1. Salomon Speedcross 2
As my favorite winterized trail-running shoes from 2008, the insulated Speedcross 2 shoes (www.salomon-sports.com, $110) let me pound out miles on the worst of days. Underfoot, a unique “Winter Contagrip” tread has dozens of V-shape lugs made of a soft rubber, creating a pliable grip that gives traction by staying supple no matter the outside temp.
2. Light & Motion Seca 700 Race bike light
Sharp, high-contrast light flows from the Seca 700 Race (www.bikelights.com), a top-end bike light that breaks a mold by bringing L.E.D. into a category previously dominated by old-school HID bulb lights. At $550, this light doesn’t come cheap. But what you get is a 100-foot window of virtual daylight burning ahead to ride aggressive single-track trails in the dead of night.
Link to review: http://thegearjunkie.com/gear-review-light-motion-seca-700-race
3. Jetboil Helios
Dubbed a “high-performance cook system,” the $150 Helios is an all-in-one kit — pot, stove and fuel pack together — perfect for campers in need of convenience and high heat output. The rocket-engine burner (www.jetboil.com) in my tests produced a dancing blue genie of a flame that boiled a cold liter of water in 2.5 minutes flat.
Link to review: http://thegearjunkie.com/gear-review-jetboil-helios
4. Duofold Varitherm Base Layers
Fine and non-itchy wool is my preferred material for base-layer clothing. But most companies’ sheep fuzz offerings hover at $80 or more. The Varitherm line (www.duofold.com) is inexpensive, starting at $39, and it performs with a wool-based wicking fabric that’s topped with a treatment called Dri-Release to further move moisture during activity in the outdoors.
Link to review: http://thegearjunkie.com/field-test-norways-romsdal-alps-part-ii
5. CamelBak Better Bottle
BPA is dead. That’s short for bisphenol A, a now well-known controversial compound found in polycarbonate water bottles that some studies have shown mimics the hormone estrogen. CamelBak’s $8 Better Bottle (www.camelbak.com) — made of a non-BPA polycarbonate alternative called copolyester — was an industry bellwether to eliminating BPA from the outdoors-hydration category.
Link to review: http://thegearjunkie.com/gear-review-bpa-free-water-bottles
6. REI Shuksan and Kulshan jackets
REI went out on a limb this year to become the first big-name national retailer to embrace eVent fabric, a primary competitor of Gore-Tex. The result is a line of waterproof and breathable shells that feature streamlined construction and minimal features — like a shell should be — plus pricing that is fair for this type of expedition-quality outerwear. (men’s REI Shuksan and women’s Kulshan both $289, www.rei.com)
7. Spyder D30 Armored L/S Crew
This molecularly-enhanced mountain biking wear features shock-absorbing pads developed by a U.K.-based chemical engineering company. A special gel in the pads locks hard into a rubbery medium upon impact — say a bike crash — but then bounces back to its pliable state after the pressure is gone. It’s a cool innovation in body protection. But at $350 for the top, you do pay a premium for the extra padding. (www.spyder.com)
Link to review: http://thegearjunkie.com/gear-review-d30-spyder-mtb-suit
8. SPOT Satellite Messenger
“There is life after cell phone signals die.” That’s the tagline of the SPOT, a locator beacon with GPS tracking that can send three types of messages: 1) “I’m OK,” which is sent via satellite to your friends’ and family’s emails and cell phones; 2) “I-need-assistance” message to the same group of family and friends; 3) 911 button alerts local search-and-rescue, the Coast Guard, or other organizations. ($150 plus a $100 annual service fee, www.findmespot.com)
Link to review: http://thegearjunkie.com/gear-review-spot-satellite-messenger
9. Kahtoola Microspikes
A lightweight alternative to crampons, the $59 Microspikes (www.kahtoola.com) feature 10 stainless steel spikes attached on a rubber noose that can be pulled over any shoe. At 7 ounces apiece, the grippers are light and small enough to ball up and put in a pocket.
Link to review: http://thegearjunkie.com/gear-review-kahtoola-microspikes
10. Princeton Tec Swerve
It costs twice what a regular rear red blinker bike light goes at. But the $30 Swerve (www.princetontec.com), which has two bright L.E.D.s, can almost guarantee you’ll be seen from behind. I trusted this little light literally with my life during city commutes and nighttime bike rides all year long.
(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eleven U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.)