| GEAR TO GO|
Water toys get cool
For those long walks to unpeopled beaches, Five Ten's new Centaur Watersport sandals ($69) are a rad crossbreed: sport sandal meets hiking shoe. They use sticky rubber bottoms to cling to wet surfaces, toe rands to protect your digits, and deep treads to ease rocky trail hiking. The Velcro-snugging nylon upper, reinforced by synthetic leather on the outside, feels soft against the foot. If you're sailing to that isolated beach, try another new hybrid: Teva's Spinnaker ($85), a fortuitous collusion of deck shoe and sport sandal. Its traditional white nonskid boat-shoe outsole clings to a heaving deck, but the open top is pure performance sandal. Quick-dry nylon webbing acts as a closure system atop supportive leather straps, which are lined with neoprene for softness against the foot.
Getting Your Stuff There
Wet environments have a way of rendering things soggy. The best strategy is to use L.L. Bean's watertight Delta bags, which keep towels and food dry while leaving contents visible. Five sizes range from 10 to 57 liters ($16–$29). For smaller items such as cell phones or binoculars, the Ziploc-style seal on the tough nylon and plastic Seattle Sports Pod .7 ($19) will keep water out, and, well, freshness in. The bigger Max Day Pack II ($78), also by Seattle Sports, has a Cordura exterior and 1,055-cubic-inch interior. It's waterproofed up to the drawstring, so a rogue wave or boat-deck splash won't drench your goodies. At 28 by 15 by 14 inches, Tusa's Mesh SB-90 Backpack ($59) will hold snorkel, mask, and fins with room left over for food and a change of clothes. A bottom drain and mesh exterior lets your gear drip-dry, but its back is water-resistant, so your back can stay dry.
It's playtime now. Tusa's Platina mask ($79) has an ultraslim profile to enhance peripheral vision so you can easily see variegated fishies or hungry sharks. Pair it with Aqua Lung's new snakelike Sidewinder ($35), which literally curves around your head, giving you a more streamlined profile than a traditional tube. Bottom line: Less snorkel protrusion equals more efficient snorkeling. At 1.5 pounds per pair, the new Fab Force Fins ($100) by Force Fin are extremely light, thanks to innovative poly-urethane fabric blades. They may look a little goofy, but they're sure comfortable to wear. To round out your water-play ensemble, try Teva's new Liquid Trunks ($40)—their tough Supplex fabric makes them a strong contender for both hiking and swimming. But for colder water (and even the Caribbean can be chilly in midwinter), Slippery's Neo-Boardshort ($65) has a .5-millimeter neoprene inner liner that holds in your body heat like a wetsuit. Finally, when you take a break from the water, CoopSport's Wet Volley neoprene volleyball ($20) is fun to kick around the beach. It's soft, waterproof, and should a spike go awry, flotational.
It's a given that you have to protect yourself from the sun, but how? Give your sunscreen an assist with Ex Officio's new Air Strip Hat ($22); its nylon/polyester fabric is treated with UV inhibitors, and the neck cape folds into the cap so you won't look like a French Foreign Legion officer when you get back to civilization. For the eyes, you want lightweight nylon frames with glare-cutting lenses. For quality and price, the new Bollé Boomslang ($100) and Vera Cruz from H2Optix ($105), both with polarized polycarbonate lenses, and Costa Del Mar's polarized Wave Killer ($109–$149), available in polycarbonate or glass lenses, are all excellent choices. To retreat from the sun without abandoning the beach, find refuge in L.L. Bean's Sunbuster Shelter II ($49), sort of a half-tent with a polyethylene floor, a mesh panel on its curved top, and a nylon flap that closes over the mesh on windy days. —Michael Verdon
For a Directory of Manufacturers, please see page 123.