How do you judge the best gear of summer? For us it was simple: Poll the stable of hikers, 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:
Rab Flashpoint $325
Why It Won: This 6.3-ounce, three-layer shell packs down tiny, it’s crazy light and it breathes better than any other jacket we tested. That versatility made it our must-have hard shell.
Where We Took It: Hikes and alpine climbs in Rocky Mountain National Park. Climbs in the Flatirons. Mountain bike rides around Boulder. Multi-day excursions in the San Juans. Guide training in Canada.
2. MOUNTAIN BIKE
Advanced 27.5 1, $4,750
Why It Won: We are seeing the most innovation in new enduro bikes and this 27.5-inch-wheeled beast combines a handmade composite frame designed specifically for that wheel size and 6.3 inches of Giant’s Maestro suspension. That all added up for a ride that could easily handle the downhill park, but climbs like a champ.
Where We Took It: Vail downhill and cross-country trails. Eagle trail system. The nasty Apex trail in Golden.
Optic Nerve V12 $99
Why It Won: It’s simple: sunglasses that stay on your face are priceless. These do just that. Plus, the wide lenses provide solid peripheral views, and the hydrophobic coating sheds water.
Where We Took It: All over Colorado. Bermuda. Panama. The office.
Hala Atcha $1,349
Why It Won: In a word, versatility: The stable design of this inflatable board meant it could handle everything from playing with the kids, to running some whitewater, to patrolling flatwater.
Where We Took It: The Yampa. Boulder Reservoir. Ruby-Horsethief.
5. SLEEPING PAD
Klymit Insulated Static V Luxe $100
Why It Won: This light, easy-to-pack pad is super warm and comfy, and gave us enough room—it’s a plush 30 inches wide—to toss and turn.
Where We Took It: Climbing trips to Indian Creek. Bike trips to Fruita. A four-night winter camping/snowshoeing romp in the Collegiate Peaks
Garmin Oregon 600 Series $270
Why It Won: The big hikers among us found Garmin’s Oregon 600 series handheld GPS units to be invaluable up in the high wilderness of Colorado’s mountains, especially when we got off the trail. The units were intuitive to use and stood up to some serious abuse when we were scrambling little-known thirteeners. When paired with Garmin’s optional Colorado topo maps, it’s a worthy investment for those who take backcountry navigation seriously.
Where We Took It: Gore Range. Elk Range. Backcountry Huts.
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 $320
Why It Won: Big Agnes updated its already ridiculously light Fly Creek UL series tents this year to be even lighter. The UL1 weighs in at a scant one pound, 11 ounces. Opt just to use the fly and it’s just over a pound. It also kept out the elements, including a middle-of-the-night, high-mountain groppel and thunder storm. This one-person tent was our go-to shelter when we wanted to get some serious alone time.
Where We Took It: Backpacking in the Gore Range, the Ten Mile range and the Utah desert.
8. TRAIL RUNNER
Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2 $120
Why It Won: The basic job of a trail runner is to 1) not slip on nasty terrain 2) provide the support to keep you from getting inured and let you enjoy the ride when you are out there. Of all the shoes the runners among us tested, these 10-ounce slippers felt the most natural on our feet. Plus, the 4 millimeters of drop felt like the sweet spot between comfort and support. And all those details meant even more to our ultra-running editors, who put more miles on them than we thought possible.
Where We Took It: Boulder trails. Salida tails. Asheville, North Carolina.
Osprey Atmos AG 65 $260
Why It Won: Simply put, this is the most innovative pack design we have seen in years. Osprey combined ventilation with support in a cush, mesh back panel that contours to the body. That system works with shoulder and hip straps that tighten up together, making for a perfect, easy fit.
Where We Took It: Extended backpacking trips to Cedar Mesa, Utah, canyons with the family and peak-bagging and fly-fishing missions in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Mammut Niva $189
Why It Won: It should not be legal for fleece to feel this luxurious, and yet that’s precisely the case with the liner on this indispensable zip hoodie. It won our female testers over as the ideal underlayer in colder temperatures, but we also found it to be the perfect jacket by itself in spring and early summer (especially with the cool, damp spring we had this season in the Front Range).
Where We Took It: Telluride ski area and backcountry. Trail running, dog walking and mountain biking on Boulder County Open Space trails. Mammoth mountain. California. Travel all over the country. It was our go-to mid-layer all winter long when we went resort skiing.
11. BIKE HELMET
Specialized Ambush $180
Why It Won: This full-coverage all-mountain helmet weighs less than many cross-country lids on the market (and it offers up more than enough ventilation). The fit was easy to dial in thanks to the Mindset 360 system which cradled our heads when we battened it down—plus, it helps alleviate rotational impact forces in the case of a crash.
Where We Took It: Nederland trails. JeffCo trails. New Zealand.
Eddie Bauer Maximus $149–$99
Why It Won: Of all the amazing gear out there that we could give an award to… a duffel bag? Hell yes. That’s because of all the gear we own, this
duffel is the thing we use the most.. No matter the sport (skiing, biking, hiking, surf trip in Baja, kids’ overnight sleepover, business trip to San Diego), we stuff them full of all the other gear we need. And these bags (that come in 90L, 70L and 45L versions) are truly the best duffels that we own: The coated polyester endures water and abuse and they pack down flat and small.
Where We Took It: All over Colorado and the U.S. Big trip to Sweden.
AIRE Sabertooth $2,699
Why It Won: Easy to handle and very forgiving when you make a mistake, this inflatable two-person cataraft proved ideal for teaching kids how to run whitewater. But, hey, it was also fun to run rapids full force in it with an adult friend, too. And, even though it’s built for rapids, it worked well for lazy beer floats and fly fishing excursions.
Where We Took It: The Yampa. Ruby -Horsethief. Boulder Reservoir.
14. RUNNING SHORT
Smartwool PhD Run Short $75
Why It Won: You don’t notice the stuff you wear running… until it goes wrong. But the soft merino wool liner on these comfy running shorts proved very effective for moisture management (or as our trail running contributing editor put it: “they eliminate schwetty balls” and, hey, what more can you ask for from a running short). Plus, that merino didn’t abrade against sensitive skin and, as much as we tried, these shorts never stunk.
Where We Took It: All over the trails in Boulder and JeffCo. A trip to Cambria on California’s Central Coast.
15. BIKE SHORTS
Assos T.Rally S7 $449
Why It Won: Introduce your powerful gams to the first bib short tailor-made for mountain bikers. This masterpiece features a floating chamois design that made them oh-so comfy, an assortment of durable but compressive fabrics that held up to slashings from branches grown into the trail and built-in pads on the hips in case of crashes. Sure, they may be pricey, but they will last years.
Where We Took It: All over tarnation: Switzerland, Arizona, New Mexico, Ethiopia, New Zealand.
16. FLY ROD
Tenkara USA Sato Kit $259
Why It Won: Tenkara makes fly fishing a new experience for anyone who tries it. The cast is simple to learn (and some longtime fly anglers on staff even caught fish left-handed) and the technique of using one fly that can be fished as a dry, emerger or streamer is simply deadly. The telescoping rod assembles in seconds (meaning you can even quick fish creeks on hikes while waiting for friends to catch up) and is a no-brainer to toss in your pack for high mountain lake rambles. Best of all, this package gives you all you need (rod, line, flies) to get started.
Where We Took It: Boulder Creek. Eldorado State Park. Utah’s Uintas.
17. MOUNTAINEERING BOOT
Salomon S-Lab X Alp Carbon GTX $300
Why It Won: All too often you have to walk in to approach big alpine climbs in your hiking boots and then switch into beefier mountaineering boots that you have hauled in your pack. These works of art turn that paradigm on its head. Silly light at 17.6 ounces, they boast enough backbone to edge and smear low-level rock and will hold a crampon (thought they won’t work for technical ice). But they are shockingly comfortable when you wear them to hike. A Gore-Tex liner keeps things dry.
Where We Took It: Chamonix. Mount Rainier. Mount Hood. Longs.
Black Diamond Camlaot X4 Offset $75
Why It Won: These flexible-stem, four-lobe cams have replaced the small-
to medium-sized units on our climbing contributing editor’s rack. That supple, skinny design means you can fit these cams into some very odd-shaped placements. We truly tested them, too, having recently placed the .4-.5 size and taking a hard, short fall (yep, it held).
Where We Took It: Long climbs in Eldorado Canyon, including classics like The Diving Board (5.11a). We also used them establishing some new routes out east in Vermont.
19. BELAY DEVICE
C.A.M.P. USA Matik $200
Why It Won: Smart, safe, and functional, this baby builds upon the current crop of assisted/auto-locking belay devices and adds in some additional safety features, including a “panic stop.” If the user panics and fully opens the release lever in the event of a fall, the Matik, unlike other models, will go into lock mode and catch the rope and the climber. It ain’t cheap, but it’s Italian-made and a great tool for the advanced climber or guide.
Where We Took It: Flatirons. Eldorado Canyon. Boulder Canyon.
La Sportiva Core High GTX $200
Why It Won: This sturdy-but-light (15.6 ounces per shoe) hiker features Gore’s new Surround technology, meaning that it stays waterproof and actually breathes under your foot as well as all around the shoe. That made it one versatile boot for all conditions.
Where We Took It: Boulder trails in a wet spring. Cedar Mesa, Utah.
Westcomb Nova $100
Why It Won: A baselayer is a baselayer, right? Wrong. This do-it-all top uses Polartec’s new PowerWool, a proprietary combination of wool and plated synthetic fibers that create the feeling of two layers in one. The beauty of it is that you can go for an after-work run or ride, then catch the end of happy hour and it doesn’t look out of place.
Where We Took It: Evening trail runs and mountain bike rides in Breckenridge.
By: Eugene Buchanan, Adam Chase, Rob Coppolillo, Liam Doran, James Dziezynski, Aaron Gulley, Will Harlan, Chris Kassar, Radha Marcum, Cameron Martindell, Doug Schnitzspahn, Chris Van Leuven, Rachel Walker