Winter 2014-15 Elevation Outdoors Peak Gear Awards

Last year we pioneered the EO Peak Gear Awards, and they were a big hit with both our readers and gear manufacturers.

There are lots of gear-of-the-year type awards out there, and many magazines test new products head-to-head. But for these awards, we wanted to combine those two approaches. And we wanted to stay far away from just bestowing an award on a shiny new toy that PR agencies and advertisers wanted us to feature in these pages.

So we simply asked our contributors—folks who are constantly getting after it skiing, riding, climbing, hiking, and adventuring to bring you the stories in these pages—what gear rose to the top? They tested a wide range of new products. So what was the best? What stuff do you actually use when you head out? What would you buy? So here you go: the best gear we own.

1. Black Diamond Halo 28 featuring Jet Force Technology

$1,275; blackdiamondequipment.com

Drawing from an unlimited resource—the atmosphere—the JetForce avalanche air bag is the newest technology in avalanche disaster mitigation. Designed in partnership between Pieps and Black Diamond, Jet Force uses an incredibly powerful battery powered fan to inflate a 200-liter airbag in 3.5 seconds. It then pulses to remain inflated. The super-strong Cordura bag automatically deflates after 3 minutes to create an air chamber within the avalanche debris. It can then be re-packed and ready to go again for the ski out. The Jet Force system is available in three Black Diamond backpacks, two Pieps packs and one from POC. We chose the 28-liter Halo bag version since it was easiest to carry on one-day backcountry jaunts, and the pack’s features worked best.

Why It Won. It’s a huge jump in air bag technology on many levels. Because it doesn’t require compressed air cartridges, the JetForce is TSA compliant; you can travel with it without worrying about filling up a cartridge when you reach your destination. And the lithium-polymer battery, even in the coldest circumstances, holds enough juice to deploy the airbag up to four times. The diagonal ski carry on the pack will not interfere with the air bag if inflated while you are hiking.

Where We Took It. Thankfully this was one piece of gear that we have not had to test in the field. And we hope you do not either. We have, however, practiced with the pack a lot—the ability to constantly inflate and deflate it was a big part of why we gave it this award. We have worn the pack on trips backcountry skiing in Colorado including the Ten-mile range and the Gore Range.

2. Spy Happy Lens McCoy

$160; spyoptic.com

Spy’s new Happy Lens technology is designed to make your vision, well, happier, by allowing in long-wave blue light, while filtering out other spectrums of light associated with cataracts and macular degeneration. The good rays that do make it through are supposed to promote serotonin, the brain chemical responsible for evening out your mood swings. Plus, we like the casual frame style.

Why It Won. This may sound a bit cheesy, but these shades really do feel good on your eyes when wear them. If you don’t believe us, try them. Placebo effect or not, the lenses certainly cut the glaze off everything from stream to snow.

Where We Took It. Tenkara fishing on Boulder Creek. Climbing in Eldorado Canyon. Backcountry skiing on Berthoud Pass. Road trips and flights everywhere from California to Japan.

3. Leki Micro Tour Stick Vario

$200; usa.leki.com

These five-piece, carbon-upper aluminum-lower poles work for everything from backpacking to snowshoeing to ski touring.

Why It Won. Versatility, plain and simple. The poles worked in a wide range of conditions. The tough aluminum bottom section endured talus and knocking against ski edges. They were a cinch to adjust and to fold up and pack away. Surprisingly, the poles also did extremely well in burly backcountry ski conditions, never buckling or feeling flimsy.

Where We Took It. Summit hikes and scrambles on Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak. Backpacking and snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park. Skiing the Indian Peaks backcountry.

4. DPS Lotus 120

$1,299; dpsskis.com

This big, light deep-powder ski features DPS’s Spoon shape in the shovel, allowing for easy turning without a lot of hopping up and down.

Why It Won. They make skiing powder effortless and fun. They also have no speed limit and an unbelievable ability to dump that speed in a moment—there’s no hooking or unpredictable weirdness. Despite their size, these carbon skis are agile and quick, making them great in the trees, and they provide a solid platform for landing jumps.

Where We Took It. Backcountry terrain around Bell Lake Yurt, the Mission Range and the north Bridgers in Montana, as well as Teton Pass, Wyoming, Vail Pass, and Niseko, Japan.

5. Patagonia Nano-Air Jacket

$249; patagonia.com

Everyone loves their insulated puffy, but those jackets are not the best choice when you are in the midst of intense outdoor exertion. Thus, Patagonia created this active, stretchy piece that uses a ripstop nylon that offers up a lot of stretch on the outer shell and its FullRange synthetic insulation which doesn’t require baffling like most puffies.

Why It Won. Pretty much everyone on the staff had this piece near the top of their list. It performs as advertised, making it the ideal quiver-of-one shell for aerobic mountain pursuits like ice climbing, scrambling and alpinism, but also a nice comfy option for little ski tours with the dogs. As one editor said: “It quickly became my favorite mid-weight jacket. Alpine-start rock climbing,  whacking away at dripping waterfalls… it works on all of it, without having to put on a shell. Honestly, I’m looking forward to the day Patagonia releases the Nano Air sleeping bag.”

Where We Took It. Basically everywhere. Hiking up Mt. Elbert, Snowshoeing up Shavano,

Backpacking in Denali National Park, Alaska. To the top of Mt. Hood, Oregon. Sunrise climbing in Boulder Canyon, Eldorado, and Clear Creek; ice climbing at Lincoln Lake. Hanging out at home.

6. Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody

$365; arcteryx.com

Arc’teryx mixed and matched insulation materials here: The arms, hem and collar of this puffy are stuffed with Coreloft, which can retain heat even when pummeled with driving snow. But the all-important core insulation is 850-fill goose down, which provides cozy loft like no synthetic can.

Why It Won. It offers up the perfect combination of warmth and light weight. Plus, it packs down for easy portage into the backcountry where you can use it as your main jacket or as a mid-layer depending on the temps. Not to mention, it looks great running errands in town. As one female editor said: “I’ve never found a jacket that fits as well.”

Where We Took It. Ski trips to Monarch Mountain, Vail, Devils Thumb Ranch. Backpacking on Cedar Mesa, Utah. Boulder coffee shops.

7. Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hybrid Shell and Touring Pants

$349 (shell), $219 (pants); blackdiamondequipment.com

Black Diamond teamed up with Schoeller Fabrics, using the Swiss brand’s stretch-woven soft shell technology, to create this comfy, solid jacket and pant combo. A NanoSphere finish ups water and dirt repellency, which, in turn, steps up durability.

Why It Won. Since Black Diamond debuted its apparel line last season, we’ve had the time to really pound on it and the Dawn Patrol Touring Pants and Hybrid Jacket have become the day-to-day kit we wear, whether hitting the backcountry, the resort, or heading out ice or alpine climbing. The tough soft shell kept us shielded from unpredictable Colorado weather, and comfy, too.

Where We Took It. All over Colorado including the Ten-Mile Range, Frisco’s Coin Slot and the Gore Range, as well as Grand Teton National Park.

8. Dynafit TLT 6 Performance CR Boot

$999; dynafit.com

This two-buckle boot was created for the evolution of AT skiing. It’s light enough for racers at 2 pounds, 10.7 ounces per boot, but still has the guts to crush through tricky snow. A Custom Ready liner makes it easy to mold.

Why It Won. Plain and simple, this is the best ski touring boot we have ever strapped on. Ridiculously light and stiffer than Dynafit’s earlier TLT 5, it offers an insane range of movement on the up, and it is precise and stiff on the down. That means the boot opens up a whole dimension of touring to anyone, be they total newbies or old pros. While the TLT 5 could be tough to fit, this boot offers three more millimeters in the instep/arch of the foot, improving circulation for some and giving those with slightly meatier feet the space they need. Plus, the rockered, short sole makes it easier to walk, climb and even frontpoint in steep chutes.

Where We Took It. Rocky Mountain National Park. Berthoud Pass. The Aspen backcountry. Ski mountaineering races. The Alps. In everything from don’t-fall couloirs to crudded-out backcountry runs.

9. Backcountry Access BC Link 

$150; backcountryaccess.com

These radios were designed with backcountry safety in mind. Each unit consists of a separate smart mic with a six-way pre-set channel selector dial. The power/volume dial is attached by a coiled cord to the base unit with the antenna pumping out 1 watt for GMRS frequencies and .5 watt for FRS. It also includes access to the 11 NOAA weather channels.

Why It Won. At first, this seemed like it was just an expensive two-way radio, but our testers were quickly won over. Out in the field, these babies proved their worth thanks to features like the 3.7-volt lithium ion battery pack which kept on going in the cold (USB rechargeable so it’s compatible with most portable battery- and solar-charging products like Goal Zero). Glove-compatible controls and IP56 waterproof seals kept it functioning even when the weather went sour, and the remote smart mic means the transmitter doesn’t interfere with your avalanche beacon.

Where We Took It. Cameron Pass, Eiseman Hut, Crested Butte backcountry and Lost Wonder Hut, Colorado. Bell Lake Yurt, Montana.

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10. K2 Route Helmet

$150; k2skis.com

Weighing in at a mere 320 grams (11 ounces) the Route offers up a snug, secure and adjustable fit thanks to the Boa FS360 system, which allows you to wear the helmet bare or with a skull cap for some extra warmth. It’s certified for bike use, too.

Why It Won. This is the lightest snowsports helmet we have used. Ever. As if that weren’t enough, the versatility of being able to use this helmet across a number of disciplines including cycling, appealed to the minimalists among us. The 59 ventilation holes proved invaluable when racing up a skin track and the strap clips can be moved without any tools to accommodate a headlamp or goggles. It was so comfortable we often forgot we were even wearing it.

Where We Took It. Up and down numerous 14ers and on hut trips. It was the only helmet we needed for the Crested Butte 3P (Pole, Pedal, Paddle) Race.

11. Salomon Carbon Skate Lab

$1,300; salomon.com

Tipping the scales at under two pounds per pair and featuring a full monocoque carbon shell, this race boot has been in development at Salomon’s Annecy labs with input from over 70 athletes including Kikkan Randall for more than four years.

Why It Won. All that input from athletes paid off. Are you going to buy this boot? We doubt it. But we do have folks on staff who race in it and demanded it make this list. When you are Nordic racing, your equipment can be a game changer, and this has been the most sought after piece of Nordic gear ever since the Sochi winter games ended.

Where We Took It. Eldora Nordic Center. Devils Thumb Ranch. Races across the U.S. and in Europe.

12. Discrete Linux

$220; discreteclothing.com

This is the highlight men’s piece in freeskier Julian Carr’s new line of casual apparel. Its weather-resistant coating on the outside protects warm, synthetic insulation on the inside.

Why It Won. We included this jacket in our fashion photo shoot in the November issue and everyone wanted to take it home with them. It’s warm and functional and looks just stylish enough to keep our dude credentials but not scare off our dates.

Where We Took It. Boulder. Chamonix. Sushi and sake at Tokio in Denver. Whistler. Cleveland.

13. Bergans of Norway Lavvo Base Camp Tent

$600 (six person); catalog.bergans.us

The Lavvo is a large, Nordic tipi-style floorless tent with a center pole. The tent has ten sides, ergo, ten corners, and a double layer of guy lines to stake it out with multiple points of contact. What’s more, a 15-inch vertical wall along the base circumference with vents maximizes the use of interior space and climate control. The Lavvo comes in six-, eight- and 10-person versions.

Why It Won. What’s not to like about a big, fully functional tipi? The tall center pole combined with the 20 guy line tie-downs kept the Lavvo incredibly stable, even in ripping, Front-Range winds. And don’t be fooled by the open footprint. This is a four-season tent. The open floor in the winter gave us the ability to dig out more space and customize snow benches, tables and sleeping platforms. The simple design makes it easy to set up and strike down, and three vents along the base, as well as the removable peak, offer up interior climate control. It’s doesn’t have to be open to the elements, either: optional bug netting and clip-in floor footprint provide versatile summer or winter use.

Where We Took It. In the summer: Flaming Gorge and the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Utah. In the winter: Roosevelt National Forest and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

14. Ride Wild Life Snowboard

$430; ridesnowboards.com

Ride team rider Marco Feichtner helped design this playful board that features All Mountain Rocker, with a bit more rise in the front and lots of grip underfoot.

Why It Won. It made snowboarding damn fun. This versatile board could handle the whole mountain, serving up a stable ride when we cruised blue runs or played in soft stuff in the trees. It offered solid edge control on ice and crushed through a few inches of fresh, but where it really sparkled was the park. The board was responsive enough to make riders who thought their best days of tricks and jumps has passed by feel on their game. Or as they said, they “felt good on ‘go little’ and the occasional ‘go medium’ stuff.” When more confident studs hopped aboard, their only response was that it was “fast as all get out.”

Where We Took It. Breckenridge, Copper, Keystone and Eldora.

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