Running Shoes

In the Store: Don't know what kind of arches you have? Dunk your foot lightly in some water and then step on a paper bag. See almost your entire foot? You're an overpronator. See very little? You're an underpronator (this is less common). » Shop at the right time. Because your feet swell all day, you should always buy shoes in the afternoon or evening. And buy them at a specialty running shop, where a staffer can help you determine the right combination of cushioning, stability, flexibility, and weight for your individual needs (foot shape, running gait, etc.).

At Home: If your shoes get wet, speed the drying process by taking out your insoles, stuffing them with newspaper, and setting them in the sun. » Don't let your worn-out shoes fester in a Rubbermaid bin. Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe program (nikereuseashoe.com) grinds up any athletic shoes (without metal) and then converts them into running tracks and playgrounds for underserved communities around the world.

Trail Runners

Upper: For warm weather and well-maintained trails, choose breathable mesh uppers to keep feet cool. Opt for sturdy, reinforced uppers when stability and durability are priorities.

Toe Cap: Always run rocky trails? Choose a shoe with an armored rubber toe cap, even at the cost of extra weight. It protects shoes and feet.

Outsole: A multi-density mix of rubbers helps shoes achieve a just-right combination of traction, stickiness, and durability. Look for characteristics that meet your needs.

Lugs: Take a spin in the store. Any true trail runner today should have low-profile lugs that feel subtle—not clunky—underfoot.

Midsole: This is the guts of the shoe, what gives you cushioning, support, and energy transfer. Most use a combination of soft EVA and hard TPU.

Protection Plate: This guards against "stingers" caused by rocks and roots. It's usually a slim plastic plate that protects without adding much weight or making the shoe too stiff.

Road Bikes

In the Store: Unlike mountain bikes, road bikes can last forever. Which means you'll probably want to upgrade before you need to, so get the nicest bike you can afford. » Consider your budget and performance needs in terms of components. Nearly every bike is offered with various levels of componentry, dramatically changing the price. Remember: Upgrading everything à la carte will cost you a lot more than if you pony up for the better stuff initially. » Ride it before you buy it. At the very least, try a couple of sprints and hard corners in the parking lot.

In the Field: Before you head out, check to make sure your fork's quick-release levers are tight, and, if it's been a few days since your last ride, top your tires off with some more air. » Be a good Boy Scout: Never leave home without a spare tube, tire levers, pump, and multitool.

At Home: A little bit of love goes a long way. Keeping your chain lubed and your derailleur free of grime will keep your bike out of the shop longer.

Mountain Bikes

In the Store: With so many different geometry styles, the only way to properly size a mountain bike these days is to ride before you buy. Most shops have demo models. » Don't automatically buy the most travel you can afford. Consider where and how you ride, and get the best suspension (full or hardtail, more or less travel) for the conditions.

In the Field: Get tire pressure right. Generally speaking, lower air pressure equals better traction. If you start getting pinch flats, though, increase the pressure in small increments. » Lube early and often: Doing so will keep your bike out of the shop longer. » Shock systems continue to get more and more idiot-proof. But that doesn't mean you can't still be an idiot: Make sure you know how to adjust them before you head out.

At Home: Clean your bike after every ride. And don't let minor derailleur issues become major ones. If you can't fix it, head to your more mechanically inclined buddy's house—or the shop.

Soft Shells

In the Store: There are as many jackets as cereal choices these days—you need a plan. What are the conditions you're dressing for? If you're heading to Utah for some canyoneering, a breathable and stretchy soft shell might be the perfect all-conditions jacket for you. Climbing Mount Rainier? You'll need a full-featured hard shell. » Make sure the fit's right—whether you're looking for an athletically cut jacket for aerobic pursuits or something roomy enough to slide over an insulating layer.

In the Field: We see a lot of overdressed guys out there—don't be one of them. Bring extra layers, yes, but treat them like tax forms: Use only when needed. Start your hike, bike, or run slightly chilled. Crack chest vents and pit zips early, before you overheat.

At Home: Wash your shell when necessary, but use a residue-free cleaner made for today's high-tech fabrics (from McNett, Nikwax, and Granger's). » Most jackets come with a water-resistant coating (called a DWR, or durable water-repellent, coating). All of them eventually lose effectiveness. When your jacket starts to wet out (water saturates the fabric), restore the DWR with an aftermarket treatment from one of the companies above.

Light Hikers

In the Store: Finding the right hiking shoe is like choosing a mate: You'll be sorry if you settle for anything less than perfect. Remember, it's all about fit, so keep trying on different brands until you find The One. » Shop at the end of the day, when your feet are a bit swollen, and try on shoes with the socks you plan to hike in. » Walk up and down an incline board (a quality shop will have one) to check for heel-slip and toe-bang. » Fine-tune fit and support with aftermarket insoles.

In the Field: To prevent blisters, air your feet during rest breaks, change into dry socks midway through a long day, and choose breathable shoes for warm conditions. » If a hot spot develops, treat it immediately with duct tape or moleskin.

At Home: Treat leather with conditioning agents from Nikwax or Granger's. Even shoes with waterproof liners should be treated to preserve the leather. » Clean dirty shoes to prevent seams and fabric from damage, and dry them slowly in the sun.

Daypacks

In the Store: Fit comes first. Have your torso measured by a knowledgeable sales clerk who can help size and fit a pack. » As a general rule, the load-lifter straps should rise at about a 45-degree angle from your shoulders. » As an absolute rule, the hipbelt should wrap your hips—and stay there. Make sure to cinch it tight enough. » Raid the store's racks for ballast. Now load up and walk around. » Remember, it's easier to compress than expand, so choose a pack that's appropriate for the longest trips you expect.

In the Field: Pack symmetrically; a balanced load is more stable and comfortable. » Pack heavy items in the middle, close to your back, and stash layers and snacks where they're easy to get. » Long, hot day ahead? Store your hydration reservoir in the lid instead of the internal sleeve and you'll be able to refill without unpacking. » Storm coming? Instead of using a rain cover, store your gear in waterproof stuffsacks inside your pack.

At Home: Clean your pack with mild soap and water and it will last longer. » Dry it thoroughly before storing.

Tents

In the Store: Ask yourself what's most important—a big vestibule for your dog, lots of mesh because you like to stargaze, or low weight because you tick off 20-mile days?—and then start your search accordingly. » Don't compromise on any must-have features. » Pitch the tent and crawl in before buying. Any reputable shop will let you give it a try.

In the Field: Stuff—don't roll—your tent into its stuffsack to prevent creases that over time could lead to leaks. » Clear your tent site of sharp rocks and remove your boots before you hop in. » Pamper your poles, too: They're the most delicate part of the tent. Don't shake them out like a gunslinger. » Save weight: Pack the poles directly into your pack and ditch the extra stuffsack. Ditto for excess P-cord and stakes.

At Home: Wash your tent with warm water and mild soap, but only if necessary. To prevent mildew, make sure the tent is totally dry before you stash it in the bottom of the bin. » Store poles linked together to take tension off the shock cords.

Sleeping Bags

In the Store: Choose down when warmth-to-weight and compressibility matter most. But remember: Get feathers wet and your bag is dead weight until you find a dryer. Opt for synthetic fill (or waterproof down) when you expect frequent condensation or dew. » Check fit: If you sleep like a rock, a narrow cut is preferable because it's more efficient (less air to keep warm). If you toss and turn, go for comfort, even if that means more weight and bulk. » Everyone: Get a bag rated 10 degrees warmer than the coldest temperatures you expect.

In the Field: If possible, air your bag out every morning in the sun. » Cold snap? An aftermarket silk or synthetic bag liner can add 10 degrees of warmth. » Line your nylon stuffsack with a garbage bag for added moisture protection.

At Home: Dry your bag in the sun before storing. » Prolong loft by leaving it loose, not stuffed. » Don't be afraid to wash your bag (even down) when needed; just follow manufacturer instructions and dry thoroughly.

Surfboards

In the Store: Custom-shaped boards aren't necessarily more expensive. But you'll have to wait while they get made. » The general rule for beginners: The bigger the board, the better. When in doubt, ask to demo a board—most larger shops have a demo or rental fleet. » Your leash should be as long as your board.

In the Field: If you ding your board, get out of the water and have it patched immediately. » Wax job: If it's hot out, rub wax on in the shade, not in direct sunlight. » Your wax will last longer if you first apply a base coat and then the appropriate wax for the water temp where you'll be surfing (i.e., cold, cool, warm, or tropical). » If you don't have a bar of wax but you need to rough up your traction on the existing wax, use a wax comb or grab a handful of wet sand from near the tide line and rub it onto the deck.

At Home: Store your board in the shade. Even better, use a board bag or sock to protect your stick from getting nicked. » If you're heading for Panama, invest in a padded travel bag.

Kayaks

In the Store: Whitewater paddlers: Whereas you sit in a canoe, you wear a whitewater kayak. Choose one that fits snugly but not painfully—like a ski boot. » Sea kayakers: Rudder or skeg? Rudders afford the most control but have the most moving parts (hence require the most maintenance), while a skeg is simpler and more elegant (there's nothing hanging off the back of your boat). » Fiberglass or Kevlar boats are faster—and more expensive—than thermomolded plastic boats. » Size matters: Make sure your boat has enough cargo capacity for the trips on your list.

In the Field: Sea kayakers: If you ding your fiberglass boat and can see fibers, slap some duct tape on it and then repair it when you get home. » Whitewater paddlers: En route to the river, strap your boat to your rack hull side up. Doing so will prevent your boat's underside from "oilcanning," or denting.

At Home: Sun is the enemy of all watercraft. Keep a tarp over your boat to fend off UV rays.

Sunglasses

The key to great glasses is the tint, which should filter enough light to cut brightness and eyestrain, but without filtering out so much that vision actually suffers. Which is why photochromic lenses, which automatically adjust tint to changing light conditions, are so popular now. Use this guide to find the best color/tint for where you live and what you do.

Rose: Makes details pop when light is flat, especially against blue backgrounds. Best for: cycling, driving, and snow- and watersports.

Yellow: Increases visual acuity in low-light conditions. Best for: cycling, running.

Blue-gray: Cuts glare and preserves natural colors. Best for: sea kayaking and surfing.

Brown/amber: A universal tint that improves depth perception and reduces glare on sunny to partly cloudy days. Reduces eyestrain caused by haze. Best for: running, biking, hiking, watersports.

Gray: Allows you to see colors in their most natural, unfiltered state. Best for: running, biking, hiking, and watersports.

Cameras

In the Store: Would you buy a jacket without trying it on? Of course not. So don't get a camera until you've held it in hand. How it feels is as important as how fast it focuses. » Don't lowball your memory card. When choosing a camera, budget money for a high-capacity card so you're not constantly micromanaging memory space. » When it comes to megapixels, "the more, the better" works only as a very general rule of thumb. Image quality is determined by lens quality and internal software as well as sensor size; don't get obsessed by numbers.

In the Field: Carry extra batteries, and keep them warm in cold weather (store close to your body). » And pack a blower brush to clean the lens and image sensor if you get caught in a dust storm.

At Home: Today's photo printers are cheaper and better than anything yet. Canon's new Pixma Pro9500 ($850) makes wall-worthy large-format prints, while the company's Selphy (from $150) units are so small they travel with you.

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