Continuing the countdown of my top gear picks from the past five years, Granite Gear’s Virga backpack and the Kona Jake the Snake bike come in respectively at Nos. 4 and 3 on my list. . .
#3 Kona Jake the Snake
My longtime reliable and dependent iron steed has been the Kona Jake the Snake, a speed demon that’s comfortable on the road as well as off. While it looks like a road bike, the Jake the Snake was made for the strange sport of cyclocross, where riders pedal at high speeds through the woods, plunging into mud, and dismounting their bikes to leap hurdles. It comes with knobby tires and a strong frame, but no suspension. The bike weighs just 23 pounds and has a fair price tag. (Jake the Snake, $1,349; www.konaworld.com)
#4 Granite Gear Virga
Simplicity in the flesh. The Virga is essentially a backpack shell, with one large main compartment and a padded harness, but no frame. Instead, rigidity and support is gained via a sleeping pad: Simply drop in a rolled pad, let it uncoil to push against the bag, and place your gear inside the roll. The upside to this minimalist approach? The pack weighs only 1 pound 3 ounces, even though it has 3,200 cubic inches of capacity. Its price is right, too. (Virga, $110; www.granitegear.com)
Background on this list: Five years ago this month, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, I penned the first Gear Junkie column, which covered an innovative backpacking stove from Mountain Safety Research. Since that time, The Gear Junkie has expanded to nine additional syndicate newspapers around the country, and every week for the past five years I’ve tested at least one new piece of gear, from canoes and backpacks, to items of esoterica like personal oxygen bottles, inflatable tents, and reflexology footwear.
Indeed, gear testing has taken me around the planet, from the summit of Mount Rainier to Sweden’s Baltic Sea, to caves deep in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Through it all, the right equipment has kept me—most times—warm, dry, safe, and often quite comfortable, while on the go in the great outdoors.
This list—my Greatest Gear of 5 Years—includes ten top products that stood above the fray. These best of the best gear items have over the years earned my stamp of approval—and then some.