Gear of the Year: 2016 Winter Buyer’s Guide
The 7 best products of the season
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Over the past seven months, we’ve tested more than 600 products for possible inclusion in the 2016 Winter Buyer’s Guide. Only 297 of them made the cut—and only seven of them won a coveted Gear of the Year award. From the world’s most adaptable all-mountain ski to a running shoe with a bespoke fit, this is the very best gear of the 2015–16 season.
To read reviews for the other 290 great skis, jackets, boots, bindings, helmets, gloves, and toys, check out the full guide.
Kastle FX95 HP ($1,199)
Best Alpine Ski
Two sheets of aluminum, a silver-fir core, and the fastest graphite base that money can buy are staples of this premium brand. In the new FX95 HP, Kastle designers overhauled the ski’s camber and profile, pairing a tapered tip and tail with just the right amount of rocker for a surfy feel in soft snow without sacrificing edge hold on hardpack. Result: the most adaptable all-mountain ski we tested. At 95 millimeters underfoot, it’s wide enough for most powder days, but with some traditional camber and the aforementioned Kastle engine under the hood, you can also rail groomer turns. 126/95/115.
High Society Temerity ($379)
Merriam-Webster defines temerity as “foolhardy contempt of danger.” That about sums it up. Testers found this all-mountain hero to be solid in even the nastiest conditions. It’s a robust platform that dampens hard landings and offers a firm grip in no-fall zones. The directional twin shape makes it adept going switch without losing its freeride characteristics, and it manages to be soft and playful yet impressively stable. It’s too stiff for beginners, and you’ll want something else on powder days, but for all other situations, it’s a near perfect daily driver.
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 32 ($110)
Best Running Shoe
It’s hard to decide if this is a speed shoe for the masses or a training shoe for the fleet of foot. That’s a great sign. Pliant, light, and soft, it immediately wooed faster runners looking for a responsive, tempo-ready shoe, as well as our cruise-minded testers, who appreciated the soft foam and moderately heel-strike-oriented midsole. But it was the new, customizable fit of the mesh upper that sold us. The Pegasus uses a lattice of overlapping cables that independently apply tension to keep almost any foot shape locked in place. This shoe did hit its limits on longer outings and under heavier loads—the flexy forefoot and thin midsole can feel understructured for tired feet or bigger runners—but on most days, this is as good as a lightweight trainer gets. 10.8 ounces; 10-millimeter drop.
Arc’teryx Rethel ($475)
Best Resort Jacket
The supple Rethel is, hands down, the most comfortable ski jacket we’ve ever tested. Imagine your favorite sweatshirt, but built to shred. A soft shell with synthetic insulation in the torso and arms plus stretchy fabric along the sides offer fantastic mobility and a stellar warmth-to-weight ratio. Arc’teryx kept the design blessedly simple by slimming down the powder skirt and putting diagonal vents over the ribs, which cool remarkably well for their size.
Black Crows Corvus Freebird ($840)
Best Backcountry Ski
Black Crows, based in Chamonix, France, has a reputation for building powerful freeride skis. But its boards weren’t light enough for touring—until now. The Corvus has the heart of a big-mountain charger and the backcountry chops of a lighter ski, with a carbon-fiberglass layer under a wood core. The subtle “beak and a half” profile pairs a rocker up front with a more traditional (albeit still turned-up) tail for edge hold. “Precise and multifunctional,” said one tester. At 8.5 pounds, it’s heavy for big tours, but that’s a small price to pay for superb downhill performance. 139/109/122; 8.5 pounds.
Outdoor Research Uberlayer ($300)
Best Backcountry Jacket
Companies have tried for years to make a puffy you put on and keep on, whether you’re at camp or on the hill. Patagonia pulled it off with the Nano-Air, a breathable insulator that won our Gear of the Year last season. This year, OR has perfected the concept. Filled with Polartec Alpha (made to keep U.S. Special Forces dry during combat) and wrapped in a cozy face fabric, the Uberlayer sheds snow and moves moisture away from the body. The best puffy we tested for high-output activity, it worked for all our winter pursuits, from skiing to hiking. Bonus: Inside pockets swallow gloves and a hat. 1.2 pounds.
The North Face Snomad 34 ($159)
We knew we’d found the winner when our most demanding tester came back with nothing but compliments. Here are a few: “A plethora of well-placed pockets,” referring to the fleecy goggle holder and tool and hip storage. “The back-entry zippers are the cat’s meow”—they open the body wide, so the contents are easy to see. When full, the pack sits lightly, with soft padding throughout, compression straps to reduce jostling, and rigid stays to distribute the load. He also loved the climbing-specific details: lots of clearance for looking up a route with a helmet on and room for a harness and crampons. “The perfect day tripper,” he concluded. 2.8 pounds.
Carry Comfort: 4