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The 2021 Summer Buyer’s Guide

40-plus Reviewers. 340 Products. Months of testing on rivers, trails, summits, and patios.



Ariella Gintzler

Editor's Letter

I’m notoriously bad at controlling my body temperature. Nine times out of ten I’m either hot or freezing, which has led to a fixation on layers. Maybe this will be the one, I think as I pull out yet another jacket that promises to keep me warm or cool at exactly the right time. The result is a closet stuffed with fleeces and puffies.

But the jacket I come back to most is a seven-year-old Patagonia Nano Air. I bought it before I knew “gear editor” was a job. The cuffs are blotched with mystery stains, the right arm marred with sticky residue from a patch I’ve replaced more than once. Recently, for a time, I resisted the urge to wear it, stubbornly assuming that one of my newer jackets—including an updated version of the Nano Air—had to be better. Finally, I accepted that amid a sea of top-notch breathable midlayers, the original is my favorite. It just fits, feels, performs, and looks exactly the way I want.

The gear world is fast paced. Every year, running shoes seem to get speedier, down jackets lighter, and shells more waterproof and breathable. This is a good thing. Gear advancements make the outdoors safer and more comfortable. But it’s also easy to get caught up in all the development.

With so much changing from year to year, purchasing equipment has never felt more difficult—to say nothing of deciding whether to buy something at all. Much of the hype is just noise: the best products are not necessarily the techiest or even the newest. They’re simply the ones that do exactly what you need them to do.

We know this is an ironic way to preface a 124-page Buyer’s Guide. Do we intend for you to ditch your duffel because the updated North Face Basecamp has slick new features, or replace your tent because the Sea to Summit Telos TR 2P maximizes space with an innovative pole design? Absolutely not. Objective measures of performance are only part of what makes a piece of gear “good.” The rest depends on you—your climate, your body, the demands of your outdoor life.

Our goal isn’t to convince you to buy new gear, but to help you find what you truly need. Ideally, of the 340 products here, you’ll find one to adventure with for years to come.

Meet the Testers

Float

Inflatable SUPs are getting even better

Stowable craft that can handle whatever the water deals you

This hybrid twin fin will change how you hunt for waves

Your ticket to trout-filled waters

Cast in comfort, even on the hottest days and most remote streams

This batch is up for adventures big and small

These bottoms can tackle any wave—and then hit the bar

Keen's Senior Vice President of Global Supply Chain describes how he got into the shoe business.

Hike and Camp

These shelters make vast wilderness feel like home

Your foot’s one true love is finally here

Drifting off under the stars has never been this easy

The best gear for long days on the trail

Relax hard so you can adventure harder

Cook naturally with these open-flame barbecues

Essentials for creating the home patio bar of your dreams

The carvers and gadgets for every task that needs cutting

Keep family adventures tantrum-free

Equip your best friend for camping out

The research and development designer shares her story and inspiration

Travel

With haulers this featured and well designed, you’ll be ready for anything

Shades that’ll make you, and the scenery, stand out

Make your next trip more comfortable than the last

Long trips feel easier with the right kit

These stylish pieces are ready for adventure

Luxury accommodations all year long, no hotel required

Capture your adventures like never before

The CEO of Scout Campers shares his story

Bike

These rigs are royally fun

Bike design is evolving so you can go farther and faster

Carefree pedaling starts with a great kit

Our favorite new kit for two-wheeled adventures

Cycle your way around town with these smart solutions

The CEO of Thousand shares why she feels passionate about bike helmets

Run

Kicks for getting faster, from race day to recovery jog

Cool clothing for quick laps and high-mileage days

Cool clothing for quick laps and high-mileage days

Top-notch gear for wrangling singletrack adventures

She started her career in fashion, and didn't start running until she was 20. Now she crafts women's athletic apparel.

Fitness

Equipment to help you get lost in the music

What you need for pushing hard and feeling good afterward

What you need for pushing hard and feeling good afterward

Get on track to flash your hardest routes

Devices for passing the toughest training milestones

Take your body and mind in for a tune-up

Cultivate calm with these home-studio essentials

Adrienne Moser and Kathleen McNally, vice president and creative director of product, discuss what it's like to be a women designing men's underwear