Must-Have Gear: Fall and Winter
Here it is: Our roundup of the most innovative gear of the season. Stay warmer longer, while going farther faster. Have more fun. Stay safer. Bike everywhere. —Steve Casimiro
Photograph courtesy Oakley
Oakley’s Fast Jackets
The only way swapping lenses on your sunglasses can get easier is if a concierge does it for you. Oakley’s Fast Jackets have a “SwitchLock” lever built into the earpiece: Flip it down, the lens is unlocked; to change the lens, flip it up. When dusk falls, you can change out of your dark lenses and into clear ones in 15 seconds. The twin-lens, sports-oriented frames have slightly less coverage than Oakley’s M Frames, but convenience far outweighs any drawbacks ($220; www.oakley.com).
Photograph courtesy The North Face
The North Face Jammu
The North Face Jammu softshell jacket is built with NeoShell fabric from Polartec, one of a handful of new materials trying to break Gore-Tex’s lock on the apparel market. And while fabric makers squabble over whether their product is more waterproof and breathable (or even how to measure it), the bottom line is that every time I tested NeoShell I felt more comfortable than in Gore-Tex. The reason is air flow. The Jammu fabric is very slightly permeable—not enough to let in water, but enough to let water vapor escape faster than a hardshell using Gore-Tex. For skiing, climbing, and other winter pursuits, you stay completely dry, not just from the inside, but the outside, too ($399; www.thenorthface.com).
Waterproof Hardshell Jacket
Photograph courtesy Mammut Sports Group
Mammut Half-Zip Jacket
This season, competitors have been attacking the Gore-Tex dominance of waterproof-breathable fabrics, but Gore isn’t exactly sitting by and letting others eat its lunch. The best-known fabric brand just introduced the latest evolution of Gore-Tex, called Active Shell, and Mammut has put it to smart use in the Felsturm Half-Zip jacket. Active Shell is lighter, softer, and more breathable than other Gore products because the waterproof membrane is bonded directly to the inner fabric, which requires less glue and less material overall. The same ethos applied to the jacket design: The alpine-oriented Felsturm weighs just ten ounces, thanks in part to the half-zip ($450; www.mammut.ch).
Photograph courtesy Eddie Bauer/First Ascent
Eddie Bauer Emperor
Those puffy down jackets we all love so much sure are purty ... and for skiing and the like, they’re ideal. But when you’re tough on your coat out in the cold, you need a jacket that can take it, such as Eddie Bauer’s Emperor parka. The Emperor is work wear, designed with input from Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions, which provides support for expeditions down south. It's the real deal: The heavy-duty nylon shell resists abrasion, precip, and water, while the 700-fill down insulation is so hearty it feels like you could survive a long South Pole winter in it. There are seven external pockets, most of which are large enough to access wearing gauntlet gloves or mittens, and four internal ones, too. The hood is huge—plenty big enough for a helmet, but if you actually use the Emperor for snow play, make sure it’s really cold ($399; www.eddiebauer.com).
Photograph courtesy Fujifilm
At last, a great-looking retro camera that shoots as good as it looks. Fujifilm’s X100 is the runaway camera of the year, thanks to its 1950s rangefinder styling. But this is one digital model that backs up its pretty facade with dynamite performance. Photos produced by the 12.2-megapixel CMOS sensor are stunningly true to life, with the strong color accuracy, great skin tones, and a minimum of noise even in low-light situations. The metal body feels rugged but not heavy, the flash results look natural and blend nicely with ambient light, and the viewfinder displays all the settings you need. Oh, and the operation is nearly silent. Its best application might be for travel shooting, where being unobtrusive counts. Keep in mind its fixed focal length lens (f/2, 35mm equivalent) can’t be swapped for a telephoto ($1,200; www.finepix-x100.com).
Photograph courtesy Nikon
It has to be said: What took you guys so long? Nikon was the second-to-last major camera manufacturer to make a rugged point and shoot, but the very tough Coolpix AW100 was it worth the wait. The Nikon is packed with high-quality specs, including full HD video at 1080p, and it cranks out top-shelf images in challenging conditions. It’s drop-proof from five feet, waterproof to 33 feet, and freeze-proof to 14ºF. ($380; www.nikonusa.com)
Photograph courtesy Olympus Imaging America Inc.
The first versions of the compact Olympus E-P series performed as if they had a Celica engine in a Corvette body, but no more. The E-P3 is a hot rod under the hood. Critically, its autofocus is blazingly fast—it evaluates focus 120 times a second—and combined with 3.0 frames per second shooting rate you get a compact camera that’ll grab action like a much bigger DSLR. There’s a new built-in flash, too. And with the Micro Four-Thirds format, you can swap lenses for a bigger zoom or better light gathering, depending on whether you want to pull in the big game or shoot after sunset—the versatility is incredible ($900; www.olympus.com).
Photograph courtesy Sierra Designs
Sierra Designs Pyro 15
When was the last time you woke up while camping because your knees were cold? Cold feet, yes, and certainly a cold body core is nothing to mess with, either. But for the Pyro 15, Sierra Designs decided that to save weight, they could reduce the amount of 600-fill down below boxer short range, then increase the down that surrounds the foot well. The result is a bag that stuffs smaller and at 2 pounds, 13 ounces, weighs less than other 15-degree bags, but is just as toasty. Their next trick comes in the spring: A Pyro with a removable chest baffle, so in one purchase you can get the effect of owning two bags—one for colder temps and one for milder conditions ($250; www.sierradesigns.com).
Photograph courtesy Timex
Timex Global Trainer
Until now, GPS-based training watches have either been Rube Goldberg affairs with bulky external GPS receivers or they’ve given short shrift to the important training metrics like heart rate and its training zones. In the Timex Global Trainer, all the key functions come together in the best all-around training watch we’ve tested. GPS is integrated; control over measuring heart rate, pace, and more is easy and powerful; and, finally, you don’t need an advanced degree to program it ($360; www.timex.com).
Photograph courtesy Victorinox Swiss Army
Victorinox Swiss Army Original Timepiece
The Victorinox Swiss Army Original Timepiece is unlikely to ever go out of style. Its 40mm bezel forms a simple and elegant circle, with no hints of ostentation, while the army-green nylon strap hints at a military toughness. The watch can, in fact, take it: It’s water-resistant to 330 feet, has a shatter-resistant crystal, and is built of stainless steel, aluminum, and nylon ($295; www.swissarmy.com).
Photograph courtesy DeLorme
Imagine the relief when you send a smoke signal for help and then, on the horizon, see a puff of smoke in return. DeLorme’s InReach stands to revolutionize backcountry communication by allowing you to call for help and get an instant response by sending and receiving text messages via satellite. “On r way” could be the best text you ever get. The small device pairs with your Android smartphone or DeLorme’s own PN-60w GPS unit for interactive texts and works on its own to send prewritten notes. Text plans start at $10 a month ($250; www.delorme.com).
Photograph courtesy Casio
Have you destroyed your smartphone yet? I walked into a river with my iPhone in my pocket. Oops. That won’t be an issue with the Casio Commando, which is the smartphone equivalent of a Mensa-bright Navy SEAL. This Verizon handset runs the latest version of Android, so you can add every kind of app under the sun, from navigation to photo editing. It’s rugged enough to survive being under water for an hour, being below freezing, and being dropped by a fumbly fingered outdoorsman. It’s very, very tough. Trade-offs? The camera shoots woefully low-res pictures. ($150; www.casiogzone.com).
Vintage Hiking Boots
Photograph courtesy Danner Inc.
Danner Mountain Light
The trail doesn’t know that vintage designs are hot. Your feet don’t care that heritage hiking boots are second only to beards in today’s hipster wardrobe. No, when it comes to where the literal rubber meets the road, the only things that matter are fit, comfort, performance, and durability. The Mountain Light from Danner’s neo-retro Stumptown line has all that and then some. This full-grain leather boot is absolutely gorgeous, a handmade in the U.S.A. thing of beauty that seems too perfect to mar. The moment you slip inside and start walking, you feel like you’ve come home. The leather is buttery soft but offers a ton of support; the outsole is sturdy without being inflexible. And in these months of sloppy autumn storms, the very modern Gore-Tex shores up the protection from mud, water, and goop ($330; www.stumptown.danner.com).
Photograph courtesy Columbia Sportswear Company
Columbia Omni-Heat Bugaglove Max Electric
Yes, 400 bucks for a pair of gloves. And the Columbia Omni-Heat Bugaglove Max Electric is a heavy glove, too, because it runs on the same battery technology that keeps your iPhone happy. But if you ski in bounds and suffer from cold hands, you’ll happily pay—and forgive the weight. That juice sent steady warmth to the very tips of my fingers, keeping my hands from freezing in a full-on ice storm and even sweating on an ultra-cold powder day. The bonus: If you forget to charge the Bugaglove overnight, its space blanket-like interior is still warmer than any glove I’ve used—and I tested these, without the battery, down to minus 5ºF ($400; www.columbia.com).
Photograph courtesy Arbor
Arbor Element RX
There is no single snowboard that’s perfect for all applications, but for sidecountry and on- and off-piste shredding in every condition from crud to powder, Arbor’s Element RX gets our vote for about 20 reasons. We’ll pare that to three. First, ecodesign: Arbor doesn’t go green just for feel-good points, but because sustainably sourced bamboo and poplar make for a snappier deck. It's also lighter, since these materials are stronger than fiberglass and let Arbor cut back on heavy, petro-based resins. Second, true rocker: The promise of rocker boards has been gutted by their inherent instability at speed, so a lot of companies reintroduced a bit of camber. Arbor didn’t. Instead they went old school, adding more sidecut, so you have greater edge control when you’re bombing it, without compromising quick edge-to-edge turn-ability. And third, beauty: Just look at it. ($550; www.arborcollective.com).
Photograph courtesy Salomon.com
Salomon Rocker 2
Ain’t nothing stagnant about the ski market: Powder is still the holy grail, and manufacturers are continuing to push the technology and design to fine-tune deep-snow surfing. Witness Salomon’s Rocker 2, which has the upturned sweep at tip and tail to ease turning in even the thickest blanket of snow and but just the right amount of camber under foot to help the ski hold on groomed runs. The dimensions are a fat 142-122-132 mm at tip-middle-tail, but unlike so many of today’s powder planks, the R2 isn’t heavy: Salomon reinforced the extremities with light honeycomb structures while maintaining a wood core in the middle. The result: It turns easier and faster, but still feels solid where it needs to be ($935; www.salomon.com).
Photograph courtesy SCARPA
Scarpa Alien 1.0
If money is no object and you only care about getting up and down the mountain under your own steam as quickly as possible, the Scarpa Alien 1.0 is the boot for you. Okay, that describes about a hundred people in North America. We’re including one of the world’s lightest and most expensive boots not because of broad appeal, but as an example of the cutting edge of technology. The Alien 1.0 is designed for randonee racing, where ski mountaineers climb to a summit and then descend—the boot has to be as light as possible for the uphill, but still flex like a ski boot for the downhill. Rather than build an entire boot out of carbon fiber, which would be gossamer light but too stiff, Scarpa made a carbon cuff and carbon-fortified lower, getting incredible rigidity where you need it without losing the ability to make turns. With a minimum of padding, it’s not all that comfortable ... but it sure is fast ($1,799; www.scarpa.com).
Photograph courtesy Dynafit
Dynafit TLT Radical FT
While the sidecountry revolution has been sweeping the ski world, another, slightly quieter revolution has been taking place in backcountry ski bindings. Led by Dynafit, the Tech binding eliminates the traditional step-in toe and heel pieces in favor of pins that grip metal fittings on the boot—which is a much lighter system (like, 75 percent lighter). But for some, the Tech binding was perhaps too light or complex. The new Dynafit TLT Radical FT tackles those issues head-on. The toe has what’s unofficially known as “power towers”—metal tabs on each side of the boot that make entry easier and reduce the likelihood of unwanted release—potentially an issue with today’s fatter freeride skis. The heel, too, is more intuitive to use in both downhill and touring modes. And there’s a very trick carbon plate connecting the two that can be adjusted to stiffen or soften your ski’s flex. Lighter, stronger, easier ... the Radical could and should be the first Tech binding to go mainstream ($600; www.dynafit.com).
Photograph courtesy Light & Motion
The Solite 150 cranks out a whopping 150 lumens—the same intensity you find in dedicated cycling lights—so can you use it to bike commute (it comes with a mount) or wear it around camp at its lower setting. It charges via USB, which is very handy. Though the battery lasts a long time (40 hours on low, 6 on the very bright medium setting), a set of AAs can’t bail you out if the amperage runs dry in the backcountry ($179; www.lightandmotion.com).
Photograph courtesy Mammut Sports Group
Mammut Ride Airbag RAS
Inflatable backpacks are the new must-have snow safety device for backcountry skiers and snowboarders. Generally these portable airbags, which help prevent burial in the event of an avalanche, require a significant investment—more than $1,000 for some models—which also means a big commitment to a single pack. Mammut’s new Removable Airbag System fixes that lack of versatility: It can be moved between different size packs. Currently there are two Mammut Ride RAS backpacks, a 30-liter (our choice) and a 20-liter. Additional sizes will be available next winter ($720; www.mammut.ch).
Photograph courtesy Adventure Medical Kits
Adventure Medical Kits SOL Escape Bivvy
Space blankets, as it turns out, are wildly uncomfortable. I was forced to use a reflective aluminum bivvy sack in Iceland and became sopping wet from sweat. Yes, the blanket traps body heat—and every molecule of water. It was almost worse than being exposed to the elements. The new 10-ounce SOL Escape Bivvy from Adventure Medical Kits, however, is lined with a breathable reflective layer that lets moisture escape. It doesn’t bounce back as much body heat as a space blanket, but it’s infinitely more comfortable. I'd even suggest that, in some circumstances, the Escape Bivvy could supplement a lightweight sleeping bag: Instead of carrying a heavier bag stuffed with insulation, slip into the bivvy for added warmth. Get too toasty? Simply unzip the third-length zipper ($50; www.adventuremedicalkits.com).
Photograph courtesy Santa Cruz Bicycles
Santa Cruz Tallboy Carbon R XC
Here’s what Santa Cruz does that other bike companies don’t: They do their own thing. So they were late (very late) to the oversize-wheel, 29er mountain bike party. But then they brought the keg, so nobody cares what time they showed up. The Tallboy Carbon R XC is the first full-suspension (four-inch travel, front and rear) mountain bike that rides like an XC bike with “normal” size, 26-inch wheels. That means it rips on acceleration, corners tightly, and yet gives you some of the leverage advantages that 29ers offer when plowing over rocky trails. Best of all, you have the sweet, smooth suspension action of the bike it was based on, the Blur, one of the best mountain bikes ever invented—by Santa Cruz, of course ($3,899; www.santacruzmtb.com).
Photograph courtesy Levi Strauss & Co.
Levi's Commuter Series
A cycling blue jean? Huh? Levi’s could be accused of jumping on the urban cycling bandwagon, except that these denim commuter pants rock. Based on the 511 skinny jean design, they have a slight stretch and the very important Nanosphere treatment from Schoeller, which sheds dirt and moisture like nothing you've ever seen (which makes them odor-resistant). There’s a tab on the back in which to slip your U-lock, and coolest of all is the reflective piping on the inside of the legs—when you roll them up, your visibility increases by orders of magnitude. There’s just one "but," and it centers around the butt: Skinny jeans for cyclists? How about a cut for those with strong, not-so-skinny thighs? ($78; us.levi.com)
Shoes, Bike Commuting
Photograph courtesy DZR
DZR’s District Shoes
Cycling clothes should have a five-foot rule: That is, how is what you’re wearing going to look when you get more than five feet from your bike? (Hint: Lycra isn't good.) DZR’s District shoes look great. Their style is that of normal sneakers, but they have stiffer soles for pedaling and the ability to add clipless cleats so you can use step-in pedals, such as Shimano’s SPD system. It’s a nice balance between pedaling efficiency and walking comfort, with a decided lean toward pedaling ($85; www.dzrshoes.com).
Photograph courtesy Hiplok
Bike Lock Hiplok
Bike locks have been carried in every way imaginable, and most of them are uncomfortable, inefficient, or dangerous. The Hiplok, on the other hand, is the most comfortable bike lock you’ll wear. Yep, wear. It consists of 30 inches of 8mm steel chain wrapped with nylon to soften the links against the body and a long hook-and-loop strap that loops through a buckle. Simply put, you wear it like a belt, where it sits low and snug and stable on the hips. The strap is infinitely adjustable, so it slips over a summer t-shirt or winter puffy, and it connects without actually locking the lock (a potentially hazardous situation). As for peace of mind, it’s rated silver level by the Sold Secure association, which means it won’t foil a big set of bolt cutters, but should dissuade most thieves ($110; www.hiplok.com).
Car Roof Racks
Photographs courtesy (L) Yakima, (R) Thule
Thule AeroBlade and Yakima Whispbar
Silence is better than golden: It’s easier on the brain, more refreshing, and gets you better gas mileage. Both Thule and Yakima have just introduced teardrop-shaped roof-rack bars designed with much-improved aerodynamics, and they both make such a radical difference in noise reduction it’s revolutionary. Thule’s version is the AeroBlade (right), Yakima’s is the Whispbar (left), and for real-world use you can ignore each manufacturer’s claims about which is better or quieter. In fact, both are nearly silent—ambient road noise drowns out rack noise, and only by climbing through the sun roof and putting your ear next to the rack can you actually hear the air flow. Compared to traditional bars, it’s astounding.
The aero racks are so close in performance, and they work with most of each brand’s attachments, so we’ve given the nod to both. Thule’s is $65 less and far easier to install, but once the rack is on, it’s on. If you have an allegiance to one brand or the other, buy your fave. If you don’t, check them out in person and see which one calls to you ... in a whisper ($325; thule.com; $389; www.yakima.com).
Photograph courtesy Billabong
After coming remarkably close to drowning at Northern California’s Mavericks, big-wave surfer and father Shane Dorian knew he had to find a way to make his sport safer. The answer came to him almost immediately, and he quickly sketched an idea for an inflatable wetsuit, which he sent to a designer at Billabong. Within months, Dorian was in huge surf at Maui’s Jaws, testing the revolutionary V1—and it worked flawlessly. The suit contains a small air bladder, a CO2 cartridge, and a pull cord—when inflated, it brings and keeps the surfer on the surface, preventing the hold-down that has killed big-wave riders. Billabong doesn’t have plans to sell the suit at retail, but is making it available to the world’s top watermen and women, so it will save not just Shane’s life, but others, too (www.billabong.com).