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Mountaineering Record Upset, Amphibious Plane, and the Wonderful World of Knives: GearJunkie Top Stories in 2023

Last year's biggest GearJunkie headlines included a hunting scandal, AI writers, and the best tent we've seen in years. 2023, surprisingly, isn't too far off.

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Every single year at GearJunkie is a mix of breaking outdoor news, reviews, and narratives from athletes, industry leaders, and even our own editors. Though, 2023 definitely stood out.

Looking back at this year, it was a reminder more than years past that high-tech innovations that push the envelope in ski, bike, knives, and overall sport are what our readers are most interested in. We may be known for our thorough testing and reviews, but people come to us to read GearJunkie just as much to hear what we think about other topics, too.

Namely, what’s the latest trend, have we tested it, what does it mean for the industry or sport, and most importantly, why should you care? Why are people talking about ALLIED Feather Down, for instance? Is a fully custom jacket really worth it?

Notable trends of 2023 include similar advances we saw in 2022, like more automation and advances in mapping apps, robots in tech, and further examples of ChatGPT and AI in the outdoor world. 2023 was a big year for GearJunkie in terms of our knife reviews — just look at the multiple examples in our top 10 list. Notable mentions in the world of knives include new flippers and folders everywhere, a new MagnaCut super steel on the scene, a still-trending, sold-out-in minutes hatchet, and more.

Aside from knives, GearJunkie’s top 10 list is littered with noteworthy news in categories that have seen an uptick in participation, like climbing and thru-hiking. Gone are the days of outdoor recreation trending down … ever since the COVID pandemic, all things camping — including winter camping — and backcountry travel have been on the rise.

Here, you’ll read about several new gear additions in the world of vehicle-based camping and overlanding. Plus, a massive update (which caused an upset) to a longstanding mountaineering world record.

Without further ado, here are the top 10 stories penned this year that were read more than all others.

The Top 10 GearJunkie Stories of 2023

In the #1 slot, the most-read story on GearJunkie of 2023 is …

Icon A5
GearJunkie’s Motors Editor, flying the Icon A5; (photo/Bryon Dorr)

‘Stupid Easy to Fly’: Icon A5 Amphibious Sport Light Aircraft Review

Gear that brings once-out-of-reach activities to within grasp is some of the best stuff around. That’s perhaps never been more true than with the Icon A5 — a long-in-the-works, amphibious, two-seater airplane with foldable wings for easy towing down the highway.

As GearJunkie Motors Editor Bryon Dorr found out, its friendly control layout and careful engineering means you can get a pilot license for it within a matter of months instead of half a year. And the big windows provide much more visibility for the pilot and passenger than do the tiny portholes found on most single-engine aircraft.

Don’t forget to check out the slick video our own Bryon Dorr made to accompany the review.

Breaking: Reinhold Messner Dethroned by Guinness World Records

Ever heard of someone’s world record title being rescinded? It doesn’t happen! Or at least, is very rare. And, in this case in the mountaineering world, highly complicated. But in late September 2023, Italian Reinhold Messner, arguably the greatest mountaineer of all time, had his records removed for being the first person to climb all 14 peaks over 8,000 m without supplementary oxygen. Which, by the way, he accomplished by 1986 after his 1985 ascent of Annapurna.

He made the first solo ascent of Mount Everest and, along with Peter Habeler, the first ascent of Everest without supplemental oxygen.

The recent upset came as a surprise both to Messner as well as Ed Viesturs, the mountaineer who was bestowed the honor of the “climbing all 14 8,000m+ peaks first record” in his place.

Everyone’s Crush Is ‘Ellie’: Mammoth Overland ELE Is a Safe Room on Wheels

Mammoth Overland ELE
(Photo/Mammoth Overland)

If there’s one thing that high-tech camping aficionados, preppers, overlanders, and engineering nerds alike were most excited about this year, it was this trailer. And really, “trailer” doesn’t do this contraption justice.

The Mammoth Overland ELE (pronounced “Ellie”) is one of the most seriously “ready” trailers out there, starting with its double-walled aerospace-grade aluminum sheeting exterior and high-density foam insulation, all the way up to added components like its pressurized air filtration, bearproof submarine-style pressure doors, and drone and night-vision integration.

And it doesn’t stop there. The ELE is solar panel, gas generator, or electric battery-powered, and has the capacity to purify the air for its occupants for up to 6 months. If you are worried about the aforementioned possibility of bears, there’s also a bear spray defense system, which shoots out a 25- by 10-foot cloud of capsaicin (reloadable canisters, too). Finally, each trailer is made to order, and comes with an option to add Level 3 ballistic protection … aka armor.

What more could you ask for in an apocalypse-ready, anything-ready vehicle on wheels?

The Invention of a Hiking Exoskeleton, Courtesy of Kickstarter

Man running through the woods wearing a Hypershell

Remember when our story about the robotic 1-horsepower hiking exoskeleton wearable nearly broke the Internet? Yeah, us too. If you missed it, here’s all you need to know. According to one startup company’s Kickstarter pitch, this robotic wearable device can help make running, hiking, or even just walking more efficient, by contouring to your movements and offsetting weight, thanks to its 14 built-in AI sensors.

It sounds nearly as wacky as the guide-like AI backpack software idea … though it’s an entirely possible piece of tech we could see on the trails in the next 1-10 years.

We’ll have to put all our skepticism aside: because the $1.2 million in funding this exoskeleton received means it’s even more likely.

Fidget-Spinner-esque, Claw-Like, Modern Karambit: CRKT Provoke EDC Review

Another most-clicked GearJunkie story from this year was a review of CRKT’s modern take on a Karambit, the Provoke EDC. Along the lines and concept of an amphibious plane, robotic exoskeleton, and high-tech trailer is this gadget. Sure, it’s a knife, and at first glance is fairly reminiscent of a lot of other Karambit and claw-style flippers. But very quickly, you’ll realize the Provoke is doing its own thing.

Essentially, it blends traditional Karambit style with CRKT’s circa-2020 Provoke designs, but adapted into an EDC package.

The Provoke EDC, unlike its relatives, is “aimed at the outdoor crowd as an effective, modern cutting tool that carries easy, deploys fast, and locks up so well that it essentially becomes a fixed-blade knife.” Pair all that with a lightweight frame and D2 steel, and we’re off. If you’re intrigued, we’ve got a full review at the ready.

A New Method for Vehicle Sleeping: We Tried the REI Trailgate Cot

REI Co-op Trailgate Cot Inside Van Build Out
(Photo/Katie Griffith)

The REI Trailgate cot was invented to fit — and comfortably convert — everything from the back of a cramped hatchback to a ProMaster van’s interior, which is no small task. The Trailgate Cot accomplished it though, thanks to three pairs of adjustable-height legs that unfold and extend to form a stable sleeping platform. The Trailgate offers a solution to backseats with different heights and shaped dividers, footwells, and more. And the fact that it can work in standard adventure vehicles like Subarus and the like.

Beware, though — this clever and highly adaptable cot comes with a high price tag, and still won’t fit all small vehicles. The invention from REI has garnered both praise and mixed opinions from van lifers and car-based adventurers both. So what was our verdict? Read our tester’s full review.

The Best Rooftop Tents We’ve Tested … So Far

Polaris rooftop tent; (photo/Mike Emery, Polaris)

After several years of trolling trade shows, carefully analyzing trends, and testing a slew of RTTs, the verdict is in: rooftop tents are here to stay. (And spoiler: we expect that they’ll get even better.)

Why? Rooftop tents offer a bird’s-eye view of your surroundings, airflow that’s unheard of in a ground tent, more protection and security, and generally superior comfort for sleeping. The drawbacks: they aren’t cheap, require installation and setup/breakdown if you want to drive away, and might also require navigating a ladder.

All that being said, there’s a massive array of models (for nearly any budget) to choose from on the market. And some rooftop tents work for almost every car or truck. As our writer put it: if you’re able to invest in one, you won’t regret it. After hundreds of nights of elevated sleeping and deliberations over various RTT specs, pros and cons, we’ve updated our list of which ones are the best. Read our full review if you are considering investing in a rooftop tent.

Proving the Purists Wrong: Civivi Voltaic Knife Review

The Civivi Voltaic isn’t just another pretty face, wrote one of our frequent knife testers. In fact, this slim and compact profile blade is a “multifaceted workhorse.” How can that be, for under $100, you ask? Easy: it starts small, adds a few choice upgrades, and ultimately, does a lot of things really well.

The highlights of the blade are namely its Sandvik 14C28N drop-point steel blade, the balance between the G10 inlays and smooth-moving frame lock, and the top-notch refinement in the ball bearings and mechanisms. Everything melds well, works well, and looks damn good.

If there are cons to this blade (read our full review), there can’t be many.

Shimano Introduces GRX 12-Speed Groupset

Shimano has a history of innovation in cycling. And while Shimano may be late to the 12-speed game, the wait was worth it. The stalwart Japanese component brand finally launched its gravel-specific GRX groupset with what is now a “standard” number of cogs. It did not disappoint; Shimano proves that mechanical drivetrains aren’t dead, and indeed, they make sense on gravel bikes.

I found the shifting superb on my 2x setup, which is something given that I’ve almost exclusively used electronic drivetrains lately. And the hydraulic braking was excellent, as it has been from Shimano for a long time now.

Although I find little reason to not go to electronic for the road, mechanical versions make sense for gravel hounds. And with Shimano GRX 12-speed, you’re not giving anything up. Read more about what this groupset means for Shimano and gravel-lovers alike.

CRKT and Ken Onion’s Latest ‘Redemption’

Not just one, but two CRKT blades made our top-10 list of stories all calendar year. Look, we editors love knives as much as our readers, but that’s still quite a statement. If GearJunkie had to pick one that really took the cake, it’s likely the Redemption. CRKT partnered with infamous knifemaker Ken Onion to build its 2023 Redemption, released this September.

The Redemption is Onion’s take on the classic “Gambler’s Dagger” — a knife that was usually worn in the boot of outlaws, gamblers, and the like, straight out of the Wild West. Not just for stabbing, this blade offers a useful design, has a low profile, is ambidextrous, and thanks to modern materials, offers incredible strength and edge retention. It’s not dissimilar in profile to the Voltaic that also made our list, aside from an added couple of inches in length.

For the Redemption, Onion employed MagnaCut steel, G10 handle scales, and a crossbar lock to update it for use in the modern world. There may be one con to this iconic, dagger-inspired blade — or maybe not. (Depends on the type of knife you are looking for.)

Honorable Mentions: More Top Reads

An ultralight backpacker hiking down a trail; (photo/EXPED)

Of course, we’ve got a dozen GearJunkie editors on our team, and many more writers who have worked hard this year testing gear, chasing breaking news, and writing op-eds on trends we see. For that reason, here are a few more noteworthy stories from 2023 worth a read:

sean in rei wonderland x tent

Hunting Scandal, Robot Writers, the Best Tent in Years, and More: GearJunkie 2022 in Review

Check out all the top stories from the year that was. See you in 2023! Read more…

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