'Best in Show' Awards: Greatest Gear for 2013!

In Utah over the past five days more than 1,000 brands and tens of thousands of attendees gathered for the twice-annual Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City. GearJunkie editors and reporters met with a large percentage of the represented brands to seek out “Best in Show” products, the most innovative and unique items put out by the industry this year. (See part II of “Best in Show” here.) Take a look below. We’ve crowned these products, most of which will hit shelves in 2013, as winners for part I of our “Best in Show” coverage. Congrats to the brands and the designers behind this great new gear! —Stephen Regenold

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Minimal Shoe — It’s called the Minimus Hi-Rez, but looking at the ultra-minimal shoe from New Balance is a low-res experience. The pixelated sole is broken into 42 unconnected rubber pods. These half-inch nubs are welded into a soft foot bed in one of the most unique shoe designs we’ve seen. We had the chance to slip one on for a couple minutes and the tactile response of the 4.3-ounce shoe was amazing. It seems to provide a modest level of cushion and protection, despite the light weight. This is like nothing we’ve ever seen and can’t wait to give it a real test. The Hi-Rez will retail for $120.

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Sole of the Hi-Rez (left) and the new uber-minimal shoe

Airy Wind Shell — Weighing almost nothing — a whole 1.6 ounces (!) according to maker MontBell — the Tachyon Jacket gets a “world’s lightest shell” tag with its thin face fabric. Though it packs up tiny enough to fit in your front pants pocket (and weighs less than an energy bar) the Tachyon will offer noticeable protection from wind. It has a DWR coating, too, keeping light rain away, though it’s not waterproof for storms. It adds warmth as an emergency shell and there are mesh inserts under its arms for ventilation on the move. Price tbd.

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Air blown into ultra thin shell at trade show gives a floating effect

Speed Climber Pack — Taking cues from ultra-running vests (as well as significant design direction from Ueli Steck, one of the world’s fastest climbers) the SummitRocket 20 VestPack from Mountain Hardwear aims to balance features climbers need with a design built for speed. It has wide mesh straps with pockets where you can store energy gel for fuel or other small need-now items. There is no hip belt, only chest straps, keeping the pack from interfering with a harness and gear.

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Made for speed: SummitRocket climbing pack from Mountain Hardwear

The SummitRocket has a streamlined, minimal build — just one main compartment and few bells and whistles. It fits close like a hydration running vest and weighs just 12 ounces when empty but it can haul a moderate load up-mountain in its 20-liter body, just enough for a quick summit, fast and light, and done in a day.

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Mesh pack straps have built-in pockets and wide support, mimicking a running vest design

Rack Art — Whispbar, a new line from Yakima, offers high-end aerodynamic rack bars and mounts that seem to scream the words “premium and sleek.” From the Whispbar line, which includes multiple products ranging from crossbars to ski racks, a bike mount, the WB200, stood out.

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Photo from the booth: Whispbar bike mount with aerodynamic illustration on wall

The fork mount connects to a Whispbar rack bar in seconds via adapters that cam into a T-slot on the bar. Its tray is a solid swoop of aluminum, and the front adapter is so refined it looks like sculpture art. A bonus, this bike mount works with standard 9mm forks as well as 15mm through-axle forks without adapters. A premium car-top accessory but with a premium price tag, too. $249.

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Fork mount on Whispbar bike mount

Cloud Kit — Offered alone or in a three-piece package, Sierra Designs’ Cloud Layering System includes a windshell, a thin waterproof jacket, and an insulated puffy. The company markets the kit as able to keep a person in the outdoors dry and comfortable across a huge temperature swing and on dry or wet days. The first piece, the Cloud Windshell, is a thin breathable jacket made to be worn over a base layer.

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Mannequins demo Cloud Layering System at OR Show (note extra thin, see-through fabric on hood)

It keeps wind at bay and adds a bit of warmth. If the clouds open, pull out the waterproof Cloud Airshell, a 4-ounce zippered sheen that’s about as thin as a plastic bag (though stronger). It has some breathability, though the company says it is “designed to be worn only when it rains.” Finally, if you’re cold pull out the down-insulated Cloud Puffy, a 12-ounce heater that can be warm enough when layered on to keep you comfortable as snow falls from the sky. The whole kit packs small together and weighs a total of 22 ounces. $492 as a system.

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Ultra-light, three-piece kit for range of temps and weather

Zipper-Less Tent — No more snagging! Magnets stitched in around the door (not a zipper) seal the Fishhook SL 2 tent from Big Agnes closed. We tested the unique design on the show floor — the tiny magnets snapped into place with little effort. Big Agnes states the Fishhook SL 2 tent “eliminates the frustration and noise of zippers while maintaining full protection from the elements.” The two-man tent is fairly light, too, at 3 pounds, 10 ounces (with 37 square feet of floor space) but not cheap ($400).

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Close-up of magnet on tent door

Cooling Fabric — On display in a big way during the trade show was what Columbia Sportswear and its subsidiary brand Mountain Hardwear have called “a whole new category of clothing.” Named Omni-Freeze ZERO from Columbia and Cool.Q ZERO by Mountain Hardwear the fabric has tiny ring-shape accents laminated on that are advertised to provide a cooling effect when wet from sweat. Both brands use the fabric on multiple products, from hats to shirts to arm sleeves. The little cooling rings are made of a polymer that comes from a product used in industrial water-filtration processes and the cooling effect, Columbia cited, is delivered via a mechanical reaction where “latent heat absorption” cools the skin.

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Omni-Freeze ZERO shirt from Columbia

If this all sounds a bit whacky, we know. But our initial tests, including during a hot eight-hour adventure race last month, have shown that Cool.Q and Omni-Freeze do indeed give off a subtle cooling benefit. The innovation, which has shown initial promise, deserves an award at the show.

Hard Pack — Travel is hard on electronics and hard-sided briefcases are hard on the back. Into a few new pack models Pelican integrates its hard cases for protection, including on the U100 Urban Elite Laptop Backpack model. This pack has a solid poly case built into a fabric backpack that Pelican claims can be submerged underwater for 30 minutes with electronics inside.

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Burly pack includes hard case built in

Made mainly for urban situations (think bike commuting or travel), the pack is built to fit 15- to 17-inch laptops in its hard-side case. A pressure-release valve lets you open and close the airtight case at altitude or on a plane.

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Pelican U100 model

Foam Hard Hat — As if being blaze orange wasn’t enough, Petzl went over the top in the design of its SIROCCO climbing helmet, a pliable foam dome protector that is a weird mix of spongy and strong. It uses a dense but forgiving foam material found in automobile bumpers and others products where serious absorption properties are called into play.

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Orange polypropylene foam is sculpted to form helmet for rock climbing and mountaineering

There is no hard outer shell or veneer, and the polypropylene foam absorbs shock but is remarkably light. (People were standing on the helmet for demos at OR; it’d flex and compact slightly, but then regain shape once weight was removed.) The helmet weighs in at just 165 grams — it feels like not much more than a baseball cap when on but still provides legitimate protection from falling rocks or ice. A magnet on the chin strap clip lets you put on the light lid with one hand and no fuss. $110.

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Dense foam protects from falling rocks but without weighing you down

Power Stove — As we noted in a pre-show roundup, the BioLite CampStove turns heat from a fire into usable electricity, able to charge an iPhone or GPS device in the wilds. You stuff wood inside the unit and light it, placing a cooking pot on top to heat water or food. The $130 unit has a small fan to perpetuate the fire. It also steals energy away from the burning wood and converts it to device-friendly power compatible with a USB plug.

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BioLite stove burns wood, offers place to plug in

We tested the stove this past week. (We boiled a pot of water while charging a phone in the outdoors.) It does what the company claims, straight and simple. As a bonus, with a sister product BioLite aims to get its fire-for-power tech into the developing world. The company’s HomeStove model will be marketed to people in the developing world who cook with wood in enclosed places. HomeStove burns fuel efficiently, lessening smoke, and it has the extra benefit of providing power to charge up lights or other devices needed in daily life.

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BioLite HomeStove model for the developing world

—Reporting by Stephen Regenold, Sean McCoy, Jason Magness, Chelsey Magness, and Sam Salwei. See part II of “Best in Show” here. For the latest OR Show reportage look to our new special section, “Outdoor Retailer Coverage,” and in the articles “Future Gear Extravaganza! 2012 Outdoor Retailer Preview” and “Coming to Market 2013. . . Peek at Future Gear.”

Posted by Brad K. - 08/05/2012 08:50 AM

I think the Biolite would come in handy considering the various headlamps being charged by usb these days.

I also hope the Omnifreeze lives up to the hype… Do you know if they are planning to make long sleeve shirts as well, or just sticking with the arm sleeves?

Posted by Jonathan Button - 08/05/2012 10:33 AM

I see PIEPS has developed a new Globalfinder GPS/2-Way Messenger system. Any thoughts on this product? Was there any future updates to the SPOT Communicator devices on display? I’ve heard Globalstar is set for a major update to there Sat networks in the coming months…

Posted by shomsky - 08/05/2012 06:41 PM

I think it is great to see a brand like BioLite get an award. This company not only makes a great product for outdoor recreation but also offers a ‘HomeStove model for the developing world’ Kudos!

Posted by Joe - 08/06/2012 07:12 PM

These Gear of the Show designations are pretty meaningless. I looked at the Big Agnes tent and the spaces between the magnets appear to be wide open with nothing sealing them – great for the bugs wanting to crawl through and chew on your face, not so great for you. At the very least, it should be proven in the field before it’s “Gear of the [anything]” I never thought zippers were really a big problem needing a strange fix.

Posted by Joe - 08/06/2012 07:18 PM

Addendum – Big Agnes was actually advertising the “Gear of the Show” award at the show itself. So it gets to deceive buyers with claims of an “award winning” design just because Stephen happened to think it was novel. Be careful with how much faith you put into these so-called “awards.”

Posted by Tom - 08/06/2012 07:22 PM

how could Big Agnes advertise a Best in Show award if the awards just came out yesterday, after the show was done? It’s about what was SEEN at the show, not a pre-award thing or whatnot. Maybe it was for a previous year? Or maybe someone else’s award? Well, what do you know – Outside Magazine gave BA an award before the show came out – guess you have your awards mixed up dude ;)

http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-gear/gear-of-the-show/

Posted by Joe - 08/07/2012 03:08 AM

Pretty sure it was the GJ award. It was planted smack in front of this exact tent, which stood by itself, so I don’t think it was for anything else. And GJ was clearly aware of the tent ahead of time, since he wrote about it in a preview. It’s not like he didn’t have the winners all worked out before publishing on Sunday.

Either way, it seems pretty dubious to award anything with such clear potential for failure.

Posted by James Edward Mills - 08/07/2012 08:44 AM

Just curious, was the color orange a requirement for consideration? Not that I mind, in fact the style corrindation of your selections is smashing! Great picks. In an idustry that lacks for nothing when it comes to innovation it’s tough to find those standout products that are truly unique and move us forward.
http://www.joytripproject.com

Posted by Editor - 08/07/2012 09:22 AM

Joe – The award poster you saw at the Show was from Outside magazine. The publication awarded this Big Agnes tent with its “Gear of the Show” award.

Posted by Andy - 08/07/2012 04:37 PM

Great picks. Many of these caught my eye too. I like the Big Agnes zipperless tent. Cool stuff.

Posted by Leon - 08/08/2012 09:19 PM

The award at Big Agnes was definitely presented by Outside. Check out the Big Agnes FB page for evidence. Zippers are, by far, the #1 warranty issue on tents, regardless of the manufacturer. Remains to be seen, of course, whether the magnet construction doesn’t have issues of its own. I agree it’s not a great “buggy” tent, but for camping in places that bugs don’t frequent (like up high in the Wasatch right above the show), it may not be an issue.

Posted by Kenji - 08/10/2012 01:47 PM

Wow I thought magnetic zippers was a great intro at a show with LOTS of innovation to show; not perfect of course, but I wholly agree that zippers are the #1 problem to be solved in tent technology today. Right on GJ, and Outside too for recognizing innovation when they see it. Awards are only valuable if valued by the industry and consumer base. And that can only be found out over time. Who comes out with a new award that everyone gets on board with right away? I’m a fan, keep up the great work building your awards program. GJ.

Posted by Joe - 08/13/2012 06:56 PM

^^…Says the executive director of the show being highlighted. The “consumer base” will value awards when they’re meaningful. An award slapped onto an unproven design with serious potential flaws is not meaningful and threatens to undermine, if not directly undermines, the integrity of said award, support from trade show directors and PR firms notwithstanding.

BTW, I’ve used three different tents over a cumulative 24 years or so and never had an issue with the zipper. Also a lot of jackets, sleeping bags and pants in that time. Not to say issues don’t occur, but a design that possibly creates bigger problems isn’t necessarily a solution.

Posted by Aaron Bible - 08/16/2012 05:26 PM

Great choices guys!

Posted by LeftLaneSportsLuke - 11/08/2012 11:58 AM

I’ve only 4 things to say:

1. Those Minimus Hi-Rez are insane…although I’m worried about speedy ware on the top.

2. The SummitRocket is going to make a huge impact on the industry…12 ounces!

3. It will be interesting to see how the “Cloud Kit” is accepted by the market.

4. I want to know how much those Fire/Charge stoves weigh…may not be too practical for the backpacker.

Posted by Susie - 06/03/2013 09:33 PM

If you enjoy the beautiful sea cliffs and beaches from up high you may really enjoy gliding. ang gliders use a device that is like a large kite to fly from sea cliffs to the beaches and water below.

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