It’s tough to tell how trustworthy a piece of gear is going to be when you first buy it. In fact, the only way to actually test your equipment’s longevity is to, well, test it. Thoroughly.
So instead of having you, dear reader, put your gear through the ringer in extreme—sometimes dangerous—situations, we asked five pro athletes about the equipment they trust with their lives.
The following five items have proven themselves to be high-performance, durable, and, in some cases, life-saving.
Chris Davenport: Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe ($100)
Since 2005, professional ski mountaineer Chris Davenport has bagged and skied a staggering number of summits, including all 54 fourteeners in Colorado. (He’s currently only nine peaks short of his goal to ski the 100 tallest mountains in Colorado.) And amazingly, he’s schlepped the same Black Diamond Raven Pro ice axe up every one of those mountains.
The Raven Pro's decade of use is especially impressive considering the access Davenport has to new top-of-the-line products. "I’m always getting new gear," Davenport says. "I have very few things I use for more than a season or two."
So while clothing and other hard goods continue to get lighter and better, he’s never found a reason to replace this ice axe. "It doesn't require an upgrade. It’s one of those pieces of equipment that continues to work," Davenport says. "This ice axe does everything, it's reliable, and I love it."
Sarah Max: Icebreaker Base Layer (Starting at $60)
Since buying the wool layer, it’s been on more adventures than the Bend, Oregon resident can count. Max has worn it in six countries for Nordic ski races, and it’s also seen action on trail runs closer to home. "It's super light and easy to pack. It's been everywhere," Max says. "I wish it had its own diary."
Mark Weir: Fox DYAD Rear Shock (~$600)
Mountain bike god Mark Weir's most trustworthy component is his Fox DYAD rear shock. It keeps him competitive in the world’s toughest races. "As I get older, you need to be as efficient as you can," the California resident says.
The shock, some version of which he’s used for the last five years, can move between elevate and flow modes (increasing or decreasing travel) with the flip of a switch. It lets Weir efficiently hammer uphill in elevate mode, yet still gives him an aggressive, supple ride for descents in the flow mode. He makes this switch as many as fifteen times in a single race. "It’s something that I can't ride without anymore," Weir says.
Jason Craig: CamelBak Hydration Pack (Starting at $60)
Jason Craig, 21, is a busy man. When he spoke with us, he’d recently completed a Chemistry final and won the Reno River Festival's Freestyle Kayaking Championship. And while the Nevada native has a lot of gear he’s used for the past 10 years, he’s especially fond of the CamelBak hydration system he bought in 2008.
“It’s been everywhere with me," Craig says. "I use it more than any other single piece of gear." He’s traveled the world with the pack while competing in freestyle kayaking championships. Once, it even saved his life when he was running the White Nile in Africa. Craig says the pack prevented the dehydration and heat stroke that afflicted his fellow paddlers. "It’s really cool to have something you reach for 10, 20, or 30 times a day, every day," he says.
Turns out the hydration pack works well in less extreme situations, too. Craig wears it around the University of Nevada, Reno campus and in the field while doing geology work.
Jean Francois Plouffe: Helly Hansen Base Layer (Starting at $40)
Professional heli-skiing guide J.F. Plouffe started wearing Helly Hansen base layers even before he became an ambassador for the brand. Why? The company has an extremely long track record of making top-notch performance apparel.
"They've been doing it for 40 years," the Squamish-based trainer and heli-skiing guide says. He considers his Helly Hansen warm base layer his most trustworthy piece of gear because of the amount of energy it saves him when he’s mountaineering, guiding, paddling, or mountain biking. "It’s so comfortable, it has a great fit, moisture-wicking properties, and it keeps you warm and dry."