Gear of the Year

Kayaks, racks, and luggage

Apr 15, 2003
Outside Magazine


Riot Air $1,125
For all-day play sessions working on your freestyle moves—especially aerial ones—there's nothing sweeter. Why It's Cool: If you're an advanced paddler looking to milk the most fun out of a trickle of water, the Air will take you there. At a mere six feet and 29 pounds, with a surfboard-style nose, this boat could yield fun in a stock tank. The trendy swallowtail design greatly enhances carving ability, and the included attachable fins make the Air a killer beach toy in small surf. Maintaining your line on a pushy river may be a challenge, but the payoff comes in the park, where the boat's sharp edges and diminutive size make every move available to you. This is a fun, bouncy boat that had me off the water even on smallish waves. Hmmm... The soft elastomer thigh braces may take some getting used to. They're more comfortable than the kind made of hard plastic, but they don't give that confidence-building, wedged-in-tight feel. Racks

Saris Cycle-On $299 for two-bike version, $540 for four
You certainly aren't bionic, so why should you have to lift a bike to head height to get it on your hitch rack? Why It's Cool: Drop any bike—from a ti-framed X-country rig with wild geometry to your kid's first two-wheeler—onto the aluminum tray and rubber wheel holder. Like magic, the Cycle-On keeps it upright. To secure the bicycle, clamp a small foot over the back tire and swing a curved arm over the bike's front wheel, then ratchet it down tight. We tested this sucker using a beefy downhill bike with 2.5-inch knobbies and it still held. And, OK, it's hardly mission-critical, but the Cycle-On's zinc-plated steel (competitors, take note) is a lot spiffier than your average black-aluminum-tubing rig. Hmmm... Like to lower your tailgate? On certain SUVs and pickups, the rack—at least while in folded-up mode—might get in your way.


Victorinox E-Motion 360°26-inch Trek Pack Plus $345
It's classic Swiss Army: ingenious, versatile, and bright-red. Why It's Cool: Bags don't get any more modular than this. It's foremost a rolling suitcase, but a darn decent pack as well, with a zip-out shoulder harness that includes a padded hipbelt and a curved back panel that shifts weight to the lumbar, so you can portage wherever you can't roll. Choose from three optional daypacks ($49 each) that dock, by way of four quick-release buckles, to the front of the pack. I recommend the 550-cubic-inch lumbar pack (versus the 800-cubic-inch shoulder bag or the 1,100-cubic-inch backpack). The grab handles are just right: cylindrical, padded, firm. Like so many clever knife blades, you can squirrel away your stuff in nine compartments. Hmmm... The backpack harness isn't adjustable for torso length. On previous versions, the bag's telescoping handle swiveled to facilitate cornering, but now it locks into position at every quarter turn, to no obvious benefit.

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