How to Test Gear
Putting the bikes through their paces (Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty)

How We Test…

How to Test Gear

Sleeping Bags
Twenty-seven testers fanned out across the Pacific Northwest, bedding down for an accumulated 88 nights in 25 different sleeping bags.

Trail Shoes

Over five months, Jason Stevenson and his team of three testers evaluated 70 pairs of light hikers in six states—from Arizona to Virginia—and Tanzania’s Rift Valley.


We timed ourselves setting them up. We cooked in vestibules, figured out how many people could comfortably play cards in each tent. But mostly we took them out whenever the forecast looked nasty.


We put more than 50 packs on 15 testers of all sizes. Then we took big trips in Washington’s Cascades and Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, logged hundreds of miles on trails in Boulder and Santa Fe, and crawled through the bush on wildlife surveys and volunteer trail projects.

Headlamps and Lights

We climbed Mount Rainier in the middle of the night while scanning for crevasses. We compared lumens (how intensely the light glows), beam distance, and battery life. We dropped them, adjusted them, got them wet—and then we picked our favorites.


Over the course of six months, our team of ten testers trail-ran, hiked, backpacked, backcountry-skied, and snowshoed in more than two dozen jackets. These seven impressed us the most.


Six testers took 12 finalist boats on every body of water they could get to, from Vermont’s 107-mile-long Lake Champlain to Colorado’s Gunnison River and a wildlife refuge in New Mexico. We paddled in as many wind and weather conditions as we could, from August to January, pushing the boats and occasionally taking an unanticipated dip.


Anders and 12 of his buddies, from shapers to pros to everyday bros, rode more than a dozen boards in breaks from the Carolinas to California to Panama.

Running Shoes

Jhung’s team of 25 testers (a mix of genders, abilities, foot types, and biomechanics) started with 27 new models of shoes. Over four months and hundreds of cumulative miles on the roads of Boulder, Colorado, the team selected the top shoes in seven categories: best overall, neutral, light stability, stability, speed, form-boosting, and custom.

Trail Runners

From October through January, Boulder, Colorado’s trails host a year’s worth of conditions—warm, dry, and sandy; rocky, wet, and miserable. In that ideal laboratory, Jhung doled out 24 new shoes to 25 testers, who picked the seven top performers.

Running Tech

Daily runs and a head-to-head comparison of distance and pace accuracy one very monotonous afternoon at a Santa Fe track.


Six of us took the best new glasses on the market and went hiking in Colorado, cross-country skiing in Minnesota, elk hunting in New Mexico, and so on—with multiple stream dunkings along the way. The four we picked performed the best.


On rickety road trips throughout North America and overland treks in Thailand, our crew of ten testers subjected luggage to nearly every manner of travel torture (including leaky longboats on the Mekong River). From copious amounts of ski, dive, and photo gear to carefully packed nine-to-five travel duds that needed to arrive unscathed, we attempted to bust the seams to arrive at this year’s best-of-best haulers.

Mountain Bikes

Our test loops in Tucson, Arizona, held pretty much everything you’d want: Hardpack; loose sand; fast, tight singletrack; lung-burstingly steep climbs; technical switchbacks; rocky, white-knuckle descents; gravel washes; and the runs of a stone house that proffered three-foot-plus drops for our big-hit bikes.

Road Bikes

Over the course of nine days our crew of 23 testers took these road bikes up and down steep, 1,800-foot climbs in Tucson Mountain Park to test climbing and high-speed handling, powered over desert rollers in the foothills west of town, and threw them around tight urban loops (Tucson has outstanding bike lanes) to test the bikes’ sprinting and cornering characteristics. The pavement varied from brand-new to jarring and broken, so harsh frames would have no chance to hide.

Bike Shoes

We put the shoes—and helmets and apparel—through the paces on short lunchtime rides in Santa Fe and Portland, and on multi-day tours in Nevada and Michigan.

Utility Bikes

Five testers put anywhere from 50 to 500 miles on dozens of bikes to find the coolest, smartest rides out there for going beyond recreational trail and tarmac cycling.

Women’s Gear

Our pack tester spent several cumulative weeks in the Colorado and Arizona backcountry with the best new women-specific designs. Our bike reviewer and her dog, Ember, rode 500 miles of singletrack in Vermont. The travel, hike, and yoga gear was put to rigorous use everywhere from Mexico to Tennessee to New Zealand. And Outside correspondent and online Gear Girl Stephanie Pearson tested running accessories while training for an Everest Base Camp trek.