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‘Best in Show’ Awards, Part II: Gear for 2013

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The best new outdoors gear coming to market in 2013 was center stage last week at the twice-annual Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City. Our “Best in Show” awards identify the most unique and stand-out items from the thousands unveiled at the show. (See part I of our awards article here.) Congrats to all the winners! This gear represents the state of the art in outdoors equipment and gear design today. —Stephen Regenold

Airy, Advanced Snowshoes — Among the lightest made, the Louis Garneau Course snowshoes touch the scale at just 720 grams per pair. This is thanks to a minimal build, light aluminum frame, and thin polyethylene decking. Bonus: A webbing shoe harness and two turn-to-tighten BOA Technology dials to let you wear any of your normal trail-running shoes in the Course. Boots are not required as you sprint down the trail. $249.99 when they debut for next season’s snow.

Speed demons: Among lightest snowshoes made

1-Ounce Wonders — Drop them in a storm and they might blow away. But the 1-ounce Prism Gloves from Montane offer adequate warmth for many winter tasks, from ice climbing to skiing to frozen trail runs.

Gloves pack up small in sack

A combo of Pertex fabric outers stuffed with airy PrimaLoft Eco synthetic down offers warmth and a wind-proof design for the fast and light crowd. Great as an emergency backup glove, too. $57. Release date is next October.

Warmth comes from thin fabric and synthetic down insulation

Hyper XC Ski Suit — Sold as a two-piece suit, Salomon’s S-LAB EXO Jersey and Tight offer a body-mapped, muscle-supporting kit built for the most serious skiers and World Cup XC athletes. The brand’s glued-on TPU film honeycomb overlay is attached on the clothes intricately for varying levels of compression in accordance with how a body moves while skating on skis and pushing off on poles. (All this earns a U.S. Patent, No. 7,886,376.)

Salomon S-LAB EXO Jersey

The result is a ski-specific super hero suit that the company cites has muscle support, compression for “active recovery,” and subtle posture control to better keep an athlete’s chin up and chest out as he flies on a groomed trail. Men’s models only. S-LAB EXO Jersey and Tight costs $320 retail when purchased together. Ships this summer for skiers looking to compete in 2014.

S-LAB EXO Tights

Most Minimal Sleeping Bag — Contributing editor Jason Magness was astonished: “The sleeping bag packed up to the size of a large apple!” he noted during a show meeting. We’ve long relied on Sea to Summit for uber-packable and light gear. This new bag, the Spark SpI, is no exception. It uses 850+ loft goose down with a water-resistant treatment and a thin outer fabric. Rated to 46 degrees, the bag weight is a feathery 12.3 ounces, which Sea to Summit touts is among the “best warmth-for-weight” equations ever seen. Price is TBD.

Goose down and thin fabric let this sleeping bag pack up super small

Bikes with a Cause — We formerly knew Miir Inc. because of its water bottles and a push to get clean drinking water to people in need. This winter, the company launched a bike line. The single-speed and internally-geared, 5-speed models are sleek, steel-frame steeds with a simple kind of streamlined aesthetic we love. But the commuter bikes also have an altruistic bonus: Miir promises that for each bike sold it will aid one person in need (in a developing nation) to get him or her a bike for transportation of their own. Shipping in March for $899.

Streamlined urban commuter bike (with a cause)

Puffy but Breathable — In an effort to make a puffy jacket that’s warm but also highly breathable, Polartec LLC created a first-of-its-kind insulating material. Called Alpha, the light, high-loft fleece is an insulating mass that traps body heat. But it is also stable enough to be stitched into jackets that use breathable outer fabrics.

Alpha-insulated jackets from Rab, Westcomb, and Mammut

We got two pre-release Alpha jackets from Polartec last month. Our tests prove Alpha is breathable as well as mighty warm. Brands adopting Alpha insulation in jackets for this year or next, according to Polartec, are numerous, including 66 North, Eddie Bauer, Eider, Mammut, Marmot, Montane, Mountain Equipment, Rab, Ternua, Terry Cycle, The North Face, Trangoworld, Vaude and Westcomb.

Illustration of Alpha insulation in a jacket

‘Two-Finger’ Running Shoes — The split-toe design is not new. Other brands have the big-toe-separated look, including B2R and Olukai. But with the launch of Topo Athletic, founder Tony Post hopes to boost the “two-finger” design to mass-market appeal. (Post, the former CEO of Vibram USA, launched the company’s then out-of-left-field FiveFingers shoe brand in 2006 to huge and unexpected success.)

Like Vibram FiveFingers, the Topo shoes are unique. This time instead of five separate toes the Topo shoes have just one split for the big toe. The split-toe design creates an anchor point, Post says, for the forefoot in stride. It also lets toes splay and stretch out naturally, the company cites.

Topo Athletic shoe

We tested the shoe on a quick run inside the trade show hall. Initial reaction is that Post and his team have built a comfortable and quality (if still out-there) line of shoes that should pique interest with runners who identify with the “natural,” “barefoot,” and “minimalist” shoe movements. The Topo shoes have a zero-drop footbed and incredibly light weight — a men’s size 8.5 running shoe will weigh about 5.3 ounces a foot.

Further distinguishing, a Boa Technology twist-to-tighten closure system is included in lieu of laces on the running shoe. (See our full preview article on the Topo shoe line here.)

Women’s shoes in Topo line

Ultra Goggle — The Scott LCG Goggle caught our editor Jason Magness’ attention with their “huge field of view that looks a little like a fisheye lens,” he said. More of note, Magness was impressed with a lens-changing system that is “simple and can be done even in heavy gloves.” It uses a hinge and lock setup that is strong and easy to work.

The lens-switching setup with these goggles lets a user make the optics change without having to touch the surface of the lens. This eliminates the need to clean up fingerprints that can streak and smear into corners of the frame.

LCG goggles from Scott

The features that Magness noted plus a sleek look and an included slim hard-side case made the goggles stand out in a category stocked with quality products. A final bonus: Scott includes its screw-to-adjust cams on the frame to dial in a personal face fit for comfort and a tight seal on your cheeks and nose. $185.

Three-in-One Backpack — Like a Russian matryoshka doll, a new pack system from Boreas has multiple parts that nest inside each other. You combine all the parts for a complete wilderness pack. Or pick and choose from a dry bag, a day-size pack, and a hydration-equipped bag as per the situation at hand.

The harness straps come off and attach to each new bag. It’s called the Bootlegger 3-in-1 Adventure Bag, and the entire system together weighs a manageable 4 pounds.

Bootlegger modular pack system

The brand sums up the design by writing that the “modular system enables the user to buy one pack rather then several different packs.” All Bootlegger bags nest (like the Russian dolls) inside the big outer dry bag for maximize capacity as well as protection from the rain. The Bootlegger system ships in June for $199.

Packs nested together as one

—This is part II of the “Best in Show” awards for Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013. (See part I of our awards article 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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