‘Best in Show’ Awards: Part II of Greatest Gear for 2012

The best new outdoor and camping gear for 2012 was unveiled last week in Salt Lake City at the twice-annual Outdoor Retailer trade show, and the GearJunkie staff was on scene to snoop out candidates for our “Best in Show” awards. We announced a dozen winners earlier this week in part I of the series. Today, a dozen more awardees are crowned, from a new line of minimalist alpine climbing gear to a high-heel shoe made for biking. Most of these products won’t hit store shelves until 2012. But don’t worry, the shiny items here are worth the wait. Congrats to the winners! —Stephen Regenold

Tripod Multi-tool — We covered this camera-friendly multi-tool last month in a preview article. But at the OR Show, we got to play with it, and we could see Gerber has done a nice job with the tool, called the Steady. Its featured photographic implement can screw into a common camera mount, and the company also offers an attachment for smartphones.

Gerber Steady tool

Tiny arms fold out from the handle to offer the tripod’s three legs of support. All the other components, from knife blades to driver heads, are made of stainless steel. The Steady model will cost $65 when it comes to stores in 2012.

Tri-pod implement for camera mount and smartphone

Breathable ‘Space Blanket’ Bivy — Touted as the first “emergency reflective shelter with breathability,” the SOL Escape Bivvy from Adventure Medical Kits is a lightweight bivy bag made out of a crinkly reflective material (a “vacuum-metalized spun-bonded olefin,” according to the company). We have been using AMK’s “space blanket” bivy sacks for years. They are lightweight and body-heat-reflective, though always clammy; water condenses inside the original design. But with this new bag, AMK claims condensation can escape, though the exterior is rain-, snow- and wind-resistant.

Emergency bivy bag with breathability

The SOL Escape Bivvy weighs about 10 oz. and packs up to about the size of a Nalgene bottle. It has a hood and a drawstring opening to seal it shut. The bag will sell for $50 in 2012 when the company ships to stores.

AMK bivy costs $50, packs up small

Boots and Glasses from adidas! — Shoe and sportswear giant adidas has a new U.S. outdoor division, and this year at the OR Show the company was back in force with a big booth stocked with admirable, innovation items. Indeed, we’re handing out two awards to the company, one for a boot, and one for sunglasses. The TERREX FAST glasses, which we have been testing for a month (we got a pre-release pair before the show), are close-fitting, big-eyed optics designed for performance in the outdoors. They are made in Austria by Silhouette A.G., which licenses the brand.

Morph-able TERREX FAST glasses from adidas

A lightweight frame on the TERREX FAST glasses holds interchangeable lenses, and the glasses have screw-less temple bows (they snap out) and a removable nose piece. They are Rx-compatible. But the really unique pieces in the FAST glasses’ modular system include a removable foam-pad piece that clicks into place behind the front part of the frame and hugs the face. This converts the glasses to something of a pseudo-goggle. They also come with an elasticized strap (remove the bows first) that wraps around the back of the head and holds the glasses tight on (and also further moves the frame into the “pseudo-goggles” realm). The TERREX FAST glasses come out next month for $210. Very cool.

Fast-hiking mountain boots from adidas

Not to be overshadowed, adidas’ TERREX Fast R boot is a neat creation, including a sticky-rubber sole made by Continental (the brand more often seen on bike tires) for grip and “overlapping plates” in the heel area to add control and dampen blows on steep mountain descents. The plates, found in the midsole area in each heel, can slide forward or laterally, depending on the angle of contact. The company touts this reduces “heel-to-toe velocity and equalizes the contact on uneven ground.” The result? A reduction of stress on the knee and heel, adidas cites. The waterproof boots (GORETEX lined) were fairly lightweight in the hand at the OR trade show, but they felt super protective and supportive for rugged mountain terrain. Can’t wait to test ‘em out! $195

Protect-a-Pack — You know that nightmare scenario where some high-tech criminal scans your wallet and grabs identity information from your RFID-enabled passport or credit cards? Well, this new travel backpack from Pacsafe can eliminate your paranoia for that situation, whether justified or not. It has an RFID-blocking passport and credit card pocket that stops identity-stealing technology from scanning your documents without permission. But that’s just one facet of the neat new travel-oriented pack, called the Ultimatesafe 32L. It also has a laptop/iPad sleeve and a removable, cable-laced, lockable fabric “safe,” which cinches closed and can be locked to a fixed object with a stainless steel cable to protect your goods. Pacsafe made the backpack to maximum carry-on standard size, letting you stow all your electronics and valuable goods — locked up and RFID protected! — in the compartment above your airline seat. Available this fall for about $275.

Ultimatesafe backpack with lockable pouch and laptop case

‘Nest-able’ Gear Box from Yakima — Announced as the industry’s first full-size “UPS-able” cargo box, a new line from Yakima, the RocketBox Pro Series, comes “nested,” with the lid of the box overturned and stacked inside the bottom. The result is 50 percent less volume for shipping a box.

Yakima boxes are now ‘nest-able’ for easier shipping

Roof-top gear boxes are so big they often require special shipping services and costs. The “nested” RocketBox line, in contrast, can be shipped by standard couriers like UPS. Customers and gear shops save money on shipping. Once the box arrives, it can be assembled in five minutes or less, Yakima cites. The line is shipping to stores now, with prices starting at $359.

Assembled: RocketBox Pro Series roof-top box

‘Swiss Army Knife’ Jewelry — Citing inspiration from the multi-functionality of its Swiss Army knives, Wenger unveiled a neat and unlikely new category at OR this year — functional jewelry! The company has dubbed the line “toolry,” as each piece is wearable as an eye-catching pendant and also has tools hidden within its design. The HypeX jewelry line includes multiple pieces, each one concealing implements like a screwdriver, emergency whistle, tweezers, or a wrench. They are made of stainless steel, ebony wood, silicone, and stone.

Functional jewelry from Wenger hides usable implements

High-Heel Bike Shoe — Touting “ultimate femininity for any ride,” the Evera MJ shoes are just what they appear to be: High-heels for biking! Merrell made the crossover shoes to balance performance for spinning platform pedals as well as good looks on the foot. The area in front of the heel, where the arch slants to the forefoot, is made to fit atop a bike pedal, providing a grip and a solid platform to crank on your commute, or, perhaps, during a bike-powered night out on the town. For sale in February, 2012, for $110.

Made to grip a bike pedal: Area in front of heel designed for pedal-platform fit

Adjustable Mountain Boot — A stout, waterproof “body bag” zipper, integrated gaiters, and an adjustable sole system that instantly switches this boot from flexible to stiff made the Pro Gaiter boot from Salewa a stand-out at the OR Show.

Salewa mountain boot

The Pro Gaiter boot is built for ice climbing and mountaineering. A screw-switch on the sole flips an internal shank to allow for some flex (on the hike in) or to lock the sole stiff (for climbing). The whole boot is waterproof, made with a Schoeller and Superfabric upper and insulated with 3M Thinsulate for warmth on the mountain. Available this fall for $549.95.

Features on the Salewa boot

Aero-Racks — In a strange coincidence at this year’s OR Show, both of the car-rack big boys, Yakima and Thule, unveiled similar low-profile bars made to cut wind noise, reduce drag, increase efficiency and save fuel. Good looks are an ancillary bonus, as the Whispbar line from Yakima and Thule’s AeroBlade model are svelte and minimal designs that will work aesthetically on most any vehicle make.

Thule AeroBlade bars

We covered the Whispbar in depth last week after attending a press launch party in Snowbird. It comes in multiple models. We then fondled the Thule AeroBlades on the trade show floor. Yakima and Thule both claim points of superiority with their similar “aero” rack bars, but we’re not going to go tit-for-tat here. Both lines are admirable and sleek. In addition to nice looks and aerodynamic designs, the companies each include new features to make installation easier on a vehicle roof — another welcome upgrade in the rack world.

Yakima Whispbar rack

Ueli Steck Signature Line — Switzerland-based speed climber Ueli Steck, called the “Swiss Machine” for his stout, efficient climbing style, is an “era-defining athlete,” according to Mountain Hardwear. This past spring, Steck set speed records in the Himalayas on 8,000-meter mountains using a new line of apparel and equipment made with his guidance by Mountain Hardwear. The Ueli Steck line, which we saw in an exclusive event with Mr. Steck himself at the OR Show, includes sleeping bags with half-length zippers, svelte jackets (light materials, one pocket only), close-fitting, “pre-curved” gloves made for gripping an ice axe, and streamlined backpacks with sleeping pads hidden inside.

Mountain Hardwear Ueli Steck signature line

Overall, the new Mountain Hardwear line was impressive. It made us want to get on a mountain and climb fast! Favorite pieces included a 9-ounce shell jacket, a minimal puffy with 850-fill down, shirts with UPF sun protection, and a ultralight mountain tent that weighs 2.5 pounds and can be erected by crawling inside the shelter during a storm and setting it up from within.

Ueli in action!

Related content on GearJunkie:
> ‘Best in Show’ Awards: Part I
> OR Show: Gear Preview (part I)
> OR Show: Gear Preview (part II)

—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com. Gear Junkie staffers and contributors Jason Magness, Pat Petschel, Steve Hitchcock, Chelsey Magness, and Daniel Staudigel contributed to this report. See Part I of our ‘Best in Show’ awards article for the full peek at next year’s best new gear.

Stephen Regenold

Stephen Regenold is Founder of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of five, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.