'Best in Show' Awards: Greatest Gear for 2013

A tsunami of gear hit the Salt Palace Convention Center in Utah this past week, where the twice-annual Outdoor Retailer trade show sprawled for tens of thousands of square feet. On display were to-be-released tents, packs, jackets, ice axes, GPS gadgets, fire-starters, lights, shoes and all manner of equipment and apparel imaginable. GearJunkie was on the ground with a crew of six editors and reporters to scour the halls in search of the most stand-out new items, our “Best in Show” picks (part I) for winter of 2013. (See part II of our awards article here.) Congrats to the winners! This gear represents the state of the art in outdoors equipment and gear design. —Stephen Regenold

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Superlight Single-Wall — Outrageously priced at $2,000, but outrageously built as a “concept car” of sorts to be lighter and stronger than most any shelter ever made, the Cuben Si2 tent from Easton Mountain Products will soon be sold in limited runs. The design includes eVent membrane panels for breathability, feathery but strong carbon-fiber poles, and Cubic Tech’s ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWP) material for walls. The result is a breathable single-wall tent that the company claims can withstand the worst alpine conditions and winds to 80mph. The 29 square feet inside make it suitable for two people and some gear. Final weight? Easton is gunning for 1.9 pounds once the Cuben Si2 comes to market later this year.

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Easton calls the Cuben Si2 tent an “ultimate ultralight expedition shelter”

Uber-Aero Roof Box — Golf ball type dimples grace the business end of this roof-top box, a sleek and aerodynamic gear tote from Thule called the 633S Sonic Alpine. The brand touts that the dimples disturb air as you drive to help reduce drag by 10 percent over regular boxes. It is 95 inches long by 27 inches wide and holds gear for a family (10 sq. feet of space) or a few pair of skis en route to the slopes. $600.

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Aero: Slim box with dimpled nose keeps drag to minimum atop car

Minus-40 Bag (with blow hole) — We gave the first generation of this bag recognition in 2011. But Nemo never got it off the launching pad. This year, the brand revised its Canon -40 bag to make it one of the most unique winter sleeping systems ever built. It uses 850-fill down throughout. The slots on front, called gills, zip open and closed to vent. A head-ensconcing hood is finished off with a PrimaLoft-insulated baffled tube that sticks up and offers a “stovepipe” to breathe. The often-wet footbox area has a mix of down and synthetic insulation to keep the loft going even if snow soaks through. Finally, for moving around in the tent, cooking, and working with gear the bag has zip-open arm hole areas so you can do tent chores without ever getting out of the bag. Weight is 4 pounds, 7 ounces. $999.

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Unconventional sleeping bag is made for the coldest places on the planet

Built-in Helmet Cam — Taking the term “helmet camera” to a new and literal level, C-Preme unveiled the Video Head Camera Helmet. A built-in lens eliminates the need for an externally mounted camera. The camera lens is front and center in the skull protecting shell, and buttons to control are further back.

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Buttons and lens built into helmet

Video Head Camera Helmets will also be pretty reasonably price, with a VGA standard-definition model going for $64.99 when it ships to REI and other stores this spring. The brand’s 720p-resolution camera is $119.99, and a HD version goes at $199.99.

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Illustration: Camera records wide-angle footage from forehead-mounted lens

Stealth-Mode Running Shoes — “Challenging what a running shoe can look like.” That theme comes from Skora, a new brand from Portland, Ore., and with its Phase X shoe there’s no mistaking — this shoe has a stylish look with road-running guts.

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Phase X shoe in normal light

The shoe is light and flexible. It has a low-profile, performance sole. A bonus, an “invisible reflective covering” shines at night to turn the shoes bright white when passing car headlights grace your feet.

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Phase X shoe at night

Puffy, Quilted, Warm — The North Face ThermoBall Jackets ($199, available summer 2013) have an intricate knit pattern of square and diamond-shape insulation pods, each one stuffed with a new type of body-heat-trapping fluff. Called Thermoball, the airy spheres offer insulation, packability, and more resistance to water than goose down.

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The North Face Thermoball Parka

In the hand, the fine filaments of ThermoBall, which is made by PrimaLoft, feel like wispy pilled cotton, light and knotted with tiny spheres. Stuffed in a jacket, the insulation is made to mimic the clustering of down, fabricated as small individual balls of synthetic fibers. More loft, warmth and compressibility are the promised results. The North Face cites a warmth equivalent to 600-fill goose down.

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ThermoBall insulation is an alternative to down

Grab-and-Go Water — Among the easiest water-filtering systems we’ve seen, the MicroFilter from Vapur includes a flexible bottle and a straw-like “hollow fiber membrane” filter.

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Easiest water filter on the market?

Fill up the bottle from a lake or river and drink immediately from the bottle. Like most wilderness-oriented water filters, the Vapur does not eliminate viruses. But the company cites it is effective against 99.99% of the kind of bacteria and organic matter that can get you sick.

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Close-up: Straw-like “hollow fiber membrane” filter snaps into flexible bottle

Waterproof Backpacks — A thin, bonded membrane called OutDry will be built into two packs from Mountain Hardwear to debut in 2014. The tough fabric feels like regular pack material. But with OutDry it is waterproof — you can hike indefinitely in rain, though Mountain Hardwear does not rate the packs as submersible. “These aren’t for whitewater rafting,” a company designer said.

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Prototype of Mountain Hardwear mountaineering pack with OutDry waterproof treatment

But with the rain-proof fabric hikers and climbers can eliminate stowing sleeping bags or other must-stay-dry gear in the packs, saving weight and adding convenience to a trip. The OutDry treatment does not affect pack weight, function, or look. It will add about $20 of cost to each product, the company said.

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Illustration demonstrates OutDry on pack

Removable Boot Soles — A new concept from the brand that brought you the unconventional FiveFingers footwear, Vibram unveiled its Omnitrax Removable Sole System. It offers boot manufacturers interchangeable, removable soles that snap on and off to mutate tread and grip on the ground for varying conditions. The system is currently available on Korkers brand boots with more brands ostensibly to follow.

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Pick a sole as per the conditions of the day

Unconventional, even weird, for sure. But after the unlikely explosion of FiveFingers we’d not be surprised if Vibram, one of the world’s biggest boot-sole manufacturers, could make interchangeable tread a sought-after feature from boot brands in years to come.

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Switchable sole options

Fishnet Base Layer — Brooks Running’s Equilibrium Base has a little-seen design with an open, fishnet pattern on the arms and torso sides. The net areas offer copious breathability and feather-like weight. The brand calls the design “body-mapped mesh.” The Equilibrium Base is a synthetic garment (polypropylene/Spandex/nylon) made to chafe less and breathe like little else on the market. Available in July for $75.

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Mannequin in fishnet: Brooks out-of-box base layer top

iPad in your Pack — Tap on a Google map without removing your iPad or tablet from your pack. That’s one scenario with the Portal Series from Osprey, a pack and bag line that allows tablet users to access their touchscreen without pulling the device out while on the move.

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Portal series bag offers flip-open access to a touchscreen device

A padded tablet sleeve and a touch-through TPU window allow instant connection to a screen. There are two packs and a messenger bag in the line. Prices start at $99 this summer when the Portal series ships to stores.

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Easy access to a tablet

Tiny, Packable Watercraft — It folds and packs down to a 32-ounce square about as small as a paperback book. But inflate the Lite Water Dingy, made by Klymit, and you can float a lake or river in deep wilderness.

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This one-person raft weighs less than an average pair of shoes

It is made to be carried in a backpack and deployed when a watery obstacle gets in the way. Reach and scoop water with your hands to move on lakes or bring a collapsible paddle to move faster over long distances, down a stream, or across an icy Patagonian fjord. $225.

—This is part I of the “Best in Show” awards for Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013. (See part II here.) Editors and reporters Stephen Regenold, Sean McCoy, Jason Magness, Chelsey Magness, Sam Salwei, Patrick Murphy, and Amy Oberbroeckling contributed to this report.

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