All posts in “Sports and Outdoors”

From Haversacks to Skate Bags: The Secret History Of Military Packs

Military packs and load carriage have come a long way since the one-strap haversacks of the Civil War allowed a soldier to lug rations and personal possessions onto the battlefield. These early carry solutions involved linen and canvas bags designed for over-the-shoulder carry, gradually morphing into a more complex arrangement of flaps and straps in the World Wars — and leading to the polymer frame, Cordura fabric workhorses in action today.

Through well over a century of innovation, development and patents, two constants endure. First, military packs have borrowed heavily from civilian design elements through the rucksack and aluminum grade frames. Second, civilian pack options for hunting, everyday carry and urban lifestyle pursuits have expanded greatly through the influence of military load-bearing technology like waist belt and MOLLE webbing.

These touch points are often subtle or hidden, lost in the corner of a Wikipedia article or an obscure military journal. However, a closer look at the intersection of civilian and military design efforts reveals four significant moments, bringing us to both the most modern battlefield packs — and the bags kids are rocking as they roll up to the skatepark. As a veteran and current Foreign Service Officer who has researched this history extensively, here’s what I’ve seen.

1. It all started with a canvas knapsack.

Union soldiers began the Civil War with a knapsack of canvas — painted black in an attempt to add water resistance — which they wore on their back via two shoulder straps. The ungainly trunk held clothing and tentage, while a considerably smaller haversack constructed of painted canvas and a cloth lining carried the meager rations of the era, a few personal items and additional ammunition not otherwise worn on a cartridge belt.

Civil War Trunk

This format continued into the twentieth century with only minor modifications, until the U.S. Army Infantry Equipment Board met at the military equipment manufacturing center of Rock Island Arsenal in 1909 and conducted a review of the equipment a soldier was required to carry into battle. By 1910, a new set of specifications was agreed upon that took the U.S. into the Great War and the slaughterhouse of trench warfare, barbed wire and gas attacks.

The olive drab canvas haversack that resulted from these standards allowed for an entrenching tool, mess kit with cutlery, blanket, clothing and tentage to be carried within the folds of the materials. An update to this arrangement was developed in 1928 but would not see production until America’s entry into World War II. Even with this update, these haversacks did not function like a modern backpack and were not favored by the troops. They were essentially heavy canvas burritos the soldiers wrapped around their gear and clipped into web belts.

The World War II Haversack

The military continued on the path of development and created two functional load carrying items, which possessed the sort of dimensions and form we might see in a modern backpack. One was the Bag, Canvas, Field, M1936 (yes, the military has this way of being excessively descriptive), an update to a previous bag initially issued to mounted troops and officers. At approximately 10 liters, it eventually saw widespread distribution to mechanized and airborne troops, and became prized for its modest yet functional organization and ease of carry via a set of suspenders or single strap.

2. The good ol’ canvas pack gets an external frame upgrade.

The first noticeable moment of civilian influence on military design came in the form of the 1941 rucksack. Constructed of duck canvas over a rattan or thick gauge steel wire frame and designed for troops who specialized in mountain warfare, this rucksack consisted of a large main pouch with flap and three external pockets. It has obvious Nordic DNA from Ole F. Bergan’s 1910 invention throughout the bag, frame and shoulder straps, and was certainly not a spontaneous design emanating from the mind of an Army Quartermaster (the guy responsible for issuing equipment).

1941 Mountain Rucksack (courtesy of JW Hale)

The War Department asked the National Ski Association to evaluate the 1941 rucksack, and its Winter Equipment Committee offered 12 recommendations, resulting in a tubular steel frame, a new method of attaching shoulder straps to the rucksack directly and small yet functional improvements which were incorporated into newer versions. The frame and “belly band” waist strap aimed to minimize sway under load, and the entire system marked a dramatic improvement over the ungainly haversack systems provided to the average infantryman.

The U.S. military continued to use external frame packs through the Korean and Vietnam Wars, transitioning the pack material from canvas to nylon — an attempt to minimize the retention of water and resultant dry rot — and shifting the frame to tubular aluminum. It is during this period we see the second touch point between the two dimensions of packs.

Dick and Nena Kelty would revolutionize the civilian hiking world during this era with a home-built pack created in 1952. Their design utilized aircraft-grade aluminum for the frame, surplus parachute fabric for the bag and a hip belt and padded shoulder straps composed of other materials left over from WWII.

Packs would continue to evolve over the next 60 years at a blistering pace, finding use atop Mount Everest and other dizzying elevations as they took on taller, narrower alpine profiles. Military packs of that era culminated with the iconic All-Purpose, Lightweight, Individual, Combat Equipment (ALICE) Field Pack adopted in 1973.

The external frame design retained many elements of the previous generation of rucksacks and remains what many consider the gold standard of combat packs. It weathered on through Operations Urgent Fury (1983 Grenada), Just Cause (1989 Panama), Desert Storm (1991 liberation of Kuwait) and well into the late 1990s. I would deploy with an ALICE pack into Mogadishu, Somalia in 1994 and employed the design until I joined my first light armored reconnaissance (LAR) unit in 2002.

GIs with ALICE packs

While the hiking and mountaineering market continued to move into ultra-light fabrics and frame materials, the military mostly meandered along with its own specifications for equipment, focusing on durability and functionality at the expense of motility. Sporadic attempts to replace ALICE packs resulted in numerous experimentation periods and limited fielding of several internal frame packs like the 420 denier nylon cloth LOCO and the camouflaged CPF-90, created by backpacking industry leader Lowe Alpine Systems.

3. Civilian packs inspire massive military upgrades

By the ’90s, we were beginning to wave goodbye to the days of packs designed by Army civilians and engineers and mass-produced by contract vendors. Instead, the military began establishing performance requirements before seeking proposal specimens from the industry for test, evaluation and selection. This third intersection of civilian and military pack design was an exciting time for the troops who got the chance to use these packs.

However, they were never fully integrated into use with general purpose forces due to their height and the resulting difficulty of use with helmets and body armor. Although these packs excelled at holding a lot of gear, a universal combat pack replacement for ALICE would not arrive until the late ’90s.

When the United States Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center patented a grid of one-inch webbing, attached to a base fabric at one-inch intervals, it forever changed the way soldiers carry their equipment, ammunition and provisions to war. This grid, labeled the Pouch Attachment Ladder System (PALS), became the cornerstone of the Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment (MOLLE) system introduced in 1997. PALS allows the user to attach a variety of pouches to base items such as a pack, body armor or an ammunition vest via a strap system laced into the PALS grid. Over time, the term PALS has fallen out of favor and most folks simply refer to the webbing as MOLLE.

Pack with MOLLE webbing, courtesy of Pu Koh

Post 9/11, the Army and Marine Corps began to field suites of MOLLE equipment to service members headed to combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. The system’s top-loading rucksack was covered with webbing and could be quickly reconfigured to mission requirements, but the molded polymer frames frequently broke under normal combat conditions and the zippers were easily fouled by debris. The LAR company that I commanded during the 2003 invasion of Iraq experienced a 40 percent rate of frame failure. We essentially had to go to war with a pack that the Corps was already working to replace because of its flaws.

The Marine Corps ventured away from following the Army’s lead in field equipment procurement and asked the industry to design a new suite to replace MOLLE in 2002. Arc’teryx designed an alpine-style, top-loading pack that supported the load through an internal frame of aluminum stays and load stabilizers. It won the competition against a Gregory Mountain Industries submission and was mass-produced by Propper International as the main component of the Improved Load Bearing Equipment (ILBE) system.

I would return in Iraq in 2008 with an ILBE and then to Afghanistan in 2010 — and could appreciate the fulfillment of the various performance specifications outlined by the Marine Corps. It was heavier than an ALICE pack, but it could accommodate mortar ammunition inside pockets and had side access features. In a classic example of terrible systems integration, Arc’Teryx provided exactly what the design contract called for but the ILBE pack failed to fully integrate with the body armor systems issued to the troops at that time. A new search for a sustainment pack commenced in the late 2000s and resulted in a new collection of load-carrying items designed by Eagle Industries.

While the military struggled for over a decade with issued field gear, a burgeoning industry of MOLLE-compatible products exploded literally overnight as troops sought out tactical load–carrying equipment that performed better than the articles manufactured by lowest bidders. This period saw the rise of 25- to 40-liter “3-day” or “assault” packs from Camelbak, Mystery Ranch and dozens of other companies, along with an assortment of organizer pockets, general purpose pouches and other accessories which could be used during combat operations. I would deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan with a privately-purchased, Lightfighter Tactical, Inc. pack, because it simply performed better than my Marine Corps-issued patrol pack at that time.

The author’s own Lightfighter pack

4. MOLLE becomes the standard in the military — and the design spreads into our everyday bags.

Current options are literally endless, and MOLLE compatibility has even seeped into a range of military-inspired backpacks, messenger satchels and sling packs which were never intended to be taken into battle. This phase of pack design represents the fourth and final touch point along a civilian and military through-line that grows more blurred over time.

I went looking for the moment of this design spark in late 2016. My search began at a tactical discussion forum, gathering bits and pieces from a thread about a remarkable backpack that had debuted several years earlier. A member of the forum spoke of a friend who had been on the pack’s design team, and the search eventually shifted to Facebook, where I met a Nike designer who worked on a different design team from 2003 to 2016 but knew the people involved in the pack’s release in 2007. He, in turn, referred me to soft goods designer Thomas Bell, as well as the director of the company’s archives at Nike DNA.

When I communicated with Bell, he spoke about his design philosophy and details of the Nike skateboard (SB) pack and its shoe, hat and camera accessory cases that were initially offered at product launch. He found inspiration in the “form-follows-function design principles of military products,” and the original SB pack certainly raised eyebrows in the tactical arena when it first arrived. It remains a hip, urban realm pack and it is amusing to watch video reviews. Across some 30 minutes of reviews from multiple vloggers, none of them even mention the PALS grid or the possibility of expanding the pack’s carry capacity with a MOLLE-compatible pouch or two.

Nike SB’s military-inspired pack

For the unfamiliar observer, the true capability of the PALS webbing on Nike SB packs has faded from memory, becoming nothing more than a decorative element on this trailblazing backpack designed to hold a laptop, miscellaneous tech gear, clothing and a skateboard.

As a design element, a swath of PALS webbing on a lifestyle pack has actually become commonplace, with Greenroom136, Timbuk2, Equilibrium USG and several other manufacturers offering a range of packs that could mate with a MOLLE-compatible accessory if the owner so desired. You could argue that they are not crossover packs, as soldiers are not likely to dash into a firefight with Nike packs on their back. But I have no doubt that the civilian and military sectors will continue to borrow load-carry innovations from each other for the next 150 years.

The author wishes to acknowledge the U.S. Army Military Center of Military History for material referenced in the article, as well as the assistance of Pu Koh, JW Hale, Andrew Sporrer and Juan Gonzalez at WWII Impressions, Inc.
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The Best Men’s Race Day Running Kits of 2019

Come race day, the right mindset will make or break your race. Like the famous proverb says, “Running is 90% mental and 10% physical.” One of the easiest ways to get into a positive mindset on race morning is having a dedicated race day kit. One that looks good and will elevate your confidence once you put it on – like your finest suit you only reserve for special occasions.

I still very clearly remember the day I first received my college race day kit – a simple white jersey tank top that read Villanova across the chest in the classic arched blue font with 2-inch dark blue split shorts. I must have put it on a dozen times in my dorm room before my first race. This rather simple looking outfit stood for excellence in the world of college running. Anyone who wore it was part of Villanova’s deep history of elite caliber runners and expected to carry on that tradition. There was a feeling of invincibility every time I raced as if the kit gave me superpowers – similar to when Clark Kent went into a telephone booth, changing into his Superman outfit. No matter how I felt on race day, every time I put on my Villanova kit, my mindset changed to game on, “I’m ready, and I’m going to rock this race.”

A race day kit should be something special. Something you look forward to wearing like I did with my Villanova kit. I recommend keeping brand continuity for the top and bottoms, making sure they match. The more the outfit stands out from everyday running attire, the better. This outfit should elevate your confidence, so don’t let the price hold you back. Like your finest suit – go ahead and splurge a little. Reserve it for race day only, never for training. It needs to represent something. As the saying goes, “Look good, feel good.” Here are some of the best looking kits to help elevate your mindset on race day.

The Speedster: Soar Elite Racing Bundle



UK’s boutique running brand, Soar makes some of the highest quality, aggressive-looking running clothing I’ve tested. Offered in three-color ways that you can mix and match, the kit features Soar’s Elite Race Short 3.0, a four-way stretch, notched split short along with the ultra-light, open weave Italian mesh ELITE race vest. So if you’re after an all eyes on me look for race day, this kit is for you. Not a fan of short shorts? Try the Singlet Bundle (link) featuring a slightly longer mid-thigh short. The singlet is designed to be fitted, so if you prefer a looser fit, I suggest sizing up.

The Casual: On Lightweight Shorts & Tank-T



Perfect for hot and humid race days when lightweight, moisture-wicking clothing is essential, this distraction-free top and bottom combo from Swedish running brand On are engineered for both function and form. The mid-length thin, stretchy shorts are clean looking and move with your every step effortlessly – resisting the urge to ride up with each stride. The lightweight Japanese knit fabric tank top is seamless with taped edges to prevent rubbing hotspots. Prefer sleeves? Swap out the tank top for On’s Performance T. |

The Trail Runner: Patagonia Long Haul Kit



Patagonia has always offered running apparel, but last fall they seriously stepped up their game, debuting a full trail running kit – shorts, shirt, lightweight jacket and hydration vest. Suited for any short or ultra length trail run, the Long Haul Kit includes an updated version of Patagonia’s best selling Strider Pro Shorts, in 5 and 7-inch inseam, a thin, moisture-wicking t-shirt and the Air Houdini, a more breathable version of Patagonia’s popular Houdini jacket. The highlight of the kit is the Slope Hydration Vest, a well-tailored, breathable four and eight-liter hydration pack. |||

The Standout: Janji Orbital Singlet & AVR Middle Short



Running should be fun, and no other brand does fun-themed running clothing better than Janji. As part of Janji’s Cambodia Collection where a portion of the proceeds are donated to Cambodia, these colorful patterned tops and bottoms, which makes it standout from the drones of bland solid colored running apparel. Offered in six fun patterns and colors, the Orbital singlet is paper thin, making it virtually unnoticeable. It sports a modern look with aggressive underarm cuts that help guard against chaffing. Pair the singlet with Janji’s matching 3” split short or 5” short. |
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The Marathoner: New Balance Q Speed Collection



For New Balances’ fastest drying, highest performing running apparel, look no further than the Q Speed collection – a line of tops and shorts that has a more subdued athletic look than the others. All the tops feature New Balance’s ICEx technology that uses your sweat to help cool you and come in a variety of cuts, patterns and colors. For shorts, the 5” inseam Q Speed Shadow 2-in-1 is the ideal marathon short offering enough carrying capacity in its built-in utility belt for all your gear and fuel for race day. The integrated compression liner is comfortable and supportive, warding off any race day chaffing. |

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

Complete Guide to Garmin Running Watches

Founded in the late 1980s by Gary Burrell and Min Kao, Kansas-based Garmin specializes in GPS-based devices that aid navigation in cars, planes, shipping and much more. Their products are ultra-tough, built for professionals working in the most rugged and demanding situations, and trusted in every corner of the world.

Garmin’s running offerings are characterized by the same durability, reliability and intuitive interfaces that have made their products such winners for decades. Today’s connectivity options are many, and while GPS remains at the core of Garmin’s running watches, they’ve also incorporated Glonass and Galileo geopositioning to assist GPS, as well as Bluetooth, cellular, WiFi and ANT+. Not every model connects the same way, so use the buying guide below to help find the model that does what you want and need it to.

As far as fitness tracking goes, Garmin hangs tough with Casio, Apple, Samsung, FitBit and all the other big players, and there’s really nothing missing on a Garmin running watch when compared to other brands. You’ll also robust features, such as Pulse Ox which measures your blood oxygen levels (a boon for those competing and training at varying altitudes), V02 Max readings and standard readings such as heart rate, distances, steps and so on. All Garmin’s running watches are waterproof, so the triathletes and swimmers among us can dive in without a worry, and the general durability of Garmin watches is truly unrivaled.

Below is our guide to the entire current lineup of Garmin running watches. While there are a few models that we haven’t covered that could substitute as running watches, it is these core lines — the Fenix, the Forerunner and the Vivosport — that Garmin has tailored to the endurance athlete. Whether you’re a casual jogger or an international marathon competitor, you’ll find a watch that’ll take your workouts into the 21st century with elaborate data streams, both in real-time and then charted after the fact for deep analysis.

Fenix Models

Fenix Plus 5X

At the top of the Garmin lineup of running watches is the Fenix Plus 5 series. There are three models, the 5S, 5 and 5X. They measure 42mm, 47mm, and 51mm, respectively. Made from titanium and sapphire, housing three-axis location sensors, GPS-enabled topographic maps, streaming music and Garmin Pay, you can go out for a run with just this watch and lack nothing but a cellular connection (see the Vivo series below for that). Bluetooth connectivity assures that you can download and analyze the elaborate fitness tracking data in lush graphs that help you make your training as accurate and beneficial as possible. For those venturing outside GPS broadcast zones, Glonass and Galileo networks will pick up where GPS left off. Those working in variable altitudes will want to opt for the Pulse Ox upgrade (select at checkout), which reads your blood oxygen saturation level, an essential data point for anyone exerting themselves at high altitudes. Pulse Ox offers insight previously only available to elite athletes with large budgets, but now anyone serious about monitoring proper recovery after endurance events (even when altitude remains the same) can alter their efforts for the win.

Battery Life: 12 days smartwatch / 18 hours GPS / 8 hours GPS + Music
Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi
Key Features: GPS, Glonass & Galileo navigation, compass, gyroscope, altimeter 3-axis location sensors, heart rate monitor, streaming music, Garmin Pay, Pulse Ox oxygen saturation monitoring (5X only).
Released: 2018

Forerunner Models

Forerunner 945

Made from resin polymers and Gorilla Glass (as used on smartphones), the Forerunner 945 takes a slightly more economical approach than the Fenix lineup while offering all of the Fenix’s features, including the three-axis sensors, GPS, Glonass and Galileo network connections and all the heart rate and blood oxygen level monitoring you’ll need to train to compete at your highest level. Music is available over streaming services or you can store up to 1,000 songs right on the watch for your off-the-grid workouts. UltraTrac mode uses GPS sparingly to save battery and allows this watch to run for up to 60 hours while still offering accurate location mapping.

Battery Life: 2 weeks in smartwatch mode, 10 hours in GPS mode with music or up to 60 hours in UltraTrac™ mode.
Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi
Key Features: Menstrual cycle tracking, GPS, Glonass & Galileo navigation, compass, gyroscope, altimeter 3-axis location sensors, heart rate monitor, streaming music, Garmin Pay, Pulse Ox oxygen saturation monitoring.
Released: 2019

Forerunner 645

Add a stainless steel bezel and drop the Pulse Ox blood oxygen sensing, and you’ve got the Forerunner 645, which comes in at a very attractive price point for a watch that still retains all of the major features of Garmin’s running devices. The GPS tracking is backed up by Glonass and Galileo networks and the three-axis sensors will make sure all location data is spot-on accurate. Pay a little more at checkout to include music streaming and the 1,000-song storage capacity for those moments when you’re running outside data networks. At 42.5mm across, this watch is going to fit most wrists comfortably.

Battery Life: 14 days, 7 days GPS mode
Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi
Key Features: Menstrual cycle tracking, GPS, Glonass & Galileo navigation, compass, gyroscope, altimeter 3-axis location sensors, heart rate monitor, streaming music (optional), Garmin Pay
Released: 2019

Forerunner 245

Don’t let the lower price tag lead you to believe there are too few features with the 245, as this model offers more than the bare essentials: three-axis location sensors, smartphone connectivity, Garmin Pay, step monitoring and more. V02 Max levels — along with many other exertion insights based on temperature and elevation — are easily tracked through the onboard apps and then analyzed on your smartphone after your workout. Music is an upgrade at checkout.

Battery Life: 7 days, up to 24 hours in GPS mode
Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+ (no Wifi)
Key Features: Menstrual cycle tracking, GPS, Glonass & Galileo navigation, compass, gyroscope, altimeter 3-axis location sensors, heart rate monitor, streaming music, Garmin Pay
Released: 2019

Vivoactive Models

Vivoactive 3

Of all Garmin’s running watches, this one behaves most like a “smartwatch.” Indeed, if you require cellular connectivity on your running watch, then the Vivoactive is the way to go. You’ll need to use Verizon, however, and you’ll need to go to the Verizon store to set up your plan. But once you do, this watch will give you text messaging and a whole host of other cellular-based features, including Spotify for your running jams, downloadable watch faces to satisfy your finicky inner aesthete and a bevy of training apps. All that functionality eats at the battery life, so this might not be the watch to take on that 24-hour endurance run across Nepalese mountains. But if staying close and connected matters to you, the Vivoactive 3 has you covered.

Battery Life: 5 days, up to 4 hours in GPS mode with music
Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, Verizon 4G LTE
Key Features: Elaborate fitness tracking on the watch and via smartphone apps, two sizes available, Garmin Coach training plan compatible, heart rate monitor.
Released: 2018

Vivosport

To sum this one up, it’s small, affordable and loaded with features. Onboard GPS tracks your running distances, V02 Max monitoring looks inside your body and smartphone connectivity enables elaborate graphing of all that data. It’s also able to play your inspiring running playlists. The Vivosport clearly goes beyond the bare essentials. Its sleek form is available in two sizes.

Battery Life: 5 days, up to 4 hours in GPS mode with music
Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart, ANT+
Key Features: Elaborate fitness tracking on the watch and via smartphone apps, two sizes available, heart rate monitor, GPS for tracking your runs, music player, always on color display.
Released: 2017
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 Best New Knives and EDC of August 2019

It’s August. When did that happen? If you haven’t planned a summer foray of some sorts, skip the drawing board and get to it. If that entails stocking up on new gear, make sure to dig around for end-of-season sales — new fall products to are popping up every day now. Not all items come out in launches tied to seasonal changes, though. Pocket knives and EDC tools are a prime example.

The companies and designers that make these items work year-round, and manufacturers rolling out as many as 50 new knives and multi-tools per year spread them out over that time, so there’s something new to scope out every week. We make it our mission to keep you in the know in regards to the new knives and tools that have the potential to become your next daily driver or entry into an ever-growing collection. In case you missed one, we’ll round up our findings here in one concise, easy-to-scroll article.

Recently, Chris Reeve Knives updated its iconic folding pocket knife, The James Brand revealed its second EDC carabiner, Gerber paid homage to barbershop blades and more.

Chris Reeve Knives Sebenza 31

Devotees of the original Sebenza can rest easy knowing that the update to the iconic folding knife doesn’t include too many changes. The handle ergonomics are modified slightly but are mostly unnoticeable, the clip is now angled instead of straight, and there’s a new ceramic ball interface on the lock. There’s also a new inlay pattern made of a single slab of material instead of two (box elder burl, ebony and bog oak are the options there).

Gerber Jukebox

To create an homage to the old-school straight razors wielded by professional barbers, Gerber made the Jukebox with a 2.7-inch sheepsfoot blade and a unique extended flipper tab. Those features are accompanied by an acrylic resin handle that’s available in either tortoiseshell or marble, imparting a certain showiness that belies the fact that, however retro the Jukebox appears, it’s still a useful — and affordable — EDC pocket knife. (This one came out in June, but we missed it then so we’re including it now.)

Cut Throat Knives x WKRMN Apollo 11 Knife Set

Many lunar-themed products appeared in tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, but Cut Throat Knives and WKRMN’s limited collaboration knife set might be the best. The release consists of a carbon steel chef’s knife and an EDC folder — both adorned with unique resin handle scales that depict the cratered surface of Earth’s nighttime satellite. Even if you can’t stomach the high AU$1,600 price tag, these blades are still fun to ogle.

Benchmade 1500-191 Gold Class Cigar Cutter

Benchmade went all-out on its limited line of Gold Class cigar cutters. There are three versions here, all made in a folding knife style with a ring gauge of 60, an overall length of 4.185 inches and a weight of 4.02 ounces. The beauty is in the differences though. The first has handles made of a semi-transparent resin with brass and bronze mesh suspended inside — it costs $450 and will be available for one full year. The second, of which there are 50 that cost $900 each, has blue poplar burl handles and sapphire blue hardware. The third, also available in a limited 50-run quantity, has spalted beech handles and gold titanium nitride PVD coated hardware. That one goes for a cool $1,200.

The James Brand Holcombe

The Holcombe is smaller and lighter than The James Brand’s first dual-compartment carabiner. That might limit the number of items it can cling to, but it also increases its everyday practicality — measuring the width of a traditional belt loop, the Holcombe is neatly positioned for carrying keys without the risk of becoming cumbersome. It also has a scraper/driver tool for those small yet all-too-common tasks that arise. The carabiner is available in titanium or coated stainless steel.

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

When Should Innovative Athletic Gear Be Banned from Sport?

As Specialized’s Director of Integrated Technologies, Chris Yu spends a lot of time around fast bikes, which is half the reason I’ve flown to Morgan Hill, California, to speak with him. But what I really want to know is how he feels about running shoes.

Yu’s title puts him in a unique position to weigh in on a debate that’s gripped the running world ever since Nike launched a shoe called the Vaporfly, which features a controversial curved carbon-fiber plate and extra-resilient foam that together help propel runners forward. When Kenyan distance runner Eliud Kipchoge broke the men’s marathon world record by more than a minute, in 2018, he was wearing a pair of Vaporflys.

Some runners consider them an unfair advantage. I figured Yu, who contemplates aerodynamic advantages in cycling as part of his job, could help me dig into a larger question, one that borders on the moral: at what point does gear become too good? Why do we regard some technological advancements as innovations, but others as cheating?

Cycling’s governing body, the UCI, has its own answer. Back in the 1990s, before bike companies had wind tunnels for development purposes, an amateur cyclist named Graeme Obree built his own bikes from parts salvaged from old washing machines. His designs gave him a more aerodynamic body position, which he used to break the prestigious one-hour record on two separate occasions. Two of Obree’s riding positions were later banned from the sport, and the UCI now maintains a strict list of criteria, from tube thickness to saddle setback, for what constitutes a competitive bike. That list determines which innovations can and cannot leave Specialized’s California headquarters.

Though Nike sells the Vaporfly to the general public, the sneaker worn by Kipchoge during his record-setting run was not the same running shoe.

Yu acknowledges that shoes like Nike’s Vaporfly make a difference, but says it’s “not really technically different to a new foam with a better spring rebound.” With bikes, though, a piece of equipment’s aerodynamic advantages grow the faster a rider goes, magnifying small advantages. Of course, in road racing, there are more advantageous ways to fight the effects of wind drag, which is why the sport is so much fun to watch: no amount of slick gear can overcome tactics, teamwork and timing.

The Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%

The issue of prototypes is more fraught. Though Nike sells the Vaporfly to the general public, the sneaker worn by Kipchoge during his record-setting run was not the same running shoe. It had a different midsole design and outsole, and it was very likely custom fitted for him. It was only this year that Tour de France competitors were banned from racing on custom 3D printed handlebars made just for them, even though the use of any technology not commercially available has long been banned in the sport.

One-off gear seems to cross a line for many people, Yu included. “Cracking down on the prototypes, that’s a good thing,” he says. “It’s a fine line of access, we’re talking huge volumes of cash for that stuff.” (Winners of a major marathon can take home upward of $200,000.) But still, there’s a follow-up question: who’s making the prototype, and does it matter? Graeme Obree didn’t have a dedicated bike designer imagining wild new shapes for him; he made his own bikes from old parts, but they were prototypes nonetheless. One wonders if Vaporfly critics would feel differently had Kipchoge fashioned the shoe himself from scratch.

Eliud Kipchoge

Of course, top speed or fastest time or highest score is never the only consideration for a sport. All the various governing bodies consider aesthetic concerns, too. Downhill mountain bikers would be faster in spandex speed suits, but those were officially banned a few years ago, likely because nothing kills a gnarly vibe like dressing up like the Power Rangers. The ultra-light, ultra-expensive and technologically advanced bikes in the Tour de France aren’t necessarily the fastest bikes available — recumbent models, with their negligible drag coefficient, are quick as hell. Shame they look like human-powered Weinermobiles.

It just goes to show that the rules that define any sport are, at some level, arbitrary, but no less necessary because of it. “You need some kind of rules if you want to define a sport,” Yu says.

An incredible number of factors go into making an elite athlete; gear is just one example. There’s also discipline and hard work — genetics, too. In a competitive arena, someone has to determine what makes a bike and what makes a shoe, and where those lines stop. In the meantime, enjoy every competitive advantage offered to you until someone says you can’t, and if your bike has the correct tube thickness, non-structural fairings and properly sized tires, then, by all means, ride on.

A version of this article originally appeared in Issue Ten of Gear Patrol Magazine with the headline “Crossing the Line.” Subscribe today.

These 5 Tour de France Lessons Can Help You Ride Faster Today

As the 2019 Tour de France rolls toward its conclusion, we’ve seen riders test themselves in races against the clock, bunch sprints, steep climbs… and the inevitable crashes. And even if you aren’t a super fan, there’s a lot we can all learn from the gear and nutrition riders in Le Tour use. While many of the bikes might seem exorbitantly expensive, the principles guys like Geraint Thomas and Peter Sagan rely on to speed around France in July are no different than what you need to snag your neighborhood KOM or set a new PR in your summer century. After nearly three weeks of racing, here are five key items and concepts that stand out. 

1. Light Makes Right (Especially Uphill)

The Gear: The UCI limits bikes to 6.8 kg or greater. In previous years this hasn’t been hard to hit and smaller riders have ended up adding weight to their bikes. However the addition of disc brakes has increased bike weight a little. While this is a worthwhile trade off for most thanks to the increased descending speed, bike racers don’t want to give away an extra ounce if they don’t have to. That’s the thinking behind Canyon’s latest release, the $12,000 Ultimate CF Evo Disc, a medium-sized bike that can hit the UCI weight limit. There is no lighter bike to climb on, but the disc brakes allow riders to rip down the mountains faster than ever before.

The Lesson: The first thing you do when you get a new bike is lift it up, because lighter bikes just feel faster. In recent years, we have learned about the importance of aerodynamics, but this hasn’t displaced the fact that at low speeds (i.e. uphill) and when accelerating, a light bike is unquestionably faster. You might not want to drop the cost of a small car on the new Ultimate, but you can learn from Canyon nonetheless. Smart choices of seatpost, wheels, tires and a new handlebar are what keep this bike so lean. If you’re looking to improve your climbing, the simplest and cheapest way to do so is taking weight off your bike, whether that means a lighter set of wheels or simply not carrying as much crap in your saddle bag.

2. Aero Extends All Over

The Gear: Last year Cannondale launched the SystemSix, a race bike that looks more like a sport motorcycle. The wheels and aerofoil tubes are designed with one goal in mind: aerodynamics. The SystemSix cuts through the wind faster than a conventional road bike, meaning that riders save energy all day. Even on a climbing stage, arriving at the bottom of the mountain fresh might be more important than having a light bike that you have to work harder to get to the climb. When you factor in the high climbing speeds on many Tour stages, you can understand Cannondale’s claim that their bike is “faster everywhere.”

The Lesson: The biggest aerodynamic gains on modern bikes come from integration. Flapping cables and round handlebars aren’t aero. If you’re not in the market for a new bike, simply shortening your cables, or perhaps investing in an integrated barstem with internal cable routing, will save you valuable watts. Of course most of the drag comes from the rider, so you can slam that stem while you’re at it and make sure you’re wearing form-fitting clothing that doesn’t flap in the wind.

3. Sitting Comfortably Counts

The Gear: Shimano’s new PRO Stealth Superlight Saddle weighs in at just 145g for the climbing days, thanks to a one-piece carbon construction. But despite how it might look, the saddle retains the all-day comfort of Pro’s other models thanks to a wide cutout designed to relieve pressure on the nerves that run through the perineum. Saddles with padding can actually press on this area as the padding moves around under the rider, meaning that minimalist saddles like the Stealth, which keep pressure on the bones and not the soft tissue, might be a better option.

The Knowledge: If you don’t interface with your bike comfortably, you’re not going to be able to put out power for a long period of time. Shimano offers the Stealth saddle in various widths, to accommodate different pelvic anatomies. With services like Cyclefit (which offers pressure mapping of saddles to help you find a comfortable perch) and bikefitting.com now available to consumers, you can ensure that you ride injury free and comfortably, a much wiser investment of your money than shiny new gear.

4. Proper Hydration Leads to Domination

The Gear: Peter Sagan relies mostly on his superhuman talents to win races, but Osmo’s Active Hydration Performance Drink Mix certainly helps. The multiple world and national champ and green jersey winner chooses Osmo thanks to its highly absorbable electrolytes and easily digestible carbs. Before big stages, Tour riders forgo fibrous foods to make sure their stomachs and intestines aren’t full of fiber, which is not only heavy but also can upset the stomach during hard efforts in the heat.

The Knowledge: Heading into a big race, especially one uphill in the heat, you may wish to consider a low residue diet. Although it isn’t healthy in the long term, a few days of rice, white pasta and eggs might reduce the load you’re lugging. The most important thing is liquids, though. Coming into a race properly hydrated and staying that way throughout the ride is probably the cheapest and easiest way to ensure an optimal performance. Simply sipping on sports drinks and monitoring the color of your urine is an easy way to maintain your hydration.

5. You Can Recover Quicker With… Rice

The Gear: Ever since cycling’s favorite sports nutrition nerd Allen Lim started working with pro teams, he has begun to incorporate simple and sensible nutritional practices that enhance recovery. Knowing that fueling up right after a big day is the best way to kickstart the process, he began preparing rice for team riders in their bus so it was hot and ready when they finished the stage. At first, others laughed, but now you’ll hard pressed to find a team at the Tour that doesn’t have a rice cooker like the Gourmia GRC770 their bus.

The Knowledge: After a big ride, if you have another effort soon after, you need to focus on refuelling with some easily absorbed carbohydrates. If you don’t have the luxury of a soigneur (team helper) to prepare some rice for you, cook some up the night before and leave it in the fridge. When you get home, crack a couple of eggs on top and reheat the rice for a delicious way to refill your gas tank.

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 Where Some of America’s Best Pocket Knives Are Made

The items we shove in our pockets every morning to get us through the day — keys, phone, and if you are like me, the occasional knife — are tools. They work for us, unlocking doors (and packages) and connecting us to the rest of the world. Some are basic, but others, however discreet, are instruments of precision. For example: a knife milled and measured to within a fraction of one-thousandth of an inch and executed with a fidelity that sets an almost superhuman standard. That’s a tool we can get behind, and a company in Idaho called Chris Reeve Knives makes it.

Chris Reeve Knives (or CRK, for short) has been machining precision blades out of its Boise shop for over 30 years. Its flagship product is unequivocally the Sebenza, a folding pocket knife that it first released in 1991. Zulu for “work,” it would be wrong to call it merely a tool (though Reeve wants you to use it as such). Milled to a tolerance acceptable by NASA and surgical theaters, it’s more instrument than knife.

Offered in both a small and large size (with respective overall lengths of 7″ and 8.4″), the Sebenza boasts a core of American sourced S35VN steel. It’s hard enough to withstand daily work but soft enough for the everyday user to sharpen easily without machinery. The razor-sharp blade slips between two scales of titanium, one of which snaps behind the butt of the blade to lock it in place. Reeve simplified the traditional side-spring, liner lock mechanism popularized by Michael Walker, leveraging the flex memory of the titanium to become an integrated lock that didn’t need an additional piece. Born was the Integral Lock, a design that has since become an industry standard.

As it opens and closes, the Sebenza’s steel pivots over a ceramic ball interface between the framelock and blade. This mechanism is robust, giving the knife an endless life and ensuring that you’re buying an item of heirloom quality, something to pass on to your kin.

“Back in 2002, we were awarded a contract to deliver 300 survival knives for the Green Berets. We delivered in half the time.”

The Sebenza’s slim profile, with two chamfered slabs of titanium bolted together, imbues brutalist simplicity. But its ceramic and brass pivot action is so near to mechanical perfection and so smooth, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it’s bank-vault tight. The design’s iconic simplicity and the brand’s unwavering commitment to quality have earned CRK mythical status among knife nerds.

Chris Reeve’s son Tim handles operations at CRK now, but the company harks back to 1978 when Chris began making knives in South Africa as a hobby. In 1984 Reeve’s side job and passion grew into a full-time occupation; he moved operations to Boise, Idaho, with Anne, his wife, heading up the business end in 1989. Continuing the family affair, Tim joined the family business in 2015. He is the future generation of CRK and my guide during a tour of the facility.

Work boots and stubble, capped in a MeatEater trucker hat, the tall and lanky younger Reeve steps into the Boise-based front office and greets me with a firm handshake and a smile. Behind Reeve sits a case of knives slung with ribbons and medals awarded from shows around the world. On the wall hangs a full tang military knife – the Yarborough – mounted to a plaque given to CRK by the Green Berets. “Back in 2002, we were awarded a contract to deliver 300 survival knives for the Green Berets,” he recalls. “I remember working with Mom and Dad, helping load up the boxed knives on crates for shipping. We delivered 300 knives in half the time.”

CRK is known for its exquisite folding knives, but, as the Green Beret contract hints, the company got its start producing full tang fixed blades. Reeve shares a story about when his father was deployed with the South African Army to the Angolan border and filed his first knife from a shank of scrap steel, a block of wood and silver wire inlay. The dry desert air split the wooden handle, and Chris made his first design insight. “Except for maybe the gimping on the thumb, I’ve never seen him put any of those design elements into a knife ever again,” the younger Reeve wryly observes.

Before knives, Chris Reeve journeyed as a tool and die maker for 13 years, plying a trade dedicated to repeatable precision — and became tenaciously obsessed with quality. It was his attention to detail that drew the consideration of the U.S. Special Forces and is precisely what inspires legions of devotees to drop what might amount to a full day’s salary on an unassuming folding pocket knife.

“Chris developed a school of thought … a standard for how to make a knife. Our job is to scale up production while maintaining quality systems to achieve his vision.”

These days, Tim admits that he spends the majority of his time chasing his father’s demanding vision of quality. We stroll into the back room to the hum and grind of CNC lathes milling blades, frames and scales. Shouting above the whirr of metal, Tim elaborates: “Chris developed a school of thought … a standard for how to make a knife. He knew how to make things right. Our job is to scale up production while maintaining quality systems to achieve his vision.”

The heir to this knife legacy seems to be doing just that quite well. Recently, at the annual Blade Show in Atlanta, the Sebenza garnered the prestigious Manufacturing Quality Award, a prize it has earned a staggering 17 times.

Walking through the manufacturing floor and into an adjacent office, I inquire about the future of CRK and what inspires innovation. In response, Tim pulls out a bright, clean pocket knife and lays it on the table. The Impinda doesn’t have the renowned Reeve framelock (in fact, it’s the first in CRK’s lineup without one). Instead, it borrows a slip joint developed by industry friend Bill Harsey, who’s been honing a differential joint that reduces the opening tension to one pound while increasing the closing resistance to a five-pound push. The result, in Tim’s words, is a knife that’s “easier to open than it is to close.”

“The Impinda solved a problem and found real innovation in a saturated corner of the knife market,” Tim raves. The design was one of the first pocket knives CRK produced after Chris retired in 2014, and it was the first knife Tim fully put his mark on. At the 2018 Blade Show, it took home the award for best American Made Knife of the Year.

Of course, it’s tough to follow in the footsteps of a master craftsman. As innovative and well received as the Impinda has been, hardcore fans are still quick to ask why it doesn’t feel like the Sebenza. “It’s a completely different knife, but it should have a ‘Sebenza level’ quality… that same level of fit and finish,” says Tim. Like every other knife maker in the industry, CRK, and Reeve, are measured against the best, even if it comes from their own collection. Unlike everyone else though, the young Reeve chases this obsession for precision in the factory his father built.

As for Chris Reeve? He’s been retired for five years now but hasn’t stopped making things; jewelry, handmade pens, the occasional collector’s walking cane. But knives? He’s cut his ties with the blade. And who can blame him? Chasing a tenth of a thousandth of an inch is a young man’s game — a game Tim Reeve has readily picked up and is eager to play well into the future.

What the Hell Is a Wool Surfboard?

This story is part of our Summer Gear Guide issue, covering everything from cold brew to grill hacks to the perfect outdoor projector. For the full list of stories, click here.

Humans use wool for all sorts of products: clothing, insulation, carpeting, blankets, technical garments and on, and on. We can add “surfboard” to that ever-growing list, now that Firewire Surfboards is bringing to market a peculiar idea from New Zealand surfboard shaper Paul Barron that replaces the fiberglass fabric of a board with ovine fiber. The technology is called Woolight, and Firewire is manufacturing a limited initial quantity to test the market acceptance, all of them in the company’s most popular shape, the Rob Machado Seaside.

Woolight’s origins are humble: nearly ten years ago Barron spilled resin on a sweater of his, but instead of the resin dripping off as he expected it to, it settled into the soft material. A cerebral light bulb clicked on, and he got to work. Years later, Barron brought the concept to Firewire, a surf company (owned in part by Kelly Slater) that has a reputation for using non-traditional processes to make surfboards. In its first board design, which debuted in 2006, Firewire removed the wood stringer from the middle of a board’s foam core and placed it instead parabolically around the outer edge of to create a more torsional flex pattern.

The use of wool continues that tradition of innovation, but also hits on another issue that plagues the surf industry: sustainability. “People with ideas around sustainability who can’t commercialize it for any number of reasons approach us all the time asking if we want to bring it to market,” Firewire CEO Mark Price says. “Paul was aware of all the things we’ve done and are doing, and he approached us two and a half, three years ago. We were just excited by it. It’s a natural fiber that grows, so to speak, in a very environmentally-friendly way.”

The types of boards everyday surfers ride have typically been dictated by what professional surfers have under their feet. The surf industry plays heavily on marketing what less than one percent of the surfing population can actually do on a wave, and surfers can be stubborn to adopt something different without seeing it in action. But the one thing that has stayed consistent since the conception of professional surfing in the 1970s is the materials used to make surfboards.

Surfboard construction has remained mostly unchanged since the introduction of fiberglass and polyurethane (PU) after World War II. The 1960s and 70s, a time colloquially referred to as the Shortboard Revolution, saw board designs get shorter than the old 10-foot planks so that they could become much more maneuverable. There have been size and shape developments since then, but that polyurethane foam core and fiberglass-fabric-with-resin construction is still what floats surfers over waves around the globe today.

Surf companies have only recently begun to explore the use of new materials. Carbon fiber, recycled timber, cork and bio-resins are beginning to make their way into more prominent shapes. In many instances though, different materials provide different riding experiences on a wave, and for creatures of habit like surfers, changes may not always produce the desired characteristic in a surfboard. For surfboard manufacturers looking to move away from the toxic resins and the large carbon footprints associated with petroleum-derived polyurethane surfboard blanks, that stubbornness creates a difficult hurdle.

Firewire has always approached surfboard making differently though. The company utilizes sandwich construction on all its boards, including the Woolight board. Sandwich construction starts with an expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam core covered by a high-density aerospace composite deck skin, which enhances durability. This is then wrapped with deck sandwich cloth, which is typically made of epoxy and resin but, in the Woolight’s case, is wool. This is then sealed through exterior lamination with an entropy bio-epoxy resin to create the hard outer shell.

To replace the bread in that sandwich with wool, Firewire went to Barron’s home: New Zealand. The company partnered with a co-op of sheep farms in the country that’s overseen by New Zealand Merino, a company that has helped brands like Allbirds and Smartwool to get the materials they need ethically. Price and the Firewire team visited the farms and found it was vastly different from the traditional sheep farm: “The traditional sheep farming industry is pretty ugly,” Price said, regarding the shearing process. “Most factory farms rely on a system whereby when shearing sheep, if they kill or maim a certain percentage of them, but get it done faster, that’s just the cost of doing business.”

To change that paradigm, New Zealand Merino enacts limits on the number of sheep per hectare and how many animals can be sheared per hour to ensure animal welfare, responsibility and land conservation. New Zealand Merino also audits the farms every six months to make sure farms are consistently meeting its ethical standards.

When Firewire receives the wool, it is minimally processed and quite raw, not woven like a sweater. To apply the wool to the surfboard, Firewire uses proprietary factory processes that include a vacuum-sealing technique for the exterior lamination procedure. The vacuum bagging method allows for the thinnest amount of resin while still offering the highest strength-to-weight ratio possible. Firewire uses bio-epoxy resin in this process, along with the wool and EPS foam. The recipe qualifies the Woolight board for an ECOBOARD Level One rating from Sustainable Surf, which is an independent, third-party “eco-label” for surfboards that have become the standard in the industry.

“Overall, the use of natural materials in surfboards is a good thing,” Sustainable Surf Cofounder Kevin Whilden says. “Especially if it doesn’t affect other qualities such as surfboard performance, look, feel and durability.”

For the past few months, I’ve been surfing one of these Woolight boards at my local beach breaks in New York and New Jersey. Winter has been transforming into spring, and water temperatures have been lifting from the 30s to the 40s and now to the 50s, but the extra millimeters of neoprene hasn’t hindered how the board paddles.

In terms of performance, I haven’t noticed any signs that it’s an abnormal surfboard that functions lesser than a traditional PU one. In fact, it’s an incredibly progressive board that rises to the level of performance I need in in the different conditions that I often encounter in the Northeast. That may be primarily due to the shape of the board itself (the surfing I like to do fits naturally with a progressive fish that has a double vee concave), but the fact that the materials match those levels is a testament to wool’s ability to replace fiberglass in the lamination process.

During my first session with it, I rode the board on a blustery New Jersey day with few surfers around, one of the early waves I caught presented a long, clean wall about shoulder high. After an initial check turn, I wrapped a roundhouse cutback. These moves tend to be a little drawn out, but to my surprise, I was back in the whitewater of the wave much sooner than I anticipated and was able to bounce off it and redirect back down the line of the righthand wave fast enough to keep riding for a couple more moves down the line.

The board proved that it handles well in the barrel and allows for finesse, drive and complete control, returning energy throughout turns and various maneuvers. That a surfboard can come out of a move without losing speed is essential, and in this the Woolight board shined, retaining all speed (and at times generating more out of a move) to continue down the line of a wave.

While paddling, I often looked down at the board and recognized individual wool fibers in its cloudy blue surface. It was a real, physical reminder that Woolight is different, something new. But on a wave, with the board under my feet, the place where performance is more crucial than appearances, I didn’t think about the wool at all. I couldn’t feel any difference; the board offers the typical flex patterns and riding capabilities you’d find in any regular surfboard. So, to answer the question on every skeptical surfer’s mind, does the Woolight board surf any differently from a normal one? No, and ultimately, that’s the point.

The Good: Buoyancy, performance and durability aren’t affected by the replacement of fiberglass with wool. Simply put, the Woolight surfboard rides exactly like a regular fiberglass surfboard. According to the compression testing that Firewire performed in its factory, it found the durability and tensile strength of wool to be comparable to fiberglass too. This is aided by the sandwich construction deck skin, which also helps keep the deck of the surfboard less susceptible to heel marks and divots that tend to happen immediately with fiberglass. After four months of testing, I didn’t notice any heel marks or dings.

Who It’s For: Surfers looking for a sustainable alternative to the toxic boards that are the current industry norm.

Watch Out For: If you’re looking for an eco-friendly surfboard there are alternatives with smaller carbon footprints, but the Level One ECOBOARD rating is still commendable. While using the bio-epoxy resin is a huge plus for the board, the EPS core keeps it from qualifying for the Gold Level. Plus, the wool doesn’t reduce the carbon footprint as much as you’d think because sheep emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

As Sustainable Surf Cofounder Kevin Whilden told us, “Wool actually has about a ten-times higher carbon footprint than fiberglass. Firewire certainly did their homework in sourcing wool from a very sustainable sheep ranching operation, which supports that local community. However, I think it was a bit of a surprise that a natural material like wool has a higher footprint than an inorganic material like fiberglass. That’s a counter-intuitive result, and it speaks to the importance of conducting formal lifecycle analysis when deciding which materials are more sustainable.” On the other hand, fiberglass is not a renewable material, and its application in a board is far more toxic than wool.

On the performance side, lets’ note that Firewire’s Seaside model is the only shape Woolight is currently available in. The Seaside comes with a quad fin setup, unlike most traditional surfboards these days that offer the versatility of five fin boxes to allow for riding the board as a thruster or a quad. As someone who rides lots of twin fin setups, I opted to ride the Seaside Woolight with a twinzer setup (two smaller knub fins in front and two bigger twin fins in the back). While this board might lack a stabilizing center fin, it still offers versatility if you get creative.

Alternatives: One direct alternative to Woolight is Lost Surfboards’s C4 Technology, which uses cork in a similar sandwich construction. Firewire’s own Timbertek, which uses sustainably-grown Paulownia wood deck skins, is also up there, and has a Gold Level ECOBOARD rating. Other companies like Grain Surfboards and Agave Surfboards use wood as the major material in their boards. The ECOBOARD Project offers a comprehensive list of companies that offer sustainably-built surfboards, which you can view here. Almost all sustainably-built boards cost $700 or more.

Verdict: Early signs show that wool might be a direct replacement for fiberglass, with potential to expand far beyond surfboards. Woolight, or something like it, might be used wherever fiberglass is present, like in boats, housing, automobiles and more.

That futuristic and potentially game-changing premise is a lot to wrap your head around, but take all that away, and Firewire’s Seaside Woolight surfboard handily proves that wool, whether it changes manufacturing or not, can produce a surfboard that competes with the best of them. The Woolight board isn’t quite the greenest surfboard you can buy, but it serves as a potent example of how surfboard makers can change their thinking about the materials they work with, without sacrificing anything that surfers want from a board.

Key Specs: Firewire Seaside Woolight Surfboard

Price: $840
Ridden Dimensions: 5’2” x 20” x 2 5/16”
Ridden Volume: 26.5L

Firewire Surfboards provided this product for review.

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These Are the Worst Cities for Cyclists, and Here’s What You Need to Stay Safe

If you live in a city, you probably know that commuting to work on a bicycle is often far faster than driving or taking public transportation. It’s certainly the case in our home base of New York City, where the only predictable trait about the subway system is its consistent unreliability. It makes cycling here that much more convenient, but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s safe.

According to recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is part of the Department of Transportation, New York had the most cyclist fatalities of any city with a population of over 500,000 in the country during 2017. It’s not doing much better in 2019 either, with 15 cyclist deaths as of the time of this writing (three of them during a single week). Here’s a list of other cities that the data points to, organized based on the percentage of total traffic fatalities that were cyclists. (Other factors for determining the danger posed to cyclists, such as the percentage of bike commuters in the population, availability of bike lanes, and variance in bike-related traffic laws, weren’t taken into account.)

The 10 Most Dangerous Cities for Cyclists in the US (Based on 2017 Data)
1. New York City, New York
2. Seattle, Washington
3. San Jose, California
4. San Francisco, California
5. Boston, Massachusetts
6. Washington, D.C.
7. Austin, Texas
8. Phoenix, Arizona
9. Los Angeles, California
10. Fresno, California

No matter where your home falls on the list, it’s important to realize that no matter how safe of a rider you judge yourself to be, it’s more often the choices of others on the road that contribute to an accident. Take as much control of that as you can — starting with how you outfit yourself for a ride. Below, you’ll find some of the urban-riding essentials that’ll help your city improve its place on the list.

Bell: Spurcycle Bell

Cars aren’t the only road users you have to worry about — use this good-looking bell to warn slower riders you’re making a pass and remind pedestrians that the bike lane isn’t an extension of the sidewalk.

Lights: Knog Big Cobber

Knog’s Big Cobber lights are some of the biggest, brightest and easiest to use. Their unique shape provides a wide field of illumination, and you can adjust their blinking pattern and brightness through the company’s app (we’ve tested it — it’s very user-friendly). Wrap them around your handlebars and seat post and remove them easily so they don’t get stolen. The best part is there’s no extra cord — you just plug these right into the USB port.

Helmet: Giro Sutton MIPS Helmet

Protect your head with this MIPS-equipped urban helmet.

Tape: 3M Scotchlite Reflective Tape

Commuter apparel often features hits of reflective taping, but if that’s not your style you can add it to your bike with a cheap roll of tape.

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 5 Best Kettlebells to Buy and The 5 Best Moves to Do With Them

Kettlebells are one of the best fitness tools you can add to your home gym, but unlike, say, dumbbells, their uses aren’t as obvious. The awkward handle design means doing pushups on them is tricky, and kettlebell swings can be intimidating, not to mention easy to mess up. But, if you’re looking for one tool to take your training sessions up a notch, the kettlebell is an excellent place to start. With just one you can work your glutes, arms, abs, legs and more. “The beauty of kettlebell training is that each session can vary enough that one can train every day or six days a week if the load, intensity and length of the workout changes,” says Lacee Lazof, certified personal trainer and instructor of Bells Up for NEOU, a fitness app focusing on video.

To start, look for a kettlebell with an iron handle. It doesn’t need to be rubber coated — although that adds a layer of protection to your hands, and your floors — and start light. “Start with double 8 to 12 kilos, and a large bell of 18 to 24 kilograms,” Lazof says. Check out five hard-t0-beat brands below.

Best Sturdy Grip: Kettlebell Kings

Kettlebell Kings are some of Lazof’s favorites. The weights come with a lifetime guarantee and feature a powder coating that will hold up to chalk (typically used in the weight room or at the CrossFit Box to keep a firm hold of the KB). These kettlebells start at 4 kg (8.8 pounds) and go up to 48 kg (105.8 pounds). With that kinda range, you’ll be pushing your limits for years to come.

Most Affordable: AmazonBasics Cast Iron Kettlebells

These best-selling kettlebells are simple but effective. The AmazonBasics cast iron material’s black exterior helps improve the life of the KBs. The wide grip and weight options from 10 to 70 pounds make these work for a wide range of people, exercises and goals. They also happen to be some of the most affordable ones out there.

Most Comfortable Grip: Rogue Rubber Coated Kettlebells

Rogue makes some of the toughest gym equipment on the market today, including these powerful kettlebells. Weights range from 26 to 70 pounds, each with a rubber-coated base and metal handle. The colors denote the weight, so once you get used to them, you won’t have to squat down to see what you’re lifting.

Best for Tracking Your Reps: Jaxjox KettlebellConnect

Never count another rep again with Jaxjox’s Kettlebell Connect. We tested last year and were impressed with how quickly this KB changed weights. Move from 12 to 18 to 24 to 32 to 40 in just three seconds. Press the button, let it whirl and then get going with your workout. Bonus: All your reps and sets get logged in the app.

Best Statement Kettlebells: Onnit Darth Vader

Onnit makes unique kettlebells that are sure to turn heads thanks to designs inspired by Star Wars, Marvel and, well, primates. If you’re looking for a broader range of weights and something more accessible for beginners, check out the everyday black spheres, but if you want something that’s 36 to 70 pounds and roars, the weights with personality are for you.

The Moves

Once you have the perfect kettlebells for your home gym, it’s time to put them to work. Lazof recommends a five-move routine that you can do a few hours before a run or on a training day where you’re not going to the gym or doing cardio. Try these five moves: Goblet March, Goblet Squat, Goblet Clean, Half-Kneeling Press and a Bent-Over Row. Each movement can be done in a ladder format of 1/2/3 reps (resting between each set of reps) for 5 to 8 rounds depending on time and difficulty of weight selection. So you’ll do one rep, rest for one breath, do two reps, rest for two breaths, do three reps, and so on. Typically you’ll stop at 9 or 10 reps, depending on your time and how fatigued you feel. You can do this routine three to four times each week.

Goblet March

Hold the KB at your chest, hands on either side of the triangle-like handle and elbows tight to sides. The handle should be right under or by your chin. Stand with feet together and march, bringing your right knee to hip height, returning it to the ground, then left knee for 1 rep. If too difficult, widen your stance and then work up through the 10 reps.

Goblet Squat

Hold the KB at your chest (same as Goblet March) and stand with feet wider than your hips, toes pointing out. Bend knees and squat down, keeping chest and the KB perpendicular to the floor. Lower as far as you can go (whether that’s when the back of your thighs hits your calves or when your thighs are parallel to the ground). Stand up for 1 rep. Repeat and work up through the 10 reps.

Goblet Clean

Start in a squat, holding the top of the KB handle between your legs with the KB off the ground. Stand, using your glutes and keeping your back straight while quickly pulling the KB to your chin, snapping your hands from the top of the handle to the sides to end standing. Reverse and slowly lower the KB just above the ground, returning to a squat for 1 rep. Repeat and work up through the 10 reps.

Half Kneeling Press

Begin in a lunge with your right knee on the ground behind you. Keeping your elbow tight to your chest, hold the KB in your right hand, resting near your right shoulder to start. Keep your lower body still and push your right hand up to the ceiling. Slowly lower back to your shoulder for 1 rep. Repeat and work up through 10 reps on both sides.

Bent Over Row

Stand with feet staggered, one kettlebell in each hand. Bend at your hips and hinge forward until your chest is parallel to the ground with arms extended. Turn palms toward each other and pull KBs to your chest. Lower the KBs for 1 rep. Repeat and work up through the 10 reps.

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 Best Outdoor Gear of the Year, According to (European) Experts

While our team headed out to Denver’s Outdoor Retailer to check out all the upcoming awesome products for 2020, Europe has its own showcase for innovative products debut called OutDoor by ISPO, which went off last week in Munich. And amongst 203 items in 28 categories, judges chose just four Outstanding OutDoor Award winners. Here’s what caught their attention and is worth keeping an eye out for next year.

Vaude Redmont All-Weather Jacket

Judges loved the sustainability touches in this wind- and waterproof jacket. Vaude eliminated pesticides and herbicides from the organic cotton that forms the building blocks of this coat. All the accents, like the trims and logo are made of certified cork, keeping with the earth-friendly trend. Plus, the jacket looks great on city streets and the mountainside.

The North Face Futurelight Jacket

Our team is very familiar with The North Face’s newest technology, Futurelight, thanks to an Aspen ski trip this past winter. It’s no surprise that this waterproof yet breathable coat won at Outdoor by ISPO. Nano-spinning technology changes the level of breathability throughout the jacket, while keeping it comfortable and waterproof through winter storms and sweaty uphills.

Petzl Mountaineering Belt Fly

Petzl’s newest harness aims to please ski mountaineers. The combination of metal and conventional buckles is both balanced and lightweight at just 90 grams. The comfort foam is removed to make more space for gear loops that will hold your ice axes, ropes, carabineers and more.

Adidas Terrex Myshelter Parley Jacket

This Adidas jacket is on our list thanks to its cowl-like collar and beautifully tapered fit. The all-white three-layer piece is breathable (surprise!) and built to keep you dry during your commute. Outdoor by ISPO judges liked the blend of performance fabric with a lifestyle cut and design, plus the Parley sustainability mission means ocean plastic makes up at least part of this jacket.

This Is the Best New Outdoor Gear, According to Experts

While our team headed to Denver’s Outdoor Retailer to check out all the awesome adventure gear to look forward to in 2020, Europe has its own showcase for innovative products called OutDoor by ISPO, which went off last week in Munich. And amongst 203 items in 28 categories, judges chose just four Outstanding OutDoor Award winners. Here’s what caught their attention and is worth keeping an eye out for next year.

Vaude Redmont All-Weather Jacket

Judges loved the sustainability touches in this wind- and waterproof jacket. Vaude eliminated pesticides and herbicides from the organic cotton that forms the building blocks of this coat. All the accents, such as the trims and logo, are made of certified cork, keeping with the earth-friendly trend. Plus, the jacket looks great on city streets and the mountainside.

The North Face Futurelight Jacket

Our team is very familiar with The North Face’s newest technology, Futurelight, thanks to an Aspen ski trip this past winter. It’s no surprise that this waterproof yet breathable coat won at OutDoor by ISPO. Nano-spinning technology changes the level of breathability throughout the jacket, keeping it comfortable and waterproof through winter storms and sweaty uphills.

Petzl Mountaineering Belt Fly

Petzl’s newest harness aims to please ski mountaineers. The combination of metal and conventional buckles is both balanced and lightweight at just 90 grams. The comfort foam is removed to make more space for gear loops that will hold your ice axes, ropes, carabiners and more.

Adidas Terrex Myshelter Parley Jacket

This Adidas jacket passes muster with us too thanks to its cowl-like collar and beautifully tapered fit. The all-white three-layer piece is breathable (surprise!) and built to keep you dry during your commute. OutDoor by ISPO judges liked the blend of performance fabric with a lifestyle cut and design, plus the Parley sustainability mission means ocean plastic makes up at least part of this jacket.

Your Dad’s Style Is Back and It Looks Good

At the Outdoor Retailer Summer Show in Denver, our team sees hundreds of awesome upcoming products. We award our favorites, but along the way, we get a preview of where things are headed next year. One of the highlights this year was (wait for it) the return of the dad style. From chunky sandals to fanny packs to bucket hats, father-friendly staples have been recreated with highly technical fabric, new use cases and good looks, too. Here are a few that caught our eyes.

Dad Sandals

Dad sandals are back in full force. While Teva and Chaco have owned the market with fresh, hip interpretations of these styles, brands like Merrell and Ecco are getting in on the trend. Fans of the open toe will very much appreciate the Merrell Chronicles (above) and its throwback 90s vibe. Meanwhile, Ecco’s X-Trinsic Flat Sandal will work on hikes or all over the city, thanks to an anatomical footbed, sporty look and three-point connection so they won’t get loose.


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Fanny Packs

While hip packs have come back in style, they’ve found new purpose in the mountain biking world. Often dubbing them “lumbar packs,” brands like Dakine, Osprey and Evoc have all released hydration hip packs of late. Spring 2020 products confirm that the trend isn’t going anywhere — if anything, brands are investing more R&D into bright and bolder packs. Mystery Ranch is just one example: the Hip Monkey is already in the line but come spring 2020, you’ll find super colorful Full Moon bags. Each pack is built to store an extra layer, phone, wallet, sunscreen and more, all conveniently stored in a 500 Cordura fabric-protected bag. Look for those iterations next spring.

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Bucket Hats

For so long we’ve associated the bucket hat with fly fishermen and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Rihanna, but now these hats are hitting the trails. They’re way more technical and performance oriented than the Burberry ones that keep the rain out, or the one that Gilligan rocked on his island. Think sweat-wicking and SPF packed. We spotted examples at Headsweats and Ciele, but you can pick one up now at Nike or The North Face. Just look for one with a pocket. We’ve discovered it’s perfect for storing an iPhone X or smaller when you decide to take the hat down the river with you post-trail run.

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All Our Coverage from Outdoor Retailer Summer 2019

Here’s everything we saw and did at Outdoor Retailer this year. Read the Story

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

5 CBD Oil Products Fitness Trainers Swear By

Thanks to recent legal developments, just about everyone is hyping CBD these days, especially as a tool to recover from tough workouts. CBD stands for cannabidiol, one of the 100-plus chemical compounds found in the cannabis sativa plant, and it shares a lot of the same anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety and analgesic benefits as THC, except it doesn’t get you high — or arrested.

What it does do is interact with specific receptors in your brain, which can affect your mood and how you perceive pain. In a good way, of course, as 42 percent of CBD users have reported giving up traditional medications like Tylenol or prescription drugs like Vicodin in favor of CBD, and 80 percent of those people said they found the products to be “very or extremely effective.” Plus, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its list of banned substances in January, allowing competitive athletes to start using it for recovery.

CBD comes from the hemp and marijuana species of the cannabis plant; when it’s extracted and diluted with a carrier oil like coconut or hemp seed oil, you get CBD oil, which you can now find infused in everything from gummies and oils to massage creams, chocolates, coffee, beauty balms and bath bombs. FYI: Hemp-derived CBD is legal at a federal level, but marijuana-derived CBD is subject to more complicated state laws and regulations. If you live in one of the 10 states where cannabis is legal for medical and recreational use — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont or Washington — you’re in the clear either way

Between the boom in CBD products and the fact that research is still ongoing (the FDA has actually issued a warning against CBD products that promise unrealistic results), it’s hard to know where to start. So we turned to the trainers who make a living studying and schooling others in the best recovery practices. Here are their best CBD recs.

Xwerks CBD Oil

Kevin Moore, CSCS, a Bradenton, Florida-based personal trainer, swears by Xwerks CBD Oil. “It checks all the boxes from my research on what to look for in a quality CBD oil: full spectrum, C02 extraction to maintain purity and potency, no additives or preservatives and their third-party lab results are always updated,” he says. Compared to other CBD oils, Moore says Xwerks had more of effect with less of a dose, too.

Moore tends to take one to two servings with his final protein shake before bed. “I sleep incredibly soundly and at a much higher quality (according to my tracking on Whoop) when I take it versus when I don’t,” he says. “If all it did was improve my sleep, it would be well worth it, especially given the impact of sleep on recovery, but I also notice a decrease in the general aches that come along with heavy training and, frankly, age.”

Resilience CBD Sports Cream

Over the past year, Matt Pippin, CSCS, owner of Pippin Performance in San Diego, has been using CBD oils himself and recommending them to his athletes for recovery. “What I look for in a CBD oil is quality and effectiveness,” he says. “One study found that over 70 percent of the CBD products contained more or less CBD than listed on the label or contain other elements that aren’t labeled. That’s a huge problem!” His brand of choice, Resilience, has high quality control standards. “They put all of their products through third-party testing and print a barcode on the bottom of their products that verifies the testing so you can go on their website, plug in the code, and see for yourself what’s in the product,” he says.

Pippin recommends applying the brand’s CBD Sports Cream or CBD Body Lotion to your hips, shoulders, spine and anything else that might be a little tender or beat up; using CBD topically may help with reducing inflammation and pain. The more you recover today, the harder you can train tomorrow, Pippin says.

Nature’s Root Cannabidiol Rich Hemp Oil Tinctures

Cannabis and CBD have been a huge part of NASM-certified personal trainer and athlete Heather DeRose‘s personal training and coaching. “CBD is an amazing tool for personal trainers to help get their clients out of pain and able to get their bodies moving for overall health and wellness,” says DeRose, who has held group fitness classes where participants consume cannabis products before, during or afterward.

When it comes to her training and running, DeRose tries to consume 10 to 30 milligrams of CBD a day — typically through recovery smoothies. “It’s delicious and convenient and aids in inflammation, especially after training sessions,” she explains. DeRose chooses Nature’s Root cannabis tinctures because they don’t separate or have a strong oily aftertaste. Pro tip: the cherry blossom tincture tastes great in smoothies with cherries, and the orange spritz works wonders in her cocoa protein smoothies.

BKLYN CBD Chill Time Drops

As a trainer at Tone House (one of New York City’s toughest gyms), Adrian Williams knows going all-out on recovery is just as important as doing that in the gym. And since he often finds himself doing his own training after he’s done with all his clients, he takes BKLYN CBD Chill Time Drops to come down from that workout high.

“I usually take drops at the end of the day as a way to simmer down when I come home,” he explains. “After you work out at night, it’s probably one of the best things you can do to offset the high heart rate and blood pressure of intense exercise, as well as the anxiety of a long day.” As the drops are taken sublingually, they enter the bloodstream quickly and the effects are almost instantaneous, he says. “It makes me feel calm and clear, without that post-workout crash sensation.”

Green Roads Soothing CBD Topical Cream

Meghan Takacs, a trainer at New York City’s exclusive Performix House, is an avid runner and USA Track and Field-certified coach who says CBD is crucial for her performance. “As a runner, I deal with hamstring and calf fatigue,” she says. “I like the topical cream because it specifically goes after muscle pain relief in a targeted area, pinpointing the muscle fatigue and soreness; I typically apply it the night after a hard workout. I find it easier to use than drops or edibles because it serves a sole purpose — muscle pain, a lot like amino acids.”

And while there are a lot of topical CBD creams out there, she opts for Green Roads because it’s all natural. “The CBD is only extracted from hemp,” she explains. “They also use CBD oil CO2 extraction, which extracts the purest form (solvent-free). It acts a lot like Performix’s ISO BCAAs, which has an extended release, specifically to muscles that require recovery.”

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 Best New Knives and EDC of July 2019

Now that we’re through June, summer has officially started, but outdoor companies launched their new lightweight tents, backpacks and jackets far ahead of the solstice. (In fact, we recently got a look at all of the gear coming summer 2020.) Not all items come out in launches tied to seasonal changes, though. Take, for example, pocket knives and EDC tools.

The companies and designers that make these items work year-round, and manufacturers rolling out as many as 50 new knives and multi-tools per year spread them out over that time, so there’s something new to ogle every week. It’s our mission to keep you in the know in regards to the new knives and tools that have the potential to become your next daily sidekick or an entry into a growing collection. In case you missed one, we’ll round up our findings here in one concise, easy-to-scroll article.

Recently, Leatherman expanded its magnetic Free collection with two new tools, Victorinox wrote its ode to the US National Parks in Swiss Army Knives, Benchmade revealed a pocketable knife maintenance tool and more.

SOG SEAL XR

One of the latest releases by SOG is perhaps better for gawking at than keeping in your pocket or on your belt. The company built the SEAL XR with input from professionals to make it a folder with as much function as possible; the 3.9-inch clip-point blade is made of S35VN steel to be durable and corrosion-resistant, and it deploys fast and efficiently thanks to a ball bearing pivot and SOG’s sliding switch XR lock.

Leatherman Free T4

Earlier this year, Leatherman released the most significant overhaul of its original multi-tool in years with the Free P2 and P4. The primary upgrade: a system of internal magnets that allow for remarkably easy one-handed use. Now Leatherman is widening the Free Collection with the T-Series tools, which are more akin to a Swiss Army Knife than a pliers-equipped multi-tool. The T4 is the more robust of the two, with spring-loaded scissors and tweezers in addition to a knife, pry tool, awl, bottle opener, screwdrivers and more.

Tops Knives Bull Trout

Last year, Tops hosted a knife design competition amongst its employees based on the EDC category. The winner was the Bull Trout, a short and sturdy fixed blade dreamed up by the brand’s shipping manager, Martin Murillo. The Bull Trout joins the growing category of fixed-blade EDC with its 2.75-inch drop point blade made of 154CM steel (it’s 6.13 inches overall). Murillo threw in an oversized choil and jimping on the spine to create plenty of grip despite this knife’s size.

Victorinox Ranger of the Lost Art Collection

The Classic SD isn’t new at all, which is okay because its keychain-ready construction that includes a knife, scissors, toothpick and more is timeless. What is different here are handle scales adorned with the artwork of Doug Leen, a former Grand Teton National Park ranger who created a series of silk-screen posters that pay homage to the originals produced during the New Deal era. Now you can carry a memento of Yellowstone, Mount Rainier, Acadia and more in your pocket (and get some use out of it, too).

Benchmade Edge Maintenance Tool

Benchmade’s Edge Maintenance Tool has everything necessary to put an edge on a knife, but it’s also amazingly pocketable thanks to a small folding form that includes a clip, just like a knife. The Edge Maintenance Tool unfolds on an anodized pivot, which reveals a ceramic rod for honing an edge on one side and a leather strop for finishing on the other. There are also built-in angle guides to aid your technique.

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

Bike Pain-Free With These Game-Changing Cycling Upgrades

Pretty much any seasoned cyclist will tell you, if you feel a consistent pain on a ride, look at your frame fit. If your back hurts, your seat is probably angled too high; if your hands are going numb, your stem length is perhaps off.

But there’s also a level of expected — and accepted — mild discomfort. For me, that’s always been in the saddle and my knees. I’ve traded out my seat twice, tried covers, adjusted the angle of the saddle itself… but no matter what, I feel like I’m sliding off the pint-size perch; I can’t quite find that sweet sitting spot to lock and load instead of squirm.

As for my knees, they also act up during long runs and, since I know my frame fits and is set up correctly for my dimensions, I’ve long written off the dull ache as a biomechanical issue I can only hope to mitigate with cross-training and better recovery.

Then, last summer, I went through a fitting with Retül Match, a program owned by Specialized that uses full-body mapping sensors to determine your bone shapes and imbalances. A technician took pressure points of my foot, measured my femur length, measured my sit bones on a pressure map and lightly analyzed my biomechanics.

(Note: The company also has a super intensive fitting conducted from Specialized’s Boulder shop that analyzes your entire biomechanics on a bike, but I just did the program on the Match Tower that’s in bike shops nationwide)

The first few things they told me I already knew: I have a wide toe box and super high arches, which limits what kinds of shoes I’ll find comfortable in pretty much every sport, cycling included. But then they dropped statistics I hadn’t heard, or even considered: My sit bones were wider than most, so I need a 168mm saddle compared to the standard 135mm. My left foot naturally turns out 5 to 10 degrees.

What that meant: I needed to upgrade my saddle and reinstall my shoe cleats at the proper angle.

It sounds super basic, maybe even obvious if you’re a super seasoned rider. But in my two years getting into the sport, these were levels of detail I had never considered.

My first 60-miler with a new perch and properly aligned cleats felt like I had popped half a bottle of ibuprofen and gotten two days worth of sleep before heading out. My knees didn’t ache, and my undercarriage didn’t start screaming till the last 10 miles (hey, some things are inevitable).

Now, every rainy day that I go to a spin class where the saddles are all that 135mm, I can recognize that my constant battle against sliding off the seat is not just part of a ride, but something I can control (if only studios would let me bring my seat in).

It’s worth pointing out some pains are most likely the result of an improper fit or not enough core strength: namely, neck pain, hand pain, low-back pain and some knee pain. But the minor details are often overlooked by intermediate riders, says Todd Carver, founder of Retül, possibly because it takes a skilled fitter, advanced technology — not to mention time and money — to figure out the finer details.

But the payoff is real: “Comfort is the most immediate benefit of these minor tweaks,” says Carver. “But long-term, you also get a reduced risk of overuse injury and better efficiency by ensuring the right balance is created between fit aggressiveness and rider flexibility.”

Intrigued? You’ll get the most benefit from paying for your fitting at a local bike shop (you can find Retül Match programs here). Meantime, here are the main micro-changes that might make all the difference to your ride.

Trade Your Saddle Shape

If you feel constant pain or numbness in your, ahem, undercarriage, or like you can never get comfortable on the perch, the stock saddle is probably wrong for your body. The two variables here are width and shape — and it’s pretty much the opposite of one-size-fits-all, Carver says.

Ask your local bike shop for a saddle fit, where they should measure your sit-bone width, then let you try a zillion shapes till one feels right under your tush. Here are a few of our favorites for different booties.

Pro Stealth

A cult favorite among aggressive riders supporting stubby saddles, this seat is wider at the nose, allowing you to stay at the front of the saddle and in the drops for longer periods of times. The wide middle cut-out chops weight and helps take pressure off the soft tissue.

Planet Bike A.R.S. Anatomic Relief Saddle

This comfort saddle has firm foam padding to keep your sit bones from screaming and a slight mid-channel for blood flow. It feels cheaper than the saddles that’ll run you triple digits, but the gel top and affordable price tag make for an easy upgrade on a budget.

Selle SMP Pro

For guys with wide sit bones and serious perineal pain, this Italian-made saddle may be worth the price tag. The super wide center channel will cushion your soft tissue and optimize circulation while the drop nose encourages you to stand more often, alleviating the pressure underneath.

Tweak Your Cleats

Try this: Standing on one foot, lift your knee till it’s up 90 degrees. Look down at your foot; is it hanging straight ahead or slightly askew? Chances are it’s the latter. “All humans have a natural foot angle,” Carver says. Clipless pedals will make each stroke more efficient, but when your foot is clipped in perfectly straight with zero float, this causes weird torque on all parts of your leg, which translates to ankle, knee or hip pain, he explains.

Speedplay Zero Pedals

“Some cleats are fixed and have no float, which can be a huge problem as the foot has no room to rotate once clipped in,” Carver says. Float essentially lets your heel pivot slightly as you pedal. The ideal amount of swivel is a personal (and biomechanical) preference, but we — along with countless pro cyclists — love the Speedplay Zero pedal system; when paired with their Aero Walkable Cleats, you can adjust from wide open (15 degrees) down to a fixed position (zero float).

Crank Brothers Zero Float Cleats

There’s a solid camp of zero float devotees, as being completely locked in gives you optimal power. And that’s OK — adjusting the angle of your cleats may be enough to help offset the biomechanical issues causing your knee pain. These Crank Brothers cleats are durable but offer no play, so be sure your cleats are installed to match your natural foot angle.

BikeFit Cleat Wedges

Instead of angling your cleats, you can insert these wedges between your cleat and shoe to offset your biomechanical foot angle issues. By adding a little lift on the inside or outside of your foot, your leg won’t rotate inward or outward and, theoretically, your power will increase and knees will ache less. Considering these run about the price of a decent bottle of wine and don’t require the help of a fitter, they’re a pretty easy troubleshoot to lower limb pains.

Get Fitted for Shoes

Shoes that are too small overall or cause hot spots and numbness in your feet make for a very uncomfortable ride. You want enough room for that mid-ride swell in size, but also a tight closure around the heel and midfoot for optimal power production, Carver says. Just like with running shoes, you should go into a store, get fitted and try on a variety of brands to determine which best fits your foot shape, but here are a few of the most promising options.

Specialized Torch 2

This iconic mid-tier cycling shoe features Specialized’s signature Body Geometry technology, which means it was ergonomically designed to better align the hip, knee and forefoot to improve pedaling efficiency and decrease pain points. The Torch 2 specifically has a more relaxed fit around the toe box than other models (though it’s probably still too tight for those with a wide forefoot) and a less constrictive fit along the foot. Additionally, the insole is designed to minimize hot foot and support your arches.

Bont Vaypor S

The Vaypor S shoes are super light with a dual-layer Boa system that lets you get a tight fit without hot spots. Their biggest selling point is the wide toe box (akin to Altra running shoes), which theoretically allows your toes to grip, balance and resist more naturally than being crammed together. We also love that they come with a custom heat-molded footbed.

Louis Garneau Course Air Lite II

The shoe itself fits snugly in the heel with minimal stack height, but what makes it stand out is its adaptive fit. It features a lace design from top to toe, which means multiple anchoring points but with Boa closures for those ideal micro-adjustments. The included insole has three adjustable arch wedges for personalized support, but most impressive is LG’s patented X-comfort zone material. It’s essentially an elastomer-spandex built into the shoe’s upper that gives as your foot expands with heat without compromising the stability of the shoe.

Insert Insoles

Ideally, you want to support your natural arch, even if it’s neutral, to prevent it from collapsing while riding. This can go a long way toward preventing foot problems like toe numbness and plantar fasciitis, as well as knee pain, says Carver.

Specialized Body Geometry SL Footbeds

These Body Geometry insoles have three distinct arch supports, plus another for your metatarsals (placed right off the medial arch, something most footbed designs get wrong). They come in three levels of support depending how high your arches are from the start.

Sidas Bike+ Flashfit Footbeds

If your arches have dropped or you naturally have flat feet, opt for a custom footbed. Carver recommends having a mold created by a skilled fitter or medical professional, but for a quick at-home option, these heat-moldable insoles from beloved footbed company Sidas can help.

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 5 Awesome New Bike Products Will Transform Your Next Ride

Outerbike is a combination of a trade show, a trailhead tailgate and one of those dreams in which you have all the toys you’ve ever wanted and your only worry in the world is wondering which to play with first. Unlike other industry events, Outerbike lets attendees demo the bikes, not just look at them, which makes it a great place to go if you’re interested in picking up a new mountain or gravel bike.

Sun Valley, site of the most recent iteration of the event, offers great riding and a real chance to see what a bike can do. Attendees get lift tickets, lunch, happy hours and unlimited access to the trails for three days. If you’re thinking of getting a new mountain bike, it’s the place to go. If you missed Sun Valley, don’t worry, there are three more events this year. Meantime, here are the five coolest things we saw this past weekend.

Cannondale Topstone

Cannondale’s latest gravel offering picks up the slack between their value-driven alloy Topstone and the shreddy-but-heavy Slate. The Topstone Carbon builds in 30mm of rear suspension using carbon flex and a pivot that Cannondale calls the “Kingpin.” A compliant handlebar, wide tire clearance and a range of bottle cage and accessory bolts (that are actually weight bearing and not just flimsy rivnuts) make this bike a great choice for gravel racing, light bikepacking and comfort commuting. We tested it on trails and dirt roads and it feels fast!

Open WI.DE Frameset

Open more or less invented the gravel bike with the groundbreaking UP a few years ago. Now the brand is reinventing it with the huge clearances on their newest drop-bar adventure bike. WI.DE stands for “winding detours” and that is where Open wants you to go with their new frameset. Clearance for 2.4-inch tires means you can shred singletrack, but a road crank means you can efficiently cover ground in your road position. This isn’t a road race bike or a mountain bike — it’s a little bit of both, and it looks like a lot of fun.

Pivot Shuttle – Race Build

Long travel bikes are great, but they suck to ride uphill. E-bikes are also great, but some aren’t designed as bikes as much as small motorcycles. Pivot makes awesome mountain bikes and added a motor to their trail bike to create the Shuttle, a bike that powers up the trail and shreds down, meaning you don’t have to pile into a smelly van to get to the starting line. With 29-inch wheels, 160mm of plush travel and a weight of 44.75 pounds, this bike is an endure ripper that just happens to have an electric boost — not a moped with some token suspension. If you’re interested in bigger lines and rougher trails but don’t want to drive back uphill, this might bike ticks all the boxes. Yes, it’s pricy, but some of the $7,899 price tag is amortized by potential savings on lift passes and/or beers for the poor person who would be shuttling you otherwise.

Rotor 1x 13

Rotor’s new 1×13 groupset is more than just an incremental step past the existing 11- and 12-speed standards. Why? Because a 2×11 setup has 13 unique combinations, meaning that you can get the same range and the same jumps as most existing road bikes without a front derailleur on Rotor’s new system. The closed hydraulic system will never need charging and won’t ever suffer from cable stretch. The system does use its own hub and offers four cassette sizes from 10-36 to the enormous 20-52 as well as chainrings in two tooth increments from 26-54t.

Moots ROUTT YBB

Moots bikes might have a timeless look thanks to their largely round tube titanium construction, but they’ve got much more to offer than classic looks. The ROUTT YBB uses a “softtail” micro suspension that ’90s mountain bikers will recognize. Mountain bikes have moved on, but for gravel bikes, the 20mm of rear axle travel might be perfect for taking the sting out of long days, especially when combined with the huge 700x45mm tire clearance. Also making a comeback, thankfully, is a threaded bottom bracket that shouldn’t creak like many press fit designs on modern bikes. Moots is offering select builds for 2019; these options promise a faster build and delivery time than their standard bespoke builds while still allowing buyers to upgrade everything from the groupset to the decals to make their bike unique.

Is Caffeine Good for Your Workout?

The coffee you drank this morning was spiked with a powerful plant-produced insecticide — but you’re okay with that. It’s why you drank it in the first place. It’s called caffeine, and if you’re like 64 percent of Americans, hardly a day goes by when you don’t consume it. According to the American Journal of Physiology, caffeine’s energizing effect occurs when the chemical latches on to our neurotransmitters and blocks a sleepiness-inducing chemical called adenosine, which builds up naturally in our bodies throughout the day. People consume caffeine for various reasons — to shake off morning grogginess, to focus better on work, to party all night — but what is its impact on exercise?

“There is a large body of evidence showing that caffeine is the most effective legal performance drug out there,” said Kristen Arnold, a licensed dietician with a master’s degree in human nutrition. “For endurance sports, specifically. So, time trials, team sports such as soccer, basketball, and also sports that involve sleep deprivation, like ultra endurance.”

Arnold is right: in recent years, many studies have shown caffeine to have several benefits for athletic performance. The International Society of Sports Nutrition says caffeine is “very effective” at improving athletic endurance. And in one study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, several athletes who consumed caffeine pills ran 2-3 km more than those who drank coffee or consumed no caffeine at all. When it comes to brain stimulation, “nothing is better than caffeine,” Dr. Indre Viskontas\, Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience, says.

So, caffeine is a performance-enhancing drug. But it’s not the kind of performance-enhancing drug that Mark McGwire would inject into his ass cheek in an empty St. Louis Cardinals locker room. For one thing, caffeine is totally legal. Even the World Anti-Doping Agency, knowing full well its effects, recognizes caffeine as an acceptable performance-enhancing drug (up until 2004, it was banned). And the International Olympic Committee says it’s perfectly OK for Olympic athletes to use caffeine, as long as the amount in their urine stays below a certain amount. The world of sports science seems to agree that caffeine can be beneficial to athletes and everyday gym-goers alike. But reaping those benefits is a bit more complicated than simply tossing back a few shots of espresso before a race or gym session. Here are a few things you should know.

The molecule in question.

The molecule in question.

Think beyond coffee. “For people that don’t drink caffeine regularly, there are definitely side effects. Elevated heart rate, anxiety, gastrointestinal issues — especially when it’s consumed in coffee, which is really acidic, so it can cause a lot of stomach issues. But it’s mostly just a feeling, nothing serious. They won’t feel good going into their workout,” Arnold said. She added that caffeine pills, when consumed responsibly, are what most studies have shown to be the most effective, and that coffee often doesn’t make sense for high-intensity physical activity: “It’s not often that people drink coffee on rides or runs or in the middle of a game. That’s when the drink mixes and sports gels and things come in handy.” Gu Energy has gels with caffeine, Nuun Sport has tablets and then there’s the runner favorite, Run Gum.

Know your dose. “It’s been shown that three to six milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight is what’s helpful. Anything above nine milligrams per kilogram is not helpful,” Arnold said. As a point of reference, one cup of coffee typically contains 95 milligrams of caffeine. For a 150-pound athlete, this works out to about two milligrams per pound — slightly below a beneficial dose. “A lot of people don’t get nearly as much caffeine as they need per kilogram of their body weight,” says Joe Holder, Nike Master Trainer and founder of Ocho System.

Other forms of caffeine usually pack a bigger punch: most caffeine pills contain 200 milligrams, several extra-strong energy drinks contain close to 300 milligrams and, if you really want to feel like a meth-addled super warrior, certain candies, like the aptly named Crackheads chocolate-covered coffee beans, contain up to 600 milligrams in a single box. High doses are fine, as long as you’re staying below the recommended limit of 9 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. And for maximum effect, remember to space out your caffeine intake throughout the day: “If somebody is considering using caffeine to improve performance or exercise, it’s best to drink less caffeine during daily living, and then consume more of it during the events that we’re focusing on,” Arnold said. Some athletes even go so far as to eschew coffee the week or so before a race so that when they take it on race day, they’re super amped. While that hack hasn’t quite been proven yet, if you find it works for you, that’s all that matters.

Take it at the right time. “The research shows it takes about 45 minutes for the caffeine to hit its peak in your bloodstream. So, if you’re about to start a race, and you need a really big burst of energy — like with the first minute of track running or cyclocross or criterium racing — you’ll want to consume forty-five minutes before you start your event or your workout,” Arnold says. Of course, if a big burst of energy isn’t what you’re looking for, the timing will differ. Arnold continues: “Let’s say your event is an hour long. You might want to consume it at the start, so you’ll have the best benefits of the caffeine at the end of the event. Or you can do both: you can have caffeine forty-five minutes before, and then right before.” For high-endurance events, Arnold suggests taking caffeine in 45-minute intervals to maintain a good buzz throughout. But remember that caffeine affects everyone differently. Experiment to figure out your optimal method of consumption and a comfortable/legal dose, and you’ll have a leg up on the competition — hopefully not a jittery one.

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Never Pay Full Price for Arc’teryx Gear Again

In a move toward sustainability — and reaching a wider market — Arc’teryx recently launched its Rock Solid Used Gear Program, an opportunity to trade in your old Arc’teryx gear and/or buy semi-used jackets, hoodies, waist packs and more.

Arc’teryx makes some of the highest quality outdoor gear that’s guaranteed (for life) to help you summit a mountain or backpack the AT, but what happens when you want to upgrade to newer stuff from the brand? If you originally bought equipment from Arc’teryx, this buyback program lets you recoup some of the cost by bringing old, lightly used gear into any Arc’teryx brand store or by mailing it in. You’ll get 20 percent of the original retail value back in the form of an Arc’teryx gift card.

And on the flip side, Arc’teryx will clean and repair the goods and then re-sell them at a discounted price — often seriously discounted, as in the case of this lightweight down jacket going for a whopping 52 percent off. Think of it almost like scoring a certified pre-owned Mercedes for much less than it costs fresh off the lot. If you admire Arc’teryx but can’t get over the high price tag, this program may be just the entry point you need.

Oh, one more thing. We checked with the brand and were stoked to pick up the following additional info: “Every Arc’teryx Rock Solid Used Gear purchase is covered by the Arc’teryx Limited Warranty. Purchases may be returned for up to 60 days after the original purchase date, as long as items are in the same condition they arrived in and returned in their original packaging. Once a return is received, a refund will be processed within 5-7 business days.”

Gear Patrol Magazine: Issue Ten

We’re proud to present the Innovation Issue. In our newest magazine we take a look at how boundaries are being pushed in everything from virtual reality, to coffee farming and more. Learn More Here

Summer Travelers, This Versatile New Adidas Running Shoe Is for You

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