All posts in “Sports and Outdoors”

The Year’s Best Fitness Product Makes Every Runner Feel Elite

This story is part of the GP100, our annual roundup of the best products of the year. To see the full list of winners, grab the latest issue of Gear Patrol Magazine.

Add the word “carbon” to any running shoe nowadays and two things are likely to happen: the price tag will double and everyone will want it. (Heck, you’re probably reading this article because it’s about a carbon-fiber shoe.) The hype machine really got rolling two years ago, when Nike’s Vaporfly 4% gained celebrity-level popularity with its embedded carbon-fiber plate, prompting other brands to rush their own carbon-fiber shoes to market.

Funny thing is, Nike wasn’t the first to enhance a running shoe with carbon fiber; in the early 2000s, Adidas added a carbon-fiber plate to the racing-focused AdiStar, dubbing it the AdiStar ProPlate. So why aren’t we talking about that shoe today?

At under nine ounces, the Carbon X is considerably lighter than your normal everyday training shoe, while still delivering that all-important stable ride.

Well, Nike’s marketing team did a fantastic job promoting the Vaporfly 4%’s benefits through its staged attempt to break the two-hour marathon barrier, “Breaking 2”; the shoe was almost as big a star as marathoner Eliud Kipchoge, the 2016 Olympic champ and official world-record holder (with a 2:01:39 set at the 2018 Berlin Marathon) who was striving to accomplish the feat.

On top of that, an independent team of University of Colorado researchers confirmed the shoe’s time-shaving benefits. Not surprisingly, serious runners began believing it would propel them toward quicker times.

Further Reading
Hoka One One Launches What Could Be Its Fastest Running Shoe Yet
The Hoka One One Carbon X: A Race Day Shoe for the Everyman

Fast-forward two years, both Hoka and New Balance have released carbon-plated running shoes as well. However, comparing the 4% to the Hoka Carbon X or New Balance 5280 because they all have carbon-fiber plates is like comparing a car, motorcycle and speedboat because they all have engines. So what’s the difference and which one is best for you? Short answer: it depends.

Shoes like these are typically designed for very specific purposes. The New Balance 5280, for example, is intended for mile road races — hence the name 5280, the number of feet in a mile. Fittingly, it’s the shoe that eight-time Fifth Avenue Mile champ Jenny Simpson has worn while winning the prestigious race down that famous stretch of Manhattan pavement the past two years.

The Nike Vaporfly 4%, despite the promise of immediately cutting four percent off a marathon time, is better-suited to elite speedsters, as its geometry favors efficient runners with a mid-to-forefoot strike pattern. The studies confirming its four percent efficiency gains have largely been done on front-of-the-pack racers with near-flawless form, leaving it unclear whether the average runner would actually see the same improvements.

Then there’s the Hoka One One Carbon X, a maximum-cushioned runner with a carbon-fiber plate sandwiched in the midsole. Unlike the others, this shoe is inherently stable, while mimicking the quick-footed feeling of a racing sneaker.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on being a brand that includes as many people as possible,” says Matthew Head, the brand’s director of design. “If you go to a marathon, quite often you start to see Hoka towards the back of the pack,” he adds.

Those back-of-the-pack runners often resort to the heavyweight trainers they use daily come race time, but every ounce counts. Studies show lighter shoes can mean faster times, with one quantifying a 0.78 percent improvement in finishing time per 100 grams (3.53 ounces) cut over 3,000 meters. At under nine ounces, the Carbon X is considerably lighter than your normal everyday training shoe, while still delivering that all-important stable ride.

Hoka’s classic rocker geometry: a curvature of the outsole that acts like the rails of a rocking chair to propel you forward and help you move smoothly through the gait cycle.

But how does that carbon-fiber plate increase efficiency? When Adidas was developing the ProPlate, lead researcher Darren Stefanyshyn hypothesized that, as your toes bend when hitting the ground and pushing off again, you lose a small amount of energy. The carbon-fiber plate supports your toes, keeping them straight — thus saving that otherwise-lost juice.

Asked if Hoka had done any lab studies to test efficiency gains on the Carbon X, Head demurs. “We’ve done independent lab testing, but we don’t look specifically for efficiency gains,” he says. “We want to make sure it’s performing as a Hoka, ensuring we are getting the characteristics we want.”

Those characteristics are achieved via Hoka’s classic rocker geometry — a curvature of the outsole that acts like the rails of a rocking chair to propel you forward and help you move smoothly through the gait cycle.

“When touching down on the heel, it minimizes deceleration, or that jolt through the body,” Head says. “And when you take off, it maximizes acceleration.” The curved carbon plate amplifies this feeling, an unseen force gently nudging you forward with each stride.

Bottom line: don’t try to compare the Nike to the Hoka — or four percent gains versus unclaimed ones — just because these shoes both boast a carbon-fiber plate. One shoe is not better than the other. It’s more about what you need in a running shoe, and what you plan to do with it.

And the beauty of the Carbon X is that it isn’t designed for elites on race day; it’s an all-inclusive, everyday shoe that’s bouncy and fun and probably the brand’s best iteration of rocker tech yet. In other words, it just might be the most democratic high-performance running shoe ever made.

Heel-Toe Drop: 5mm
Weight: 8.7 ounces
Use Case: Road running and racing
Price: $180

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

Could This Be the Most Innovative New Knife of 2019?

Earlier this year, a knife maker named Joe Caswell created waves by introducing an entirely unique take on the folding pocket knife with a blade called the Morphing Karambit. Instead of folding downward into its handle, the knife uses a mechanism that draws the blade up and out, allowing users to not only open it with one hand but also to do so while maintaining a full grip on the handle. That innovation on its own makes the Morphing Karambit notable and helped it earn over $350,000.

Around the time of that Kickstarter campaign, Caswell dropped a hint that a major knife brand might bring his design to life as a more affordable production model, and CRKT just revealed that it would be the company to do that. Its version of the Morphing Karambit is called the Provoke, and it’s almost identical to the original but uses less-premium materials to create a more approachable price.

CRKT and Caswell have dubbed the distinctive opening mechanism “Kinematic,” and while it remains to be seen whether or not it’ll show up in future designs and different types of knives, the karambit makes a suitable point of entry since it can be held with the blade pointing back. Historically, karambits, which were created in Indonesia, have been used as weapons but it’s believed that they took after the sickle and were originally used for agricultural purposes, with the claw-like shape designed for slicing vegetation and churning up the earth. Today, karambits are used for everything, from martial arts to emergency response to outdoor survival. Caswell has already proven that with a little creative thinking karambits can find mass appeal, and CRKT clearly believes the same.

The Best Outdoor Products of 2019

 This story is part of the GP100, our annual roundup of the best products of the year. To see the full list of winners, grab the latest issue of Gear Patrol Magazine.

For products to stand out in the outdoor space, they usually have to nail at least one of a few key superlatives: lightest, smallest, quickest. And while some of the year’s best releases do just that, others simply go against the grain. From a sleeping pad that’s intentionally big to a surfboard made of sheep’s wool, the best outdoor products might even make you wonder which superlatives really matter.

Products are listed alphabetically.

Adidas Terrex Free Hiker

As evidenced by the wave of Canada Goose jackets status-symboling down city streets these days, outdoor products and urban style trends continue to cross paths. At the confluence of function and fashion reside excellent items like the Adidas Terrex Free Hiker. This clever, sneaker-fied hiking shoe finds itself equally comfortable at both clubs and campsites. Active ingredients? Foot-hugging Primeknit uppers, energy-returning Boost foam soles and funky styling rarely seen on trails.

Weight: 13.5 ounces
Collaboration: Continental rubber outsole
Bonus: Waterproof Gore-Tex for an extra $50
Price: $200

Further Reading
Here’s a Sneak Peek at the New Adidas Ultraboost 20 Running Shoe
The Best Hiking Boots of 2019

Firewire Woolight Seaside

For all the “connecting with nature” allure it touts, surfing’s dirty secret is that most wetsuits and boards feature materials derived from fossil fuels that are harmful to the environment. Case in point: petroleum-based fiberglass fabric makes up nearly every board’s outer shell. For the Woolight Seaside, Firewire replaced that material with wool sheared ethically from New Zealand sheep — introducing the surf world to a naturally occurring alternative to unsustainable fiberglass. 

Sizes Available: 5’2″ – 6’1″
Volumes Available: 26.5 – 46.5 liters
Fin Setup: Quad
Price: $840

Further Reading
What the Hell Is a Wool Surfboard?
Yes, You Want Wool Swim Trunks. Here’s Why

Watch Now: The 10 Best Outdoors Products of 2019

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Gerber Compleat

The spork became a camp cutlery classic by uniting spoon and fork. But in doing so, sporks diminish the effectiveness of both utensils. The Compleat avoids this master-of-none trap; not only does it boast a separate spoon and fork, but also it has a dual-edge spatula (one edge serrated, the other rubberized) and a peeler-equipped tool that opens bottles, packages and cans. Slide the fork or spoon’s handle into the spatula for the coup de grâce: tongs.

Weight: 2.3 ounces
Materials: Heat-resistant nylon and anodized aluminum
Total Number of Implements: 8
Price: $30

Further Reading
Why You Should Never Bring a Spork Camping
The 6 Best Dehydrated Meals for Backcountry Dining

Igloo Recool

As the mega-cooler wars between Yeti and its imitators rage on, Igloo is taking a different approach. The Recool — an entirely recycled-material, biodegradable 16-quart cooler — provides an Earth-friendly alternative to those pervasive Styrofoam units found at every gas station. Sturdy and reusable, it keeps beer ice-cold all day long. While it might not replace the giant ice chest in your truck bed, it’s easily the best, most conscientious cheap cooler around.

Weight: 1.6 pounds
Material: Compostable recycled paper
Capacity: 16 quarts (or 20 12-ounce cans)
Price: $10

Further Reading
Why You Should Care About Igloo’s New $10 Cooler
The 14 Best Coolers of 2019

Yamaha Adventure Pro powered by Magellan

The Adventure Pro is an advanced adventure tool that will help you explore further with your Yamaha. And you can share your experiences with friends and family along the way, too, thanks to its social media integration. The Adventure Pro also features GPS mapping and navigation, as well as online adventure planning — making it even easier to share your latest journey. Buy Now: $749+

Leatherman Free P2

Like its predecessors, the P2 is a plier-centric implement with handy functions that swivel out of its handles. The difference? Internal magnets allow the Free P2 — and its big brother, the P4, which adds saw and serrated-knife blades — to stay closed until the magnets are disengaged with a firm flick of the thumb, at which point the handles butterfly open without friction and lock with a satisfying click. The internal tools swivel open by pushing on tiny nubs, instead of wedging fingernails into annoying little knicks. The result? You can deploy every single tool using one hand.

Weight: 7.6 ounces
Knife Blade Length: 2.76 inches
Number of Tools: 19
Price: $120

Further Reading
The Best Multi-Tools Available
Everything You Need to Know About Leatherman’s New Multi-Tools

Nemo Equipment Roamer

Sleeping pads keep shrinking, with the slimmest ones now packing down to the size of a soup can. But does smaller + lighter = better? Nemo says no with the Roamer, which addresses a camping reality: most of us make basecamp near our vehicles, so why not bring the most luxurious pad available? This pad self-inflates, is available in two sizes and is still lighter and comfier than the blow-up air mattress you might otherwise stuff into a tent. Sweet dreams.

Material: 50-denier stretch fabric, polyester top
Weight: 5 pounds, 3 ounces
Lets You Sleep Like: The happiest baby ever
Price: $210+

Further Reading
My Favorite New Piece of Camping Gear Isn’t Ultralight, It’s Massive
This New Tent Is for People Who Don’t Like Camping

Salomon S/Lab Ultra 2

The first iteration of the S/Lab Ultra was widely available, but Salomon really made it for one person: world-class ultra-runner François D’Haene, who used it to win 50-plus-mile races (and set the speed record on the 211-mile John Muir Trail). Salomon has since gone slightly more egalitarian, releasing this pared-down design with a lighter yet more durable upper. Nonetheless, the streamlined profile, close fit and all-terrain tread remain, making this version the ultimate trail running shoe.

Weight: 10 ounces
Drop: 8mm
Waterproofing: None
Price: $180

Further Reading
All the Tips and Gear You Need to Transition Into Trail Running
5 Trail Running Tips and Tricks a Top Ultra Runner Swears By

Specialized Turbo Kenevo Expert

Editor’s Pick

A few years ago, early electric mountain bikes promised to revolutionize the sport. But that promise was overblown, because …well, they sucked. Specialized’s new Turbo Kenevo Expert leads the charge of the third generation of E-MTBs — the first ones that don’t. It’s designed to rip down hills and climb up them again with equal aplomb. Like a Leatherman, it can do things you probably never will, but it’s cool to think you might.

Frame: M5 premium aluminum
Battery: 700 watt-hours
Travel: 180mm (7.1 inches)
Price: $8,225

Further Reading
Are Electric Mountain Bikes Ruining Trail Systems?
I Thought I Knew How to Mountain Bike — Then I Went To Mountain Bike Camp

The James Brand Hell Gap

When you can buy a knife at the hardware store for $20, why would you spend $300 on a fixed blade you intend to prep a campfire meal with? Simple. Because a cheap knife won’t last. But the Hell Gap, with its purebred Crucible S35VN, micarta construction and timeless good looks, will. Plus, its distinctly non-tactical dress and reasonable size make it a joy to deploy at home, too.

Weight: 3.1 ounces
Length: 7.8 inches
Blade: 3.8-inch drop-point full-tang
Price: $299

Further Reading
This Is the Fixed-Blade Knife to Make You Want a Fixed-Blade Knife
Everything You Need to Know About Pocket Knives

The North Face A-Cad FutureLight Jacket

To create an ultra-breathable jacket, The North Face harnessed a process called nanospinning (a.k.a. electrospinning), in which liquid polyurethane is extruded through more than 200,000 microscopic nozzles into impossibly thin threads. Those threads are overlaid atop each other to create a lattice with thousands of gaps too small for water to penetrate, yet big enough to promote airflow. Laminate that membrane to fabric, and voilà: a truly waterproof-breathable snowboarding jacket like the A-Cad. Or a running jacket. Or the perfect mountaineering shell. With FutureLight, they’re all better equipped to handle the rigors — and weather — of outdoor sports.

Materials: 100% recycled polyester with brushed tricot backer and DWR finish
Weight: 2 pounds, 1 ounce (size medium)
Ideal Use Conditions: Whatever comes your way
Price: $599

Further Reading
How The North Face Will Change Everything You Wear Outside
8 of the Best New Pieces of Winter Outerwear
Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

The Year’s Best Outdoor Product Is Revolutionizing Mountain Biking

This story is part of the GP100, our annual roundup of the best products of the year. To see the full list of winners, grab the latest issue of Gear Patrol Magazine.

Mountain biking is an exercise in compromise. If you want to ride down a hill, you have to ride up it. And if you want to ride up a hill, you have to worry about the weight of your bike — and all those body-busting climbs. If you don’t want to worry about that weight and those climbs, you could shuttle, but then you have to knock elbow pads with a dozen other sweaty people in the back of a grimy minivan, and that gets old fast.

A few years ago, bikes with electric motors promised the end of those grimy-van days. But that promise was overblown, because early electric mountain bikes…well, they sucked. They were heavy, the batteries got in the way of pedaling, and they needed special, cruddy wheels. Second-generation e-mountain bikes were a bit better designed, but their bottom brackets had to be dropped to keep all that weight down low — meaning just as things were getting rad, you buried a crank and wound up braking with your face.

The bike’s three levels of electric assistance amplify your power by up to 410 percent, allowing you to tackle lines that would seem ridiculous on just about any other bike.

Specialized’s new Turbo Kenevo Expert leads the charge of the third generation of E-MTBs — the first ones that don’t suck. It’s designed to rip down hills and climb up them again with equal aplomb. Like a Leatherman, it can do things you probably never will, but it’s cool to think you might.

Now, any bike weighing 53 pounds won’t exactly be deft; it’s going to demand some changes in technique. But the Expert excels when you point it straight down a chute, release the brakes, hit the dropper post lever to lower your seat, swing your backside over the rear wheel and hope for the best. Its specs showcase its intention to conquer the gnarliest of trails: the wide bars, short stem and frame that’s stiffer, lighter and longer than previous editions all contribute to high-speed stability. Thanks to a new design, the rear axle travels backwards as the suspension compresses, helping you deal with big, angular rocks and logs. Ride this bike like a monster truck, and you’ll be blown away with what you can make it over.

Further Reading
Are Electric Mountain Bikes Ruining Trail Systems?
I Thought I Knew How to Mountain Bike — Then I Went To Mountain Bike Camp

But the Expert’s not just a downhill bomber. The design team rethought the geometry, shifting angles and weight distribution to improve pedaling efficiency and control on steep climbs, so shuttling back up the hill doesn’t suck all the fun out of sending it down. The bike’s three levels of electric assistance (Eco, Sport and Turbo) amplify your power by up to 410 percent, allowing you to tackle lines that would seem ridiculous on just about any other bike. Even better, the power spools out smoothly; it doesn’t lurch forward before seizing, like many e-bikes do. The battery is better, too: Specialized claims a 40 percent improvement in range over previous models, enough to sustain even the longest days of riding.

With the user-friendly Mission Control app, you can monitor the motor and battery, make adjustments and maximize efficiency. For example, you can regulate the pedal-assist level to last the duration of your ride, so you’re not stuck sweating after running out of juice on the final climb of the day. And if you’d prefer to keep your phone in your hip pack, there’s also a handy LED indicator light on the top tube next to the power button, so you can easily monitor your battery charge level.

Thanks to a new design, the rear axle travels backwards as the suspension compresses, helping you deal with big, angular rocks and logs.

Speaking of that battery: a common hang-up with e-mountain bikes is that they use a very specific removal key, one that inevitably disappears and leaves you searching for it between the car seats while your friends are cracking post-ride beers. Thankfully, the Expert’s power pack pops out with a simple Allen wrench, helping you get to the cooler more quickly. (And you will need to pop the battery out of the downtube to recharge it, because if the bike isn’t too filthy to bring inside after a day of riding, you’re doing it wrong.)

All of these advancements, of course, do nothing to prevent one of the worst parts of riding an e-bike: other riders accusing you of cutting corners, a critique that often involves the phrase “earn your turns.” But let’s face it — that’s bogus. You earn your turns by riding responsibly and doing trail maintenance, not muscling up hills. And if you have a permanent injury that hampers your riding capability, or if you’re new to cycling, or if you’re getting up in years but still want to rip with the kids, nobody should tell you that you haven’t “earned” the right to do so.

The Turbo Kenevo Expert opens mountain biking up to those who may not have been able to embrace it before, and that should be celebrated. So whether you fall into one of those aforementioned groups — or you love conquering rock gardens and chutes but hate sweaty vans — this exceptional e-bike is worth a long, lingering look.

Frame: M5 premium aluminum
Battery: 700 watt-hours
Travel: 180mm (7.1 inches)
Price: $8,225

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

This Is the Ultralight Backpack an Ex-Soldier Used to Hike 7,900 Miles

After he was discharged from the Army in 2004, Will Robinson went home to New Orleans, but the Iraq War followed him there. Large crowds sparked bouts of anxiety while depression seized control of him, making it hard to even leave home. As the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder intensified, the walls of his life began to close Robinson in.

“It got worse and worse,” he says. “At that point in life, I had to make a drastic change and do something if I ever wanted to be even remotely close to the person I once was.”

Robinson stumbled upon the movie Wild in 2016, jogging his memory from time as a soldier when he had read about the Pacific Crest Trail. From there, everything transpired quickly. In the following days, he learned all he could about the 2,650-mile footpath while beginning to amass the gear he would need to complete the trek. Only a few weeks later, he took his first step on the PCT in Southern California.

Before that moment, Robinson had never been backpacking. His battle with PTSD was still ongoing, too. That made the first stretch of the trail trying for the 38-year-old, but he slowly began to notice that life on the trail was indeed transforming him.

“People in the hiking community had a way of making me feel welcome and accepted, regardless of what quirks we all had,” he says. “I immediately saw in myself I was capable of so much. That’s how I got hooked.”

An injury sidelined Robinson that season on the PCT, but the lessons learned and the progress he made brought him back the next year. From the southern terminus, he thru-hiked the trail, and the following year completed the same feat on the nearly 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail.

In September, Robinson completed the Continental Divide Trail, which snakes 3,100 miles up the spine of the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to Montana, becoming the first male African-American to complete all three trails, which are together known as the Triple Crown of Hiking. Completing the challenge is an achievement in itself; Robinson counts himself among less than 400 people to have accomplished and reported the feat to the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West, the organization that catalogs Triple Crown completions.

Robinson has no plans to hang up his hiking boots either. In February 2020, he’ll tackle the 800-mile Arizona Trail before beginning the North Country Trail, an unfinished footpath from North Dakota to Vermont that totals around 4,600 miles — only a handful of people have thru-hiked it so far.

For Robinson, the decision to keep hiking is easy — he sees it as his therapy. But he also feels that he can serve as an example of diversity and inclusion in the outdoor community. With the attention he’s gotten from his recent Triple Crown, he believes he can motivate other people of color to get out on the trails. “I’m honored to be the first African-American male to attain a Triple Crown,” he says. “What comes with that is a responsibility of making sure I’m not the last to hike the big three.”

Will Robinson’s Packing List

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Windrider 40L

“There are no bells and whistles on this pack — just what you need. Still, you couldn’t ask for more: it’s made out of Dyneema fabric, so it’s waterproof even in torrential downpours, it disperses weight well and it’s comfortable.”

Merrell MQM Flex

“I average anywhere between 600 to 700 miles with these shoes. They’ve been great for every terrain type: desert, long road walks or snowy mountain tops.”

Zpacks Duplex

“It looks like you could easily destroy it, but it’s built like a bomb shelter. It stands up to snow, wind and extreme heat. I shared this tent with another hiker on the CDT, so it was great to have that double entry.”

Katabatic Gear Flex 22

“I could never do another hike without this quilt. You can use it as a blanket, or close up the footbox to have it be closer to a mummy [sleeping bag]. With the straps and attachments, it’s easy to make a seal on cold nights.”

MSR PocketRocket

“Since my pack is only 40 liters, space is a premium. But the PocketRocket is tiny and, paired with a small pot, it doesn’t take up too much space. It gets water boiling fast.”

Merrell Ridgevent Thermo Jacket

“With the Ridgevent, I have a great temperature all day long. Unlike other jackets, I never had to take it on and off because of overheating.”

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite

“This was way more comfortable and held in more heat than I expected. I had great nights of sleep on it.”

Sawyer Squeeze Filtration System

“It’s so convenient and easy to keep in my hip belt pocket, so I can grab it fast. It’s easy to clean out in towns when you need to.”

Guthook Guides

“On the app, there are all the waypoints listed with mileages so you know how far it is to the next water source or town. It’s set up to be very user-friendly.”

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Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

The 9 Best Headlamps for Any Adventure

Keeping your hands free while lighting the trail on your next outdoor adventure is a must. And while that flashlight duct taped to your head might be a wallet-friendly solution, there are much more elegant and functional products out there. When you’re out on the trail at night, whether you planned to be or not, your headlamp becomes the most important part of your kit. You could have the best backpack, or the best hiking boots, but without a headlamp you might as well stay at home. Whether you’re a backcountry skier gearing up for your next heli-skiing trip or just looking to walk the dog at night, these headlamps have you covered.

Understanding Headlamp Specs

We’ve outlined the key specs for each headlamp in this guide, but it’s important to know how to read them correctly. In a store, a headlamp will typically be displayed with its lumens front-and-center on its packaging. This is slightly deceiving, and you wouldn’t be blamed for assuming that the number of lumens a headlamp is capable of emitting is equivalent to its overall power. This is true, to an extent.

These specs refer to light emitted by the headlamp at its most powerful setting. The catch is that many headlamps have a burst mode, which may only be operational for a short period. So, a headlamp claiming 500 lumens may only emit that much light for a period as short as 10 seconds.

The good news is, headlamp manufacturers are generally very transparent with this information, providing detailed charts and graphs on how long a light will last at a given strength. In this guide, we detail each headlamp’s maximum light output as a measurement of lumens in its most powerful setting. Similarly, maximum runtime refers to how long each light will last on its lowest setting.

Black Diamond Spot325

Editor’s Choice

The Spot325 is great because it’s simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s basic. The headlamp uses three AAA batteries (which you’ll be able to find pretty much anywhere on the planet), and it’s fully waterproof. The main light is 325 lumens, which emits a beam to a claimed range of 80 meters (about 262 feet) and is easily dimmable. There’s also a red night vision setting.

Black Diamond equipped the Spot with its PowerTap Technology, which lets you cycle swap between two modes quickly by tapping the side of the lamp housing. It’s a feature that strays toward gimmicky but is actually very useful for reading and cooking, among other things. Another smart feature is a lock mode that prevents the light from turning on in your backpack and killing the batteries (you only forget to use that function once).

We’ve tested this headlamp at park-in campsites, on the top of Mt. Rainier and over the grill during backyard get-togethers. It’s performed impressively in all situations and truly is a well-rounded light. But the great part about the Spot is that for all this functionality, it’s still only $40.

Power Source: 3 AAA batteries
Max Output: 325 lumens
Max Runtime: 200 hours
Weight: 3 ounces

BioLite HeadLamp 330

Most Comfortable Headlamp

BioLite’s HeadLamp 330 separates the light from the battery, positioning the latter behind the head. The primary purpose of doing that is to avoid bouncing during activities like running by keeping the bulb lightweight. BioLite didn’t stop there either though; it integrated the bulb apparatus into the HeadLamp 330’s all-fabric strap, so there’s no plastic rubbing against the skin of your forehead. Beyond that, the HeadLamp 330 has all features you’d want in a light: four light modes including red flood, white flood, spot (with dimming) and strobe, splash-resistance, a lock mode and Micro USB recharging.

Power Source: rechargeable 900 mAh, 3.4 Wh Li-on battery
Max Output: 330 lumens
Max Runtime: 40 hours
Weight: 2.43 ounces

Coast FL75

Best Lumen to Price Ratio

Portland, Oregon-based Coast makes some of the brightest and most durable headlamps on the market. The FL75 is one of its latest releases, which is capable of pumping out a massive 430 lumens and comes with an IPX4 weatherproof rating. Its construction facilitates switching between different beam outputs with the twisting of a bezel — no repetitive tapping necessary — and there’s a separate button to engage the red LED. Impact resistance was also a priority for the design of this light, but if you aren’t sold on the durability, the FL75 is backed by Coast’s lifetime guarantee.

Power Source: 3 AAA batteries
Max Output: 435 lumens
Max Runtime: 17 hours
Weight: 3.7 ounces

Petzl Actik

Most Versatile Headlamp

Petzl’s Actik headlamp features an easy-to-locate, large push button that toggles the lamp off and on and allows access to a proximity bulb, wider flood light, and a red LED that can operate in solid or strobe mode. The headband comes with a safety whistle attached and can be washed easily after long hikes or runs. Petzl also gave the Actik the ability to get its power from either three AAA batteries or a rechargeable Core, which is a nice bit of versatility. If you want a slightly brighter headlamp, upgrade to the Actic Core, which has 450 lumens for $70 and all of the same features.

Power Source: 3 AAA batteries or Petzl Core
Max Output: 300 lumens
Max Runtime: 80 hours
Weight: 3.25 ounces

Black Diamond Icon

Best High-Output Headlamp

Combining a 500-lumen maximum output with Black Diamond’s durability is a recipe for a great headlamp — thus, the new Icon. If you’re looking for the highest quality at a reasonable price, this is it. IP67 rated, the Icon can be submerged down to 1 meter underwater for 30 minutes and still operate perfectly.

Power Source: 4 AA batteries
Max Output: 500 lumens
Max Runtime: 200 hours
Weight: 10.6 ounces

Princeton Tec Snap

Best Modular Headlamp

Princeton Tec is well known for its high-output lights, but the Snap makes its case through an innovative modular construction. The light unit connects to the strap with a magnet, which allows you to quickly disengage the Snap to use it as a standalone lantern or a bike light (with its included mount accessories). The modular construction doesn’t diminish the Snap’s stats either – it has three modes, dimming capability and an IPX4 waterproof rating.

Power Source: 3 AAA batteries
Max Output: 300 lumens
Max Runtime: 162 hours
Weight: 3.5 ounces

Petzl Reactik+

Most Innovative Headlamp

Petzl has long been an innovator when it comes to headlamp technology, and its latest tech is reflected in the Reactik+. This headlamp features reactive — hence the name — lighting that automatically dims or brightens the bulb based on ambient lighting conditions. The Reactik+ also comes readily-compatible with Petzl’s proprietary Bluetooth mobile app, which allows you to custom-tune your headlamp to your specifications from your phone. Monitor battery life, control output, and set it up for specific, pre-programmed activities or create your own. You can even write out a message that the headlamp will convert into Morse code.

Power Source: 1800 mAh Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery (included)
Max Output: 300 lumens
Max Runtime: 60 hours
Weight: 4.06 ounces

Light & Motion Seca 2000 Race

Best Headlamp for Fast Activities

If you ever imagined a headlamp that’s as powerful as the average car headlight, the Light & Motion Seca 2000 Sport is the answer to your prayers. With a blinding max output of 2,000 lumens, the Seca is the perfect headlamp for high-speed after-dark activities like skiing and mountain biking. It’s waterproof and comes with a full set of mounts that’ll let you integrate it into whatever sport you need it for.

Power Source: Lithium Ion
Max Output: 2,000 lumens
Max Runtime: 6 hours
Weight: 12.52 ounces

BioLite PowerLight Mini

Best Headlamp Alternative

Camp lighting usually boils down to two options: headlamp or lantern. BioLite’s PowerLight Mini is a little bit of both. Unlike the cylindrical construction characteristic of most lanterns, it’s a rectangle. It has a rotating metal clip that can act as a hanger or kickstand-like support. That clip can also be used to secure the PowerLight Mini to a shirt or pocket though, which is why we’re pointing it out on this list. No, it’s not a headlamp, but it can be used similarly, and like some of the great lights on this list, it’s affordable, offers a variety of brightness settings and can even be used as a backup battery to charge your tech accessories.

Power Source: 1350 mAh Li-on, USB Rechargeable
Max Output: 135 lumens
Max Runtime: 52 hours
Weight: 2.82 ounces
The Best Hiking Boots Available

Unlike concrete sidewalks and gravel paths, the trail calls for hardened and supportive footwear to combat dirt, mud, jagged rocks and streams. The answer is hiking boots and hiking shoes, and these are the best available. Read the Story

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The Best New Knives and EDC of December 2019

The days are shorter, and the temperatures are dipping quickly. In some places, snowflakes are already flying, and ski mountains are already opening. While your favorite outdoor brands are at the ready with a new crop of recently launched down jackets and outerwear, knife companies maintain their slow roll of continuous releases that don’t necessarily align with the season.

Recently, Zero Tolerance made its first slip joint, Benchmade updated a classic design, Grovemade released the perfect desk knife and more.

Zero Tolerance 0230

It’s hard to believe that a veteran company like Zero Tolerance didn’t have a slip joint in its catalog until the 0230. With a carbon fiber weave handle, the knife has a slightly tactical look, but it maintains the old school appeal that the construction often imparts. Adding to that is a sheepsfoot blade that’s 2.6 inches long and made of CPM 20CV steel.

The James Brand Carter

Even at $139, the Carter is a bargain. Why? Because it comes with machined G10 or Micarta handle scales, a clip that seats the knife low in a pocket (or an included loop if you prefer a lanyard), and a drop-point blade made of VG-10 steel, which is known for its high degree of corrosion resistance. So no, it isn’t a $30 hardware store buy, but that’s because its ingredients are top-grade.

Alliance Designs Bangarang

Alliance Designs works with knife makers around the world to create production models of blades that would otherwise be custom (and also quite expensive). That makes some of the most premium blades more obtainable for collectors who are just starting, and who actually want to use the knives they buy.

One of its most recent releases is the Bangarang, a knife it worked with Matthew Christensen to create. The folding knife has a 3.1-inch blade with a curved edge and is available with handles made of a variety of materials from carbon fiber to Micarta.

Benchmade 535-1901 Bugout

The 535-1901 Bugout might be an otherwise ordinary EDC folding knife with a plain edge drop-point blade if it weren’t for its unique handle. Benchmade used G10, a common synthetic option for knife handles, but included a blue base that shows through the material’s hazy transparency. It makes for a totally different aesthetic than the black handle, steel blade we’re used to in a knife like this.

Grovemade Task Knife

If you needed a challenge to your conception of what a knife is, look to Grovemade’s Task Knife. You might call the Task Knife a fixed blade, but really it’s a solid-state tool made of a chunk of steel or brass. With a seamless transition from handle to blade, it has a sculptural appeal that makes it perfect for a desk. As such, Grovemade created the Task Knife for deskside jobs, like opening packages.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

These Vintage Military Uniforms Feature the Forerunners of Modern Performance Materials

It’s difficult to overemphasize the influence of military kit on modern-day performance athletic clothing. The battlefield is the ultimate testing ground for materials and design, and the innovations in uniform development mirror in importance those that occurred in ballistics, airpower, seapower and even tactics. As time passes, these innovations subsequently trickle down into the civilian market, giving rise to hi-tech performance clothing that, to the average consumer, seems to have been conceived out of thin air. The reality, of course, is far different.

At Silverman’s, a London-based supplier of military kit established in 1946, there is a special reverence for early military kit. Indeed, the company’s facilities are chock full of it, bursting with vintage surplus mostly invisible to the consumer who wanders in off the streets in search of a new pair of work boots or an insulated jacket. But there are gems to be found amongst all the detritus of war, some of which are just too cool not to show here.

Look closely and you’ll quickly see the through-lines between this gear, developed for soldiers to execute daring missions behind enemy lines, and modern gear that makes use of similar technology, whether for sweat wicking, thermal insulation, fire retardation or other purposes. Strikingly modern in feel and construction, some of these vintage pieces look and feel like they could have been manufactured today.

1940s Camouflage SAS Smock

A windproof smock issued to the Special Air Service in the 1940 during the Second World War, this garment was originally a pull-over design with a gusset present at the neck, but was later modified with a zipper. It’s made of gabardine, a tight-weave cotton that swells when wet to prevent further water ingress and is also quick-drying (compare to modern Coolmax from DuPont). The camouflage pattern is a broad-stroke design first introduced in 1942.

WWII-Era Irvin Sheepskin Pilot’s Jacket

Made especially for the Fleet Air Arm, Coast Command and Air Sea Rescue, these special pilot’s jackets were made of sheepskin and featured yellow hoods for identifying downed pilots in the water. The hood was also particularly warm for defense against extreme weather conditions, and these jackets were often spotted being worn near the British coast in winter. Though sheepskin is a decidedly organic material, it gained popularity during the Second World War for its insulating and moisture-wicking properties. (PolarTec, developed in the 1970s, has many of the advantages of wool, seen in the lining of this jacket, without the bulk and discomfort).

1942 Windproof SAS Smock

British officer David Stirling conceived of the idea for the Special Air Service while recuperating in a Cairo Hospital in 1941. This windproof smock, dated to 1942, dates from the time of the North African campaign, when his forces wreaked havoc against German and Italian targets. The smock is made of gabardine cotton, similar to the camouflage version above, though this one has not been modified with a zipper and is in largely new condition. The gabardine has a strangely modern feel, despite the material’s invention in the late 19th century.

Air Ministry Dual Purpose Smock

Not many details are available regarding this garment manufactured by G.Q. Parachute Company, but the design is that of a step-in smock used for parachuting. Possibly copied from a similar German design, it may be the forerunner to the Denison parachute smock (see below) that was in widespread use up until its replacement by the “Smock, Parachutist DPM” in the 1970s.

Denison Smock

The classic parachutist’s smock, made of heavyweight twill, so effective and distinctive that it was broadly adapted and still in continuous use following World War II. Developed during the War, it was made with a half-zip at the neck and a crotch flap, as it was intended to be worn over the soldier’s battle dress uniform but under his equipment-bearing web gear. A green denim oversmock was then worn over the web gear, to prevent it from snagging on a parachute. Highly collectible and rare in this condition, the Denison was used by the British Parachute Regiment, Special Operations Executive agents and others.

Special Reconnaissance Jacket

Rarer than hen’s teeth, this special jacket belonged to an officer of the Green Jackets CORC(A), Covert Observation and Reporting Company (Airborne). Though not vintage, it’s a modern example of the mix of old school materials (wool) with modern tech (fire-retardant materials — perhaps Nomex).

Used in the mountains of northern Iraq, it’s made of natural wool to prevent sweat freezing at night and causing hypothermia, as recon operations require sitting absolutely still for potentially days on end. The garment is also fire-retardant and features a special dog tag. Notice also the pouch sowed up-side down — this makes access to the pocket’s contents easier to access when lying in a prone position. The jacket’s airborne wings are perhaps the rarest variant in the British order of battle.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

The Most Successful Bags on Kickstarter Just Got Better

“Complete overhaul” typically alludes to one thing – past failures. If a company decides to remake a product from the ground up, it’s a safe bet that the product wasn’t functioning, lasting, or selling well. Why spend the resources to fix something that isn’t broken, right? Every once in awhile, though, that isn’t the case.

Today, Peak Design launches the updated version of its Everyday line: a backpack, messenger bag, sling, and tote for travelers, commuters, hikers, cafe-goers, students and photographers. The San Francisco-based company is renowned for innovative and sleek designs, winning seven major awards and numerous smaller accolades for the Everyday line alone. Since 2011, Peak Design has raised over $15 million on six different Kickstarter campaigns too, with $6.5 million coming from the original Everyday line.

Not only has that record made Peak Design the most successful Kickstarter company in history, but it also helped the brand build a feverishly loyal base of consumers. It’s a community that readily offers what Art Viger, Peak Design’s Lead Designer, jokingly describes as “more feedback than we often know what to do with.” But Peak Design certainly doesn’t ignore it. Integrating this swath of knowledge into a new product, like the Everyday V2 line, takes time. Curious how the team invested years of R&D into an already beloved bag collection, we called Viger to learn more about how they did it.

Q: What is Everyday V2?
A: The V2 line distills everything that made the original packs great, plus everything we’ve learned in the last couple of years through feedback, new hires, new ideas and new inputs. The company has grown, and the design team has vastly improved since we made the original pack. We are now better at reimagining products that are better, faster, and stronger while staying true to the original goals of the Everyday line.

Q: What were those goals?
A: The Everyday line has always been about crossover versatility. Most other camera bag companies basically make a camera bag and then try to make it not look like a camera bag. We see this differently. We wanted a bag that offered protection, organization and carrying function, but one that isn’t necessarily for camera gear. For instance, Everyday’s access is what resonated with customers – not just photographers.

Q: What are the major changes in V2?
A: The new version is a complete overhaul. Almost everything has changed. The silhouette of the pack may look the same, but the actual design and engineering have little to no carryover. The patterning approach is quite different, with complex, darted panels. We eliminated topstitching, meaning the new packs have reduced opportunity for loose threads or seams to fail. This also reduces water entry points. Less bulk, too.

Q: Any difference in the materials you’re using?
A: Yes, a lot. All of the fabrics are updated. We have Bluesign approved coating on most of the fabric. Most of the major fabrics are recycled, and we now employ solution dying on some of the colorways. We’re working really hard to make our packs more sustainable on many levels. We use a lot of stretch materials, which helps with pocketing and organization.

Q: What were the biggest challenges in the process?
A: By far, trying not to mess up a good thing. The original bags have won major design and industry awards, and more importantly, our customers love them. We’ve had incredibly positive reviews. To be honest, we were terrified to mess up a good thing but felt a need to update the packs to a new level of design. The biggest challenge was distilling what makes V1 great and not deviating from that. That’s really hard to do while taking some big design swipes and redesigning from the group up. We wanted to remove and add features without disappointing people on both sides.

Q: How many new versions of the bags did you work through?
A: Some bags have as many as 20 revisions until we get to a final design. Typically after seven or eight iterations, we format freeze, and the rest of the prototypes are all about refinement. Then testing begins – UV testing, cycle testing, basically just beat it up and find the weak points that break first. Eventually, you get a golden sample, which you use as the mold for production. All of our bags are made from that.

Q: What’s the biggest sustainability improvement?
A: Honestly, probably the zipper. It sounds silly, but zippers are where most bags fail, and then get thrown away. We’ve tested the new zipper thousands of times, and it still hasn’t shown wear and tear. Broken zippers put bags in landfills. They are super hard to repair or replace. The longer bags last, the longer we can use them, and the fewer people have to buy.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

I Can’t F***ing Believe How F***ing Light This New Mountain Bike Is

For some outdoor activities, weight is not that critical. Does a streamlined ski jacket or hiking daypack really make or break the fun? Probably not. However, when it comes to pedaling (and, let’s be honest, occasionally pushing) a mountain bike up back-breaking inclines before sending it over cheeky berms, into steep drops and off gnarly kickers, every ounce matters. Which is why we’re stoked about the recently announced Canyon Neuron CF SLX 9.0 LTD, which clocks in at less than 26 pounds.

As you might guess, Canyon didn’t really skimp on the componentry. Out of the box, it’s rocking smooth Shimano XTR shifting, lively full Fox suspension (plus a dropper post) and durable DT Swiss carbon wheels. The drivetrain is 1×12, a set-up we’ve come to swear by over the past few months of riding, and there’s more than five inches of joint-saving travel on those shocks. The frame alone is half a pound lighter than its predecessor, the Neuron CF SL, a feat achieved through the use of special 40T UD carbon fibers, which simultaneously increase the tensile strength of the main frame and rear triangle.

Is it the lightest mountain bike ever? The $11,000 S-Works Epic AXS, among others, might raise an eyebrow at that claim. But at a price point of $6,499, this new Neuron is both lighter and cheaper than one of our recent favorites, Trek’s Fuel EX 9.9, which starts at $7,500 and weighs a hair over 29 pounds. Granted, that bike has its own strong points, like luxe SRAM and Fox componentry and almost a half-inch more travel. But if you want to fly without totally grounding your bank account, the Neuron makes quite a case. We can’t wait to test it ourselves.

Remembering Jake Burton, the Godfather of Snowboarding

A version of this article originally appeared in Issue 11 of Gear Patrol Magazine as part of a collection of profiles on well-known garage-born brands. Subscribe today

On November 21, 2019, Jake Burton Carpenter, founder of Burton Snowboards and a pioneer of snowboarding, passed away at age 65 due to complications caused by testicular cancer. Here is the story of how he turned snowboarding into a worldwide phenomenon, in brief.

A quaint New England barn in idyllic Londonderry, Vermont, is a key site in Burton company legend — and while it’s true that’s where Jake Burton Carpenter crafted his iconic early prototypes combining board and binding, the idea that laid the groundwork for the snowboarding revolution actually took root on Long Island golf courses.

Growing up on Long Island, Carpenter longed to surf but more often found himself on powder during family ski trips to Vermont. At age 14 he rode a Snurfer, a toy monoski with a rope handle, and was utterly hooked. Carpenter shredded local golf courses near his childhood home and hills near his school; he and his friends even souped-up boards with fins and makeshift bindings. Then there was college, and a Manhattan finance job. Only in 1977 did Carpenter resolve to truly send it, plunking his savings — and his passion — into Burton Boards. The rest is snowboarding history.

Today, with nearly 400 employees, Burton holds half the market share of what has grown into a $400 million industry that spans the globe.

This Is the Instant Coffee That Himalayan Climbers Swear By

Adrian Ballinger’s brunch conversations aren’t like yours or mine. Instead of talking about the dumb thing he might’ve said last night at a bar, or how many reruns of The Office he recently plowed through, he’s more likely to chat about slightly less casual topics, like climbing the world’s tallest mountains without oxygen. It was during such an affair on a deck in Mendoza, Argentina that Ballinger, after previously dismissing the idea, decided he wanted to give K2 a try.

At 28,251 feet tall, K2 is the world’s second-tallest mountain. Its nickname is “the Savage Mountain,” and it’s both more technical and less predictable than Mt. Everest. It also has less infrastructure than Everest, making it harder to get to (Ballinger’s eventual journey involved planes, a Jeep ride through Pakistan and a 10-day trek). Roughly one of every four climbers who attempt K2 perishes, compared to approximately one in 15 for Everest.

Climbing the mountain without supplemental oxygen increases the risk dramatically, so while Ballinger seemingly decided to tackle K2 in the same way one might set a plan to attend a matinee, he didn’t do so lightly. Ballinger had previously topped Everest without oxygen in 2017, a feat he says “pushed me so far.”

“There’s no way anyone can climb this mountain this year.”

The K2 endeavor began, even as mountaineering standards go, with uncertainty. Amongst Pakistani high altitude workers, Sherpa and foreigners, there were roughly 200 climbers on the mountain in 2019, a record high that doubled the previous figure. Snow depths were also at a 30-year high and, because of warming temperatures, it “was just falling off the mountains everywhere,” Ballinger says. Not to mention that he had contracted a stomach parasite on the 10-day trek to Base Camp.

The conditions spurred Ballinger and his team — including Carla Perez, a mountain guide and the first South American woman to summit Everest without oxygen, and another Ecuadorian climber named Esteban “Topo” Mena — to get to work. They began to test routes and make acclimatization rotations (“the goal is basically to go as high as you can to where your body’s really suffering, and that stimulates a chemical response to build new red blood cells,” Ballinger explains.)

As the window for climbing the mountain narrowed, teams working with oxygen began their ultimate push and didn’t return with good news. “Teams were coming back from going up and saying, ‘There’s no way anyone can climb this mountain this year,’” Ballinger recalls. The snow was too deep. Ballinger and Perez and Mena watched through binoculars as one team after another made 50 inconsequential feet of progress before retreating. The next day those teams declared the season over and left.

But Ballinger stayed. And someone new showed up: a Nepali climber and former Gurkha in the British Army named Nirmal “Nims” Purja (you’ve probably seen the viral photo he snapped of the lineup at the top of Everest). Purja’s goal was to tick off K2 as part of a marathon mission to climb every mountain over 8,000 meters (roughly 26,247 feet, there are 14 of them) in under seven months.

“He was like a fresh injection of energy,” Ballinger says. The teams joined forces, with Purja’s oxygen-using crew placing ropes and Ballinger’s group carrying gear and providing support.

And then the wind picked up. “It was blowing probably 80 miles an hour plus above 8,000 meters,” Ballinger says. “Wind is often bad in the mountains, but in this case, it turned out to be good.” The gusts had the effect of removing every flake of the high snow barrier that forced back every other climber on the mountain. Ballinger describes it as a “dream scenario.”

On July 24, both teams (“and one random Iranian, no-oxygen climber, just a crusher”) summited. What took Purja’s team, with oxygen, four and a half hours, required more than 11 for Ballinger, Perez and Mena. They spent a chunk of that time in a zone called The Bottleneck, beneath a 400-foot tall ice wall that Ballinger says is “constantly dropping blocks that are anywhere between like, microwave-sized and cabin-sized.”

It might not be possible to empathize with climbers like Ballinger fully. They exist on a separate plane, if only for a relatively short time. He describes the moment of clearing the ice wall as when “I knew I wasn’t going to die,” and the emotional release of attaining K2’s summit as a clash between “Wow, I’m really happy, and wow, I probably need to get the fuck out of here.”

But we can comprehend the expedition’s facts. Arrival at Base Camp on July 1. Summit on July 24. Twenty-five hours of climbing on summit day. Twelve-thousand vertical feet of climbing between Base Camp and summit. Weight at start: 148 pounds. Weight at finish: 127 pounds. “I got the shit kicked out of me, for sure.” We believe it.

Adrian Ballinger’s Packing List

Handpresso Pump Espresso Machine

I’m a total coffee geek and rely on coffee throughout these climbs. It’s really effective at high altitude in that it keeps our heart rate a little higher than normal. For trained athletes at altitudes, a lot of times, our heart rates are too low, especially when we’re hanging in camp. When our heart rates drop, we get more headaches, nausea and difficulty sleeping. Up until the highest days on the mountain, I carry a Handpresso, which makes a really high-end espresso from either pods or loose grounds. It only weighs a few ounces.

Alpine Start Instant Coffee

Alpine Start makes high-quality instant coffee in single pouches and jars. Every climber I know uses it above Camp Three, where it just isn’t tactical to carry a Handpresso anymore. It’s instant, and now it comes in different flavors.

La Sportiva G2 SM Boot

It’s not their warmest boot, that’s called the Olympus Mons. I still wore that on summit day on K2. But the G2 SM is almost as warm but way lighter, and it climbs so much better than any other big mountain boot I’ve ever had. It looks more like a technical climbing shoe than a huge moon boot, which is what a lot of the other high altitude boots are. You can actually rock climb well in it. I brought it thinking I’d only wear it to 6,000 or 7,000 meters, but I ended up wearing it until 8,000 meters.

Eddie Bauer Katabatic 3 Tent

Eddie Bauer built this tent and went through so many rounds of product development with their athletes. The best way I can describe it is like, no matter how scary and dangerous it feels outside — huge drops, big winds, big snowstorms — I could get into this tent on the tiniest ledges on K2 and feel safe and let down my guard and actually relax. That’s invaluable on a big mountain.

Eddie Bauer IgniteLite Stretch Reversible Jacket

It’s a synthetic ultralight puffy. The reason I love it is because it functioned on every level of the trip for me, starting with 40 hours of flying to Pakistan when it was my pillow in economy class. And then once I was trekking in it, it became my main cool-weather outer layer. And then once I got high on the mountain, because it’s synthetic and can handle sweat and moisture, it became an underlayer beneath my down suit. I used it every day on a two-month expedition.

Garmin InReach Mini

I used to just carry a satellite phone, but the Mini changed the game. It links to my phone, it’s tiny and I never think about it in my pack. The battery lasts forever, and I can text like normal with all my friends and family. It’s the only thing I brought on all of my acclimatization rotations above Base Camp and on my summit push. It’s how we received our weather forecasts from our Swiss meteorologist, it’s how I stayed in touch with Emily [Harrington, Ballinger’s girlfriend, a five-time sport climbing national champ], and I did a lot more communication this year than I did on past trips.

Favre-Leuba Bivouac 9000

It’s called the Bivouac 9000 because it’s super burly, weather-proof, waterproof; all the things you would expect. It’s really different than any other piece of gear that I’ve carried in the past because it’s a fully mechanical Swiss watch. No battery. On these big trips when every other device that tells time and has an altimeter dies — like a GPS watch or my iPhone — having one thing that still tells me time and helps me manage how many hours I’ve been out climbing and whether I’m hydrating and eating food, when dark is coming, how many hours I’ve been in extreme conditions without oxygen… I found it invaluable.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

I Can’t Believe How F’-ing Light This Affordable New Mountain Bike Is

For some outdoor activities, weight is not that critical. Does a streamlined ski jacket or hiking daypack really make or break the fun? Probably not. However, when it comes to pedaling (and, let’s be honest, occasionally pushing) a mountain bike up back-breaking inclines before sending it over cheeky berms, into steep drops and off gnarly kickers, every ounce matters. Which is why we’re stoked about the recently announced Canyon Neuron CF SLX 9.0 LTD, which clocks in at less than 26 pounds.

As you might guess, Canyon didn’t really skimp on the componentry. Out of the box, it’s rocking smooth Shimano XTR shifting, lively full Fox suspension (plus a dropper post) and durable DT Swiss carbon wheels. The drivetrain is 1×12, a set-up we’ve come to swear by over the past few months of riding, and there’s more than five inches of joint-saving travel on those shocks. The frame alone is half a pound lighter than its predecessor, the Neuron CF SL, a feat achieved through the use of special 40T UD carbon fibers, which simultaneously increase the tensile strength of the main frame and rear triangle.

Is it the lightest mountain bike ever? The $11,000 S-Works Epic AXS, among others, might raise an eyebrow at that claim. But at a price point of $6,499, this new Neuron is both lighter and cheaper than one of our recent favorites, Trek’s Fuel EX 9.9, which starts at $7,500 and weighs a hair over 29 pounds. Granted, that bike has its own strong points, like luxe SRAM and Fox componentry and almost a half-inch more travel. But if you want to fly without totally grounding your bank account, the Neuron makes quite a case. We can’t wait to test it ourselves.

Here’s the Pool Toy a Pro Surfer Takes Out Into Big Waves

Jamie O’Brien is not quite normal. While other pro surfers follow the competition circuit on the hunt for a world title and others probe the Earth’s coastal nooks and crannies in search of the perfect wave, you’re more likely to find O’Brien at his home wave, Bonzai Pipeline. Perhaps dressed as a caveman. Or surfing the famous wave on a blow-up couch he bought at Walmart.

O’Brien documents all of the mayhem on his YouTube channel, which has drawn hundreds of thousands of subscribers. “It’s funny how our YouTube channel has taken off,” he muses. “We’ll get more views than an edit that someone will put up and they’ll spend a ton of money on it. We’re trying to show the world that surfing’s not as serious as everyone portrays it to be.” That agenda comes through in videos that are more reminiscent of Jackass than a dreamy surf flick.

O’Brien does compete a little though; he and his crew recently won Red Bull Party Wave by riding a knee-high wave on a giant, roughly 800-pound board. And he travels too; earlier this year, he and his team ventured to Bali, not to seek out the flawless waves the Indonesian island is known for but to go on vacation and have some fun. Of course, even low-stakes travel can produce hiccups — O’Brien seemed to hold in his frustration while recounting how his group arrived at the airport to face an extra charge of $165 for each surfboard they traveled with (nine in total).

Once in Bali, though, everything ran smoothly. “We ended up surfing this small wave in Bali called Dreamline. I think when people see a pro surfer and their crew going to film something, they think they’re going to get these big crazy perfect waves, and we went total opposite,” he recalls. There was no shortage of antics, either, mainly involving foam surfboards and a few inflatable pool toys from a convenience store. When it came time to fly home, O’Brien and his friends blew off their nickel-and-diming airline and bought tickets to Australia instead (and didn’t have to pay extra for their boards, either).

O’Brien is an atypical pro surfer, and as such, the packing list for a trip to Bali might not be what you’d expect.

Jamie O’Brien’s Packing List

Catch Surf Womper

It’s like a mini boogie board that you use for hand planing in body surfing. I brought some fins so if the waves ended up being knee-high, I could still get barrelled.

Catch Surf Beater

It has no fins, and you ride it kind of like a stand-up boogie board. From doing six or seven 360s on one wave to running people over — but it doesn’t matter because you don’t have fins — it’s just a cool board to have in your board bag. Even though I paid $165 to get it over there — it was just like, you deal with price. I’ve been bringing it on a lot more trips, but I’d never brought one to Bali.

Vendetta 9’0″ Single Fin Log

Bringing my girlfriend’s board was a good idea. The waves were small most of the trip, so we got to surf together a lot and have a good time. And at the same time, being able to film it all and everyone’s reaction, I loved it.

Forgotten Item: Fin Screw

I forgot the screw to screw in [my girlfriend’s] fin. Trick tip: if you have the plane ticket, you put it in between the fin and the board, and you jam the fin in and rip the sides of the plane ticket out. The paper swells, and then you don’t need a screw, and your fin stays in.

Ride Anything Hat

It’s so hot over there; it’s so nice to change your hat. If you only brought one hat to Bali, that thing would get so grimy. We started making these last year. It’s a nice, comfortable five-panel hat. I love the term “Ride Anything” because that’s literally what we do, it really fits the script of who we are.

Inflatable Pool Tubes

I bought a bunch of floaties from the ABC store for about $3 each. We brought them down to the beach, and the next thing you know, we’re going over the falls and getting barreled on inflatables. It was so much fun, and we got so much use out of them. And none of them popped — it was pretty amazing, people were baffled.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

Yeti’s Pricey New Cooler Might Be Its Best Yet

Yeti will always be known for its coolers. They’re how the company got its start; its founders wanted to create a cooler durable enough to stand on while fishing and ended up with the Tundra. They’re also how the company earned a reputation for unparalleled durability. But in over a decade of operation, Yeti hasn’t made a new hard-sided since its very first (it has, however, iterated on the Tundra during that time). So it’s big news that the company has announced a new, stainless steel-sided, vacuum-insulated cooler called the V Series.

The V Series comes with the bold, superlative claims that Yeti is known for: unprecedented ice retention, incredible durability. Yeti notes that the kitchen-grade steel box, which features a single central stainless steel latch and requisite drain, is a retro nod to the past. At the same time, it combines the tech the company uses to make its vacuum-insulated drinkware with the construction of the original Tundra to create something entirely new.

It should also be noted that the V Series cooler is roughly the same size as its Tundra 45 (think of this as typical ice chest size), but its interior is more in line with the larger Tundra 75. It’s capable of holding 65 pounds of ice — or 46 cans of beer with a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio by volume. That’s thanks to more efficient insulation that not only works better but also allows for thinner walls. It might make the V Series Yeti’s best cooler yet, but at $800, it’s also its most expensive.

The Yeti V Series will be available on December 5.

Want a Premium Pocket Knife? Start with This One

The James Brand’s knives aren’t known as affordable; not, at least, next to the blades you might pick up at a gas station or hardware store for $20. So when we say that the company’s new knife, a folder called the Carter (no relation to Jay-Z), is the best value the company has created in a pocket knife yet, you have to remember that its flagship knife, the Chapter, costs $300. You also have to remember that cheap knives are made of cheap materials, and The James Brand has no desire to utilize them (take its titanium key carabiner as an example).

All this is to say that even at $139, the Carter is a bargain — once you look underneath the hood. It comes with machined G10 or Micarta handle scales, a clip that thoughtfully positions the knife low in the pocket — plus an included loop if a lanyard is more your style — and a simple sliding lock mechanism that, until recently, was inaccessible to knife makers because Benchmade owned the patent to the Axis Lock.

But it’s in the blade, the core of any knife, that the Carter makes its case. “We spend a lot of time looking at the trade-off in steel upgrades and what they’re going to mean to folks in terms of performance and cost,” says Ryan Coulter, The James Brand’s founder. “We try to focus on actual use.”

That’s how the team landed on a Japanese steel called VG-10. While it’s still more affordable than very high-end knife steels, VG-10 exhibits a high grade of corrosion resistance. In Japan, it’s commonly used in chef’s knives because of that very element, which helps blades stand up to the corrosive environment of cuisine commonly characterized by saltwater and seafood. VG-10’s high edge retention is equally important in the kitchen (think: slicing fillets and chopping bone) and translates fluently to the needs of everyday carry users.

You can’t get a VG-10 knife for $20, plain and simple. And certainly not one that’s bolstered by all of the other elements The James Brand packed into the Carter. So if you’re used to $20 pocket knives, or even $50 pocket knives, you have to look at the Carter (and any other high-end knife) through a different frame. Think of it as an introduction to premium knives — a gateway knife, if you will.

Soft Sells: How Snowboard Boots Got Stuck in the Past

In the mid-’90s, John Martin had a single quote written on a notecard tacked to a small cork board hanging above his desk along with a few autographs and thank-you notes from pro snowboarders. It was his inspiration board. The senior product development engineer for K2 Snowboards wanted to preserve the words of snowboarding pioneer and big mountain legend Jim Zellers, who once told him, “When my kids grow up, they will not be riding soft boots.”

At the time, Martin was developing K2 Clickers, the strapless snowboard binding system that allowed riders to step onto a metal baseplate that interfaced with their boots, without having to sit or bend over to crank down flimsy ratchet straps going across their toes and ankles. The idea was to make transitions from chairlift to riding faster and less cumbersome while building the support into the boot itself, rather than relying on the external plastic “highbacks” of traditional bindings.

Instead of embracing injection-molded plastic and the ability to dial in flex patterns and pivot points like ski boots, the snowboard industry has never evolved past glorified skate shoes that sacrifice durability, performance and innovation. Here’s why…

Burton, Switch and a few other companies were leaning toward similar products that provided better comfort, performance and ease of use. For the previous 15 or so years since the dawn of snowboarding, riders had mostly gotten by wearing Sorels or other duck boots beefed up with ski boot liners and other homemade hacks, like pieces of wiffle ball bats or heated-up plastic buckets, for added stability.

As the sport evolved, some snowboarders, including Jim Zellers, modified Koflach mountaineering boots while others embraced hard plastic ski boots on metal plate bindings. The ski boots were popular amongst alpine racers on stiff carving boards with lots of sidecut along with freestyle pros like Damian Sanders. 

“Damian has always been an innovator and a tinkerer,” says his brother Chris, former owner of Avalanche snowboards. “He took his new seven-hundred-dollar ski boots into the garage and cut away everything that got in the way of his freestyle riding. Could he have just used a soft boot and highback binding? Not with that board, apparently… We all followed his lead and cut up our boots in different ways. The toe-heel precision of the ‘hardboot/plate binding’ combination transferred energy to the edge in ways other systems weren’t able to do. Watching the team test the gear started to make me feel we weren’t so far from the performance of skiing.”

Damian Sanders showing what a hard boot and a Vuarnet headband can do for a man’s shred game.

Bigger companies like Burton, K2, Salomon and Rossignol all did their own tinkering with this idea. Burton’s Innsbruck, Austria office was still designing and making hard snowboard boots in Italy for their European team well into the ’90s. 

“For a few years, [K2] worked with Dalbello on a Clicker system with basically ski boots,” says John Martin, who was involved in ten different snowboard boot patents. “The issue with that was, it was actually harder to put metal hardware into plastic ski boots at the time. It would rip out and be a technical nightmare and ended up being massively heavy.”

Casualties of Culture War

But while R&D labs were poised to continue innovating hard boot and step-in systems, snowboard culture in the ’90s was looking in the opposite direction.

“The hard boots lost out because back in the day, there was that stigma that hard boots were skiing and we didn’t want to be considered anything that’s skiing,” says longtime pro — and K2 Clicker rider — Chris Engelsman. 

“Snowboarding allowed us to wear boots we could hike and drive in,” says Sanders. “The boards and bindings were simple and light compared to ski [boots]… And snowboarders weren’t skiers. We weren’t just skiing sideways; we thought we were a revolution. We needed to make it clear: Dad skied. We rode.”

Burton employees used to joke that if founder and owner Jake Burton couldn’t drive his stick shift BMW in a boot, they weren’t going to make it.

This tribal sense of defiance — of marginalized snowboarders bucking ski areas’ efforts to ban them from the precious slopes of snobby skiers — carried over to the shop experience. Young, rebellious boarders didn’t want to spend twice as much money on boots that made you walk like a giraffe and required heat molding and custom fit footbeds and a bunch of other expensive aftermarket crap to prevent them from being torturously uncomfortable. The first thing skiers did after stumbling up the steps to the après bar was remove their boots and massage their sore, swollen feet. Meanwhile, snowboarders were already dancing in the soft, pillowy boots they’d been riding in all day.

Early Burton boot ad

“People wanted comfort when they put the boot on in the shop, even if it broke down in a few seasons,” says Martin. “So companies lightened up their requirements for durability.” Northwave was known for boots packed with so much soft padding they felt like slippers, which propelled sales despite their rapid deterioration.

“Snowboard boots are the one part of the three-part package that you can try in the store,” says Eric Gaisser, longtime director of the boot category at Burton. “ThirtyTwo came out with an EVA rubber sole that was even lighter and less stiff… We used to joke that these kids at Mt. Hood would barely even tie their boots.” Burton employees also used to joke that if founder and owner Jake Burton couldn’t drive his stick shift BMW in a boot, they weren’t going to make it.

Hard boots were still alive and well in Europe, but snowboarding was always a US-based revolution, with surfing and skateboarding culture leading the trends. And the bulgy, glorified skate shoe was cementing itself as the standard boot model for years to come.

In 1999, K2 acquired Seattle rival Ride Snowboards — along with their notoriously anti-Clicker staff, who influenced the decision to put more money into strap systems and less into step-ins. The boots still lacked the articulation of regular boots being made with softer and lighter foam soles and didn’t get the design resources they needed to improve. 

“The Clickers died a slow death and sales tapered,” says Martin.

Hard boots were still alive and well in Europe, but snowboarding was always a US-based revolution, with surfing and skateboarding culture leading the trends. And the bulgy, glorified skate shoe was cementing itself as the standard boot model for years to come.

From Snow Beach, edited by Alex Dymond, published by powerHouse Books

“With snowboarding culture, I always found it hard to introduce new technologies,” recalls Greg Dean, who led Burton’s design engineering group from 2003 to 2008. “It seemed like there could have been the next step forward in step-ins by fixing the comfort and performance, but the industry just went backwards and adopted the old system. There’s a certain amount of hero worshiping with the pro riders and they’re very influential over what products can make it into the marketplace… In snowboarding, graphics drove sales more than anything. We’d put a great new technology into a board, and I saw more people getting excited about the new graphics of that year.”

Aside from lacking the all-important cool factor, hard boots have always been extremely expensive to manufacture. The cost of a mold for each size of each boot model can be close to $100,000. Why spend all that money on new tooling and injection-molded plastic when you can make cheaper, oversized sneakers out of leather, stitching and glue and pay pros to say they’re the best? Then they’d fall apart after a season or two of hard riding and customers would have to buy a new pair.

Modern-Day Mods

Fast forward 20 years and snowboard boots don’t look all that different. Most innovations have focused on lacing and closure mechanisms like BOA dials and Burton’s two-part Speed Lace system, along with a few internal ankle-harnessing features. Very few, including the ThirtyTwo MTB, Deeluxe Spark XVe and Fitwell Backcountry, have stiff (albeit heavier) Vibram soles and/or walk modes, but they’re still using leather, stitching and glue — and losing their structural integrity over time.

Relegated to the bottom shelf at trade shows in early 2019, the Ground Control is a new soft boot upper on a hard boot sole released by Austria-based Deeluxe to appeal to the resurgent carving market. The hybrid boot made a small splash with its potential for precision in power transfer, though its BOA dial, heavy weight (close to five pounds each), and incompatibility with splitboard setups are major limitations  — and it lacks the precise flex patterns achievable with ski boots. Still, it’s a start.

The Deeluxe Ground Control boot

“Snowboard boots had revolutionary design updates that happened more than a decade ago and since then, they’ve kind of stopped evolving,” Michael Fox, a longtime snowboard boot developer who’s worked for K2, Burton, ThirtyTwo, DC and Adidas, said in an interview with German sneaker youtube channel Turnschuh.tv in 2016. “I feel it’s really time for the snowboard boot to take another evolutionary step.”

Ski boots, meanwhile, have reaped the benefits of much lighter, more durable plastics, mountain-ready outsoles, and sophisticated buckling systems with articulating walk modes and even lateral flex profiles. The technology has improved so much that in the backcountry, where snowboarders use splitboards to ascend mountains before riding down them, there’s been a surge of riders modifying alpine touring ski boots for snowboarding. 

“Skiers had leather boots a long time ago, but they don’t anymore for good reasons. Someday snowboarders might realize how much extra energy they’re expending with soft boots in the backcountry, trying to kick steps and sidehill without any leverage.”

These setups can shed up to 2.5 pounds per foot, leverage better edging on uphill traverses and attach to crampons much more securely than soft boots, allowing riders to kick steps into steeper slopes when bootpacking and, with the right modifications, ride in a more predictable and precise way than they can in soft boots. Weight, durability and performance matter a lot more in the backcountry than during in-bounds resort riding, and, as Dean notes, “the backcountry folks have always been more in tune with new technology.”

But even top-level splitboard guides and splitboard mountaineers (who aren’t getting dropped directly on top of their lines from helicopters) still have to spend hours modifying hard boots to get them to work for snowboarding. This DIY process involves relocating buckles to better hold the ankle in place, dremeling release cuts in the lower shell and drilling holes in the cuff to enhance flexibility, and altering the walk mode tolerance to allow a level of front-to-back mobility that ski boots aren’t designed to have but snowboarders demand.

The Atomic Backland Ultimate boot

Despite all this garage ingenuity, the reality is that, according to the Snowsports Industry Association, 81.2 percent of the 7.8 million snowboarders in the US ride 10 or fewer days a season, mostly in-bounds — not 150 days in technical mountaineering terrain. As it stands, they’re unlikely to spend five of those days tweaking and dialing in the fit of a new boot, and they’re still more likely to buy the comfiest thing they slip their foot into at the store.

Southern California skate culture and what’s left of snowboard media is still driving most of the industry’s influence alongside pro freestyle riders, which leaves little incentive for companies to innovate expensive boots that don’t need replacing after a couple seasons. The industry is lagging to meet the boot demands of splitboarders, but backcountry touring is such a small subset of snowboarding that it’s of little surprise.

The Path Not Taken

To this day, some see hard boots as the path not taken, leaving snowboard boot technology stranded in the past while boards and bindings progressed. What would we be riding now if we had successfully integrated the whole binding support system into the structure of the boot over the past two decades?

John Keffler has an idea. The Colorado-based father of three and rocket scientist on NASA’s Mars Rover Project somehow manages a side hustle running Phantom Splitboard Bindings, made for hard boots, with a CNC machine in his garage. In addition to his custom-designed splitboard connector hooks, toe pieces for touring, heel risers (for added leverage on steeps), fixed angle baseplates (to save weight), and heel and toe bail bindings with no straps, Keffler has his own hard boot modification kit for the Dynafit TLT6 boot and a spring-loaded forward/backward flex mechanism for the Atomic Backland

His whole boot and binding system is several pounds lighter than soft boot options, more durable, faster to lock in — and he believes he can achieve the same amount of flex found in any soft boot on the market with the proper modifications. “Skiers had leather boots a long time ago, but they don’t anymore for good reasons,” he says. “Someday snowboarders might realize how much extra energy they’re expending with soft boots in the backcountry, trying to kick steps and sidehill without any leverage.” 

Courtesy of John Keffler

Keffler collaborated on a custom toe piece with Spark R&D, one of two main splitboard binding companies for soft boots that continues to develop their own hard boot system to meet this creeping demand.

While Keffler’s technology is years ahead of anything being mass produced on the market, his resources and support are limited. Ski boot companies could easily swap out a few parts in their existing boot configurations to work great for snowboarding, but why would they go through that hassle to maybe sell a few thousand units? The snowboard industry is still too hampered by the technology-blind cool factor that leaves them far too insecure to be seen wearing anything that looks like a ski boot.

Although Phantoms are primarily used for splitboarding, legendary freestyle pro Chad Otterstrom can be found cruising through the terrain park in modified Atomic Backlands and Phantoms while jibbing rails, boosting out of the halfpipe, and spinning and flipping off jumps of all sizes. Comments on the videos range from awe to confusion, with tributes to Damian Sanders appearing alongside the words of freestyle pro and Vans team rider Pat Moore, who jeered: “What the hell are you riding?”

Erig Gaisser at Burton thinks there could be a future in a hybrid sort of boot, especially with advancements in 3D printing allowing them to try out new prototypes the same day they’re conceived.

“For that to come out, it’s going to take someone who is a big player like us or Salomon or K2… someone with deep pockets to invest in some development like that,” he says. “A smaller brand wouldn’t spend the time to do that.”

In 2017, Burton brought back a major update to their step-in system called the Step On with a smoother interface that’s less likely to get clogged up with ice and snow but still uses a soft boot with a soft sole and external binding highback.

Will progressive hard boot technology in the niche backcountry market make enough of a splash to push the snowboard boot industry into a better product for the future? Will the masses come to appreciate how much a walk mode saves your knees while trudging through the parking lot or how much power transfer you get from riding with a stiffer sole?

“The geometry of a snowboard is pretty set, but there’s still a lot of options for how you attach yourself to the board,” says Dean.

“The market is more ready than ever for hard boot technology,” adds Martin. “[Ski] boots have gotten softer… it’s a matter of what company is going to get into that.”

Ultimately, the sway of influencers driving consumer demand will supersede R&D potential and available technology. What would it take for professional icons like Travis Rice, Bryan Iguchi or Jake Blauvelt — who all get paid to push their own pro model soft boots — to join the call for a high-performance, flexible, comfortable plastic boot for the downhill? In the words of Jim Zellers: “If the pros are gonna do it, it’s gonna happen. If Jeremy Jones ever switched over, it’s really about what comes out of his mouth.”

Meanwhile, Zeller’s kids are in college and they’re still riding soft boots.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

Yeti’s Pricey New Cooler Might Be Its Best

Yeti will always be known for its coolers. They’re how the company got its start; its founders wanted to create a cooler durable enough to stand on while fishing and ended up with the Tundra. They’re also how the company earned a reputation for unparalleled durability. But in over a decade of operation, Yeti hasn’t made a new hard-sided since its very first (it has, however, iterated on the Tundra during that time). That is, until recently, when the company announced a new, stainless steel-sided, vacuum insulated cooler called the V Series.

The V Series comes with the bold, superlative claims that Yeti is known for: unprecedented ice retention, incredible durability. Yeti notes that the kitchen-grade steel box, which features a single central stainless steel latch and requisite drain, is a retro nod to the past. At the same time, it combines the tech the company uses to make its vacuum insulated drinkware with the construction of the original Tundra to create something entirely new.

It should also be noted that the V Series cooler is roughly the same size as its Tundra 45 (think of this as typical ice chest size), but its interior — it can hold 65 pounds of ice — is more in line with the larger Tundra 75. That’s thanks to more efficient insulation that not only works better but also allows for thinner walls. It might make the V Series Yeti’s best cooler yet, but at $800, it’s also its most expensive.

The Yeti V Series will be available on December 5.

Want a Premium Pocket Knife? Start with This

The James Brand’s knives aren’t known as affordable; not, at least, next to the blades you might pick up at a gas station or hardware store for $20. So when we say that the company’s new knife, a folder called the Carter (no relation to Jay-Z), is the best value the company has created in a pocket knife yet, you have to remember that its flagship knife, the Chapter, costs $300. You also have to remember that cheap knives are made of cheap materials, and The James Brand has no desire to utilize them (take its titanium key carabiner as example).

All this is to say that even at $139, the Carter is a bargain — once you look underneath the hood. It comes with machined G10 or Micarta handle scales, a clip that thoughtfully positions the knife low in the pocket — plus an included loop if a lanyard is more your style — and a simple sliding lock mechanism that, until recently, was inaccessible to knife makers because Benchmade owned the patent (it calls it the Axis Lock).

But it’s in the blade, the core of any knife, that the Carter makes its case. “We spend a lot of time looking at the trade-off in steel upgrades and what they’re going to mean to folks in terms of performance and cost,” says Ryan Coulter, The James Brand’s founder. “We try to focus on actual use.”

That’s how the team landed on a Japanese steel called VG-10. While it’s still more affordable than very high-end knife steels, VG-10 exhibits a high grade of corrosion resistance. In Japan, it’s commonly used in chef’s knives because of that very element, which helps blades stand up to the corrosive environment of cuisine commonly characterized by saltwater and seafood. VG-10’s high edge retention is equally important in the kitchen (think: slicing fillets and chopping bone) and translates fluently to the needs of everyday carry users.

You can’t get a VG-10 knife for $20, plain and simple. And certainly not one that’s bolstered by all of the other elements The James Brand packed into the Carter. So if you’re used to $20 pocket knives, or even $50 pocket knives, you have to think about the Carter (and any other high-end knife) through a different frame. Think of it as an introduction to premium knives, a gateway knife.

These Are Three of the Best Hydration Packs On the Market for Trekking, Hiking and Military Use

In 1989, a trained EMT and competitive cycler named Michael Eidson created a makeshift hydration system using an IV bag filled with water, a tube sock and a clothes pin. Several months later, he began selling an improved version of this product, the first of the now-famous CamelBak. American soldiers began using his system during the First Gulf War, and by the time Bear Stearns Merchant Banking bought the company for $210 million in 2004 (and subsequently resold several times), it was well poised to fill enormous government contracts for hydration systems to various militaries around the world.

These days, such portable hydration systems that make use of a bladder-and-tube design are so widespread and ubiquitous that we hardly give them a second thought: Indeed, so many options abound that it can be overwhelming to differentiate one from the other. A water-filled sack held in a backpack-like pack with a tube coming out of it is basically the same thing no matter who makes it, no?

Sort of. As it is with many product categories, it’s the small differences that differentiate one hydration system from another. How big is the bladder? What materials are used, and do they provide taste-free water? Does the pack integrate with military load-bearing systems easily, such as PALS webbing (a type of grid patchwork that allows for the attachment of different types of gear)? Is it comfortable to wear for many hours at a time?

We found a convenient testing ground for three hydration systems in Colombia recently, which we visited with Waves for Water, an American NGO dedicated to bringing in clean water solutions to areas affected by natural disasters, conflict and remoteness. With support from Panerai, the Swiss-owned dive watch manufacturer with Italian military origins, Waves for Water brought in Sawyer water filtration systems to a remote village outside Medellin, and Gear Patrol had the opportunity to tag along and witness the mission firsthand.

The Competition

Agilite Edge 3L Hydration Pack

The Edge 3L from Israeli company Agilite is a more traditional system in the sense that it’s a tall 3L back with included shoulder straps. Agilite primarily builds military products, and the Edge 3L can be integrated with MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-Bearing Equipment)-style vests and plate carriers. However it’s not a compact design like the Rider or the Armorbak.

The CamelBak Armorbak

The Armorbak is similar to the Source Rider in that it’s optimized for use with military MOLLE systems. It doesn’t provide shoulder straps for use as a backpack like the Rider, but this isn’t its chief purpose. It uses a 3L bladder and 500D Double-rip Cordura® Fabric to ensure a tough build quality.

The Source Hydration Rider 3L

Israel-based Source Hydration’s Rider is a natural evolution of the original CamelBak system. More compact than many hydration products, it still provides 3L of water in a Cordura 500 pack that can be used as a backpack or attached to a multitude of vest and armor carriers, which is ideal for military use.

The Test

Fit

The Agilite Edge ships in several configurations, and the user has the choice of including shoulder straps, padded shoulder straps or no shoulder straps. I was given the padded strap-version for testing, and worn as a pack, it featured probably the most comfortable fit of the three systems. If you’re in the military and you wanted to use the entire system within the pack portion of an equipment vest or plate carrier, it would be better to remove the hydration sleeve and simply use that, as the cover itself is tall. If your vest doesn’t have a pack, you could simply attach the Edge to your MOLLE gear.

The ArmorBak doesn’t include shoulder straps for use as a pack, but is rather intended for integration with a modular system such as MOLLE. In a pinch, you can toss the entire ArmorBak in a traditional backpack, which works just fine. But either integrated with MOLLE gear or used within the pack on an equipment vest, this system fits well due to its compact design — you don’t have to remove the bladder from the pack itself if you so choose.

The Source Rider is similar to the ArmorBak but features shoulder straps that tuck into the pack itself when not in use. Though they aren’t padded like the available straps on the Edge, they do provide a comfortable fit when wearing the Rider as a pack. Alternatively, as the Rider is moderately compact, you could fit the entire system in the pack of an equipment vest, or attach it to web gear.

Quality

The Agilite Edge is manufactured from 1000D mil-spec tactical nylon with plastic hardware and uses an oversized zipper to open and close the hydration reservoir compartment. The particular reservoir used is made by Hydrapak, an American company that specializes in hydration tech. It’s made of heavy-weight TPU with welded seams and, critically, features an internal divider, key to redistributing the water volume such that the bladder is less susceptible to bursting. While there’s nothing technologically novel to the Edge, it’s made of first-grade materials and tough enough for military use.

The Camelbak Armorbak is made from 500D double-rip Cordura, and the reservoir is divided, similar to that of the Agilite Edge. The zipper on the hydration reservoir sleeve, though not as large as that of the Agilite model, is still heavy-duty (there are actually two zippers on this model), and the plastic hardware for direct attachment to plate carrier systems is heavy duty and robust. The bladder includes a convenient push-button system for quickly and easily disconnecting both the hose and mouthpiece, and the on/off valve is well-constructed.

The Source Rider 3L is also constructed from 500D Cordura with a nylon liner. The zippers used are heavy-duty YKK and the MOLLE-attachment hardware is acetal thermoplastic. The included straps, while not passed like those of Agilite, are constructed of double-lengths of nylon and designed to fold away into an included pocket when the system is in use on a tactical vest, so it’s understandable that they wouldn’t be as thick. Very similar to construction and quality to the Agilite and Camelback models, the Source is well built and made especially for tactical settings.

Comfort

Considered on its own, 3L of water isn’t particularly heavy, but carried for long periods of time along with other gear, this much water certainly makes its presence known. To that end, the optional padded shoulder straps that ship with the Agilite Edge are a welcome addition to the design — they attach and remoive easily, are comfortable and render a full load of water significantly less cumbersome.

As the Camelback Armorbak is made to either attach directly to a plate carrier or equipment vest (it can, alternatively, be stored inside a backpack) and doesn’t include backpack straps, I can’t comment on its effectiveness as a pack. Camelbak does, of course, have plenty of models in its catalog with this functionality.

Because the Source Rider’s backpack straps are meant to be store in an internal pocket when not in use, they’re not padded, and thus not as comfortable as those of the Edge. However, a padded shoulder strap isn’t the point, here — rather, adaptability is key, and in that sense, the straps are sufficiently comfortable to carry a load of water for short periods of time.

Utility

The utility factor is chiefly what differentiates one hydration system from another, to my mind. I’ve used different models over many years of hiking, and several different models in the military, and it’s truly the little design tweaks that will keep one particular system parked in my grab-and-go kit and another relegated to the bottom of a storage bin — or a rubbage bin.

The Agilite Edge’s (available in four colors) different K Series strap options are a great touch — I wish more hydration systems offered these add-ons at point-of-sale. The padded straps are highly comfortable and have built-in loops for feeding the hydration tube down your shoulder, as well as D-rings for hanging extra gear. Reinforced stitching and perforations for increased breathability on the shoulders are also appreciated.

The pack attaches to MOLLE-equipped vests and plate carriers via a strap system — this is easy to work with and though I didn’t have the chance to test it on my own equipment vest on this trip, I did try it on a different MOLLE vest, which worked well. Additional webbing on the front of the system provide attachment points for miscellaneous MOLLE gear.

The main compartment for the hydration sleeve opens and closes via an oversize, heavy-duty YKK zipper, which should never snag, and there are two openings near the top of the compartment for feeding through the hose so it can rest on either shoulder. The Hydrapak sleeve itself features an internal divider, which I’ve noticed is a feature on most current-generation hydration systems for good reason — previously, bladders that were simply one large “sack” full of three liters of water were highly susceptible to bursting. (I once broke three identical bladders in the military, one after the other, when each one either fell from a short height onto a hard surface or simply experienced too much pressure.) The divider ensures any one portion of the bladder doesn’t have too much water volume in it and won’t burst.

The fill design features a slider top, in which the reservoir snaps shut and then an integrated “clip” slides over top in order to seal the bag. Personally, I don’t care for this design and much prefer one in which the reservoir is accessed via a screw-top. When you’re part of a platoon (let alone a company) of forty soldiers who have exactly ten minutes to fill their hydration reservoirs from a mobile water system, I wouldn’t want to be fumbling with this system, and would prefer a screw-top.

However, I’ve seen this clip-top design in several hydration systems lately (including on both the Agilite and the Source models reviewed here), and since both of these are military designs, it may well be that I’m missing something — perhaps because the opening is larger the thought process is that these are easier to fill quickly, or that (more likely) they tend to leak less than a screw-top design. As used by a civilian, this system strikes me as easily operable, but again, I personally prefer a screw-top.

All this being said, the Hydrapak reservoir is otherwise very well made, with an internal divider, a fill capacity gauge for measuring precise water levels, and an easy on-off bite valve. Constructed from BPA- and PVC-free, abrasion-ressitant TPU with welded seams and increased elasticity, the reservoir is sturdy enough to be used frozen and up to temperatures of 140° F. Had I need to use the sleeve on its own within a pack on a load-bearing best, it would certainly work fine, but the tall form makes designs like these difficult to fit into certain packs. Overall, I think this is a great hydration system for hiking and trekking, but slightly less suited to use with load-bearing gear in a military setting.

The Camelback Armorbak (available in two colors) is made specifically for integration with a load-bearing vest, and as such I can’t comment on its utility as a backpack. However I did use it within another backpack, as I wasn’t utilizing any load-bearing kit on this trip, and in this regard it worked perfectly — the compact design means that it doesn’t poke out the top of your pack the way some conventional 3L designs tend to do. (I did attach the Armorbak to another load-bearing vest for fit purposes, and the Direct Armor Attachment System clips work well — rather than utilizing a strap system, these simply open and hook into the webbing on MOLLE-equipped vests.) A convenient hook-and-loop patch allows you to put an identifying tag on the system front for easy ID.

The Armorbak reservoir has the screw-top design that I prefer, with the benefit of a heavy plastic “handle” for easy purchase during filling. There’s also a capacity gauge for measuring up to 3L of water, a quick-release system for the hose attachment (which also seals when the hose is removed) and easy-to-use on-off regulator for the bite valve, which is itself removable. Two zippers ensure that the reservoir is easy to quickly remove from the pack itself (those small details again…), and a reinforced window allows the hose to thread through. Overall, this was an incredibly simple and effective design, and if you don’t require backpack straps, it’s perfect for integration with MOLLE gear or a backpack.

The Source Rider 3L (available in five colors, including three camo patterns) sits somewhere between Agilite and Camelbak designs, being meant for integration into a load-bearing vest but featuring integrated straps for use as a shoulder-borne pack that conveniently tuck away when not in use. These straps feature built-in elastic enclosures for keeping excess material out of the way after adjusting the strap — a smart design feature and much better than the alternative, which is gaffer tape — as well as a sternum strap for load distribution and carrying stability.

Attachment to load-bearing MOLLE gear is accomplished via a strap system, though these straps don’t feature elastic enclosures on the ends. Again, I didn’t have the opportunity to test the system with my load-bearing vest, but did try it on another MOLLE-equipped vest, to which it attached easily. The flap for the reservoir pocket features a hook-and-loop attachment point for a name tag and MOLLE webbing for attaching other gear, as well as a snap, hook-and-loop and dual zippers for secure closure. Interestingly, this flap is situated on the front of the system rather than the top to facilitate easy removal of the reservoir if the system is integrated into a vest. Again, smart design.

The internal reservoir doesn’t feature a water gauge, but does have an internal divider, a quick-release hose that terminates in a quick-release bit valve with a twistable on-off feature, and the entire thing opens with a clip system. (Moreover, it’s a compact design, rather than a tall one, which I appreciated) Again, while I personally prefer the screw-top closure system, these clip closures are proving more and more popular, and I have to imagine that we’ll be seeing more of them in the future. I do wish, however, that there was a way to better hold the reservoir when filling it, such as on the Camelback system, and that it fit better into the pack. Overall, this was my least favorite reservoir.

There are four different openings in the pack itself through which to feed the hose — two at the top, and one on either side. There are also hook-and-look straps for securing the hose to either shoulder strap and, brilliantly, a small magnetic clip on the hose itself. Using this, you can clip the hose to your uniform top or vest and simply remove it for drinking, snapping it back into place when you’re done using the magnet. This is the only system I’ve seen with this feature, and it’s a nice extra touch. Also included with the system is s bottle converter, allowing you to hook up the hose to a 2L bottle rather than the reservoir, should the need arise. This converter comes in a Cordura pack that’s integratabtle with MOLLE systems.

Verdict Each of these three systems is suited to a slightly different end user: the Agilite Edge is best, to my mind, as a standalone pack; the Armorbak works best via integration into a load-bearing vest or within a backpack; and the Source Rider falls somewhere in the middle, with integrated straps that allow use as a backpack but a compact design that lends itself well to vest integration.

Screw-type or clip-type closures are a matter of personal preference, but my personal ideal hydration system actually lies somewhere between these products. (It’s essentially the Source Rider with the Armorbak’s bladder.) That being said, for the hiker or trekker, the Rider or the Edge are both worthy hydration systems, though the available padded straps on the Edge add more comfort. For the soldier utilizing a load-bearing vest, the Armorbak is probably sufficient, though if he or she ever wants to use the system as a standalone product, the Rider would be more ideal.

Each of these systems is largely well designed, and worked well for short treks and hiking. Look out for another, shorter test in which we put these to real military use nest summer.

Agilite, CamelBak and Source Hydration provided these products for review.

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