The Best New Gear Awards are Gear Institute’s way of honoring the most legitimately innovative new gear in the outdoor industry—products that represent a true step forward in design, aesthetics, or performance, and which debuted at the Summer 2014 Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Most helmets protect you with foam. Smith’s Overtake road bike helmet absorbs impacts with hollow, polymer tubes that also ventilate the interior, giving you both full-coverage protection and unbeatable climate control. Smith claims the honeycomb-like “Koroyd” cushioning material can absorb 30-percent more energy than standard EPS foam. We just love the low weight (250-grams) and eye-catching style. Never has safety looked so cool.
This is the only portable power source we’d feel good about carrying in wet, snowy, or dusty climates (meaning, anywhere worth going outside). The Goal Zero Venture 30 is highly shock and water resistant, protected in all its important, internal parts by ultrasonically-sealed rubber—not exterior rubber caps that can be easily lost. It can simultaneously charge two iPads or phones at once, and it automatically detects how fast your device can soak up power, which extends the Venture’s charge supply. It also boasts a blindingly powerful, 200-lumen flashlight, and fits into a back pocket.
Half GPS running watch, half smartphone, the One GPS+ connects to the AT&T wireless network to provide constant Internet connectivity during training runs, even when you’re not near your phone. That means you can get text and email messages in the middle of a workout, track your speed and distance, and even beam your location to friends and family back at home in case you pull up lame. It will also beam music to wireless earphones to let you keep your music player behind. The OneGPS+ will come with one free year of service with AT&T, after which—we’re told—the price will be far cheaper than your average cell phone service.
This is the most inspired design in backpack design we’ve seen in years. The entire back panel of Osprey Atmos AG is a single piece of suspending webbing that floats away from the pack itself—even in the waist belt—which distributes weight over every contour of your body. That not only cushions bony places and absorbs the vibrations of trail bouncing like a trampoline, it also easily allows air to flow around your waist and back better than any system we’ve every seen. Designed for weekend loads up to about 45-pounds, the Atmos AG (or Aura AG for women) will come in 50 and 60-liter versions for $230-$260.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a real advancement in sleeping mat design, and this is one we can get behind. The surface of each pad in Sea to Summit’s new sleeping mat line is covered with big, pillowy cells that independently compress under pressure—meaning the mat remains firmly comfortable no matter which one of your bony points is pointing south. We also love that each mat is made of two independent air chambers, one on top and one on bottom, which makes it nicely adjustable and redundant in case one side pops. The best part? The stuff sack can be used to pump the mats up in just a couple seconds.
There are a lot of new shoes debuting this summer at Outdoor Retailer, but only one that’s taken this gigantic of a leap forward in footwear design. Arc’teryx’s Alpha2 is the flagship of the bird’s new shoe line, a light hiker built with a waterproof inner bootie (laminated with GoreTex Stretch) and a thermoformed, laminated outer boot with a Vibram outsole. The point is to make the shoe more adaptive while speeding evaporation. In colder conditions, the liner can be swapped out for a thicker, warmer one, and the thin gap between the two boots is designed to increase airflow and evaporation. It also improves the customizable fit options, as well as the general care and maintenance of the shoe. This is a big, bold design move, and one our testers can’t wait to get on trail.
There are a few types of locking carabiners—screw gates (which can get stuck on grit, and can rattle open on accident), sliding lockers (which can be a pain to manipulate with one hand), and a few creative twists, like Black Diamond’s pinch-to-release Magnetron. Grivel’s Twin Gate breaks new ground with a locking ‘biner that doesn’t technically lock. The design is based on an old climber’s trick—if you have ‘biners with opposable gates that open in opposite directions, you can’t ever have accidental openings. Having the opposable gates in one ‘biner means you can open it with a thumb flick, and never worry about some moving part getting funky on you. We love how Grivel took a time-honored idea and made it safer and smarter.
You know that sticky feeling against your skin when you wear an ultralight or waterproof shell? Brooks Range solves that clammy bummer with a matrix of fluffy dots laminated to the inside of the Breeze Wind’s 20-denier nylon fabric. That keeps the cold suck of wet nylon off your skin or baselayer and boosts airflow beneath the fabric. Simple. Brilliant. And if you’re worried about all those dots weighing down your ultralight shell, relax. The Breeze Wind still weighs in at a scant 5.5 ounces. It’s the kind of design feature we expect to start seeing soon in lots of copycat designs, and Brooks Range deserves credit for being first with yet another smart design advancement.
Plenty of ultralight tents can boast incredibly low carry-weights, but most are not places you’d want to spend a very long time in. At a mere 1lb, 9oz, the MSR FlyLite has the kind of crazy-light weight that thru hikers will appreciate, but it is going to offer the kind of livability you’d expect in a much heavier set-up. A true two-person tent, the FlyLite comes with a rain awning, a mesh door and large interior vents, vertical walls, 29 square feet of sprawl space, and 44-inches of head room. There is no ultralight tent we’d be happier to be hunkered down in on a stormy weekend in the woods.
The march toward ever lighter and thinner ropes has hit a spindly new milestone: Beal’s flossy Opera has a silly-thin 8.5-millimeter diameter and weighs an anorexic 48 grams per meter. That makes it the lightest, thinnest single-rope on the market. Not only that, but Beal is claiming it has the lowest impact force of any rope that’s thinner than 9-millimeter. Certified as a single, half, and twin, the Opera comes with Beal’s amazingly cut-resistant Unicore sheath and Golden Dry water repellency. Next stop: 5.16.
Mountain Hardwear is touting the new Hyperlamina as the “lightest and warmest synthetic sleeping bag on the market.” That’s a bold claim, but at 1-lb, 10-oz for a 30- to 40-degree EN rated bag, they’re on pretty good footing. The Hyperlamina cuts weight with a half-zipper, narrow mummy cut, and thicker slabs of MH’s powerful, proprietary Thermal.Q insulation where heat retention is needed most. It’s not down, but the bag will stuff into to a nicely compressible 5-liters. We feel pretty safe in predicting wet weather ultralighters are going to go nuts for this bag.
When Polartec came out with it’s Neoshell waterproof laminate a couple years ago, it didn’t take long for gearheads to catch on. The material breathes incredibly well—it’s palpably, undeniably less humid than other laminates on the market. So it’s exciting to see progressive brands using the material outside of rain and ski wear. Bomber Gear has unveiled the first dry top made out of Neoshell, which not only showcases how dependably waterproof this air-permeable membrane is—it’s also going to make for way more comfort on sun-drenched days on the river. The Palguin comes with high-quality latex wrist gaskets, comfy neoprene collar, and a price tag just under $400.