Must-Have Gear: Spring/Summer
Technology is what makes product design move forward, and this season sees exceptionally big leaps in cleverness, creativity, and ever-shrinking electronics. Some examples: A carabiner that locks using magnets, a high-res video camera built into a pair of sunglasses, and a new treatment that helps down work better when it’s wet.
Photograph courtesy Sierra Designs
Sierra Designs Zissou 15
Down is a near-perfect insulation—perfect except for the way it stops insulating once it gets wet. That’s one reason synthetic sleeping bags are so popular in damp climes (we’re talking to you, Olympic National Park), and it’s why the new Zissou 15 sleeping bag from Sierra Designs is being heralded as the next big thing. The Zissou, as well as other Sierra Designs bags and jackets, uses an innovative new down called DriDown, in which the 600-fill down is treated with a hydrophobic coating. The result is a bag that stuffs compact, sleeps warm, and stays dry seven times longer in wet conditions than untreated down.
Get It: $259; www.sierradesigns.com
Photograph courtesy Pivothead
This is the future of POV cameras: Pivothead has squeezed a video recorder every bit as good as the industry standard, GoPro, into a pair of sunglasses called the Durango. Light, comfortable, and unobtrusive, the Durango makes capturing hands-free footage easier than existing systems—there’s no fiddling with mounts or strange perspectives, it's simply true POV. The highest resolution is 1080p at 30 frames a second, and the Pivotheads even shoot at 720p at 60 fps for slow motion. In daylight, its videos are noise-free, there’s a surprising lack of jerkiness thanks to an internal stabilizer, and the field of view is a pleasant 75 degrees rather than the fish-eye look you see so often.
Get It: $349; www.pivothead.com
Photograph courtesy Mountain Hardwear
Mountain Hardwear SummitRocket 30
Summit packs are great in theory, but not always so good on your back, where their minimalism-at-all-costs approach can lead to flimsy, ill-fitting sacks. The Mountain Hardwear SummitRocket 30, however, matches a horizontally corrugated plastic frame sheet with a lightly padded back panel to protect your spine from poking and prodding and also provide a small measure of suspension. The narrow waist strap is made of mesh—there’s no padding to compete with a climbing harness—and the high-wear areas are built from Dyneema, a superdurable polyethylene.
Get It: $150; www.mountainhardwear.com
Photograph courtesy Black Diamond Equipment
Black Diamond Magnetron Carabiners
Innovative, clever, and bloody brilliant, Black Diamond’s Magnetron carabiners are a huge step forward in locking biners. By using a magnet to keep the gate locked, Magnetron eliminates the frustrations of screwgate and other locking systems. You simply pinch the tabs at the top of the gate to open it—when you let go, the magnets pull it closed tight. It’s simple, foolproof, redundant (there are actually two locks), and less likely to get hampered by ice.
Get It: $25-30; www.blackdiamond.com
Photograph courtesy Outdoor Research
Outdoor Research Axiom
Outdoor Research’s Axiom is the first jacket in North America to use the stretch version of new Gore-Tex Active, and it’s an extremely welcome addition to the adventure oeuvre. Wet, dynamic activities like alpine climbing demand both waterproof storm protection and flexibility in the garment—and the Axiom gives both. And while Gore-Tex Active doesn’t stretch as much as a soft shell, it has enough elasticity that reaching to place a piece of protection doesn’t lead to the whole jacket pulling up and exposing your midriff to the elements. It weighs 13.5 ounces, has three pockets, and a large, helmet-friendly hood.
Get It: $375; www.outdoorresearch.com
Photograph courtesy CamelBak Products LLC
CamelBak All Clear
Whether you’re filling a bottle from a rusty tap in a remote village or dipping it into a backcountry stream, water purification has never been easier or simpler than with CamelBak’s All Clear bottle, which has a built-in ultraviolet light to zap microbes. You fill it, turn on the light for a minute, shake the bottle to stir it up, then drink. Easy. There are no extra parts or pieces to carry, and you get 16 gallons out of each USB charge of the battery. The only downside—as with other UV purifiers—is that there’s no filter, so if the water has particulates in it, you might want to strain it first.
Get It: $99; www.camelbak.com
Photograph courtesy Global Surf Industries
GSI Coco Mat 10’2” SUP Surfboard
In one of those happy, serendipitous accidents, a Global Surf Industries engineer was riding his bike near a GSI factory in Asia when his eye fell on the legions of coconuts lying on the ground. Curiosity and inspiration struck, and after a relatively short development period, GSI had come up with a way to use the coconut husks to reinforce the strength of its surfboards—in this case the Coco Mat 10’2” SUP, which, thanks to the coconut, weighs about five pounds less than a comparable epoxy board. Its performance is just as strong—the 10’2” is an excellent all-around board for fitness, flatwater, chop, and gentle surfing. It’s highly stable, reasonably fast, and ultra-forgiving. For most adventure standup paddlers, this is the only board you’ll ever need. Though if surfing is more your focus, you’ll want something a bit more nimble.
Get It: $1,295; www.surfindustries.com
Photograph courtesy Canon
Canon 5D Mark III
The Canon 5D Mark III is one of the most anticipated DSLR cameras in years, the successor to the revolutionary 5D Mark II, which brought Hollywood-quality video to a truly affordable level for the first time. And how does the new kid compare to the legendary old? It’s better in every way. There are dedicated controls for video now, a faster still-photo-shooting rate (6 frames per second), higher ISO range (up to 102,800 for extreme low-light shooting), 61-point autofocus, 63-zone metering system, and 22-megapixel sensor. Basically, Canon upgraded every system in the 5D, improved the ergonomics, and made it easier to shoot video. Oh—and they added in-camera high-dynamic-range shooting, for those hypersaturated effects you see on Flickr. A winner all the way around.
Get It: $3,499; www.canon.usa.com
Photograph courtesy Gerber
Gerber Steady Tool
In this age in which everyone’s a filmmaker, anything that can make your personal videos better is a good thing indeed. The Gerber Steady Tool goes a long way toward stabilizing your camera via its miniature tripod function. There are two rubbery feet that fold out and adapt to uneven terrain, plus a threaded bolt for your camera or a suction cup to hold your smart phone camera. If you’ve ever tried to prop your phone on a rock for a self-portrait only to see it slide into a creek (yes, I did that), you’ll understand why even a small pod like the Steady is a million times better than none at all. Oh, and the other tools—knife, wire cutters, screwdrivers, bottle opener, and needle-nose pliers—are pretty handy too.
Get It: $64; www.gerbergear.com
Photograph courtesy Osprey
Osprey Atmos 50
One of Osprey’s best loved backpacks, the Atmos 50, has been redesigned around an infinitely adjustable suspension system that lets you perfectly customize the fit and feel of this top-loading, 50-liter weekender. Even on the trail, you can quickly adapt the torso length and adjust how the load carries. The new waist belt is changeable too. There’s an extra layer of foam that slides between the hips and belly button. Slide it back if you want more padding on the hip bones, forward for more cushion in front. Osprey says you can expect the three-pounder to carry up to 40 to 45 pounds comfortably, but that seems overly generous. Plan on 35 and your shoulders will thank you.
Get It: $199; www.ospreypacks.com
App Fitness System
Photograph courtesy Wahoo Fitness
Wahoo iPhone System
The first couple of years in the iPhone era saw plenty of fitness apps, not many of which were all that robust. But today there is a plethora of great options, and the coolest of the bunch is the Wahoo system, which includes an app, a Bluetooth heart-monitor strap, and, for cyclists, a sturdy protective case and mounting bracket. Wahoo acts as a gateway or conduit, connecting sensors like heart monitors or power meters to dozens of third-party apps. I kept it simple and used the heart monitor and Wahoo’s own app to track runs, rides, mileage, calories, etc. I set heart-rate training zones, distance goals, and more—and it was easier to set up, use, and view than any fitness watch I’ve used and provided even more data.
Get It: Bike Case, $120; Blue HR Heart Rate Strap, $80; www.wahoofitness.com
Photograph courtesy Derby Cycle Werke GmbH
Focus Urban 8
Over the last year or two, I’ve been contemplating the ultimate urban bike, with a plan to build one from scratch. It would be durable, sporty, snappy, light, fun to ride, and powered by a belt drive to avoid grease and a dirty chain. I was ready to buy a frame and start hanging parts on it ... and then I discovered the bike already exists—and at a fraction of what it would cost to build one. The Focus Urban 8 is all of the above, plus mountain bike-style handling on fast rolling road wheels. The Gates belt drive is nearly silent (and oil free). Though at first glance it looks like a single speed, there’s an internally geared rear hub that provides eight speeds and can tame the burliest hill. Stopping comes courtesy of Shimano 455 disk brakes. Indeed, the only thing wrong with the Planet is that it didn’t make itself known sooner.
Get It: $1,900; www.focus-bikes.com
Photograph courtesy Easton Mountain Products
This past spring, I tested half a dozen single-person shelters, and the clear winner was Easton’s Kilo 1P for light weight and livability. At 1 pound, 14 ounces, it weighs more than a bivvy sack but provides infinitely more comfort thanks to 39 inches of headroom, a wide side entrance, and a vestibule large enough to stash your pack. One-man tents are by their nature small, but the Kilo wards off claustrophobia in style without laying on the ounces.
Get It: $349; www.eastonmountainproducts.com
Photograph courtesy Columbia
Columbia Bug Shield
As a general rule, you should always travel in bug country with someone mosquitoes find tastier than you, but on those occasions when you’re the delectable one or you’re running solo, the Columbia Bug Shield jacket is the ticket to keep those biting suckers off your skin. Made of lightweight airy mesh, the cover-up is treated with an EPA-approved insect repellent and, thankfully, includes a hood for extra protection. The only way it could possibly be better is if it had built-in gloves and a face shield too.
Get It: $90; www.columbia.com
Photograph courtesy Teva
Even if you never got anywhere near the water, Teva’s Fuse-Ion would be worth slipping on your foot—it’s every bit as comfortable as the skate sneaker it resembles—but in the water it really shines. The Fuse-Ion grips every portion of your foot equally, even when tromping through a riverbed, and the sticky rubber outsole clings to the slimiest rocks with tenacity. It’s treated with ion mask waterproofing, too, which is superfluous once you’ve splashed through water but great if you’re trying to stay dry on a damp day.
Get It: $90; www.teva.com
Photograph courtesy Rickshaw Bags
Those little reflectors on your bike are nice, but they don’t exactly light up the night. So unless you want to drape yourself head to toe in a reflective suit, a better option is Rickshaw Bagworks’s Reflective Zero messenger bag. This soft, comfortable carryall is made entirely of reflective nylon, so when car lights flash across it glows brilliantly and says, “Hey, I'm here!” The bag, which is made to order in San Francisco, has one main compartment and two substantial pockets—one to hold a u-lock and another for a Moleskine-size notebook. Interior Velcro strips let you add accessories such as a laptop case, which costs extra.
Get It: $109; www.rickshawbagworks.com
Photograph courtesy Knog
Have you seen the price of bike lights lately? Yikes! A top-end torch can cost more than my first real mountain bike. Australia’s very awesome Knog brand, however, has been packing a heck of a lot of value into small, cleverly designed little illuminators, and its new Blinder is a must-have for summer commuting. The Blinder features four LED bulbs that pump out 80 lumens in red or white light and a variety of shapes—your Blinder can project an arrow, circle, square, or X. It charges via USB and lasts for three hours.
Get It: $45; www.knog.com.au
Photograph courtesy Snow Peak
Snow Peak Tulip
It’s so cute! But Snow Peak’s Tulip lantern turns out to be a campsite workhorse too. This battery-operated light casts a broad, soft beam when sitting upright, but when turned down points a focused spot for finer work. The flexible neck bends whichever way you like, and the output is adjustable—up to 250 bright-as-day lumens. It takes three D batteries.
Get It: $150; www.snowpeak.com
Photograph courtesy Gregory Mountain Products
Gregory Cache 22
The wide handle on Gregory’s Cache 22 carry-on travel bag is the key to making this better than any rolling bag I’ve used. By extending the width all the way across the bag, the handle makes the Cache 22 more stable than any bag I’ve used, easier to grip, and far easier to control. And because the handle shaft telescopes at the perimeter of the Cache, rather than the middle, there’s more room inside for your stuff. That’s not the only example of thoughtful design, though—the nose of the bag tapers, so it fits better in the tapered constraint of an airplane overhead bin.
Get It: $299; www.gregorypacks.com
Camera Bag Insert
Photograph courtesy Crumpler
Few accessories are as necessary as a way to protect your camera gear when you’re out in the field, but most of the padded kits available are oriented toward pros and are too big, too stiff, and too heavy. Crumpler’s Haven, by contrast, is small and light but still well padded. It’s versatile too: The medium size is 8.6 x 8.6 x 4.7 inches and will hold a DSLR with an extra lens or a point-and-shoot and tons of extras. It’s constructed of water-resistant material, and when you pull the drawstring the top cinches tight—just drop it in your backpack and go.
Get It: $50; www.crumpler.com
Photograph courtesy Eddie Bauer / First Ascent
First Ascent Katabatic
For years, The North Face VE 25 has ruled base camps on seven continents, but the reinvention of Eddie Bauer in its First Ascent line has brought a new big dome tent to the highest peaks—the First Ascent Katabatic. This first four-season expedition tent from EB went through seven iterations over three years before the company and the all-star guides (like Ed Viesturs) who develop its products felt it was right to bring to market. What they finally approved is a bombproof, wind-shedding dome with 49 square feet of floor space and near-vertical walls to make long stretches of stormbound solitaire bearable. Vestibule space adds 18 feet, and the weight for this two- to three-person shelter is a tick over ten pounds—typical for a four-season expedition tent.
Get It: $599; www.eddiebauer.com
Photograph courtesy The North Face
The North Face Havoc Mid GTX XCR
Lightweight hiking boots are often more light than boot, but The North Face Havoc Mid GTX XCR is a well-crafted blend of the two. The Vibram rubber soul is flexible enough to stick and mold to rock, yet it still provides a lot more protection than the trail runners so many folks use for hiking. A reinforced heel pocket keeps your foot locked into place, but the upper never feels rigid or uncomfortable. And speaking of comfort—this might be the most comfortable boot my narrow feet have slipped on. A perfect fit right out of the box. Some details: It’s waterproof and breathable thanks to Gore-Tex XCR and it weighs 17 ounces per boot in men’s size 9.
Get It: $160; www.thenorthface.com
Photograph courtesy Trek Bicycle
So-called 29ers are taking over your local mountain bike trails because bigger wheels give riders more leverage over bumps and technical terrain—you ride like a hero, even if you don’t feel like one inside. But geometry is still important. Enter Trek’s Rumblefish, which unlike a lot of full-suspension 29ers, can dice corners just as sharply as 26-inch-wheeled bikes. Credit a rear suspension that doesn’t wallow midway through the shock’s travel, so its five inches feels “bottomless” and snappy in situations where lesser 29ers feel tall and tippy. Bonus: Whether you spend $2,570 or as much as $4,620 for the top-line Rumblefish, all of these Treks get a custom-engineered Fox shock tuned specifically for the geometry of that particular frame.
Get It: $2,570; www.trekbikes.com
Telescoping Bike Seatpost
Photograph courtesy Crankbrothers
Crankbrothers has a history of reinventing bike products, and the SoCal firm has done it once again, this time with a telescoping seatpost that’s so smart you wonder why nobody else came up with it first. So-called "dropper seatposts" let you lower or raise your saddle on the fly, giving you more room to maneuver in dicey terrain, and the new Kronolog Crank controls that up and down with compressed air instead of the traditional hydraulics, which can leak. The benefit is twofold: air lets you set your seat height anywhere you want (hydraulics don’t), and it also happens to be far lighter.
Get It: $300; www.crankbrothers.com
Photograph courtesy Suunto
Suunto’s Ambit combines the accelerometer of a smart phone with the GPS of ... a GPS. So all those times other GPS-only units think you’re standing still or stop recording, the Ambit will know you’re still on the go thanks to the motion measured by the accelerometer. The result is much better real-time accuracy. And, yes, I was skeptical about the size of this watch, which is pretty big. But on runs and hikes I forgot about it, partly because at 78 grams it’s relatively light, and when worn over bulkier clothing like a parka its big face is actually a plus because it’s easier to read.
Get It: $550; www.suunto.com