular like this—effectively, creatively, smartly. It’s flexible, adaptable, and will quickly become your daypack, travel bag, and constant companion. The Arkiv starts with the pack body, which has a rolltop closure and internal sleeve that will hold a laptop, but the heart of the system is a series of thick webbing strips sewn onto the outside of the pack that allow you to attach extra compartments and pockets to the side and front. The side pockets are narrow, one zippered and one Velcro, and there are three front pockets—one for a laptop, one that fits an iPad, and one for a phone. Once secured, they’re locked in place with no wiggling or bouncing, even when loaded, and there are enough overlapping closures that your kit feels safe from easy theft, whether on a New York subway train or a Lima bus. Of the two sizes, the smaller, 20-liter version should be sufficient for most, especially with pockets added.
Get It: $209 plus external pockets; www.missionworkshop.com
Superlight, All-Season Alpine Shell
Photograph courtesy Westcomb
Westcomb Shift LT Hoody
It would take a sewing and fabric junkie to appreciate fully all the refinements that make the Westcomb Shift LT Hoody one of the world’s best shells, but one metric stands out for the bottom line: At 12 ounces, this featured, all-season alpine jacket is the lightest NeoShell model, period (the company claims 11, but it’s really 11.94). And because NeoShell is one of the most breathable new fabrics while still being waterproof, the Shift is versatile to the nth degree—it can serve as a resort parka on a wet dumping day. It can sit comfortably over a base layer as you’re skiing up a peak. You can climb in it, backpack in it. And when you need to stuff it away, it takes up all the space of a Nalgene bottle. There’s a Napoleon pocket and a hood that fits over the biggest lid and, given NeoShell’s breathablity, no pit zips.
Get It: $400; www.westcomb.com
Lighter Powder Skis
Photograph courtesy Black Diamond
Black Diamond's Carbon Megawatt
Like most things that have gotten fatter, skis have gotten heavier, too, as anyone who’s thrown a pair of modern powder sticks over their shoulder and marched up the Headwall at Jackson Hole knows. But Black Diamond's Carbon Megawatt reverses that trend: The model has been around, but is completely redesigned this year to shed a whopping two pounds, or 20 percent, and to refine the overall shape. The larger of the two sizes, 188cm, trucks a deep-snow oriented 153-125-130mm shape with a rockered tip and semi-rockered tail. The overall effect to this carbon-reinforced wood ski: easier, floatier, happier.
Get It: $829; www.bdel.com
Water-Resistant Down Sleeping Bag
Photograph courtesy Big Agnes
Big Agnes McAlpin SL
Your next sleeping bag will be filled with water-resistant down—its performance in wet conditions is that good—and the Big Agnes McAlpin SL could very well be it. The McAlpin uses 700 fill DownTek, one of the two branded hydrophobic downs introduced in 2012, which in addition to staying far warmer than untreated down in damp weather is also antimicrobial and antibacterial. Goodbye, bag funk. Rated to 5ºF, the McAlpin also blocks cold with a full-length down-filled tube behind the zipper, a draft collar, and baffle construction designed to eliminate insulation shifting and exposing you to cold spots.
Get It: $360; www.bigagnes.com
Women's Winter Lifestyle Boot
Photograph courtesy Teva
There’s no shortage of cute women’s winter boots, that’s for sure, but boots that fit in a suitcase without tipping you into the realm of excess baggage fees? Not so many. Teva’s Jordanelle, though, compresses to the size of a shoe for packing but can be worn in the snow thanks to 250-gram Thinsulate insulation and a waterproof shell. Plus, it has a soft liner you can wear by itself in the cabin or ski hut.
Get It: $170; www.teva.com
Photograph courtesy Nike
Wearable calorie counters are all the rage, with devices like the Bodybugg showing up on biceps at the gym, the running trails, and Trader Joe’s. But who wants to wear an intrusive electronic pod on your upper arm? Nike’s FuelBand, by contrast, is a sleek, modernistic bracelet that tracks all your movement throughout the day, accomplishing the same get-off-your-butt encouragement in a much more subtle way. The device uses an accelerometer to record motion, then estimates calories burned and distance covered. You determine how many calories you want to expend, and the bracelet flashes red lights until you’ve met the goal and green when you’re done. Is it accurate? Well ... even $600 heart monitors are guessing at calories burned. The biggest benefit of the FuelBand isn’t the number it displays, but that it’s a constant reminder throughout the day, every day, for extra motivation.
Get It: $149; www.nike.com