Must-Have Gear: Fall/Winter
Most of the natural world hibernates when the days get short and the nights get cold. But the cycle of gear innovation never stops—and it doesn't even slow down. The proof is in these 25 game-changing new products, the best of the season. —Steve Casimiro
Photograph courtesy Smith Optics
Smith Optics ChromaPop
Most sunglass innovation these days comes from clever changes in frame designs or more environmentally sustainable materials, but Smith Optics has achieved something new with the lens itself. ChromaPop lenses, seen here in the Frontman model, make colors more vibrant and everything a little sharper and better defined than traditional lenses. How? Smith says that red, blue, and green light interfere with each other at certain wavelengths, muddling the view. ChromaPop, the company says, blocks those "wave intersections," giving you truer, more intense colors. But you won't care if it's pixie dust at work—all that matters is that the world looks happier, brighter, and sharper, like having rose-colored prescription glasses.
Get It: $209; smithoptics.com
Photograph courtesy Arc'teryx
Arc'teryx Alpha FL
Minimalism strips away the nonessentials, but sometimes it strips away durability and real-world performance, too. Not so with Arc'teryx's very light, very tough Alpha FL alpine climbing pack. Made of ultra abrasion-resistant AC2 ripstop nylon, the Alpha FL is a 45-liter weatherproof sheath that can handle being tossed onto taluses and not blink. The inner pack contains a rolltop closure that holds about 30-35 liters, while an extendable drawstring collar holds the rest. There's enough space for a summit assault—rack, puffy, water bottle, spare clothes—and tool hooks on the outside.
Get It: $239; arcteryx.com
Photograph courtesy Fischer
Fischer Vacuum Ski Boots
Alpine boot liners have been moldable for decades—pop 'em in an oven to soften them, put them and your feet in the boots, and 20 minutes later you have a customized fit. But now Fischer is taking personalization one step further. Its Vacuum line of advanced and expert boots has moldable shells, too, giving the fastest, most customized fit yet.
The adaptability is significant: A Vacuum boot like the Ranger 12 can have its hard shell flexed five millimeters in either direction when warmed to 80ºC—a huge range when fitting boots. The Ranger is designed for 50/50 on-piste, off-piste, with a flexible walk/ski mode and Vibram sole for scrambling over rocks. If you want a softer boot or spend more time in the deeps, consider the similar but more forgiving three-buckle Ranger 11.
Get It: $749; fischersports.com
Photograph courtesy Salsa Cycles
Salsa Beargrease Carbon
Can't resist the pun: The biggest thing in mountain bikes is fat bikes. No, seriously: The market for fatties like the Salsa Beargrease Carbon is exploding. Because of their massively oversized tires, fat bikes can roll through snow or sand without bogging down, opening up mountain biking to all four seasons and terrain that was once off-limits. And the new Beargrease, since it's made of carbon, is far lighter than its brethren, which aren't exactly svelte. Tipping the scales at 26 pounds, the bike weighs about the same as far more slender, traditional bikes. And what's coolest about it is that it handles much more like a skinny bike, rather than wallowing as so many fat bikes do.
This more nimble feel is very much by design—Salsa said it aimed to build a fat bike that didn't handle like a fat bike—and comes thanks to frame geometry, slimmer wheels, and stiffer thru-axles. It also smartly uses a SRAM 11x1 drivetrain, which has just one chainring up front and 11 gears in the back. This means there's no front derailleur to inhibit the fatter, four-inch tire, plus chain slap is eliminated and the weight is lower. You might find yourself taking the Beargrease on regular old singletrack—and that's exactly the idea.
Get It: Beargrease XX1 Complete Bike, $5,499; Beargrease Complete Bike, $3,499; salsacycles.com
Polartec Alpha Fabric
Photograph courtesy Marmot
Marmot Isotherm Hoody
Puffy jackets don't breathe, or at least they didn't until Alpha, a new synthetic insulation developed by Polartec and applied by Marmot in the Isotherm Hoody. Polartec claims Alpha is twice as breathable as existing synthetics—and it really does live up to these expectations in the real world. Alpha is noticeably more comfortable in more conditions than other puffies, so if you're gunning it to the summit on a cool day or breaking trail on a skin track during a storm, you can stay dry far longer.
Get It: $225; marmot.com
Camera, Micro 4/3s
Photograph courtesy Olympus
Olympus OM-D E-M1
A small camera with aspirations to DLSR performance? Haven't we heard that claim? Yes, but Olympus more than backs it up with the extraordinary output of the compact, retro-inspired OM-D E-M1. Images produced by the Micro 4/3s system are sharp and bright, colors are strong and saturated, and low-light performance is fantastic (aided by super-fast lenses such as the 45mm f/1.8). The raised handgrip fits snugly in your paw—nice for one-handed, hanging-over-the-crag shots—and the whole body is weatherproofed and ready for the outdoors. This might be the best all-around small shooter we've seen yet.
Get It: $999 (body only); olympus.com
Interchangeable Lens Goggle
Photograph courtesy Scott
The only way goggle lens changes are going to get any easier than Scott's LCG is if they come with a goggle valet who swaps lenses for you. "I say, Jeeves, the sun's gone behind a cloud, let's have the low-light version now."
To swap the spherical lens, you flick a little slider on the right side of the frame and the lens pops out. It's that simple. You can change lenses with bare hands or gloves and do it so fast you won't get lapped on a powder day. Each LCG comes with two lenses, one for bright days, one for dark ones.
Get It: $185; scott-sports.com
Photograph courtesy Woolrich
A poncho, really? Yes. This warm wool coverup sprang from a collaboration between tiny indie label West America and venerable Woolrich, with West America pushing the Pennsylvania brand into unexpected directions. The fabric comes from what's called dead stock—inventory that Woolrich was no longer using in production. It's quite soft for hearty wool, incredibly warm when draped in it on a cool fall night, and the whole thing rolls up into a bedroll. It's very Outlaw Josey Wales.
Get It: $250; woolrich.com
27.5-Inch Mountain Bike
Photograph courtesy True Overdrive
The biggest buzz in mountain bikes is a new wheel size, 27.5 inches, which is designed to combine the nimbleness of traditional 26-inchers with the terrain-gobbling capabilities of 29ers. Also known as 650b (for a French wheel spec), the new 27.5s really do accelerate quicker and corner tighter than 29ers, but handle roots and rocks better than 26ers.
Still, judgment should come on more than wheel size: The quality of the bike design counts, and you can't do better than Yeti’s SB75. Its Switch suspension doesn’t inchworm during grinding climbs, so you get excellent traction, and seemingly every bit of power you put into the pedals goes into the rear wheel. It also lets you fly down descents, because Switch absorbs both small and large bumps easily and predictably when you're hammering with speed. Five inches of travel in the front and back is just enough to feel comfortable on any singletrack, but not so much that it dulls cornering. While the SB75 starts at $3,800, you should think about splurging for the SB75 X01, which gets SRAM’s superb new 11x1, 11-speed drivetrain.
Get It: Starts at $3,800; yeticycles.com
Adventure Ski Binding
Photograph courtesy Dynafit
Dynafit Beast 16
The holy grail of adventure ski bindings is a device that has the reliability, release, and sturdiness of an alpine (resort) binding with the touring capabilities of a mountaineering—or randonnée—binding. The grail, though, is hard to find. But the new Dynafit Beast 16 comes darn close. It's built on a touring platform—the immensely popular and proven "tech" system—but its release functions much more like an alpine binding, which allows more aggressive, confident skiing, whether you're inbounds or out. The weight is significantly less than the alpine bindings adapted for touring, and the Beast also sits closer to the ski than other touring bindings, giving a better and more natural feel for the snow.
Get It: $1,000; dynafit.com
Photograph courtesy Rossignol
Rossignol Soul 7
Skis that become legendary almost always combine versatility and high performance, with an ease that any good skier can jump on—skis like Rossignol's stunning new Soul 7, the embodiment of a modern all-mountain, do-everything stick.
Inbounds, off-piste, in crud, or groomed, the Soul 7 more than holds its own and always with a light touch. The most strikingly visual example is in the see-through tip and tail, where you can look straight through the hollow honeycomb core to be reminded exactly why the ski turns so effortlessly—there's next to no swing weight to hold you back. The 106-mm sidecut is narrow enough to hold an edge when you're posse skiing bell to bell, but it's wide enough to support you when you slip out the backcountry gate to hunt freshies.
The overall sidecut dimensions—136-106-126 centimeters—make a delightfully fun profile for short or long turns, and there's just enough rocker to make going left and right buttery.
Get It: $800; rossignol.com
Photograph courtesy Jones Snowboards
Splitboards were a retrograde development—snowboarders wanted a way to skin into the backcountry like skiers, then board back down. Trouble is, cutting a snowboard in half splits the core, destroying high-speed stability and edge holding. So big-mountain shredder Jeremy Jones had a far better idea: build skis that could then be recombined into a single snowboard.
Yes, the Ultracraft is ultra-crafty, with each side of the deck getting its own core—same as skis. This clever idea let Jones abandon the reinforcement normally required to bolster handling and instead let him focus on cutting weight. Even with a heavy dose of carbon, Jones says the Ultracraft is 25 percent lighter than most splitboards. And at 5.5 pounds, it's one of the lightest decks on the market, period.
Get It: $1,200; jonessnowboards.com
Photograph courtesy Dakine
Have you dropped your phone from the chairlift yet? You've certainly worried about it, haven't you? Worry no more with Dakine's savvy Clutch jacket. This three-layer, highly water-resistant parka has a built-in tether to keep your precious device from disappearing into the pillows of Snowbird powder. And how is it as a jacket? Loaded with features to keep winter at bay—a high collar, two-way pit zips, pass pocket, double wrist gaiters, taped seams, a storm flap, powder skirt, and more.
Get It: $430; dakine.com
Goggles With POV Camera
Photograph courtesy Zeal Optics
Zeal's HD Goggles
GoPros are awesome, but not everyone wants to ski or board with a Martian antenna atop your helmet. Take a much stealthier, lower-key approach with Zeal's HD goggles, which look like any other goggle but pack a 1080p camera into their frame. Video quality rivals that of GoPro, and footage is easy to download via USB to your computer. There's still a little room for improvement, though: The in-lens viewer is more distracting than not—it's easier simply to press start and just point your nose at what you want to capture for posterity.
Get It: $399; zealhd.com
Remote Helicopter Camera
Photograph courtesy DJI
The next revolution in filmmaking has already begun. And with the arrival of DJI's Phantom remote copter it's now within reach of enthusiasts, hobby shooters, and just about anyone with a GoPro. We're talking about radio-controlled aerial photography, which can take your footage to literally unprecedented heights. The Phantom is the best, easiest, and most affordable camera copter to take you there. It's not surprising, perhaps: DJI is a leader in six-propeller copters that carry big payloads like DSLRs, and it took that technology to the lighter four-blade Phantom and packed it with very smart, easy-to-use functions. The Phantom has a range of about 300 meters and 15 minutes of flight time on a charge. A GoPro camera mount is standard. It can fly at ten meters per second. It has flashing LEDs for night use. And it sports two failsafe functions: If the battery dies or connection with the controller is lost, the Phantom lands itself automatically. And the built-in GPS can also return it automatically to its takeoff spot.
Just a year or two ago, this kind of technology cost thousands and was far more complex, but now you can fly right out of the box for less than $700.
Get It: $679; dji.com
Photograph courtesy Nikon
Nikon 1 AW1
The biggest development in cameras this season doesn't come at the professional level, or on phones, or with point-and-shoots. The coolest camera of 2013 is aimed right at the middle of the adventure market, with features that are game changing: The Nikon 1 AW1 is the first digital, interchangeable lens camera that's waterproof, shockproof, coldproof, and dustproof. Yes, there have been pocket cameras you can take into the briny, but never has there been a digital camera with the versatility and range of the 1 AW1. The 14-megapixel shooter works down to 50 feet under water. You can drop it from six feet. And yes, that includes the lenses, of which there are two: an 11-27.55mm 3.5-5.6 that comes with the 1 AW1 and a 10mm f/2.8. The Nikon has a blazing fast autofocus, so you won't miss a shot, and it captures up to 15 frames per second, too.
Get It: $800; nikon.com
Ultimate Winter Sleeping Bag
Photograph courtesy Nemo
Nemo's Canon -40
The next time you're camping in serious subzero conditions—which is already on the calendar, right?—Nemo's Canon -40 is going to be your best choice for staying warm. The 850-fill bag is more than just stuffed with down, it's also taken design inspiration from the apparel of Inuit people, whose parka hoods form tunnels in front of their faces. Nemo calls this feature the Stove Pipe, and it creates a pocket of warmer air that protects your lungs and helps you sleep easier. And because overheating is an issue with bulky bags, the Canon has zippered gills along the legs and slits for your arms—you can vent as much or as little as you need.
Get It: $999; nemoequipment.com
Photograph courtesy Kelty
Kelty's PK 50
Kelty's PK 50 is an organized backpacker's dream pack—the 50-liter weekender has nine different compartments, a huge removable front pocket, and nary a zipper on it. Yes, to cut weight, promote simplicity, and rethink tradition, Kelty punted jingling, noisy zippers in favor of roll-top closures throughout. In practice, going without zippers doesn't make much difference—at three pounds, the PK 50 is middle of the road for a pack this size. Far more impactful are all those pockets! There's a bottom sleeping bag alcove, plus you can hold a long weekend's worth of clothes in the front detachable pocket, and there are two water bottle stash pockets reachable even when the compressed straps are cinched.
Get It: $200; kelty.com
Photograph courtesy Kitsbow
Not that long ago, people would have laughed if the phrase "bespoke bike clothes" was uttered, but times have changed. Led by brands like Rapha, Giro, and Outlier, bike apparel has gone decidedly upmarket, with strikingly better fits and attention to detail. Kitsbow is the newest player in outfitting discerning cyclists. Its Sastan longsleeve jersey is an argument for its success. The fabric is a bi-weave—the soft, next-to-skin first layer is merino wool, while the weather-facing side is tougher Cordura that resists abrasion even from sharp branches and thorns. Yep, thorns. This swanky jersey is very much for mountain bikers, with quilted padded shoulders and padded, articulated elbows.
Get It: $327; kitsbow.com
Photograph courtesy LuminAID
LuminAID's Pillow Lantern
It's cute, it's clever, it's designed to help save people in distress. LuminAID's pillow lantern was born when design students Anna Stork and Andrea Areshta watched the Haiti earthquake disaster unfold, then were themselves in an earthquake in Japan in 2011. The experiences spurred them to combine their fascination with the potential of solar and the need to find affordable ways to help after disasters, and the result is LuminAID. It charges with six to seven hours of sunlight, burns for up to 15 hours, weighs just three ounces, and, yes, can serve as a pillow when inflated. And for an extra $7.95, LuminAID gives one to NGO partners to distribute in needy places.
Get It: $20; $27.95 with donation; luminaid.com
Bike Travel Box
Photograph courtesy Thule
Thule's Round Trip Transition
It's shocking that some cyclists travel with their very expensive bikes packed in cheap cardboard boxes. Thule's Round Trip Transition is simply smarter insurance: The hard-sided case protects your ride from just about anything this side of getting run over by a 737. And Thule's time-tested rack system holds it securely in place on an aluminum track. There's plenty of room for both wheels (if you've ever scratched a frame in a too-tight travel case, you know how much that matters), even though they're stored in padded bags (which also protect the frame). And what might be the coolest feature: The case includes a lightweight aluminum stand, which makes setting up your bike and breaking it down far easier.
Get It: $600; thule.com
Photograph courtesy Leatherman
Leatherman Hail + Style PS
Having a snowboard binding bolt come loose is no fun, but in the backcountry it can lead to misery. So Leatherman's inspired snow tool, the Hail + Style PS, is a smart backup to toss in your pack. It's actually two utensils nested together. The Hail handles breakdowns with a ten-mil wrench, flathead screwdriver, base and edge scraper, boot-lace puller, and, most important, bottle opener. Whatever the Hail can't fix, the Style can. It has small, needlenose pliers, regular pliers, knife, nail file, and scissors. You might not be able to rebuild a snowmobile with it, but your board, yes.
Get It: $47; leatherman.com
Photograph courtesy Faraday
If you loved messenger bags back when they were cool in 2005 while appreciating that totes are very much of the moment, the Faraday Totepack should be on your list. This handmade-in-San-Francisco bag serves as a traditional handled carryall until you flop the top to the side, tuck the handles away, and pull out a shoulder strap that lets you carry the Faraday just like a messenger. It's truly the best of both worlds. The waxed canvas is sturdy, the vegetable-tanned leather accents are soft, and the storage is capacious; the Faraday carries a 15-inch laptop easily and measures 16 by 15 by 6 inches.
Get It: In limited quantities: $325; themodernindustry.com
Commuting Bike Shoes
Photograph courtesy Giro
Bike apparel is undergoing a revolution in sophistication and a sharp move toward understated urban style—and so are cycling shoes. Giro's Republic takes a massive departure from traditional road shoes, which often look like blinged-out bowling slippers. It has a sleek, urbane upper of microfiber, which looks and feels like leather but is far more breathable. The nylon outsole is stiff enough for stomping on the pedals, but it still flexes enough so that you can walk without waddling like a penguin. Oh, and that perforated upper keeps your feet cooler and much less sweaty when you arrive at work.
Get It: $150; giro.com
Mobile Solar Power
Photograph courtesy Goal Zero
Goal Zero Nomad 3.5 and Switch 8 Battery
As phones increasingly replace handheld GPS units and technology becomes more prevalent in the backcountry, the need for power becomes more critical. That's where efficient, convenient solar devices like Goal Zero's come into play. Solar has been around for ages, of course, but Goal Zero has made it simple and kinda sexy.
We mixed and matched two batteries with two solar panels and found pairing the Nomad 3.5 panels ($80) with the Switch 8 battery ($40) to be the perfect size and weight for keeping a phone going. The panels weigh eight ounces and charge a phone directly in about three hours; the battery adds three ounces, can be precharged via USB, and tops off a smartphone from empty. Need to charge something bigger, like a camera? The 6.2-ounce Guide 10 Plus battery pack ($40) is a better choice with solar panels such as the Nomad 7 ($80).
Get It: goalzero.com
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