Contributors: Eugene Buchanan, Adam Chase, James Dziezynski, kim fuller, Chris Kassar, Cameron Martindell, jordan martindell, Doug Schnitzspahn, Chris Van Leuven, Zach White
Twice each year we hand out these awards to the very best gear we put to the test in the field. How do we determine the winners? Simple, we asked our top contributors—who, we are proud to admit, spend far more time camping, hiking, backpacking, biking, climbing and paddling than they do “working”—what was the best gear you used over the past year? What gear can’t you live without? What gear changed your life?
1. CAR CAMPING TENT
Tepui Kukenam Ruggedized
Quite simply, it’s a bomber, three-person, four-season tent with a comfy mattress floor that packs away on your car and unfolds like a treehouse for grownups when you find a camp spot.
Why It Won: Because it’s far, far cheaper than an Airstream, but it has that same sort of #vanlife functionality. Pull up anywhere and pop the top.
Where We Took It: It was just what we always wanted for basecamping in Fruita’s Rabbit Valley, and made for easy, instant lodgings outside of Taos.
2. BIKE COMPONENTRY
Shimano XTR Di2
Shimano’s introduction of electronic shifting to the mountain bike world raises the already high bar of precision gear changing, and adds a new list of improvements to the rider cockpit.
Why It Won: It’s butter. Plus, being able to control both front and rear derailleurs from one small, ergonomic shifter frees up real estate that’s increasingly crowded with dropper posts and suspension remotes. Of course, the price of XTR will play a huge factor in its popularity, but an XT version is soon to follow.
Where We Took It: We hit it hard on our Boulder backyard trails, which doesn’t offer much of a wow factor, but did omit the distractions of unfamiliar trails, putting our full attention to how the 2016 group performed.
$3,500 and up; ridextr.com
Yeti Hopper 40
This roomy, lightweight, soft-sided bag of a cooler keeps your beer and food cold all day long, even when it’s hot out.
Why It Won: It doesn’t weigh down the boat or take up needless space in the back of the car. It’s just shocking how long this portable fridge keeps a bevvie at the perfect temperature.
Where We Took It: River trips in Brown’s Canyon National Monument. Remote Alaska river trips, where weight and space—for both flying and floating—was super-limited. Car camping at Fruita and Shelf Road– when it was damn hot out.
4. SLEEPING BAG
Sierra Designs Mobile mummy 800 4-Season
This light (just over 30 ounces) sleeping bag features Duck Dri-Down to keep it warm and lofty even when it gets wet, as well as an innovative design that makes it quite versatile.
Why It Won: This baby delivers all you could ask for from a sleeping bag: It’s comfortable, super warm and offers up the option of putting your arms through zipperless armports to hold a book or a drink in bed. You can even put your feet through the stowable footbox to walk around camp. While the 800 version was ideal for frigid temps, it could be overkill in warmer weather where you will want the lighter 600, or even 300, versions of the system.
Where We Took It: This bag went absolutely everywhere: From cold winter hut trips in the mountains to balmy spring camping in the Moab desert to our bed at home.
Mammut Infinity 9.5
This versatile rope can handle anything from gym to crag.
Why It Won: Though the Infinity is heavier (but still light at 58 grams per meter) than many of our go-to ropes—we like the 8.9 to 9.4 range—it performs like it’s slinky-thin. It’s quite supple and Mammut’s Teflon coating helps cut down on dreaded rope drag. We whipped on it several times a day, several days a week, for six months (primarily at the gym), before the sheath lost its slick, new-rope feel.
Where We Took It: Cragging and multi-pitch moderates in Vermont such as Quartz Crack (5.8+ R, 290’), The Rose (5.10a, 100’) and The Thorn (5.11a, 60’). The rope softly caught more falls than we could keep track of as we attempted the Adirondacks’ trad testpiece White Knight (5.12a, 90’).
6. BACKCOUNTRY TENT
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 mtnGLO
Big Agnes’ ultralight MTNglo tents
come with built-in LED lighting.
Why It Won: We have already handed out Peak Gear awards to Big Agnes tents, so we were excited to test the Mountain Glow line out in the Colorado backcountry. Far from being a gimmick, the Fly Creek UL2’s luminosity makes those pre-dawn alpine starts a much more manageable experience. It’s easy to set up and break down, sturdy enough to handle some fearsome Rocky Mountain storms and packs away with ease. It fits two people surprisingly well along with the gear inside the tent.
Where We Took It: Peakbagging trips in the Indian Peaks, the Sangre de Cristos, and the Grenadier Range.
Osprey Manta AG 20
This day pack features Osprey’s comfy, stable Anti Gravity (AG) system which makes the entire backpanel a massive form-fitting pad.
Why It Won: We normally shy away from day packs with lots of suspension technology. But once we strapped this smart hauler on, we were sold. It kept the pack battened down when we were moving double-time down the trail or navigating a tricky traverse.
Where We Took It: It was our pack of choice for Cedar Mesa, Utah canyon jaunts and Colorado alpine scrambles.
8. CLIMBING SHOE
Five Ten Verdon Lace
Made with Five Ten’s new asymmetric last, this performance shoe features a thermo-plastic midsole, and an EVA insert that fills the sole’s deadspace.
Why It Won: Our Vedon Laces are now riddled with holes—and they’re still our go-to shoes, and comfy as bedroom slippers. The unique locking-assist lacing system keeps them tight and a comfy non-woven liner in the leather uppers feels good on the feet.
Where We Took THem: We ordered these shoes loose and baggy because we can’t stand smashing our toes into tight-as-hell climbing shoes, just for “performance.” We have climbed in these shoes—often at our limits—for nine months on face, crack and boulder problems and in the gym. But aren’t these specialty shoes designed for long limestone routes in France’s Verdon Gorge? Sure, they are, but they work great on crappy schist and New York’s powdery metanorthosite).
Outdoor Research Realm
This do-it-all jacket features, OR’s new air-permeable Ascent fabric.
Why It Won: We wear countles waterproof/breathable shells, but none worked and felt as good as this one.
Where We Took It: Spring skiing in Rocky Mountain National Park and wet spring hiking in Boulder.
Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini Lantern
This little solar-powered light soon became a camp favorite.
Why It Won: The little features (USB plug, built-in charge cable, dimmer dial) made it more than just a the practical lantern it is.
Where We Took It: Car camping out to the West Coast and backpacking in Colorado.
This big, confident inflatable SUP will win over both beginners and hardcore paddlers when they head downriver.
Why It Won: Hala’s innovative approach to SUP design adds another, wrap-around air chamber to the conventional one-chamber SUP constructions. It handles whitewater amazingly well, making it a stable platform you can take anywhere.
Where We Took It: The board won us over on the mighty Town Canyon run of the Yampa River through downtown Steamboat Springs—it thrived in the Class II wave trains.
Trango TRK GTX
Sportiva’s burly-but-lightweight backpacking boot is nimble enough to scramble up class 3 and 4 ridges. The TRK GTX can handle off-trail work and long days banging out miles on trail.
Why It Won: Suitable for both backpacking and day hiking, this is an extremely comfortable boot that’s rigid where it needs to be and flexible where it counts. The solid sticky rubber provided grip, even on wet rock, and, after a full season of hard use, the lugs showed very little wear. The Gore-Tex lining lived up to the billing—when paired with gaiters, even knee-deep plunges into swamp mud didn’t soak the insides of these boots (not to mention river crossings and snowfields). An added bonus for animal lovers, there is no leather used in the construction.
Where We Took It: The boots ate up extended Front Range backpacking and scrambling trips, Gore Range backpacking and scrambling, Tenmile Range scrambles, Indian Peaks Wilderness backpacking and Elk Range Fourteener hikes.
Voormi’s water shedding 21.5 micron surface-hardened thermal wool is so incredibly soft and comfortable it’s hard to believe it has technical chops—until you use it in the wild.
Why It Won: When your favorite around-the-house sweatshirt also serves as your shell for hikes, chilling around the campfire or boogie-ing up the skin track piece, you never take it off, especially when it’s this comfy.
Where We Took It: Backcountry skiing all over Colorado and Utah, hiking Boulder trails, and traveling to Finland’s Arctic Lapland.
Super stylish, but comfortable, these performance shorts stay in place while climbing or hiking.
Why It Won: They are the one short you can pack to do it all for a multi-sport adventure week or weekend and climb, hike, backpack, run. You can throw a chamois under them and ride. All that and they never chafed us.
Where We Took It: Arches National Park backpacking, Fruita mountain biking, Shelf Road climbing trips, and to the top of Mt. Shavano one May weekend (snowshoeing in shorts was weird, but necessary).
These performance pants can play the role of being around-the-town jeans, too, without looking dorky thanks to the stretch in the durable fabric.
Why It Won: They do more than look good. They’re made for cycling, with smart attention to detail, including a reflective logo on the right inner cuff for rolled-up chain-grease avoidance and night safety. The signature pink taping offers some subtle bling, too.
Where We Took It: We took these jeans anywhere that counts as “dressy” by Boulder sports chic standard during the two or three months that are cold enough to warrant full-leg coverage on the bike.