Gear Hall of Fame: The Top 10 Winter Products
It may be the end of March, but here in Santa Fe, winter just won't end. We've gotten two major snowstorms in the last week alone. Which got me thinking: I've been testing winter gear for a decade now, but have never rounded up my all-time favorite stuff. Well, it's about time…so here are my top ten.
10. The Best Winter Hats: Coal Headwear and Pistil Designs
I’m kinda particular about hats. I want something that’sunderstated, warm, and that I can wear skiing but also around town. I generallydon’t go for Nordic-influenced numbers, pom-pomed retro jobbers, or crochetedthingies that look like they were knit by your grandmother. Unless, that is,they’re made by Portland, Oregon-based Coal Headwear, whohave an understated and refined take on each of the aforementioned styles—the Airbear($30), the Freezin ($20), and the Mini ($30), respectively. Of course, thatsaid, I still prefer the even lower-key Hectare ($25) pictured here. I'm also a big fan of Pistil Designs, which is based just down the road in Hood River, Oregon, and like Coal, has an impressive array of functional but stylish beanies. pistildesigns.com coalheadwear.com
9. The Best Lounging Around In The Winter Shoe: Patagonia’s Maui Moc
In the summer, I wear flip-flops whenever I can. After work,all weekend long. Over the past several winters, I’ve found myself changinginto the Maui Mocs just as often. They’re lightly lined with the perfect amountof fleecy material—not so much that your feet immediately start sweating as soon as you walk inside, but just enough to warm up your toes after they’ve beencrammed in your alpine boots all day. Plus, they’ve got a sturdy enough (but, careful now, not very grippy) sole thatyou can walk the dog or run errands in them or even wear them to the office.$80; patagonia.com
8. Best Baselayer: I/O Bio Pilot Suit
If I were a younger, or hipper, man, I’d probably rock a one-piece ski suit onthe slopes. Never get snow down my pants again, only have to pull on onepiece of outerwear…Ah well, a guy candream. But back here in reality, I instead opt for a union suit onthe inside. Near as I can tell, thisone-piece. lightweight merino wool baselayer is the next best thing. It’s got a bit ofstretch, so it fits and feels great. At first I thought the hood and thumbloops were silly (and overkill), but then I got chilled backcountry skiing one day. Now, I’m a believer. And, because I know you’re wondering, yes, there’s azip down South for doing your business. $150; io-bio.com
7. Best Do-It-All Glove: Smartwool Spring Glove
Over the past ten years, I’ve probably tested, oh, about 50 pairsof gloves. My favs? You’re looking at them. Granted, I’ve had some othercrushes along the way. I wore Cloudveil’s leather-and-softshell Trollers ($80;cloudveil.com) for a few seasons straight. They’re insulated with Primaloft (onback) and fleece (palm) and impressivelydurable: Thanks to a few applications of Nikwax’s Glove Proof ($8), they’re still ingreat shape after several seasons of 30+ ski days each. And when I’mbackcountry skiing in the spring—or running in frigid temps—I’m usuallywearing Outdoor Research’s StormTrackers ($69; outdoorresearch.com). They’recut from Gore’s Windstopper Soft Shell fabric, which means they’re highlywater-resistant and breathable. Plus, they’re remarkably warm for such a thinglove.
But most often I grab Smartwool’s Spring Glove. Resortskiing, walking around town, biking to work in February. They’re lined with the perfect amount of merino wool and nylon, whichoffers a great combination of warmth and dexterity. The leather shells aresurprisingly tough. And, thanks to a bit of elastic material, they’re also abit stretchy, which makes them feel great. You know how much you love yourSmartwool socks? I feel the same way about these gloves. $70, smartwool.com
6. Best Down Jacket: Eddie Bauer Downlight Sweater
There are warmer down jackets out there. And moretricked-out ones. But this one is just right. Stuffed with high quality down(800 fill). Cut athletically—just roomy enough to wear over midlayers, butstill svelte enough to wear under a hard shell if necessary. Wrapped in awater- and abrasion-resistant shell. No bells or whistles you don’t reallyneed. And, of course, there’s that nice price. $169, eddiebauer.com
5. Best Winter Running Shoe: Salomon Speedcross 2
I’ve just never been an exercise indoors type of guy. So Iend up running outside all winter-long in even the nastiest weather. I’m alwaystesting out new apparel, but a few things almost always make out the door nomatter what. Like New Balance’s Windproof 2.0 briefs ($30) downlow, and, up top, Sugoi’s Speester2 ($100; sugoi.ca). I don’t have to tell youwhy I love the former, but the latter is great because you can wear it over abaselayer on a 20-degree run (give or take) and pop up the hood and unfold thecuffs (they turn into gloves) when the wind kicks up.
And, if there’s any snow or ice lingering around (either onthe trial or road), chances are I’m wearing Salomon’s Speedcross 2s. I’ve got acloset full of road and trail-running shoes (including a few winterized modelsof each), but none are as grippy as these. The special sauce, of course, is inthe outsole, which is inspired by the legendary grip of British “fell-running”shoes, the minimalist, knobby-soled racing shoes that excel on the UK’s grassyhill courses. The soft, dual-direction lugs bite into even the slickest roads,and thanks to their soft-flexing, low-to-the-ground profile, they’re just asgood on rocky, snowy trails. Note: The uppers aren’t waterproof (althoughthey are water-resistant), but I’ve routinely run through sections of deepsnow, slushy mud, and everything in between, and have never had to cut a runshort due to cold and wet feet. $120; salomonrunning.com
4. The Best All-Season Helmet: Bern Watts Hard Hat Helmet
True, there are other helmets out there that are easier to adjust the fit, and some that have better (and adjustable) vents, but they're dedicated snowsports helmets. The Watts is my favorite because of its versatility. You can wear this low-profile, brimmed helmet all winter. It's warm, the goggle clip works great, and, at 21 ounces, reasonably light. Then, come summer, you just remove the microfiber liner, and you're got a cool helmet for casual mountain biking or just cruising around town. From $90; bernunlimited.com
3. Best Midlayer: Cloudveil Run Don’t Walk Top
My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure Ifirst testedthis midlayer in 2003. In the seven years since, I’d say I’ve worn itoh, approximately a thousand times. To the office. Backcountry skiing.Canoeing.Cool-weather running. You name it. Steve Jobs wears jeans and a blackturtleneck; I wear this half-zip—also in black— and jeans. (We’repretty muchsoul brothers, but that’s another story.) Kidding aside, it really istheultimate mid-layer and the reason is simple: the material. It’s cutfromPolartec’s Power Stretch fabric, and chances are you probably havesomethingmade with it (or very similar stuff) in your closet. It’s what I call a“hard-faced fleece”: the exterior is smooth; the inside is fleecy.(It’s also abit stretchy, which is key).
But what makes it better than some other midlayers made with thesame stuff? The details. Cloudveil (as usual) gets them right. The cut isathletic and trim (I often wear it over a light baselayer and sometimes under abeefier Primaloft-insulated midlayer when it’s really cold out), the deep frontzipper makes it easy to dump heat when you need to. (Note: My wifeis also a huge fan of the Women’s Run Don’t Walk pants ($125), which she says “aresuper cozy and warm and really cute.” So there you have it.) $100;cloudveil.com
2. Best Accessory: House of Buff Original Buff Headwear
It's essentially a tube of polyester micro-fiber. And, because it wicks moisture, dries quickly, and is breathable, it's unbelievably handy. You can wear it as neck warmer or a liner under your helmet on cold days. Use it as a goggle wipe. A hanky. You get the idea. $19.50; buffwear.com
1. Best Sled: Mountain Boy Sledworks Ultimate Flyer
This past December, a group of my fellow staffers headed forthe hills with sleds—everything from cheap plastic saucers to inflatablejobbies you can also pull behind boats in the summer, to new-fangled contraptionsthat resemble space ships. The overwhelming staff favorite? Mountain Boy Sledwork’s Ulitmate Flyer (from $140). It's constructed byhand in Silverton, Colorado and built to last a lifetime: The sled itself isgolden birch that’s bee treated with several coats of marine-grade finish, therails are willow, and the hardware is all stainless steel. mountainboysledworks.com