Must-Have Gear for Spring and Summer
From finless surfboards to minimalist footwear, 2011's spring and summer gear is all about stripping away the adornments and perfecting the basics. The season's best new equipment and travel tech enhance without distracting—a refreshing return to well-considered simplicity. —By Steve Casimiro
Photograph courtesy Osprey
Osprey Hornet 46
Osprey’s svelte 46-liter Hornet backpack is so light and compact that at first glance you might think it’s little more than a daypack best suited for casual meanderings. But the pack easily expands and stretches to transform into a smartly designed overnighter. Two elements make this a great weekender: First, the careful use of lightweight fabrics and materials keeps the weight at a pound and a half, and second, the judicious use of flexible mesh means you can fill the top loader with essential items and stuff the extras into the large, stretchy side and front pockets ($159; www.ospreypacks.com).
Photograph courtesy Mountain Hardwear
Mountain Hardwear Stretch Cohesion Jacket
The boom in versatile soft shells has reduced the need for overbuilt and spendy hard-shell jackets, opening the door to more affordable options like the multisport Mountain Hardwear Stretch Cohesion Jacket. Although designed for mountaineering and alpine climbing, the Stretch Cohesion is far too adept to restrict it to one pursuit. The oversize hood works just fine with ski or snowboard helmet, the stretch panels on the sleeves soften the reach to mountain bike handlebars, and its highly compressible 13 ounces make it a worthy backpacking companion. Complaints? Not a one ($170; www.mountainhardwear.com).
Photograph courtesy Big Agnes
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3
The Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3 boasts an astounding weight-to-space ratio: Its trail weight (tent, fly, poles) is just three pounds, three ounces, yet there’s a palatial 39 square feet of living space, 42 inches of head room, and near vertical walls. Like most three-person shelters, the Fly Creek is more comfortable for two plus gear or two plus kid or dog, but even with an overly loving canine you still have room to create your own space. Drawbacks? Not many. To shave weight, you trade double side doors for one front entrance, which isn’t quite as comfy ... but that’s the only quibble ($450; www.bigagnes.com).
Photograph courtesy Revo
Plant-based plastic is making its way, slowly, into sunglass frames, which is great. But even better is when the material used is 100 percent recycled, as in Revo’s wraparound Spool shades. The “Re-Use” plastic diverts top-grade TR-90 nylon that’s headed for the landfill, with no difference in performance. The polarized lenses are impact-resistant polycarbonate, extremely clear and sharp, and they’re treated with a coating that rapidly sheds water and sweat ($189; www.revo.com).
Sleeping Pad System
Photograph courtesy NEMO
NEMO Astro Insulated, With Pillowtop
Whoever said camping means forgoing the comforts of home never slept on NEMO’s Astro Insulated pad paired with the NEMO Pillowtop. This sleeping system sports more than three inches of soft foam and air cushioning for an awesome night’s sleep. Use them together for trailhead car camping, then leave the Pillowtop behind when you head into the backcountry. Without the Pillowtop, the Astro weighs a pound and a half and still provides 2.5 inches of dreamy bliss ($175 for both; can be purchased separately; www.nemoequipment.com).
Photograph courtesy Marmot
Marmot Plasma 30
Light and warm. That’s all you need to remember about Marmot’s Plasma 30 sleeping bag. It combines 900-fill down, the lightest for its loft, with an ultralight Pertex Quantum shell fabric, for a one-pound, six-ounce bag that adheres to European standards for temperature ratings (there are no U.S. standards). For gals, that means a comfort rating of 42 degrees; for the men, a lowest temp of 33. There’s a roomy toe box for your feet, but the shoulder girth might feel a little restrictive—it is a mummy bag, after all (starting at $419; www.marmot.com).
Photograph courtesy Canon
Canon’s EOS Rebel T3i
The still photography capabilities of DSLR cameras have been so good for so long that now the excitement is how each new generation ups the capabilities in video. Canon’s EOS Rebel T3i rocks full 1080p high-def resolution and adds a new flip-out, vari-angle LCD monitor, along with up to 10x movie zoom. It also packs a host of creative filters and newbie-friendly on-screen guides that are like having a photography professor hidden inside ($899 with 18-55mm IS II lens; www.us.canon.com).
Photograph courtesy Nikon
Nikon Coolpix P300
Nikon fans have been waiting years for the hallowed brand to give them a high-end compact camera. At last it’s here in the form of the Coolpix P300. This fantastic point-and-shoot sports a 12MP sensor and full 1080p HD video. The P300 is similar to Canon's S95 and G12 but is significantly less expensive, since it gives up features most people never use, like RAW files. The photos it shoots are excellent, thanks to the 24-100mm f/1.8 lens, and videos are even better ($330; www.nikon.com).
Photograph courtesy Casio
Casio Edifice Black Label Collection
Casio’s Edifice Black Label is one of those atomic timekeeping watches—it syncs wirelessly with signals worldwide—that looks like it could survive an atomic blast. Rugged, water resistant to 330 feet, and decidedly macho, the EQWM1100DC-1A2 model also tracks 29 world city times, is solar powered, and has a stopwatch accurate to 1/1000 second (starting at $250; www.casio.com).
Photograph courtesy Salewa
Salewa’s Alp Trainer Mid GTX
Over the last decade, many backpackers have grown averse to the kludginess of heavy-duty boots and switched to trail running shoes or light hikers—to the detriment of their feet, ankles, and knees. Salewa’s Alp Trainer Mid GTX could be the footwear to win them (you?) back: It’s unabashedly a boot, with above-ankle coverage and lacing from the toes to the tippy top, but it weighs only a pound and a half per boot and sports an extremely nimble, spry ride. The sole is sticky Vibram rubber, with an ultra-tacky section at the toe for scrambling on rocks, but it’s strikingly flexible and offers great trail feel. A thin Y-shaped steel cable helps secure your foot in the heel pocket, so there’s no unwanted movement. And Gore-Tex keeps out the wet. The only shortfall? If you have wide feet, it might be too snug ($179; www.salewa.us).
Photograph courtesy Merrell
Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove
The path to true barefoot running is a gradual one. After decades of overprotecting your feet in traditional footwear, you risk injury by kicking off the shoes and running free. Merrell’s minimalist Trail Glove is a great bridge—it has a thin layer of EVA foam padding and low-to-the-ground construction that ease you into unbound running while allowing your feet to strengthen, bit by bit. The sole flexes effortlessly, the interior is lined so it’s comfortable without socks, and there’s plenty of room for your toes to wiggle and spread. It’s such a great shoe, you might start moving toward bare feet but never get past the Trail Glove ($110; www.merrell.com).
Trail Running Shoe
Photograph courtesy Brooks
Brooks Cascadia 6
Trail runners don’t need as much cushioning as road runners—dirt is softer than pavement, of course—but they do need some, and the new Brooks DNA cushioning system in the Cascadia 6 adds some welcome springiness to the heel of this excellent trail shoe. With each step, it provides the perfect amount of float, without giving up trail feel. There’s additional DNA padding in the forefoot, but that’s less apparent. The more noticeable sensation is the neutral, gently curved arc of the shoe pushing off the trail as if it were an extension of your foot ($110; www.brooksrunning.com).
Photograph courtesy Salomon
Salomon XR Crossmax Neutral
Shoes that perform equally well on road and trail are tough to pull off, but Salomon has nailed it with the XR Crossmax Neutral door-to-trail shoe, which balances enough cushioning for road, enough tread for trail, and the right amount of protection from rocks and roots. The soft EVA foam under the instep mellows concrete, while the shallow lugs are best on hardpacked dirt and pavement (mud and squishies can overwhelm them). For trail, you get extra armor with a reinforced toe bumper ($130; www.salomon.com).
Photograph courtesy Adidas
Adidas Outdoor Boat CC Lace
It looks like a skate shoe and it feels like a skate shoe, but the Adidas Outdoor Boat CC Lace is a water baby through and through. It has 25 drain ports in the sole so H2O is out as soon as it’s in, and the grippy rubber tread clings like a barnacle to all but the slickest rocks. This might be the comfiest of all aqua footwear ($65; www.adidas.com).
Photo courtesy Necky
Necky Vector 13
Sit-on-top kayaks are great for many things—stability, fishing, forgiveness—but they just don’t have the sex appeal of sleek and speedy sit-insides. Well, Necky set out to change that with its first sit-on-top in a long time, and the Vector 13 will make you rethink just how cool the category can be. This 13-footer is just as newbie-to-intermediate friendly, but it gets up to speed more quickly and turns more nimbly than you’d expect from a typical sit-on-top. It also offers adjustable foot pegs, a touring seat with back support, and optional rudder (starting at $899; www.neckykayaks.com).
Photograph courtesy Apple
Apple iPad 2
Thinner = winner. At just 1.3 pounds and skinnier than an iPhone 4, the iPad 2 is our choice for the ultimate travel companion, especially now that it has front- and rear-facing cameras that enable free video calls from, say, the Piazza San Marco. It’s impossible to beat for books, movies, and maps—and it’s not just us saying that. The FAA just gave conditional approval to an airline that wants their pilots to use iPads instead of paper maps ($499-$699; www.apple.com).
Photograph courtesy Klean Kanteen
Klean Kanteen Reflect
Klean Kanteen has turned the simple water carrier into a work of art that is streamlined, cool to the touch, and sleek when tucked into a backpack pocket. That slender silhouette is echoed in the simplicity of its construction: The Reflect is made of nothing but stainless steel with a small silicone seal and bamboo cap. There’s no lining (so no BPA worries) and absolutely no aftertaste ($33; www.kleankanteen.com).
Photograph courtesy Giant Bicycles
Giant Defy Advanced 3
The Giant Defy Advanced 3 is an ideal road bike. Its geometry is more relaxed than you’d find in the pro peloton—and that’s exactly the point, since relaxed geometry is more comfortable on your neck and shoulders. Yet if the Giant is “defying” anything, it’s the notion that a less aggressive geometry equals soft handling, since this full-carbon rig still offers snappy acceleration and takes corners effortlessly. Note that its ride is smooth as glass, though somehow just lively enough to not feel like it’s tuning out the road, a trait that’s often too common at this price ($1,870; www.giantbicycles.com).
Photograph courtesy Yeti
Yeti 575 Enduro
Mountain biking is moving faster, riders are charging harder, and Yeti’s sweet spot 575 Enduro is perfectly poised for the future. The Colorado brand stiffened the back end of this 5.75-inch suspension bike significantly, which means that it holds its line better at higher speeds, corners with greater accuracy, and acts more like a thoroughbred that can read your mind instead of a wayward colt. It lowered the bottom bracket, which adds stability, and retooled the front end to be stiffer, too. All that equals better handling, especially at speed. And the kicker? Frames cost $1,900, but the complete Enduro bike is just $2,900. It weighs a bit more than the most expensively built 575, but it’ll leave your wallet that way, too ($2,900; www.yeticycles.com).
Photograph courtesy Seaglass
Stand-up surfboards are the most visible example of the rediscovery of surfing’s roots, but even more fun are finless boards called alaias. While stand-up now is equated with fitness as much as surfing, alaias are all about wave fun—fast, loose, and playful. But the vast majority are wood. Australian shaper Tom Wegener, in partnership with Global Surf Industries, has taken what he’s learned from his wood alaias and built an epoxy foam version that’s more buoyant, lighter, less expensive, and easier to find. The six-footer is a hoot—you can belly ride or stand up. Whichever you choose it’s pure joy—like beginning surfing all over again ($495; www.surfindustries.com).
Photograph courtesy Pendleton
Pendleton Glacier National Park Blanket
A Pendleton commemorative national park blanket should be in the back of your car at all times—you never know when you’re going to need to cuddle up in woolen warmth or have the urge for a spontaneous picnic. The Glacier National Park blanket has been made since 1916—it’s the original outdoor insulation from one of America’s great brands ($178; www.pendleton-usa.com).
Photograph courtesy Base Camp X
Base Camp X Pathfinder
The ax as heirloom? Base Camp X’s 24-inch Pathfinder is beautiful, finely tuned, and has the perfect heft—it’s exactly the kind of tool to pass on to your kids. But before you do, you’ll be cutting a lot of logs. The Pathfinder splits hardwood like it’s balsa and is such a dream to use, you’ll be asking the neighbors if you can chop their wood. The handle is Tennessee hickory, wet-sanded twice to be buttery smooth, and the blade is fine grain high carbon steel temptered by hand in New England (starting at $175; www.basecampx.com).
Photograph courtesy Garmin
Garmin GTU 10 Locator
Never lose your luggage, backpack, or messenger bag again: Garmin’s GTU 10 Locator GPS transceiver is like LoJack for your gear. Tuck the 1.7-ounce device into the bottom of your bag, attach it to your dog’s collar, or put it inside your kid’s ski jacket. Want to check their whereabouts? Just go online and map it ($200; www.garmin.com).
Photograph courtesy O'Neill
O’Neill Hybrid Freak
The only question about O’Neill’s Hybrid Freak shorts is why nobody’s made them before now. These versatile bottoms combine the comfort and cut of a walking short with the fast-drying nylon of a surfing boardshort to create the ultimate summer wear. They dry extremely fast, have multiple pockets (including two with zippers), and close with button, fly, and drawstring. They don’t stretch the way today’s top surf trunks do, but unless you’re an acrobatic surfer, that won’t be an issue. And if you’re a river/lake/swimming hole guy, you won’t find a better short ($55; www.oneill.com).
Photograph courtesy Black Diamond
Black Diamond Equipment Ultra Distance Z-Pole
A sexy hiking pole? These are. Black Diamond’s carbon fiber Ultra Distance Z-Pole weighs just 9.5 ounces—per pair. You’ll hardly notice they’re there, until you need one to keep from going in the drink on a creek crossing, prop up a tarp, or steady the load on a downhill. The Z-Pole collapses to 15 inches, so it easily tucks into your pack when you don’t need it, and it comes with swappable tips—rubber or carbide ($150; www.bdel.com).
Photograph courtesy Brooks
Brooks Hampstead Holdall
Brooks bike saddles are legendary for style, workmanship, and comfort, qualities the British brand clearly included in its new Hampstead Holdall. This water-resistent cotton and vegetable-tanned leather duffel is extremely bike-friendly, with adjustable straps that can turn it into a backpack, but its classic well-worn look, generous capacity, and stiff-upper-lip toughness make it a go-to choice for any kind of travel ($400; www.brooksengland.com).
Photograph courtesy Rapha
Rapha Country Jersey
Wool is still the best choice for December cycling, but as winter gives way to spring and rolls into summer, a wool/poly blend might be a better choice. Rapha’s impeccably detailed Country jersey’s Sportwool is 40 percent merino and 60 percent polyester, so it has the warm-when-cool and cool-when-warm feeling of wool, but dries a heck of a lot faster. It also has smart features often overlooked in bike jerseys, like a full length zipper, reinforced rear pockets, and zippered valuables pocket ($170; www.rapha.cc).