Gear of the Year

Light Hikers & Kayaks

May 19, 2005
Outside Magazine

Garmont Eclipse XCR $120

Stripped-down light hikers can leave weekend adventurers craving a little more of everything. But, just like my pre-ramble, all-you-can-eat Southern breakfast, the Eclipse XCR fills the plate. Balancing strength and flexibility, this waterproof Gear of the Year winner made a meal of Alabama's rugged Pinhoti Trail in a hard winter rain.

1. Ankle sprains are the Achilles' heel of low-cut footwear, but the Eclipse XCR fights back. A high inner cuff stabilizes the joint to discourage it from rolling inward, while a rigid leather strip lining the outside of the upper cuff kept me secure on the scree.

2. Many load-bearing hikers have overbuilt heels that impart a ski-boot gait—not pretty when you're negotiating a crowded pub with a full, après-tramp pint. However, the back of the heel on the Eclipse swoops upward, for sneaker-like strolling.

3. Smallish tongues can shift, often leading to chafing at the intersection of ankle and foot. To reduce slippage, Garmont equipped this hiker with a broader tongue that extends down toward the ankle on the inboard side of your foot.

4. Even after shouldering a 30-pound pack, the plastic web in the cushy midsole kept my feet in the game. I could feel the material working like an in-shoe backbone, supporting my soles and lessening fatigue without compromising flex.

5. You won't slosh around in these bad lads, thanks to a Gore-Tex XCR membrane, which functions like a pair of rubber galoshes. But watch out: XCR can choke in high temps; my toes felt damp after trekking through steamy ravines in the soggy Chattahoochee National Forest.

Dagger Crazy 88 $1,150

Ready to go pro? Then you already know that tricks are for kids—and success hinges on huge air. Enter Dagger's Crazy 88, our Gear of the Year selection. This boat is a masterly equation of length, width, weight, and volume distribution, all of which pull together when the time comes to skip off the lip and into the big time.

1. The upswept cockpit increases the boat's overall buoyancy; while popping out of front flips and back flips, I felt like I was on a trampoline.

2. Dagger equipped the Crazy 88 with an add-on called an Overthruster. The detachable plastic pod—about the size of an airline meal tray—increases the boat's volume, ergo its buoyancy. Plunging into the same hole avec and sans Overthruster proved its worth: an extra foot or so of vertical.

3. The Crazy 88 was designed for radical maneuvers like aerial backstabs—picture a back-to-front rotation at a 45-degree angle—but Dagger also softened up this boat's lines. Result: You'll quickly recover from a botched stunt—and maybe even call it a new move!

4. An inch or two svelter than the rest of the Dagger fleet, and boasting a flatter hull, this 28-pounder—among the lightest of the ten boats I tested—is both spry and damn fast.

5. Simple and lightweight outfitting—the padding that keeps you snug and comfy in the cockpit—dials in a perfect fit with little fuss. A removable wedge raises the seat to deter thigh cramps, and your perch moves fore and aft on a track to accommodate your height.

Filed To: Hiking Shoes, Kayaks

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