The Season's Best New Gear
Traditionally, fall and winter are when you give up your “summer” sports. The bike gets a tune-up, three-season tents and bags get washed, and the trail runners go on the shelf until the snow melts. But, wow, have things changed. Fat bikes extend adventure cycling to four seasons. Lighter, more versatile insulations allow one garment to cover you from warmth of Indian summer to the chilly bluster of spring. New tents can handle winter’s blasts while weighing not much more than summer ultralights. Think outside the box? Gear manufacturers are thinking outside the season, and we’re all better for it. —Steve Casimiro
Photograph courtesy Voormi
Voormi Fall Line Jacket
The first thing many gear testers do with a new waterproof product is wear it in the shower, have their kids spray them with the hose, or dunk it in water. So when I tested this product, I have to admit that it was completely bizarre to watch streams of water run off a wool jacket exactly the same as it would off a traditional poly shell. Yes, Voormi’s Fall Line jacket is made of wool with a waterproof membrane.
Waterproof. Wool. Two words that haven’t really gone together until now, but this is the first time a single-layer fabric has directly incorporated a weatherproof membrane inside the knit of the textile. Traditionally, waterproof/breathable garments are achieved by laminating a membrane to an outer shell or sandwiching it between two layers, both of which contribute to the crunchy, rustling feeling so common in outdoor jackets and pants.
Voormi’s Core Construction, however, stitches its yarn right through the membrane, creating a one-layer garment that’s quieter, softer, and lighter, and though the process punches holes in the membrane that normally would allow wetting, Voormi has found a way to seal those gaps. (The exact process is proprietary.)
Getting sprayed with the hose is only peripherally relevant to the real world, of course, but the Fall Line performed great in cool autumn hiking as an insulating layer, allowing body heat to escape, blocking light rain, and serving as a more weather-worthy option to fleece. Whether Voormi can take on the billion-dollar waterproof/breathable fabric industry is an open question, but the Fall Line shows it has a solid start.
Photograph courtesy Patagonia
Patagonia Merino Air
Everyone knows that wool is a miracle fabric, but, like down, this age-old natural insulator is getting 21st-century treatments to make it even better. Patagonia’s Merino Air, tested in the Merino Air Crew base layer, uses sustainably gathered merino and blends it with recycled polyester, then spins a yarn with more space between the fibers. More space means more room to trap heat, which makes the garment lots warmer, while still maintaining tons of stretch and breathability. The crew, hoodie, and bottoms come in men’s and women’s, all body-hugging and lots more comfortable than carrying a sheep around on your back.
Recycled Down Trench Coat
Photograph courtesy Nau
Nau Copenhagen Recycled Down Trench
Outdoor apparel makers have made great strides cleaning up the ethics of their supply chains, but there are still gaps—and policing suppliers halfway around the globe isn’t easy. Eiderdown, which is shed by eider ducks and collected from their nests by hand, is the most ethical, but it’s terrifically expensive to collect. Nau, the forward-thinking Portland brand, has come up with what might be an ideal solution: The 650-fill down in its sleek Copenhagen Recycled Down Trench is upcycled from retired pillows and duvets.
Nau's process eliminates the carbon and energy footprints of harvesting from geese and ducks, as well as ethical concerns, and aside from the actual collection of the post-consumer products, the remaining footprint is the same as virgin down. Recycled down goes through an identical process of testing, sorting, cleaning, and certification, and by the time it gets into this waterproof and breathable trench, it has the same warmth-to-weight ratio as virgin down.
And what does that get you in terms of a garment? A gorgeous piece of apparel that will have you praying for cold weather. The outer hard-shell layer is made of 60 percent cotton and 40 percent recycled polyester, and a waterproof zipper hides behind a snapped storm flap. It’s a body-hugging, flattering silhouette, and while it might be a little restrictive for skiing, there’s not much else you wouldn’t want to do in it.
Photograph courtesy Black Diamond
Black Diamond’s Mission Pro Pants
Avalanche transceivers are typically worn with a chest harness under the clothes, where they’re safe from getting ripped from the body in a slide. But accessing them in an emergency, when every second counts, can be awkward and time consuming. Black Diamond’s Mission Pro pants, on the other hand, are created with a stash pocket inside the right zippered pocket, designed to hold your transceiver securely, and, more important, readily at hand.
Black Diamond owns transceiver brand Pieps, but the pocket will also fit most other units, such as those from Ortovox, keeping them securely and (relatively) unobtrusively against your upper leg. There’s a sewn-in lanyard to thwart dropping your lifesaver in the snow, as well as a clip that keeps it from sliding out of its sleeve.
The Mission Pros are constructed of Gore-Tex Pro, which is waterproof and breathable, and have a modern cut—loose, but not too loose. Offset side vents help keep things cool, and novel zips near the cuffs give access to boot buckles, so you don't have to pull the gaiter up every time you batten down the hatches.
Photograph courtesy Hoka
Hoka One One's Tor Ultra Hi Waterproof Boot
Dear Hoka: We get it. You’re a new footwear brand competing against established giants and want to attract attention. So, yes, your outlandish color schemes and wild patterns help you stand out and bring focus to your platform of maximum cushioning. Just a thought, though—perhaps you could consider adding a more subtle color option to the offerings of your new winter boot, the Tor Ultra Hi waterproof, for those who might not want their feet to look quite so Cirque du Soleil.
No, you’re right, it’s really none of our business, but here’s the thing—few models of footwear are so comfortable in mixed conditions and mixed use as the Tor Ultras. This hybrid design, one part boot, one part shoe, with its high ankle wrap and fat squishy padding underfoot, lets one travel through dirt, mud, and slop, over rocks and across tree roots, while running, scrambling, jogging, and hiking as well as any model we’ve tried. The eVent membrane keeps out the wet and cool better than anything else. The structure gives just the right amount of support—not too much, not too little. And at one pound, they’re light enough that you can put in decent running mileage. Hey, it’s your company, but the Tor Ultra is one of a kind, and we’d just like more people to try it.
New School Camp Stove
Photograph courtesy Jetboil
Jetboil Genesis Basecamp 2
Keeping your kit organized is half the battle, and few camp cooking brands have better furthered the cause than Jetboil, which pioneered the integrated pot-stove system. Now the innovative brand has brought its same imaginative thinking to the car camping stove, and the result is inspired—a two-burner cooktop that folds into its own five-liter pot.
The Genesis Basecamp 2 runs on common propane canisters, pumps out 10,000 BTUs per burner, and even can be expanded by connecting a traditional Jetboil to heat up water for cocoa, tea, or coffee. It all fits into its own carrying bag (except for the fuel) and nestles neatly into whatever you’re using to get to the campground.
Most Powerful Water Purifier
Photograph by Scott Rinckenberger
What’s the cost of getting sick with a gnarly intestinal virus? Pretty darn high. What’s the cost of the MSR Guardian water purifier? High, but not as high as being laid low in the middle of the trip of a lifetime.
Pump filters are great at catching sediment, protozoa, and bacteria, but the Guardian uses a hollow-fiber membrane that’s small enough to catch rotavirus, hepatitis A, and other nasty viruses—a feature that normally requires chemicals, UV light, or boiling. The MSR pump, however, catches those little gremlins without hindering treatment time: Purifying two and a half liters takes just 60 seconds. And the second best feature? You never have to clean the filter. The Guardian maintains itself by routing about 10 percent of the water back to the source, flushing contaminants out of the system. That might not exactly get your heart racing, but we think it’s very cool.
Rethinking the Shower
Photograph courtesy Rinsekit
You can stay dirty. You can rinse in a lake or creek. You can attempt to get clean with the anemic dribble of a solar shower, which is simply a fancy name for a leaky plastic bag. Or you can come home feeling fresher than when you left with the RinseKit, a portable, simple, easy-to-use outdoor shower. This two-gallon system is far from the first attempt to bring cleanliness to being outside, but it’s the first to do it well and with a minimum of effort.
To fill the RinseKit, you thread an adapter on an outdoor spigot, snap on the hose, turn on the faucet for 20 seconds, and … you’re done. There’s no need to pump—the process of filling creates all the pressure you need. And if you’ve used other systems, the first time you use the spray nozzle you’ll expect a less than inspiring flow, but what comes out is a legitimately strong stream of water, with seven types of flow, from jet to shower. There’s enough force to remove mud caked on your shoes, pond filth from your dog’s coat, or sand from your surfboard.
Nice, right? But what if you’re caked with sweat at the end of a great day of autumn riding in Moab and the sun’s going down and the temperature is dropping? RinseKit is insulated, so if you fill it with hot water it will stay warm all day, and soon the company will introduce a car power adapter for heating it on the fly. In these water-challenged days of drought, RinseKit could be all the shower you ever need.
Photograph courtesy Sierra Design
Sierra Designs Convert 2
The Convert name has been in Sierra Designs’ line for ages, but forget anything you think you know about this four-season model: This season’s tent is all new, with an innovative design that’s both practical and livable. Traditionally, four-season tents have been constructed of a single wall of waterproofed material, allowing them to be sturdy and capable of handling the worst weather. The downside: That single layer doesn’t breathe well, meaning the inside can get clammy.
The new Convert 2, however, combines the best of summer shelters with the toughness of winter ones. The design, for example, is double-walled—there’s an outer weatherproof shell coupled with an interior breathable one. Sound like a typical three-season tent? It’s not: The inside canopy is attached to the top via ribbons of polyester, with a few inches of ventilation in between, so it’s both one piece and two.
The pole system goes on the outside via clips and grommets (no pole sleeves, thankfully), which simplifies the process and protects the inside of the tent from getting wet while you’re popping it up—if you’ve ever struggled to pitch a shelter in wind, rain, or snow, you know what a benefit that is. The interior space feels positively huge, 32 square feet with 39 inches of headroom, and there’s a removable vestibule (included) that adds another 12.5 feet.
Finally, critically important if you camp in rainy areas, there’s a front eave that hangs over the entrance, letting water drip onto the ground rather than in the Convert itself. Oh, one more feature that impresses: The whole kit weighs around five pounds, or four and a half without vestibule.
Photograph by Sterling Lorence
Trek Stache 9
If it seems as if the bike industry keeps inventing entirely new forms of mountain bikes, that’s because it does. Fat bikes have been the hot new thing for the last few seasons, and for good reason: They’re awesome. But while those four- to five-inch tires are fantastic in snow and sand, beyond that, well, they lose their advantage pretty quickly. Now, as bike brands so often do, they’ve split the difference, coming up with a style that’s not quite fat, not quite traditional.
Why? In a word, traction. These “plus-size” bikes, like the Trek Stache 9—manufacturers are calling them all sorts of things, but "plus" is the most common—have tires around three inches or so, which lets you run air pressure as low as 13 to 15 psi, about half of typical mountain bikes. And lower pressure means stick-to-the-ground traction and cornering, the taming of rocks, roots, and bumps, and a more comfortable ride. Better traction also makes climbing in loose conditions a somewhat shockingly pleasant experience. ("Wait, I just cleaned what?")
The trick, though, of going to bigger tires is keeping the bike nimble and playful. Trek achieved this first by opting for a hardtail frame—full suspension is more complex and heavy. Second, it kept the chainstays and wheelbase relatively short, as stretching out the frame would make the bike less responsive and slower through turns. Third, it developed wider hubs for both wheels (110mm up front, 148mm back). That extra girth helps reduce flex and allows greater tire clearance.
The Stache 9 is also highly adaptable. It will take traditional 29-inch wheels, 27.5-plus wheels, or 29-plus (as tested), each of which will give the bike a slightly different character (on a scale from more snappy to more stable), but all of which will make you feel like you’re riding a cheater bike—one that makes you a better rider in almost all conditions because of the way it smoothes the trail. It could be someone’s first bike, but more likely will be a second or even third—a terrific option for big backcountry adventures, where you want the reliability of hardtail, the comfort of a full suspension, and the traction of a fat bike.
Photograph courtesy Light and Motion
Light and Motion's Urban 850 Trail
It’s astounding how much bike lights have shrunk in size and heft. Back in the early days, systems weighed pounds and had batteries the size of water bottles, but now, with models like Light and Motion’s Urban 850 Trail, you can crank out a spotlight’s worth of illumination at a fraction of the footprint.
This little guy, for example, clocks in at just four ounces, yet pumps an endurance-race-worthy beam of 850 lumens. It straps to your handlebars or helmet, charges in under three hours, and burns for an hour and a half at the high setting and six hours on the 185-lumen low.
Photograph courtesy Arc'teryx
Arc’teryx’s Lithic Glove
You know that whole “fits like a glove” thing? It rarely applies to heavy-duty winter protection. Most gloves that are worthy of deep powder days have such little dexterity it’s like someone took away your opposable thumbs. But Arc’teryx’s Lithic model is so flexible, you can put those fine motor skills to work.
Constructed of Gore-Tex Active waterproof/breathable fabric and three different weights of PrimaLoft strategically placed, the Lithic is like a minutely considered map of your hand. Rather than use leather in the palm and fingers for durability, flexibility, and feel, the Lithic uses thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) that’s welded in place, eliminating the water absorption that can occur with leather (TPU is thinner and lighter, too). Insulated enough for the Canadian Rockies, but streamlined enough so the gaiter can slip under your jacket sleeve, the Lithic might be the first fully functioning winter glove that doesn’t feel like, well, a mitten.
Adaptable Avalanche Pack
Photograph courtesy The North Face
The North Face Modulator ABS
Inflatable avalanche packs herald a revolution in snow safety, promising to help keep a skier or boarder atop sliding snow once their airbags are filled. But such packs, oof, they’re expensive, and heavy, and who wants to haul around extraneous gear when you know you’re spending the day inbounds? Nobody.
Now The North Face has a very smart solution—the Modulator ABS straps onto any backpack and turns it into a safety device. It has two large airbags (one for each side), weighs about five pounds, and uses the standard ABS system—simply attach it onto any backpack with two straps, place the trigger on right or left depending on preference, and you’ve added some critically important insurance (and peace of mind).
Photograph courtesty Julbo
Julbo Aerospace Vertical
Goggle manufacturers have been struggling to fight fog ever since they first started manufacturing goggles with all kinds of solutions, from double-layer lenses to fans to all kinds of coatings. But Julbo has developed what is perhaps the simplest and most effective solution: The lens on the Aerospace Vertical sits in a frame that can pop out a millimeter or two, allowing a wide gap at the top and bottom for air to enter and push out moisture.
The idea is that you build up a head of steam when skiing or riding, then vent in the lift line, on the chair, or when you skin back up the hill. It’s terrifically efficient—any fog dissipates in seconds—and easily activated while wearing gloves.
Cutting-Edge Alpine Touring Boots
Photograph courtesy Salomon
Salomon’s MTN LAB
The alpine touring boot market has been dominated by smaller, backcountry-specific brands for most of its existence, but in the last couple of years the big boot brands have gotten involved, and this winter one of the biggest has brought out a major new model. Salomon’s MTN Lab has been the talk of the slopes since rumors first started flying that backcountry superstud Greg Hill was helping them design a model that would render all other boots moot, and testing of prototypes last winter proved the buzz justified: The MTN LAB makes a great run at being a one-boot quiver.
It starts with progressive flex. The ideal boot, whether designed for resort trails or the outback, is going to become progressively stiffer as you press forward, giving more power to the ski. (Historically, touring boots have sacrificed stiffness to be more comfortable when climbing.) The MTN Lab does that as well or better than other touring models, thanks to the way the upper cuff engages with the lower and also to reinforcing material on the side of the lower. It fits in regular alpine bindings or Dynafit-style tech binders (yay!), has a buckled power strap at the cuff that doesn’t loosen like Velcro (hallelujah!), and gives you a 47-degree-range-of-motion walk mode that you enable with the flick of a metal switch (right on!). At 1,500 grams or so, they’re far lighter than a typical big mountain alpine boot, while just as stiff and far more versatile.
Plastic Climbing Skins for Skis
Photograph courtesy Fischer
Anyone who’s spent time touring in the backcountry knows that climbing skins can make the difference between pleasure and misery. Stuck to the bottom of your skis or splitboard, they can become frozen with ice and packed snow, get saturated with water, and pick up pine resin in the spring. On rolling terrain or downhills, they also have an annoying tendency to stop or slow suddenly, pitching a skier headfirst into the snowpack—good times, especially when you’re carrying a big pack.
Fischer addresses these complaints by creating lightweight, polyethylene skins and kicking the synthetic furry models to the curb. The Profoils borrow a fish scale-inspired pattern from the brand’s waxless touring skis, which gives equally solid climbing grip, but much better flat and downhill glide. Out of the box, they’re lighter than mohair or synthetics, and of course being plastic they won’t absorb water, either, keeping the weight consistent. The only downside? Unlike traditional skins, you can’t slap their sides together and shove them in your pack, since they are sticky; you have to keep a protective sheet of plastic between them, which can be a hassle.
Photograph courtesy GIRO
Giro’s new Range snow helmet is among the smartest you can buy. The reason is MIPS, an acronym for multi-directional impact protection system that is becoming synonymous with the best head protection on the planet.
The trick with protecting your noggin is getting the helmet, not your skull, to absorb or disperse forces. In addition to shock-absorbing foam—typical in helmets—a MIPS lid like Range has two shell components that can shear apart on impact. Imagine a glancing blow—the outer shell rotates with the crash, sucking up some of the wham, while your head and the inner liner continue moving, slowing down on their own terms, not the ground’s.
Would you use a lap seat belt if a shoulder belt were available? Probably not. Upgrade to MIPS.
Photograph courtesy Apple
The Apple Watch was greeted with astronomically, perhaps unreasonably, high expectations, and those who were disappointed seem to be looking past just how seamlessly this little device can make your life better, from encouraging body movement to making you feel less enslaved to your devices even while you’re actually more tethered.
As a fitness device, the watch serves as a control center for a full battery of health measurements, syncing easily with Strava, MyFitnessPal, and other major apps or social fitness networks to track and record performance in the field. The built-in heart monitor makes calculating effort and calories burned far simpler and more accurate than having to lash an electronic pickup strap to your chest, and Apple's Activity app is remarkably effective at getting you out of your desk chair every hour or pushing you to walk more.
Will it supplant a full-featured device? No. Heart-rate zones, power output, and the like are beyond its capabilities. Things might change when Apple releases the second version of Watch’s operating system, which will allow apps to function on the watch alone, rather than the slow-poke process of communicating with your paired iPhone. For now, it serves as a gentle and ever present reminder to keep on truckin’.
$349 (as tested); apple.com
The New Compact Camera
Photograph courtesy Sony
Sony Alpha 7R II
The Sony Alpha 7R II may be the first camera that has pros seriously considering abandoning DSLRs in favor of smaller, lighter, quieter mirrorless systems. This compact, full-frame shooter has a huge 42-megapixel sensor that captures extremely large files, either in RAW or JPEG format, enabling superhigh-resolution images—as well as the ability to crop and still get print-quality shots. The backside-illuminated CMOS sensor is much, much better in low light, with a maximum ISO of 104,000—you might not think those high-ISO shots clear enough to put on your wall, but they’re certainly good enough for online posting, and in the range of 3,200 to 6,400 you’ll be shocked at how low-noise this Sony sensor is.
One criticism of the Sony Alpha cameras has been a lack of good, top-level lenses, but there are now 11 full-frame, e-mount models, including five supersharp options with Zeiss glass. More exciting for those considering coming to Sony from other brands, especially Canon, is that non-Sony lenses will work with aftermarket adapters with almost no loss of auto-focusing speed, thanks to 399 phase-detection focusing points on the sensor.
That sensor has a five-axis stabilizing system—its little computer brain is smart enough to counteract motion in the camera—to help keep shots sharp. A three-inch screen shares focusing and review duties with an electronic viewfinder, and there’s even a fully silent shooting mode, helpful for wildlife or street photography. Video? It’s 4K. And all of this in a package that with lens weighs just about a pound.
$3,200 (body only); sony.com
The Most Successful Camera Bag Ever
Photograph courtesy Peak Design
Peak Design Everyday Messenger
Peak Design wanted to raise $100,000 in its Kickstarter campaign to put the Everyday Messenger camera bag into production. When the campaign closed, the Bay Area company had generated—are you sitting down?—almost $5 million. In a word (or two), holy smokes.
But can any bag live up to that kind of excitement? Surprisingly, pleasantly, yes. PD’s promos for the Everyday Messenger promised the moon, and in fact the company not only delivers, it surprises with all kinds of unexpected delights. The bag is comfortable to carry, protects both cameras and other electronics well, and is easy to use in the field when running and gunning. The main compartment is divided by three removable, origami-ish dividers, which, in addition to separating cameras and lenses, can be folded so their little cubbyholes aren’t quite so deep—a clever trick that will make photographers who use smaller mirrorless cameras just as happy as those carrying bulky pro kits. As for the cover flap, it snaps into place with a magnetic latch—even if you forget, it will latch itself against accidental opening. And if you’re trying to get to your gear faster or quieter, there’s a zipper across the top that provides access to cameras without opening the lid (and to a small stash pocket perfectly sized for a large smartphone).
The strap swivels on metal pivots, so the Everyday Messenger settles nicely against your body whether carrying it high on your back, low-slung for shooting, or messenger-style on a bike. A waist strap stays out of sight until needed, and there are no loose or dangling slings of nylon. Your 13- or 15-inch laptop hides in a zippered rear compartment, which also has a spot for a tablet. And there’s even a color-coded organizing section in the main compartment for storing memory cards and other media—green on the left side means available, red means it’s been shot (or vice versa if you’re a contrarian). After spending a month playing with this smartly crafted bag, the only question really is: only $5 million?
Photograph courtesy I.N.O.X
Victorinox I.N.O.X. Naimakka
Paracord made the leap from parachute line to survival kit mainstay to fashion accessory, and in Victorinox’s new I.N.O.X. Naimakka limited edition watch, it makes for a high-end timepiece that’s stylish, burly, and ready for the apocalypse.
For the brand’s 130th anniversary, the Swiss Army flagship subjected the I.N.O.X. to 130 durability tests, including freezing it in ice, blasting it with sand, boiling it in water, running it over with a tank, subjecting it to 12 g-forces, and letting an overtired toddler play with it.
OK, that last test was fake, but you get the point: The I.N.O.X. is going to keep running whether you’re in Badwater Basin or the Lhotse Face in Nepal. And if the paracord bracelet isn’t your thing, not to worry—you can swap it for the more traditional style rubber strap that comes with the Victorinox.
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