Each year, I test dozens of outdoors products for GearJunkie.com, Outside magazine online, and a network of newspapers that syndicate my column. The gear included are items from boats and bikes to tents, gadgets, apparel, and trail-running shoes. At the end of the year, my annual “Top 10 Gear Picks” article highlights and awards 10 products as the best-of-the-best items I’ve used over the year.
Well, it’s halfway through the year now, and after some major adventures and accompanying gear tests in places like Chile, Nepal, and Iceland, I have a few favorite things already. These products below are candidates for the 2010 “Top 10” awards. I am still testing them — no decision is final until the year’s end. But this is a preview of what I like so far. If nothing else, these products deserve some attention. They are some of the best gear on the outdoors market today.
Inov-8 Race Pro 30 Backpack. Awesome fast-and-light pack for endurance racing and day-long mountaineering! It has 30 liters of capacity, big hip-belt pockets, a lightweight (frameless) design, and a body-hugging fit that works when you’re running or climbing fast. The Inov-8 pack has accompanied me on a weeklong race in Chile, a two-week trek in Nepal, and a long mountain climb in Iceland last month. Bomber in all scenarios so far! $100, www.inov-8.com
Rab Xenon. This mid-weight, semi-puffy jacket employs 60 grams of Primaloft One insulation for loft to trap body heat. It has kept me warm in temps down near freezing worn alone — and much colder temps when used as a mid-layer under a shell. Did I mention its weight and packability? The Xenon weighs only 11 ounces and packs into its own chest pocket for storage. $225, http://us.rab.uk.com
Suunto Vector HR. A “wrist-top computer” for the adventure/fitness set, this watch has time, altitude, barometer, compass, and a heart-rate monitor built in. I’ve used it around the globe this year and almost daily at home during bike training and neighborhood runs. $329, www.suunto.com
Salomon WS II Tights. Running tights are my leg-wear choice on tough endurance events. These beefy — but breathable — tights held up to days of abuse in the Patagonia wilds. The secret is a Gore Windstopper soft-shell fabric on the front of the legs and a lighter material on the back. Fast, supportive, light, and good-fitting, even when worn for days on end. $110, www.salomon.com
Platypus Platy Bottle. These lightweight, flexible plastic water bladders (with screw-shut caps!) are wondrous for water transport in the backcountry. They hold a liter of liquid and roll up to almost nothing when not in use. $13, www.cascadedesigns.com/platypus
Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina 32. If you need a light, packable, and warm sleeping bag, the Ultralamina is hard to beat. I crashed out in this synthetic-insulation bag in temps down slightly below freezing and was warm (with a jacket and layers on, too). It weighs a scant 31 ounces and stuffs into a tiny sack the size of a small cantaloupe. $190, www.mountainhardwear.com