We all know it’s experiences, not stuff, that’s supposed to make you happy. But when those experiences take place outside, I’m a lot happier when I have stuff that helps me perform to the best of my abilities, comfortably. This is the gear that’s made me happiest this year.
Adidas Terrex X-King Shoes
Full disclosure: I am not a runner. But I do a ton of hiking and backpacking, and these trail runners are—hands down—the best footwear I’ve ever worn for those activities.
The heavily lugged Continental rubber soles are said to be based on that company’s mountain bike tires, and a unique combined midsole/insole arrangement supposedly helps move your foot about five millimeters lower than an equivalent shoe, while still providing excellent cushioning.
I’m not knowledgeable enough about the technical merits of running shoes to evaluate those claims, but I can tell you that these provide both seriously excellent grip and unprecedented stability. Here in Southern California, our trails are primarily composed of a thin layer of loose, dry dirt over sharp rocks. That’s a challenging surface to move across, but these grippy shoes excel on it. They work equally well on the snowy glaciers of Washington's Cascades and on the loose granite of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
The shoes are holding up to all that wear admirably: I’ve worn them for virtually all my outdoors trips this year, plus my daily 4.5-mile hike, and they have plenty of life left in them for a 60-mile backpacking trip I’m planning this weekend.
MSR Carbon Reflex 1 Tent
I’m not a huge fan of most ultralight shelters. Camp in the wind, the rain, or anywhere with bugs, and floorless, netless, fragile shelters don’t do enough actual sheltering. So I’ve always sucked it up and dealt with the weight of a real tent. At 1.4 pounds, this new 1P MSR offers the best of both worlds: it’s as light as a tarp, but as rugged and protective as a proper tent. I’ve slept through storms in it that had my friends chasing their tarps across snow fields and rocky cliffs.
Therm-A-Rest Z Seat
For a weight penalty of just two ounces and a cost of just $15, you can carry a comfortable place to sit with you into the backcountry. That the Z Seat is also pretty much indestructible and doesn’t soak up water means you can easily strap it to the outside of your pack, too. It’s amazing how happy this little square of foam makes me, especially after a long day on the trail.
Westcomb Recon Cargo Pants
Pants are a constant source of frustration for me. They either don’t fit, make me too hot in the summer, don’t keep enough weather off in the winter, or shred the first time I chase my dumb dog through the brush. Made from the latest Shoeller super fabric, these just work, whatever conditions you find yourself in. I wear them to the gym, I wear them mountain climbing, I wear them hiking. They’re light, they’re packable, they hold up, and you can move in them. What more could you want?
FourSevens Mini MkII
Thanks to this thing, I now have 1,020 Lumens on my keychain. It’s affordable, it’s well made, and it’s almost impossibly bright. Just buy one.
Matthews Halon 5 Bow
I started bowhunting last year on a PSE Full Throttle that shot great, but fell apart at every possible opportunity. The superior quality of this Matthews is instantly perceptible, and the Halon 5 is nearly as fast, while offering a much smoother draw cycle and more let off. I had a bad shoulder dislocation earlier this year and my archery suffered as a result, but this thing kept me shooting through the injury.
Five days into a 4x4 trip through the Australian outback in September, I had fresh oysters for dinner. ARB’s fridge/freezers allow you to precisely dial in the temperature you want your food and drinks chilled to, then holds it there as long as you ask them to. And they do that no matter how many times you open them and don’t soak your food in melted ice water. You’ll never go back to a cooler, even if it is a Yeti.
Aether Explorer Sunglasses
High-quality lenses will transform your vision in bright sunlight. This collaboration between fancy SoCal brands Salt and Aether use polarized, photo chromatic Zeiss lenses to offer you the best vision possible, across the widest range of light conditions, while plastic fairings keep the wind and glare out of your eyes. They are, by far, the best sunglasses I’ve ever worn, and I’m currently beside myself with grief because I lost my pair when I capsized a kayak in the Sea of Cortez. They’re sold out right now, but I’ve already got a replacement set earmarked for when a new shipment arrives next year.
Icebreaker Hike+ Lite Crew Socks
This was the year I stopped wearing cotton socks. I threw out all my daily wear tube socks, and replaced them with three pairs of these merino items. I can wear one pair for a full week before they begin to stink, and their ability to regulate temperature is off the charts. I’ve worn nothing but a pair of these in temperatures ranging from 20 to 120 degrees this year, and been comfortable the whole time. Away from daily life, and in the outdoors, these retain their comfort and insulation while wet, so pair with those heavily ventilated trail runners perfectly. Walk through a stream or get wet in a rain shower? One mile later, you’ll have dry feet again. They last, too. I bought my first pair of these about 18 months ago and they’re still in the daily rotation.
You love merino, I love merino. But man, it just doesn’t hold up to regular washing and drying, and I’m just not organized enough to separate my laundry and apply special care to half my stuff. But Nuyarn seems to handle that abuse just fine, without compromising any of the comfort this super soft wool is famous for. Trew makes cool T-shirts from it and Kuiu makes a bunch of high-end hunting gear out of it. Don’t buy merino garments made from anything else, unless you’re prepared to treat them delicately.