It’s the end of 2019, and, as is our annual tradition, it’s time to look back at the best gear we tested this year. Of the hundreds of products GearJunkie staff and contributors reviewed, these items stood out as some of the best.
One of our favorite pieces of outdoor gear got an upgrade with a magnetic closure system. This year, Leatherman introduced the FREE series. By incorporating magnets into the tool’s architecture, the Leatherman FREE series allows you to open and close the implements easily one-handed.
Yes, we know Leatherman has had one-handed-opening tools before. But beyond the opening system, which is really smooth and functional, the new FREE line improves upon its older models with better tools and ergonomics. These will meet the needs of the most critical workers, tradesmen, and outdoorspeople.
inov-8 Mudclaw G 260
Trail runners can be really tough on shoes. Rocks, mud, roots, and more fly under feet for long miles. In 2019, inov-8 took off-trail running footwear to a new level by adding the cutting-edge material graphene to its Mudclaw G 260 outsole.
When the shoe dropped in January, it became the first shoe outsole to contain graphene, an allotrope of carbon that’s 100 times stronger than the strongest steel. And from our testing, the shoe is not just long-lasting, but also high-performing for soft soil trails the world over.
Celebrated in country songs and cooked on at football stadium parking lots across the United States, the tailgate is a highly romanticized piece of pickups. But it may also be the most overlooked part of pickup truck design.
In 2019, GMC gave the humble, beloved tailgate the attention it deserves. Available on the 2019 Sierra 1500 light-duty pickup truck, the MultiPro Tailgate promised better ergonomics, easier access, and a wider range of functionality beyond the standard tried-and-true tailgate of yore.
With functionality like a Load Stop, Secondary Tailgate, Step, and even built-in speakers, the MultiPro Tailgate is worlds apart from its forebears.
The North Face FUTURELIGHT
FUTURELIGHT might be the most hyped product release in recent years. But the new fabric from The North Face really does deserve the attention it garnered for the brand.
Manufactured through an electrospinning process, FUTURELIGHT is already being used across product categories for The North Face as a tunable waterproof-breathable fabric. It’s among the most breathable waterproof materials we have ever tested, and the fabric is light, stretchy, comfortable, and refined.
If you’ve ever purchased a $10 styrofoam cooler from a gas station, you are a candidate for the Igloo RECOOL. When Igloo launched the RECOOL in 2019, it aimed at replacing the ubiquitous cheap styrofoam coolers found at bait shops and gas stations.
The whole concept is to keep the world from producing so much styrofoam garbage because, unlike styrofoam, the RECOOL is biodegradable. And it works great. We used one in the office for months this summer, and it kept ice cold for a few hours — very similar to a cheap styrofoam cooler. It even held water for weeks on end when we forgot we left it loaded with ice on a hot summer day.
Peak Design Travel Tripod
Peak Design wanted to fix one critical flaw in tripods: tons of wasted space. It accomplished its goal with the Travel Tripod.
Portable, fast, and very stable, this is the best lightweight tripod (under 3 pounds) we’ve tested to date. We obviously weren’t alone in our admiration of this product: It raised more than $6 million when it launched on Kickstarter.
Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%
These running shoes literally make runners faster. Statistically proven to improve runners’ performances, the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% was an important element in Eliud Kipchoge’s sub-2-hour marathon in October. It’s so fast that it’s caused controversy as an unfair advantage among runners.
But when a product moves the needle so dramatically, it demands respect. The Vaporfly uses carbon fiber and special foam for unprecedented energy return, propelling runners faster and farther than ever before.
Vargo Titanium Knife
A lot of great knives hit the market in 2019. But only one used sintered titanium. The Vargo Titanium Sobata 395 is unlike any knife we’ve tested before. Thanks to its literally cutting-edge sintered titanium blade, the knife beats hardened steel by five times in edge-retention testing.
And while it does this due to a unique crystalline structure in the blade that gives it microscopic serrations, the result is a blade that just works. In our testing, the blade kept cutting even when other knives dulled.
At a blistering $250 price, this is for sure a specialist tool. But we love that it pushes the envelope on what knives can do and how they’re manufactured.
Smartwool’s Intraknit is a 3D-knitted base layer that reduces weight while improving thermal performance. The body-mapped merino layers are remarkably intricate, with reinforcement where needed and extra breathability in high-sweat zones.
We’ve worn them many days since the brand revealed them in early 2019 and have been impressed by the comfortable, warm layers. We’re most impressed with the remarkable attention to detail in the knitting process and diversity of stitches.
The SRAM Eagle and RED AXS groupsets turned the bike industry on its head in 2019. Many experts touted it as the biggest gear revolution in mountain and road bike drivetrains in years. The AXS groupsets use truly wireless shifting that is cross-compatible, allowing you to pair road shifters with mountain derailleurs.
But even more importantly, AXS gives your bike a brain. The future of this tech is huge — the system could foreseeably recommend chainring sizes based on your most-used gears and power output. And it could even recommend a suspension setup based on trail/fork feedback.
And while it costs a mind-bending $2,000 for the group, this spear-tip tech should trickle down into more modest setups in the near future.
YETI Stainless Steel Cooler
YETI may have out-YETIed itself on this one. Let’s be clear, this $800 cooler is over-the-top expensive. But there has never been anything like it.
The YETI Stainless Steel Cooler uses the same manufacturing you usually find in those coffee mugs that keep your drink warm for hours: vacuum insulation. But while double-wall vacuum insulation has been around since the Thermos, it’s never been applied to such a large product as a cooler. That’s probably because it costs a small fortune.
But that didn’t stop YETI! Behold, the world’s first vacuum-insulated cooler.
Smith 4D Mag Goggles
The first ski goggles to address a lack of visibility in the downward plane, the Smith 4D Mag Goggles improve your field of vision by 25 percent.
They do this by adding a curved portion at the bottom of the lens to give you visibility in the direction of your cheekbones. This lets skiers and riders see down better when ripping turns on the hill. Smith calls this BirdsEye Vision. We call it awesome.
Sweet Protection Arbitrator Enduro Helmet
Rip downhill courses with a full-face, fully certified 980g (in M/L) helmet. Then, snap off the stout face cover to reveal a breezy 550g trail helmet to pedal uphill for enduro events. Or just wear the trail helmet as a daily rider and throw on the facemask for days in the downhill park.
The Sweet Protection Arbitrator is a versatile helmet that will do anything you need on a mountain bike. But while it’s simple in use, the helmet sports complex engineering to make it work. Of the 87 parts with tolerances as fine as 0.02 mm in the new Sweet Protection Arbitrator helmet, the brand produces every one, except for a single screw, in house.
Mustang Survival Khimera PFD
The Mustang Survival Khimera PFD is the first of its kind. As a “dual flotation PFD,” the Khimera starts as a foam type III flotation device. But by triggering a built-in CO2 cartridge, a second chamber inflates, adding 12.5 pounds of additional buoyancy.
Thus, users get an ultra-slim PFD that can provide up to 20 pounds of buoyancy when needed. The design gives paddlers excellent versatility by adapting to their situation quickly and easily.
Nite Ize TRU Zip
Nite Ize’s snag-proof, waterproof, toothless zipper innovation — TRU Zip — launched this year and its future looks bright. The first toothless waterproof zipper on the market, TRU Zip received Best in Show honors from GearJunkie as part of the brand’s RunOff collection of waterproof travel bags.
The zipper technology offers a whole new take on the category and, unlike traditional zippers, self-corrects if it’s ever blown out. We look forward to seeing all the iterations of the TRU Zip in a variety of gear in the near future.
Picture Harvest Jacket
Imagine your favorite ski shell. Now, imagine that it’s made of 58 percent recycled material and uses a membrane made from sustainable castor seed oil. You’ve just conjured up the Picture Harvest Jacket.
But the beauty is that the Harvest Jacket does not compromise. It’s one of the nicest ski shells we’ve tested, with rock-solid YKK zippers, a great helmet-compatible hood, and 20K/20K waterproof-breathable performance.
It has PFOA/PFOS-free durable water-repellent treatment and fully taped seams. Three-way stretch allows it to move well with the wearer. Given that it’s among the most sustainably manufactured waterproof shells on the market and still performs with the best, it earned our respect as one of the most exciting new products of 2019.