How do you judge the best gear of winter? For us it was easy: Poll the stable of skiers, scramblers, climbers, paddlers, bikers, runners and general freaks who contribute to Elevation Outdoors. Ask them what was the best gear you used over the past year? What gear can’t you live without? What gear changed your life? Here are the winners:
1. Atomic Backland Carbon
What is is: Atomic’s pure touring boot offers everything you want in a backcountry ski boot—an easy-to-flip ski/walk mode switch, enough guts to drive big skis, a breathable custom liner, a stiff carbon cuff—and tips the scales at close to 2.5 pounds. The similar Light version weighs in at close to 4 pounds and costs $900.
Why It Won: While so many traditional ski brands have focused on beefier AT boots, Atomic blew us away with this pure touring machine. The heat-molded liner meant it fit like a glove (ideal for skinning up), but the boot can still confidently drive skis in a wide range of snow conditions.
Where We Took It: Berthoud Pass, the Eiseman Hut (see page 19)
2. Salsa Bucksaw
What It Is: The proof that fat bikes are more than a passing fad. This full-suspension fatty will take on everything from snow to slick rock.
Why It Won: Don’t be fooled. This is not just some bike for snow. Armed with a RockShox Monarch RT3 rear shock and weighing just over 30 pounds it was a joy to ride.
Where We Took It: Slickrock Trail in Moab, Sourdough Trail in Nederland, Tennesse Pass Nordic Center
3. yeti rambler colster
What It Is: A double-wall vacuum-insulated koozie for cans or bottles.
Why It Won: Um, becasue it’s a double-wall vacuum-insulated koozie for cans or bottles, of course. And it keeps that baby classy and cool.
Where We Took It: The A-Basin Beach, car camping, our backyards
4. Gerber 39 Series Micarta
What It Is: It’s a sleek, minimalist 3-inch blade built with CPM S30V steel with a beautiful Micarta handle.
Why It Won: We were impressed by the perfect combination of design and function here. And we loved that the knife is made in the U.S.A.
Where We Took It: Everywhere we went on outdoor adventures in Coloardo, Idaho, Utah and Oregon
5. DPS wailer 112RP2 Tour 1
What It Is: This ski has the stability to handle deep snow and features DPS’s new crazy light Tour 1 construction.
Why It Won: This is the third winter in a row that DPS has won a Peak Gear Award, but we couldn’t help it. This ski simply owns deep days.
Where We Took It: Berthoud Pass in Colorado, Bell Lake Yurt and the Beartooths in Montana, Utah’s Wasatch
6. Backcountry Access
Scepter 4S and Carbon/Aluminum poles
What It Is: A series of sturdy poles for winter (and summer). The 4S collapsible all-season pole feaures an EVA grip that’s comfy to hold. The winter-specific Carbon/Aluminum pole features a snow scraper at the top of the grip.
Why It Won: Pure versatility. When it came to the 4S poles, we loved being able to use one set of poles for skiing and summer hiking. They took a beating and were easy to adjust. For those of us simply interested in skiing and splitboarding, the Carbon/Aluminum pole offered up an easy swing and that scraper came in handy for gunked-up skis and skins.
Where We Took It: All over the Colorado backcountry in a quest to ski every month of the year. The Benedict 100.
7. The North Face Snowmad 34
What It Is: With a fortified steel frame, modular ABS routing funnels and the ability to haul skis or snowboards on sweaty hikes, this pack was designed specifically for adventure-minded powder hounds.
Why It Won: There’s nothing mind-blowing about the Snowmad, but it does include smart features like a glove stash and easy access to avalanche tools that prove it was designed by people who actually spend time in the backcountry—and that is exactly why we have it loaded and ready to go every morning in our garage.
Where We Took It: All over in the British Columbia backcountry, Berthoud Pass and Silverton Mountain in Colorado
8. Outdoor Research Uberlayer
What It Is: In essence this is a puffy for people on the move: It combines a very breathable soft, warm layer with a soft nylon outer layer.
Why It Won: The Uberlayer has upped the ante when it comes to the new breed of light insulators that can withstand heavy activity. It changes the game when it comes to moving fast, since you can bring just it and don’t have to stop to mess with layers.
Where We Took It: A nordic ski in 50-mph winds on Monarch Pass, Mount Yale in winter, belaying friends at a shady crag in Moab in November
9. Salomon Mtn Lab Helmet
What It Is: Developed at Salomon’s James-Bond-style Mountain Lab in France, this brain bucket strikes the perfect balance between comfort and protection.
Why It Won: First, we love the plush, light merino wool liner and the dial system makes it easy to fit and adjust (and wear with a beanie on super cold days). Most important, though, this is a helmet you don’t mind wearing on the skin up, so you never have to take it off.
Where We Took It: The British Columbia backcountry, Chamonix, Berthoud Pass
10. TSL Symbioz Expert
What It Is: In short, a snowshoe like none we have seen before. The shoe flexes to move with a walking gait. Solid crampons grip hard snow.
Why It Won: It made snowshoeing feel, well, sexy. To be honest, we never end up using our snowshoes enough, because they just don’t perform where we need them—in tough conditons when ascending hard snow slopes in the high peaks.
Where We Took It: Mount Audubon in the Indian Peaks, Mount Yale and Mount Princeton in the Sawatch
11. Voormi Fallline
What It Is: This water shedding, breathable shell looks and feels more like a beefed up hoody. That’s because it uses a new Core Construction technology that weaves the membrane which provides its performance into the fabric itself, rather than using it in the sandwich construction you find in standard three-layer shells. This makes it easier for designers to put those properties in soft, stylish fabrics that would otherwise get wet and heavy out in the elements.
Why It Won: It works. We have been testing a prototype for several months and it has endured nasty squalls just as well as shells with more traditional water shedding, breathable membranes. While we will most likley still pull out our battened-down old-school three layers for rainy weather, we are confident wearing this shell all winter long. Plus, it looks good enough for bar hopping. Voormi has impressed us before with their fabrics. Oh, and Voormi is based here in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
Where We Took It: Berthoud Pass and Rocky Mountain National Park
12. G3 Ion LT
What It Is: Meet the even lighter version of G3’s Ion binding that put the Canadian backcountry company back in the AT touring conversation last season. They weigh in at just about one pound per binding.
Why It Won: It’s stripped down, lightweight, fully functional and absolutely beautiful. It’s simple to get in and out of and feels confident underfoot even though it is so light.
Where We Took It: Solitude and the Wasatch backcountry in Utah, Bell Lake Yurt in Montana
13. C.A.M.P. Nano 22
What It Is: The latest stronger, lighter (0.8 ounce) version of C.A.M.P.’s minimalist carabiner for all-around use.
Why It Won: Most micro-biners are so cramped you can’t clip them to much. Not so with these. They come in colors for your cams, clip well enough to use at cruxes, and save you a ton of weight over the course of your rack. Where We Took It: Alpine and rock routes across the globe, Chamonix and Gran Paradiso in the Alps, Eldorado Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
14. Saxx Blacksheep
Long John Fly
What It Is: Oh, it’s nothing but the most comfy baselayer bottom you will ever wear, dudes. True to its name, Saxx come with a pocket anatomically designed for your male goods.
Why It Won: Just go try them on. But beyond the obvious, the fabric on this baselayer delivers, too: It’s a fine combination of incredibly soft modal and warm merino wool. Our only complaint? The females in our life worry that we don’t take them off often enough.
Where We Took It: Everywhere we skied and camped in Colorado and Utah
15. FlyLow Tess
What It Is: It’s a stylish 10-ounce woman’s insulator, built with water-repellant 800-fill down—and small enought to stuff down into a day pack.
Why It Won: We are never sure why it’s so hard for outdoor brands to get all the elements—fit, look, warmth—in an active woman’s puffy jacket right. It all comes together here in a piece we feel just as good wearing out and about town as we do skinning in the backcountry.
Where We Took It: Vail and Beaver Creek in Colorado, Taos and Santa Fe in New Mexico
16. blizzard zero g 95
What It Is: This lightweight (just under four pounds per ski) carbon touring ski has all of the cojones you would expect from something made to bang at the resort.
Why It Won: Traditional backcountry ski brands take note: Blizzard now makes arguably the best touring ski on the market. A unique carbon cap construction delivers incredible downhill power and stability while remaining svelte in the skin track.
Where We Took It: Twenty-five days of touring and powder skiing in the Colorado backcountry
What It Is: Imagine combining a light, insulating vest and a baselayer in one piece. That’s what we have here: There’s Smartloft wool insulation in the chest and classic Smartwool NTS Mid 250 fabric on the sleeves, topped off with a DWR finish to ward off light precipitaiton.
Why It Won: Because we wear it all the time. It’s the perfect weight and warmth to give enough protection when the wind picks up without sweating you out when the sun peaks out.
Where We Took It: Fall cycling and hiking excursions in Boulder and Nederland, nordic skiing at Devil’s Thumb Ranch, walking the dog every day; Our female editors keep it on for chilly days at the office and home.
18. Kora Shola 230 Zip
What It Is: Yak wool. Yep, you heard us. New brand Kora has tapped into the natural fabric that keeps the furry inhabitants of the Himalaya warm to craft soft, cozy baselayers. The Shola puts that fabric in a top with a little bit of venting that’s ideal for ski touring.
Why It Won: All you have to do is put it on, or even just touch it, to understand why yak wool is so prized as an insulator (Kora claims that it is 40 percent warmer than merino) and for its soft feel. We ended up wearing it just as often day-to-day as we did to the resort and out touring.
Where We Took It: Colorado resorts, the British Columbia backcountry, the coffee shop
19. Edier Jäger Pant
What It Is: With just a bit of insulation and some stretch, these waterproof/breathable pants feature removable suspenders and an adjustable waist.
Why It Won: It’s a versatile, go-to pant for everything from spring days to midwinter blower storm cycles. Best of all, it has held up to long-term abuse.
Where We Took It: Everywhere we skied in North America and Europe. The contributor who nominated these bad boys says: “I rock the jacket and the pants in the petrol color, kind of a gray-blue that’s low key and stealth and blends into the forest really well. Not that I’d cut through trees to ski any closed zones … Nope, not me. That was some other guy.”
And … Our BEER OF THE YEAR Comrade Brewing Company Superpower IPA
This new Colorado brewery has been turning out this masterpiece since opening day. It is a huge floral hop bomb reminiscent of Pliny the Elder from Russian River and Heady Topper from The Alchemist. Many in the industry are calling it the best IPA in the country. We suggest you go try one yourself after a day of hard playing with all your new gear.
Contributors: Aaron Bible, Rob Coppollilo, Jon Jay, chris kassar, Hudson Lindenberger, Kevin Luby, Radha Marcum, Cameron Martindell, Drew Pogge, Doug Schnitzspahn, Ryan Stuart, Tom Winter, Chris Van Leuven