Published: December 2007/January 2008
Gear Picks of the Year
The year's hottest gear—backpacks, jackets, technology, footwear, and more—for adventure's six realms: deserts, forests, mountains, road trips, snow, and water.
Text by Steve Casimiro with gear recommendations from Adventure's Retail Advisory Board
Gear Picks of the Year: Desert

1. The Sunglasses
Most interchangeable-lens sunglasses require Greco-Roman wrestling between fingers and frame to swap lenses. With the Smith Optics Interlock shades, available in three styles, you simply twist the temple piece to unlock the frame, pop one of three included lenses in or out, twist to secure and you're done ($139; smithoptics.com).

2. The Solar Charger
Go Green
Yes, the Solio Classic pulls power from the sun like any portable solar charger—but it's how the device works that's revolutionary. Instead of all-day trickle-charging, it stores power in a battery, which then charges your small electronic device (phone, iPod, digicam) at normal speeds whenever you want ($100; solio.com).

3. The Overnight Pack
You lose enough water in the desert—who needs a sweaty back on top of it? As in many of its competitors, the suspension in the 2,500-cubic-inch (40,968-cubic-centimeter) Kelty Locus 40 creates a space between your back and the pack, but it also vents on the top, bottom, and sides, even when fully loaded ($150; kelty.com).

4. The Multitool
The desert pares things down to their most essential, which is what Leatherman did with its Skeletool CX. By eliminating the casing to expose the bones, Leatherman lightened its newest offering to a trim five ounces (142 grams). The beautifully sculpted hunk of steel doesn't go overboard—it has only a knife, pliers/wire cutter, and a screwdriver with extra bits—but it has exactly what you need ($96; leatherman.com).

5. The Hydration System
Think of it as assisted drinking: Pump a little air into the 70-ounce (1,984-gram) PolarPak Moflow hydration reservoir and water runs like a river. No more sucking like mad to get hydrated. And, with the optional shower head (available this spring), dishwashing and backcountry hose-downs are easy options ($32; polarpak.com).

6. The Optics
The vast open space of the desert (not to mention the search for rock art or ruins) begs for binoculars, but who wants the weight? At just 3.2 ounces (91 grams), the Brunton Echo Zoom monocular is the solution. The one-lens wonder goes from 10x to 30x with a twist of the dial ($44; brunton.com).

7. The Off-Road Vehicle
The roughest path to the trailhead is in the desert, and no stock vehicle is better engineered for loose and broken tracks than the Volkswagen Touareg 2. The small SUV is capable of navigating 35-degree side slopes, sports adjustable ground clearance, and has a computer to control descents so you don't have to touch the brakes. The gasoline-driven V-8 gets miserable mileage, but the new V-10 diesel is more powerful and still gets 22 mpg on the highway ($59,140; volkswagen.com).

.
Gear Picks of the Year: Forest

1. The Tent
That the two-person Mountain Hardwear Helion 2 tent weighs just 3.3 pounds (1.5 kilograms) is astounding, but it's the innovation behind it that's truly amazing. The nylon fly uses hollow fibers, which weigh 25 percent less, and the poles are thinner in the middle than on the ends, like bike tubes. MH even trimmed three ounces by subbing plastic clips for traditional pole grommets. The economies allow enough space so that spooning is optional, not mandatory ($395; mountainhardwear.com).

2. The Backcountry Computer
Finally, a women's wrist-top computer that doesn't look like a castaway from a geek convention: The Suunto Lumi is stylish and loaded with functions essential in the backcountry. Highlights include a barometer, an altimeter, a compass, sunrise/sunset time for 400 locations, and a particularly cool storm alert, which signals a pressure drop serious enough to make you search for cover ($399; suunto.com).

3. The Hiking Boot
Though it's tempting to use lightweight trail runners for backpacking, doing so is not without risks—notably hike-ending sprains. The Inov-8 Roclite 370 solves that dilemma. The first ankle-supporting boot to approach the feathery lightness of a shoe (just 13 ounces [369 grams]), it provides more cushioning than skeletal trail runners and even has a "five-fingered" shank for greater shock protection ($120; inov-8.com).

4. The Trail-Ready GPS
Imagine never futzing with paper maps again. That's the goal of the Magellan Triton 1500. With a bright, sharp color display that operates as a highly intuitive touch screen (a first among handhelds), the 1500 already tops this year's field units. Add to that Magellan's partnership with National Geographic TOPO! (also a first) and you've got a GPS loaded with the most detailed and sophisticated topographic maps ever viewed in the palm of your hand ($399; magellangps.com).

5. The Weekend Pack
While most companies pour their cutting-edge technology into huge, expedition-size rucksacks, The North Face has been focusing on its smaller, weekend-friendly packs. Best in show: TNF's Ligero 50 is fitted with the clever X-Frame suspension, which uses simple, crossed aluminum stays linked at a central pivot; it allows the pack to flex with your body while still isolating the load ($160; thenorthface.com).

6. The Sleeping Bag
It's hard to get much greener than the Big Agnes Skinny Fish. The 20-degree, three-season sleeping bag is built from 96 percent recycled materials (mostly soda bottles), including synthetic Climashield HL Green insulation. Only the zipper is nonrecycled. And it can be paired with the Diversion Insulated Air Core ($90), a 100 percent recycled sleeping pad that slips into a pouch on the underside of the Skinny Fish. No more rolling off in the middle of the night ($180; bigagnes.com).

Gear Picks of the Year: Mountain

1. The Mountain Bike
These days the most sought-after suspension mountain bikes use engineering sleights of hand to trick moving parts into being more efficient rather than less. The Giant Trance XO is the Penn & Teller of the dirt world. Though the company offers a few of these able-bodied rides, the Trance is the lightest, stiffest, and strongest. And with five inches (13 centimeters) of travel, the frame is better at taking bumps. Also, it's decorated with a host of Gucci parts, from Fox front and rear shocks to Avid Juicy 7 disk brakes and a sweet Mavic wheel-set ($700; giantbikes.com).

2. The Trail Runner
Dirt is indeed more forgiving than pavement, but most new trail runners have become so minimalist, it's like they forgot that "softer" isn't necessarily "soft." By contrast, the Asics Gel Trail Attack 4 WR has incorporated the perfect amount of padding into its heel. The cushion takes the edge off every foot strike just where you need it, but is still spare enough to keep the 10.9-ounce (309-gram) speedster nimble and light ($80; asics.com).

3. The Vest
Other than stuffing your clothes with eucalyptus leaves, there are few options for puffy yet environmentally friendly insulation. The Patagonia Micro Puff vest is the exception. Its synthetic Climashield Green filler is 40 percent recycled, its shell is 90 percent, and its lining 50 percent. No other puffy comes close ($125; patagonia.com).

4. The Shell
Equally worthy of an Appalachian Trail thru-hike or a summit bid on Denali, the waterproof/breathable Marmot Exum jacket is the most comfortable mountaineering shell you can buy. Built with a hyper-functional, helmet-friendly, windproof hood and massive armpit vents, the Exum incorporates the new Gore-Tex Pro Shell, the softest and most durable Gore lining to date ($375; marmot.com).

5. The Big Mountain Tent
It's not every day (or even every year) that a new category of tents comes to market. The REI Cirque ASL 2 is the first of the "three-season-plus" shelters, bringing four-season stability and weatherproofing in a package that's light enough for backpacking (five pounds, two ounces [2.3 kilograms]). Using leaner fabrics and stiffer poles, the 31-square-foot (3-square-meter) Cirque can weather winds high up on the mountain—without getting blown off it ($249; rei.com).

6. The Wi-Fi Camera
You finally nailed that bouldering problem or cleared that gap jump on your mountain bike—now prove it to the world with the Sony Net Sharing Cam. There's no better or faster way to get your videos to the Web: This small (four inches [ten centimeters]), light (five ounces [142 grams]), cheap (200 bones) camcorder preformats your MPEG4 files for uploading to YouTube, Vox, and other sites ($200; sonystyle.com).

7. The DayPack
Not your standard-issue book bag, the Vaude Aracanda 30 features an airy suspension that handles up to 30 pounds (14 kilograms), adjustable waist and shoulder straps, and seamless, waterproof construction—all in a gram or so over two pounds (.9 kilograms) ($110; libertymountain.com).

Gear Picks of the Year: Road Trips

1. The Running Shoe
With all the gimmicks and technology crammed into road shoes these days, it's easy to forget that the ideal trainer perfectly melds cushioning, support, and fit. Of all the candidates we tried, that harmony was best achieved in the Adidas Supernova Cushion 7. This everyday roadster has separate cushioning units in the forefoot and heel, which along with an EVA foam sock liner make for an incredibly smooth transition from heel strike to toe-off ($90; adidas.com).

2. The Base Camp
Coolest. Camper. Ever. The SylvanSport GO is the camp trailer for people who've never even thought about camp trailers. Light enough to be pulled by a Mini Cooper, the GO unfolds into a Kelty tent that sleeps four and has some seven feet of headroom, screened windows, and a dining table. It also features 24 cubic feet (1 cubic meter) of internal gear storage and the ability to host a roof rack for bikes, boats, and anything else ($7,900; sylvansport.com).

3. The Luggage"
”Smart" and "luggage" don't usually inhabit the same sentence, but the Eagle Creek Take 2 ORV Trunk 28 bucks the trend. The 3,050-cubic-inch (49,980-cubic-centimeter) main bag has an easy-to-clean laminated lining for hauling dirty gear, while the zip-off duffel carries on easily and has three compartments for travel necessities ($320; eaglecreek.com).

4. The iPod Watch
If only most electronics worked as flawlessly as the Timex Ironman iControl. Plug its tiny radio transmitter into your iPod or iPhone and, voilà, you can change the song and volume with buttons on the watch. No more breaking stride to change up the tempo, and you still get all the features of Timex's number one wrist-top trainer ($125; suunto.com).

5. The Dashtop GPS
GPS just became genius. The Garmin nüvi 770 features all the portability and touch screen smarts of older models but adds two innovations: Press "Where Am I" and the 770 displays the closest hospital, police station, and gas station; take it with you when you park and it automatically remembers where you left the car. Artificial intelligence does exist ($1,000; timex.com).

6. The Bike Jersey
There's no doubt that the soft, natural hand of a wool bike jersey tops clammy Lycra. Still, most riders throw that logic aside in the heat of summer. Too hot. The solution is the itch-free women's SmartWool Ewetopia. It's made from the lightest all-wool fabric available, breathes like a dream, and sports a 5.5-inch (14-centimeter) front-zip for serious venting ($90; smartwool.com).

7. The Scooter

Electric cars may have a way to go, but their two-wheeled brethren are here and kicking butt. The Vectrix Electric Maxi-Scooter plugs into a standard wall outlet, gets between 40 and 60 miles per charge (64 and 97 kilometers per charge), and goes from zero to 50 in 6.8 seconds. The low center of gravity makes it easy for noncyclists to control, and charging time is just three hours. Best of all, this isn't vaporware: The Vectrix is available at dealers now ($11,000; vectrixusa.com).

Gear Picks of the Year: Snow

1. The Down Jacket
In a market flooded with ultralight down jackets, it's hard to find one that stands out. Enter The North Face Catalyst. Stuffed with 800-fill down and loaded with convenient features—insulated hood, multiple pockets, cinchable hem to keep out the snow—the jacket packs to nearly nothing and comes in at a barely there 16.3 ounces (462 grams) ($250; thenorthface.com).

2. The Goggles
Goggle technology is so universally good these days, the deciding factor is normally style. That considered, the Scott Limited Edition Alibi Sakura is the pair for 2008. 'Course, should you care about the tech, it's helmet-compatible, spherically shaped, and treated with anti-fog ($119; scottusa.com).

3. The Avalanche Transceiver
Think of the Ortovox S1 avalanche transceiver as an insurance policy. With a crisp LED screen that displays both burial site and depth, it can help you locate avalanche victims faster than any other unit. What's more, the digital, three-antennaed S1 is particularly adept at finding multiple skiers—something no other transceiver can boast ($500; ortovox.com).

4. The Snowboard
Freestyle snowboards aren't known for their grip—terrain parks usually reward flex instead—but the Gnu Altered Genetics uses a serrated steel edge underfoot to provide amazing control. Called Magne Traction, it gives the board a versatility that can take you from a rail slide to the iciest couloir ($600; gnu.com).

5. The Midlayer
Smooth on the outside, fuzzy on the inside, the women's Nau Indulgent midlayer is like a sheepskin turned inside out. But PETA can chill, because this fitted piece is knit entirely from recycled polyester derived from soda bottles ($160; nau.com).

6. The Ski
In a crowded field of skis, each year one rises above the rest. This season it's the K2 Apache Coomba, named for late, legendary guide Doug Coombs. With a fat 135-mm tip and beefy 102-mm waist, the ski is unparalleled at floating through the light, the wet, the deep, and the crud ($650; k2skis.com).

Gear Picks of the Year: Water

1. The Tide Watch
Tested and approved by surfing wunderkinds the Malloy brothers, the Nixon 51-30 has an oversize face with numbers easily seen underwater or when spray is flying. Add a tide indicator so you can catch the swell at its peak, waterproofing to 300 meters (984 feet), and slick modern styling (unheard of in most tide watches) and you've got a timepiece that beckons ($300; nixonnew.com).

2. The Kayak
Fashioned from carbon fiber, the Necky Chatham 16 Carbon is a leap forward for boaters. Even at a wispy 46 pounds (21 kilograms), the 16-footer (5-meter) is über-tough, making it perfectly suited for expedition-worthy beatings and surf-zone hammerfests ($3,500; neckykayaks.com).

3. The Surfboard
Traditional foam surfboards are so fragile, it seems they'll crack if you look at them wrong. But the Surftech 7'6'' Bear Versatile is made from nearly indestructible Tuflite epoxy. It isn't ding-proof, but it's close, making it ideal for travel as well as everyday use. And the shape is the perfect blend of shortboard and longboard: It's stable but fast, paddles quick but is highly maneuverable, and works for surfers from fledgling to expert ($786; surftech.com).

4. The Wet Suit
Nobody likes the thought of swimming in oil—so why squeeze into traditional petroleum-based neoprene wet suits? The Body Glove Eco full suit uses nonpetroleum rubbers (including one inventively derived from corn) that are created with one-tenth the energy of garden-variety neoprenes. What's more, the zippers are recycled plastic and the logos are printed with water-based inks ($325; bodyglove.com).

5. The Dive Mask
Most dive masks leech on to your noggin, pull at your skin, and leave you with raccoon eyes—but not the Mares X-Vision Liquidskin. Fashioned from dual-density silicone, the material against your face is 45 percent more pliable than on traditional masks, making for a snug but buttery soft fit ($95; mares.com).

6. The Water Shoe
It's a shame that most "amphibious" shoes incorporate the worst of water and earth instead of the best. Not so the New Balance 920. Though it fits just like a comfy multisport sneaker, the 920 features 12 screened H2O ports: Water flows out, but grit and pebbles can't flood in. Plus, new materials in the shoe's upper and insole make for the fastest dry times we found. Pair that with rubber that grips like a gecko even when wet and you have our new fave ($90; newbalance.com).