Gear of the Year

Jackets, shoes, and bikes

Apr 15, 2003
Outside Magazine


(storm shells)
Helly Hansen Storm $120

The world's first breathable polyurethane coat is tough as nails and dirt-cheap. Why It's Cool: Interface bW—Helly's house-brand polyurethane—isn't just stretchy and breathable. It also has what fabric-biz folks call nice hand, meaning that the material is softer and quieter than just about any other threads you'd find in an expedition-level garment. But the devil is in the details, and Helly nails these, keeping the weight down to 19 ounces by sonically welding panels together and adding rip-resistant coated nylon on the lower back, tail, and forearms. The polyester lining is almost as soft as microfleece, besting what you find inside other laminates. The shell is waterproof, so it will never need renewing via a spray-on DWR, and it's impervious to random scrapes. That means less coddling—whether you're on a weekend scramble or a 30-day expedition. Hmmm... With no pit zips, chest pockets double as vents, and the hood won't pull over a helmet.

(soft shells)
Patagonia Core Skin $249

Bow before the ultimate all-in-one, highly compressible lightweight jacket for cool-weather aerobic pursuits. Why It's Cool: You'll find many versatile soft shells made of Polartec's two-layer Power Shield wünderfabric, but none that performs as well as the Core Skin (or, for that matter, that looks so deceivingly low-tech). The Core Skin is a nylon stretch-woven shell laminated to an interior fleece layer, but instead of your basic microfleece, Patagonia uses a more breathable open-weave version of its Polartec-made R1 insulation. The result is a 20-ounce jacket that compresses to the size of a cantaloupe and breathes like Lance in the Pyrenees. Lacking water-retaining Lycra in the exterior layer, the Core Skin dries quickly. During an autumn flurry, the jacket's Deluge DWR coating repelled water like wax paper. Hmmm... The awkward between-the-legs strap may keep the jacket from riding up on you as you climb, but we removed it immediately.


Vasque Velocity $80
Like high-tops with wings, these runners fly over any off-road playing surface. Why It's Cool: Yippee! Vasque's new shoes are the complete package. They fuse all of the best elements of a road runner with the necessary components of a trail shoe in a smartly designed kicker to carry you over just about anything. Although they resemble approach shoes, they have the grip of a honed crampon. The slightly taller-than-average upper adds protection and beefs up an already stable frame of dual-density EVA. A flexible polyurethane plate keeps sharp trail debris from pushing through to the bottom of your foot while perfectly complementing a reliable and effective (but not too aggressive) outsole. There's adequate cushioning in the midsole, as well as a firmer wedge to combat pronation. Most importantly, the curve-lasted Velocitys are flexible, agile, and fast—an uncommon combination for such a protective shoe. Hmmm... The shoes aren't as light as some of their minimalist contemporaries. At 28 ounces per pair, they're chunkier than average.


Specialized S-Works FSR $4,880
Bike designers have pursued full suspension that soaks up bumps—but locks out for hard pedaling—as if it were the Holy Grail. Folks, Specialized has its hand on the chalice. Why It's Cool: The Brain, a new shock developed jointly by Specialized and Fox, controls rear suspension with an inertia valve-an early-20th-century invention brilliantly reimagined here. When you're just tooling along, the valve locks out the shock. Hit a good bump and the Brain activates the suspension. The result? The FSR climbs with the rock-solid response of a hardtail, but the rear dances over abusive downhills. Up front, the supple, air-sprung RockShox SID World Cup fork features a lockout lever; though not automatic, it's still effective. The S-Works is dressed with Shimano's freshly revamped, top-of-the-line XTR parts. Hmmm... It doesn't have the all-around cushy ride dualies are known for, especially on small bumps. Adding some adjustability to the inertia valve would help tons, and we bet that's already being planned for next year.

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