From down jackets to avalanche rescue gear, several hundred brands gathered at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in Denver this week. We sifted through thousands of products to find a few real gems that earned Best in Show for 2022.
Yes, COVID decimated the 2022 Outdoor Retailer Snow Show. But we still showed up, and we still found some amazing new gear.
Unlike previous years where we just jumped into the products, I’d like to take a moment to call out the elephant in the room. COVID took a huge toll on the bi-annual event, which has historically been the cornerstone gathering of the recreational outdoor industry.
The throngs of people flooding the Colorado Convention Center were largely gone. Instead, we saw just a trickle of masked attendees. The show floor was a fraction of its former glory, maybe 10-20% of the size of pre-COVID years. And for a show that historically launched vast numbers of skis and snowboards in the coming year, the almost entire absence of those hardgoods was impossible to ignore.
Among the handful of hardnosed journalists who attended, the overall sentiment was sadness at the loss of a great gathering and hope for a rebirth in the coming year. Sure, we missed seeing a massive display of new products and technology. But even more, the dwindling of community and loss of an industry-unifying event hung heavy.
But even so, evidence of exceptional product development was everywhere. At the Innovation Awards display, more than a dozen remarkable products showed new developments that will improve recreation in the outdoors. We’ll be covering that event in another article shortly.
But for now, let’s get into the Best in Show. Because of the smaller event, we awarded just six products this year.
GearJunkie Best in Show Winter 2022
Eddie Bauer BC Flyline Jacket and Bib Adaptive Ski Kit
Trevor Kennison shocked the world in 2020 when he sent it huge during Kings and Queens of Corbet’s at Jackson Hole — on a sit ski! The adaptive skier has since competed at the X Games, wowing a crowd with his big air. But until this week, no brand offered skiers like him a tailor-made kit.
So Eddie Bauer, his main sponsor, decided to build a kit for sit skiers. In it, the brand addresses serious issues for adaptive skiers such as Kennison. For example, zippers can cause serious skin damage for those with no feeling in their legs. So Eddie Bauer removed all the zippers and other potential hardpoints from below the waist.
Next, the brand tailored the jacket and bibs to not bunch while the skier is in a seated position. It improved arm articulation and stretch in the back to enhance outrigger use. And it added huge pockets in the chest so the user can access gear easily.
Most importantly, Eddie Bauer will offer this product for retail sale, not just as a custom rig. The BC Flyline Jacket and Bib retail for $549 and $499, respectively. There will be 100 kits (bibs and jackets) available via Eddie Bauer, and Eddie Bauer also donated 20 kits to staff and athletes at the High Fives Foundation.
If you haven’t seen Kennison hit Corbet’s, check out this incredible video, below.
Rab Mythic Ultra Down Jacket
The primary goal of most down jackets is to achieve a high warmth-to-weight ratio. With the Mythic Ultra, Rab struck gold. The brand used what it calls Thermo Ionic Lining Technology (TILT) to apply an aluminum treatment to a lightweight scrim. This aluminum significantly reduces radiant heat loss. But it doesn’t change fabric breathability or comfort.
Combine that tech with offset baffle construction, ultralight Pertex Quantum fabric, and 900-fill-power down, and you get Rab’s warmest lightweight down jacket yet. It tips the scales at just 18.9 ounces for a size medium and packs down to the size of a Nalgene water bottle. We tested it briefly at Eldora Mountain and were impressed by its warmth and virtual weightlessness. Read our full review.
LifeStraw Peak Series
LifeStraw water filtration products just went from good to great. The new generation of LifeStraw filters, called the Peak Series, solves many problems that campers, backpackers, and anyone who needs fresh water in the backcountry are familiar with.
The Peak Series comprises five models built for durability and versatility in lightweight and compact carrying options. It includes the Personal Water Filter Straw (re-designed after 17 years!), the 650mL and 1L Collapsible Squeeze Bottle Water Filter System, the 3L and 8L Gravity Water Filter System, and the 8L Gravity Water Filter + Water Storage Bag.
What makes these products stand out is LifeStraw’s attention to detail. The brand addressed big flaws in water filtering systems. For example, the squeeze and gravity filter systems have a screw-on backflush piston, a system that simplifies the effective cleaning of clogged filters in the field.
Users can reconfigure the in-line filters to use the systems in gravity or squeeze modes. And you can easily remove the filters and cap the durable bags for water storage. The filters are small and self-contained, thus easy to put in a pocket or sleeping bag to protect them during freezing temps.
Overall, it’s the most durable, dialed filtration system we’ve seen this year, and we’re excited to put it to the test.
Norda Running Shoes
While we usually award single products or product lines, for this show we decided to award a new brand on its launch. Welcome, Norda, to the trail running world!
The brainchild of co-founders Nick and Willa Martire, Norda is the first running shoe made mostly of Dyneema fabric. While remarkably strong and light, Dyneema has presented shoe builders with a conundrum of sorts. It’s a great material but hard to cut and bond into shoe shapes. Martire cracked the code and launched two pairs in 2021.
But Norda doesn’t just use Dyneema in shoes. The brand launched with some impressive technology, including bio-based Dyneema uppers and Vibram midsoles on the Norda 001. The winter-oriented Norda 001 G+Spikes has graphene in its waterproof membrane for heat conduction as well as metal spikes for ice traction.
Nick Martire said he chose to work with Dyneema, even though it comes at a high price, as he sees the long-lasting shoes as a very sustainable product.
“The mission is to prove that high performance and sustainability should always run together,” Martire said.
While this is a small, boutique brand for now with prices in the $285-335 neighborhood, we look forward to testing Norda running shoes and watching the Canadian brand blossom into a larger player in the running world.
Arva Neo BT Pro Avalanche Beacon
With the Neo BT Pro avalanche beacon, Arva makes an incremental yet vital improvement to a piece of lifesaving gear. The Neo BT Pro hits the market in 2022 and has the longest search range of any beacon, 80 m (and 90 m in analog search mode). In the field, this added distance can translate to seconds or minutes when finding a buried avalanche victim — and those seconds or minutes can translate to life or death.
Beyond the category-leading search range, the Arva Neo BT Pro innovates with Bluetooth pairing to phones for updates and a powerful app complete with checklists, advice, weather forecasts, and practice scenarios.
Designed with professional users in mind, the Neo BT Pro checks the requisite boxes for a top-tier beacon. Beyond basic functionality, it tells users when it experiences interference from cellphones, has a scrolling mode to allow rescuers to choose which victim to search for, and a group check mode including transmit frequency check.
That’s a lot of technology packed into a top-tier avalanche beacon that weighs just 214 g, batteries included.
Cardo Packtalk Outdoor
Imagine reaching the top of a tough pitch of trad climbing, clipping into the anchors, and softly saying “off belay” to your partner 50 m below. They hear you clearly through earbuds, a connection made through an antenna and small device mounted on their helmet. “Off belay,” they say, and you hear it clearly too. No shouting is needed.
That scenario, and many more, will soon be a reality thanks to the development of the Cardo Packtalk Outdoor. This small digital communicator mounts on climbing, mountain biking, skiing, or most any helmets. It allows the wearers to communicate seamlessly through a mesh system, which can connect up to 15 users. Two users connected have a range of 1 km, but the beauty of the mesh system allows each user to be a transmitter and receiver, amplifying signals up to 5 km.
Originally designed for motorcycles in the early 2000s, Cardo now enters the outdoors, offering potentially limitless uses. From ski classes to mountain bike clubs, the ability to communicate with others in the outdoors through helmet-mounted headsets will spur innovative uses. We’ve already tried the system and can attest that it works remarkably well at ranges well beyond normal voice communication.
This product will almost certainly grow smaller and more effective over time. We can’t wait to see how we use it to play and work in the outdoors.