Take a look at the top summer products, from shoes to sleeping bags, that won one of our coveted 2014 Gear of the Year awards.
MSR Hubba Hubba NX
How did MSR improve on its most popular tent ($390)? By trimming half a pound while increasing elbow room. (It’s now both wider and shorter.) The result is the best mix of weight and livability in any two-person tent available. The tech that made it possible: lighter zippers, which also allowed bigger doors, and thinner (but just as tough) fabrics. A range of testers found the new size just right. “It fits well in small places,” said one, “but there’s still lots of room inside for two, plus gear.” And durability? The Hubba Hubba tolerated three weeks of abuse without a scratch. As one tester summed it up, “It’s the perfect backpacking tent.” 3.4 lbsLIVABILITY: 4STURDINESS: 4
Sierra Designs Mobile Mummy 800
The quirky features of the 15-degree Mobile Mummy ($379) are not original, but Sierra Designs is the first to combine them in a way that creates a truly useful bag that can be worn like a jacket. The full-length, two-direction center zip eliminates the contortions required to snug yourself into a typical side-zip bag. The arm ports allow you to read a book without cracking the cocoon. (Flaps seal the holes when you pull your arms in.) While one tester waited for a backcountry cabin to warm up, he slid his feet through the bottom zipper and wore this bag like an 800-fill coat—which he didn't have to pack. From the beanie-like hood to the carrot shape, this cozy bag quickly conforms to changing insulation needs. 15˚; 2.3 lbsCOMPRESSIBILITY: 4.5WARMTH TO WEIGHT: 4.5SLEEP COMFORT: 5
Patagonia bills the Rover ($125) as a light hiker, a trail runner, and an approach and rock-climbing shoe. Amazingly, it can do it all—and well. Taking a ten-mile trail run? No problem. The Rover's four-millimeter heel-to-toe drop made it seem like a more protective version of our favorite minimalist shoe. Same with fast-paced day hikes: it felt like an "exceptionally protective sneaker," according to one tester. But the Rover impressed us most when we went climbing. The tacky rubber outsole smeared on 60-degree granite inclines, and the defined edges in the toe box had one tester scaling 5.7 routes without missing his standard—and cramped—climbing shoes one bit. 7.7 ozWEIGHT: 4.5TRACTION: 5
Granite Gear Nimbus Trace Access 70
We tested lighter and sexier packs, but none of them did everything as well as this big-trip hauler ($350). Even when we overstuffed it with 65 pounds of gear, it felt balanced and easy on our backs. It could be the wood. The composite-plastic framesheet features a maple core, which gives it a sturdy but pliant backbone (think wood-core skis). On the outside, dobby-weave Cordura endured tight squeezes through sharp granite and fended off light rain (we loved the drybag-style roll-top closure), while a special coating on the rugged zippers kept dirt and grime from getting lodged in the teeth. Put it all together and you have a pack that will outlast a lifetime of adventures. 4.3 lbs
Meet the new lead dog in the race to be the most breathable waterproof shell ever. The Artemis ($250) pulled ahead of the pack thanks to NanoPro, Marmot's new proprietary membrane, which is purportedly 60 percent more breathable than the company's previous offerings. Our field testing isn't that precise, but while hoofing uphill in a 50-degree downpour, one of our testers was stunned that he didn't overheat (as he did in a few other jackets he tested). The Artemis weighs in at just 11 ounces, despite having our favorite bells and whistles—pit zips, hand pockets, and a helmet-friendly hood—and it stretches in all the right places. Said one particularly impressed tester: "It feels like a tailored suit." 11 ozBREATHABILITY:: 5WATERPROOFNESS: 4.5
Crumpler Vis-à-Vis Trunk
Sometimes there’s a bag… Oh heck, I lost my train of thought. I was mesmerized by this shiny black monolith ($445) from Crumpler’s first series of hard-sided luggage. Sometimes there’s a bag that just makes you feel good all over—the satisfying sensation of pulling it along on its smooth omnidirectional wheels, the simplicity of its two single-piece shells, and the calm of knowing that your stuff is protected inside that polyurethane-ABS exterior. While we can’t recommend trying to drag it down a dirt road, the Vis-à-Vis makes wheeling a large load more pleasant than ever, especially when what you’re carting can’t get crushed. 11.5 lbs
Does the world really need more 1950s-looking hipster sunglasses? Absolutely—if the maker does something beautiful like carve the frames out of sustainably sourced trees. The look is authentic but also urban, in a Brooklyn sort of way. Put them on and the gray polarized poly lenses fight glare while improving detail. Things pop right away, because the neutral tint means your brain doesn’t have to make color adjustments. There’s some light leak at the sides, which means the Ontario ($125) doesn’t qualify as serious sports eyewear. Play all you want, though. Spring-loaded hinges, nicely inset, speak of solid construction. The Ontario is made to last, and admire, while giving shelter from the sun—like a tree.
The North Face Ultra Trail
The Ultra Trail ($110) was a near unanimous favorite among our test team. The flexy shoe has the kind of speed and agility you’d expect from so low-flying a design: it absolutely rips along flat and rolling trails. But it was the smooth, socklike fit of the stretchy upper and the confidence-inspiring foot security that made it really stand out. “It felt like a direct extension of my foot,” said one tester. The foam may be thin, but it’s protective and energetic—two hours of running over sketchy volcanic rubble seemed like nothing. And dozens of tiny lugs on the Vibram outsole boost both suspension and grippy surface area and excel on everything but loose terrain. 9.1 oz; 8 mm drop
Brooks PureFlow 3
With a redesigned tongue that eliminates a bulge over the top of your instep and a revamped heel, the PureFlow ($100) has gone from good to absolutely great. The combination of minimalist DNA (a midfoot-striking four-millimeter drop, roomy forefoot, and socklike fit) with a generous helping of springy foam made it an instant tester favorite. “The best of both worlds” is how one reviewer put it. The forefoot is as thick as those in Brooks’s comfort trainers, but the heel is lower by six millimeters. Brooks also moved the location of the faux split-toe design into a more natural spot between the toes, but testers didn’t really notice the change. Light heel strikers will find the impact a bit unforgiving, but midfooters will enjoy excellent arch support and fatigue-fighting stability. 8.8 oz; 4 mm drop
Norco Sight Carbon 7.1
At first we thought the 27.5-inch wheel was just another fad, but Norco won us over. Last year’s 6.3-inch Range was the deftest enduro machine we tested. And the new 5.5-inch Sight ($5,252) is so balanced that it softened the staunchest 29er devotees. It’s quick and snappy, as expected with midsize wheels, but feels even more playful than most. The compact frame begs to clamber over rocks and launch off kickers. It ascends like a cable car—in spite of the 1x11 XO1 drivetrain, it never felt undergeared—and pounced down technical descents like a panther. At a svelte 26 pounds, it’s the complete package, right down to the stock dropper seatpost and the durable Maxxis Ardent tires. Every single tester review sheet concluded the same way: “I’d buy this bike.” 26.8 lbs
BMC Teammachine SLR01
Cadel Evans won the 2011 Tour de France aboard the Teammachine ($5,600). Now BMC has made the bike even better. The company claims the SLR01 is 25 percent stiffer and 15 percent lighter than the previous generation. Testers put it this way: stomp on the pedals and you feel like... well, Cadel smashing up L'Alpe d'Huez. With carefully tuned carbon layups in key flex points, the SLR01 is as ridiculously comfortable as ever, and the DT Swiss R-1650 tubeless wheels add even more plushness: "Races like a Ferrari, rides like a Bentley," said one tester. We chose the Shimano Ultegra 6800 setup, which gets the same 22 speeds, trim ergonomics, and lighter shifting action of Dura-Ace for a fraction of the price. 15.5 lbs
Designing a fun and truly versatile crossover kayak that’s as adept in whitewater as it is in flatwater is extremely difficult to do. Dagger nails it with the Katana ($1,029). Its moderately aggressive rocker profile made it plenty maneuverable for eddy hopping in Class III rapids. We were also impressed with how well this longish boat (at ten feet four inches, it has plenty of waterline) tracked on lazy sections of river and cruised around small lakes, especially with the retractable skeg deployed. Beginners will appreciate the Katana’s primary stability, which inspires confidence in whitewater. Though it makes the boat a bit heavy, the well-padded cockpit is extremely comfortable—a good thing, since you might be in it awhile: you can squeeze enough gear into the bulkhead system and ample back hatch for a multi-day trip. 56 lbs
SIC Bullet 14 V.2 SCC
We quickly developed a go-to test route with the 14-foot-long Bullet ($2,799): launch into a windblown waterway for a 45-minute upwind sprint to a nearby barrier island. Without fail, the board sliced through chop effortlessly and showed best-in-class acceleration and glide. Once we reached shore, we’d shoulder the carbon-fiber Bullet (it weighs a meager 27.5 pounds) for a quick jog across the narrow island and a downwind run on the ocean side, sometimes even surfing the beach break. It rides swells smoothly and predictably, thanks to surfboardlike rails and a slightly upturned nose and tail. The versatility and speed come with a hefty price tag, but they’re worth it. Few SUPs are this capable—and fun—on both flatwater and ocean. 14'
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