Best Gear of 10 Years!

Ten years ago from this spring, I penned the very first “Gear Junkie” column, covering a small camp stove from MSR. Fast forward a decade and you can guess we have tested our fair share of apparel and equipment made for the outdoors, including dozens of tents, packs, shoes, jackets, socks, sunglasses, and all other type of gear. To celebrate 10 years of testing, we offer here a look at 10 top product picks. These items, tested over the years and at venues around the planet, have literally changed the way we do things outside. —Stephen Regenold

#1 Sheep’s Clothing — Merino wool, a fine blend that does not itch, is my favorite fabric for the outdoors. Ibex, Icebreaker, and SmartWool are among my preferred brands, and from boxer shorts to bike jerseys I am a freak for merino wool’s natural feel, its breathability, warmth, and its temperature-regulating properties. Bonus: The miracle material does not stink even after a few days wearing it on a trail!

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Merino sheep and one of its apparel contributions to the outdoors world

#2 Outdoors Do-Rag — The Buff is a handkerchief-like product that you can wear as a beanie hat in the winter, a sweatband in summer, and as a thin layer under a bike helmet in the wind. I use these funny looking headwear pieces, which are seamless polyester fabric tubes, almost every day of my life for one outdoors activity or the next, from daily training runs in my home neighborhood to serious wilderness events around the world. This winter, we even got a custom GearJunkie Buff made for use 365 days of the year.

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The Buff! The author models a Buff used as a facemask on a dusty trek in Nepal

#3 PrimaLoft Puffy Jacket — Instead of goose down, jackets like the puffy Rab Xenon use a synthetic PrimaLoft insulation that can retain heat even when wet. In the wilds, this type of jacket has kept me toasty for years and through any type of nasty, cold weather I could find. The Xenon’s face fabric, a material from Pertex called Quantum GL, is packable and super light yet magically tough enough to stand up to years of abuse.

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The Rab Xenon; Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers in Xenons after 2011 Wenger Patagonian Exped Race in Chile

#4 Soft-Side Water Bottles — Forget bulky water bottles. The flexible, highly packable, and nearly indestructible SoftBottles from Platypus have been my go-to water carrying containers for years. The polyethylene bottles hold a liter of water yet weigh less than 1 ounce when drained. On long treks they roll up when empty and store away in tiny places, ready to unfurl at any time and haul massive quantities of water once you find a spring or water source.

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Collapsible and bombproof, SoftBottles from Platypus

#5 Good-Tasting Energy Food — A small revolution has sparked off in the realm of energy food in recent years, namely the advent of items you actually will want to eat! No force feeding required, companies like Clif, GU, Hammer, ProBar, and many more now use better ingredients and have more palatable flavors for their bars, gels, drinks, and gummy energy products made for the great outdoors.

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Energy food you will want to eat!

#6 Minimalist Shoes — I’m not talking Vibram FiveFingers. But the footwear trend of making trail- and road-running shoes that are lighter and more flexible has made me a happier, healthier runner. After switching from heavily-padded running shoes a few years ago to more minimal models, I went from long strides and sloppy heel flops to an efficient gait with a mid-foot strike that has made me both faster and more efficient on the trail. Inov-8, La Sportiva, Saucony, and New Balance (Minimus line), are among my current preferred minimalist brands.

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Minimalist shoes from Saucony, New Balance, La Sportiva and Inov-8

#7 Helmet Cameras — Recording your outdoor experience has never been easier thanks to GoPro, Contour, and other helmet-camera companies. Press a button and go — the camera mounted on your helmet or just about any place will record the experience in HD, ready to replay on a computer or broadcast to the world. We have leaned hard on GoPros over the past year filming around the continent for two series (“Off The Map” and “Fast&Light”), and the camera’s ease of use, durability, and quality of the footage has been nothing less than stunning.

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Contour camera and GoPro Hero 2

#8 L.E.D. Headlamps/Flashlights — All hail electroluminescence! The mainstream emergence of light-emitting diodes (L.E.D.) has revolutionized lighting in the world outdoors. A decade ago we were using fragile, yellow-light HID bulbs that sucked batteries and were too dim. Today, most all outdoor brands — Petzl, Princeton Tec, Black Diamond, Fenix et. al. — have switched to L.E.D. and our paths are all the brighter for it.

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L.E.D. headlamps from Princeton Tec, Petzl, and Black Diamond

A flashlight Team GearJunkie uses in races, the Fenix PD32, for example, blasts 315 lumens (bright!) via an L.E.D. that runs off two CR123A batteries inside a waterproof aircraft-grade aluminum case smaller and lighter than some Swiss Army Knifes.

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Bright! The PD32 from Fenix

#9 Dissolvable Electrolytes — Mixing drink powder into water is a pain. Fortunately, an innovation in the form of a drop-and-dissolve tablet has become commonplace. Companies like nuun (the originator), ZYM, and CamelBak’s Elixir sell small tablets that dissolve in water like Alka-Seltzer, delivering minerals, sodium, and other electrolytes in a no-fuss formula.

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ZYM and nuun tablets

#10 Fixed-Gear Bikes — No coasting allowed! Fixed-gear bikes do not have freewheels, meaning the pedals are locked in motion with the chain and wheels. The experience is akin to driving a stick-shift car versus one with an automatic transmission, including subtle control increases and the thrill of being locked in motion with a machine as it rockets down the road. It takes time to learn to ride fixed. But once understood you’ll see that fixed-gear bikes are fast, quiet, smooth, quicker-responding, and often times just plain more fun than their freewheel single-speed cousins.

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Fixed gear cog; Wabi Lightning bike

I have owned three “fixies” over the years (from Wabi, Raleigh, and Kona), and I have ridden one nearly every day since 2005 for commuting and mid-distance road rides (up to about 40 miles). Sure, I am freewheel-equipped on trails with my mountain bike. But in the city I am bonafide fixed, locked in, and I ain’t turning back.

—GearJunkie was founded as a syndicated newspaper column in 2002; GearJunkie.com launched in 2006. Stephen Regenold is Founder and Editor. Connect with Regenold at Facebook.com/TheGearJunkie or on Twitter via @TheGearJunkie.

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Posted by Lou Dzierzak - 05/10/2012 02:34 PM

Congratulations! Local fan of the Gear Junkie since the Star Tribune print versions. If the list was longer add broader categories of lightweight, trail running and triathlon. Always a faithful follower. On to 25th anniversary

Posted by Jerritt - 05/10/2012 03:06 PM

The list is okay, but incomplete. No top 10 list on important gear innovations in the last 10 years should skip the Chariot. I can’t remember if you ever reviewed one, but it has given more parents the opportunity to get back outside with their kids than any other piece of gear to come along. Fixies are cool, but the Chariot has impacted more than the trendy crowd.

Posted by Stephen Regenold - 05/10/2012 03:12 PM

As the parent of three small ones, I do agree on the Chariot/Burley “revolution” point.

Posted by PaddlingOtaku - 05/10/2012 05:41 PM

This is a good list. I think a better point than the chariot is putting ‘revolution’ in quotes. very subtle, very clever. I might have added GPS devices to this list. I probably would have also added carbon fiber to the list, from bikes to boats, to trekking poles to paddles it has influenced more than its fair share of the outdoors. And just for the record, CLiff mojo bars are pretty good. But most power food could still use some help in the palatable category!

Posted by Linda Nervick & Granite Gear - 05/11/2012 08:00 AM

Congratulations – well deserved!

Posted by doug - 05/11/2012 08:24 AM

Fixed gear bikes have been around for a long time. I knew guys riding them in the 80’s around town. http://www.bigshotbikes.com/history-fixies.html

Posted by Rod Johnson - 05/11/2012 09:13 AM

Great choices! I would add the JetBoil.

Posted by Seth Haber - 05/11/2012 10:06 AM

Congrats on 10 years of awesomeness!!

I’m a bit biased, but surprised to see lightweight backpacking hammocks didn’t make the cut. They’ve had a huge impact on the traditional camping model in the last 10 years, allowing people to sleep better and often travel lighter, and in many cases allowing people with back issues or injuries to camp for the first time in years. Had to mention it!

I hope all is well Stephen and here’s to 10 more years of the Gear Junkie!

Trek Lightly….

Seth Haber
Trek Light Gear | Founder, CEO
www.TrekLightGear.com

Posted by Plinko - 05/13/2012 05:22 PM

“#8 L.E.D. Headlamps/Flashlights — All hail electroluminescence! The mainstream emergence of light-emitting diodes (L.E.D.) has revolutionized lighting in the world outdoors. A decade ago we were using fragile, yellow-light HID bulbs that sucked batteries and were too dim.”

Electroluminescence, (EL) is slightly different technology than LED. Also, the fragile yellow bulbs were Incandescent, not HID.

Posted by Buff USA - 05/14/2012 06:18 AM

Wow, thank you so much for the nod to Buff! We’re humbled to be included on this list with some really incredible equipment!

Posted by Bonnie - 05/17/2012 08:54 AM

With the on spread of lime disease, no mention of bug repellent clothing?

Posted by Bonnie - 05/17/2012 08:56 AM

Oh for heaven’s sake – lymes disease! Someone get me more coffee!

Posted by SPROCKETDOG - 05/17/2012 10:49 AM

That exact pro bar made me sick on a MTB ride a couple of weeks ago. Not a fan.

Posted by Tree - 06/19/2013 05:04 PM

Well done! I would add Master Cams or X4s.

Posted by Justin Walsh - 06/19/2013 05:16 PM

It’s a pretty good list, but having a fixed gear bike up there doesn’t quite fit. Sure, you may have just come across them in the past decade, but they really are old news. There are other more influential pieces of gear that actually came along recently.

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