It’s the end of 2016, and as is our annual tradition, a time to look back at the best gear we tested this year. Of the hundreds of products GearJunkie staff and team athletes reviewed and put through the paces, these items stood out as some of the best.
Arc’teryx Procline Boot
Ski-touring boots tend to limit ankle motion. The Arc’teryx Procline gives greater mobility, including 50 degrees of forward flex and side-to-side movement in the cuff. The result is a hybrid unlike anything before, letting you efficiently ski uphill, lock in for going down, or add crampons when the terrain gets steep.
Julbo Aerospace Goggles
Fog is a killer for anyone who exerts with goggles on their face. A simple but effective design, the Aerospace goggles have a pull-open frame that gives a quarter-inch gap behind the lens, granting significant airflow to clear fog. For uphill travel, when skiers work up a sweat, the Aerospace offers a huge upgrade (and eliminates the need to carry extra sunglasses in a pack).
Polartec launched a new cooling fabric called Delta. It’s made of a contrasting weave of hydrophilic lyocell fiber, which retains perspiration, and hydrophobic polyester. The result is a material that disperses moisture and increases airflow, keeping you cool, while preventing the garment from becoming soggy or clingy. We’ve tested it to good results, better than other cooling shirts that use chemicals to simply feel cool to the touch. Delta is the most effective cooling fabric we’ve used yet.
Columbia Outdry Extreme Eco
Many jackets are made with polluting chemicals, notably perfluorinated compounds, often shortened to PFCs. Columbia Sportswear eliminates the bad stuff with its OutDry Extreme ECO Shell — the jacket’s materials, membranes, and treatments are PFC-free. Bonus: Its fabric comes from a recycled source, and it’s sold stark-white because the company uses no dye.
Vibram Arctic Grip
A new kind of rubber, Vibram’s stick-to-ice Arctic Grip was made to bolster winter soles. We tested the compound on footwear from multiple brands and were impressed with its grip on wet ice — the gritty rubber grabs a bit of purchase where regular tread will slip. Look for Arctic Grip on multiple shoe and boot brands in 2017.
Startup bike brand Otso blurs the line between plus-size and fat. It’s a carbon-fiber hardtail built for riders who need high performance and good value, transforming between two setups: mountain bike and fat bike. It does so with no compromise and has the narrowest Q-factor of any production fat bike. The Otso Voytek is among the most unique bikes of the year.
Omeals Camp Food
An innovative take on cook-in-the-bag food, Omeals work similar to self-heating military MREs — pour cold water into the Omeals bag to initiate the reaction, and five minutes later you’ve got a steaming, hot meal. And the flavor? Well, it beat out all contenders in our recent camp meal cook-off.
Spyderco Manix 2 LW
The best blade of 2016? Our knife editor said so. The Spyderco Manix 2 LW (in Maxamet steel) has an exotic, difficult-to-machine blade that’s an order of magnitude harder than the next closest steel on the market. Comparable knives can cost north of $1,000; this one is buyable for under $200 (with an msrp of $270). To have a steel that essentially stays sharp forever is an outstanding upgrade.
Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60
Sierra Designs worked with adventurer Andrew Skurka to develop a backpack that expands vertically and horizontally for maximum versatility. We tested it, and not only does the pack expand and contract to maximize uses, but it also carries extremely well. The 2-lb. 9-oz. pack can tote between 40 and 60 liters. At $200, it’s a one-quiver kind of pack many people can use across all their backwoods adventures.