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Ten picks worth celebrating

Sun., Oct. 21, 2012

Ten years ago, I penned the very first “Gear Junkie” column, covering a small camp stove from MSR. Fast forward a decade and you can guess I have tested my fair share of apparel and equipment made for the outdoors, including dozens of tents, packs, shoes, jackets, socks, sunglasses, and all other type of gear.

To celebrate 10 years of testing, I offer here a fast look at 10 top product picks. These items, tested over the years and at venues around the planet, have literally changed the way I do things outside.

1. Sheeps’ Clothing – Merino wool, a fine blend that does not itch, is my favorite fabric for the outdoors. Ibex, Icebreaker, and SmartWool are among my preferred brands, and from boxer shorts to bike jerseys I am a freak for merino wool’s natural feel, its breathability, warmth, and its temperature-regulating properties.

2. Outdoors Do-Rag – The Buff is a handkerchief-like product that you can wear as a beanie hat in the winter, a sweatband in summer, and as a thin layer under a bike helmet in the wind. Info:

3. Primaloft Puffy Jacket – Instead of goose down, jackets like the puffy Rab Xenon use a synthetic Primaloft insulation that can retain heat even when wet. In the wilds, this jacket has kept me toasty for years and through any type of weather. Info:

4. Soft-Side Water Bottles – Forget canteens or bulky water bottles.The flexible, highly packable, and nearly indestructible SoftBottles from Platypus have been my go-to water carrying containers for years. The polyethylene bottles hold a liter yet weigh less than 1 ounce empty. Info:

5. Yummy Energy Food – No force feeding required, energy food companies like Clif, GU, Hammer, and many more now use better ingredients and have more palatable flavors for their bars, gels, drinks, and gummy energy products made for the great outdoors.

6. Minimalist Shoes – The footwear trend of making shoes that are lighter and more flexible has made me a happier, healthier runner that went from long strides and sloppy heel flops to an efficient gait with a midfoot strike.

7. Helmet Cameras – Recording your outdoor experience has never been easier thanks to GoPro, Contour, and other helmet-camera companies. Press a button and go – the camera mounted on your helmet or just about any place will record the experience in HD, ready to replay on a computer or broadcast to the world.

8. L.E.D. Headlamps – All hail electroluminescence! The mainstream emergence of light-emitting diodes (L.E.D.) has revolutionized lighting in the world outdoors. A decade ago we were using bulbs that sucked batteries and were too dim. Today, most all brands have switched to L.E.D. and our paths are all the brighter for it.

9. Dissolvable Electrolytes – Mixing drink powder into water is a pain. Fortunately, an innovation in the form of a drop-and-dissolve tablet has become commonplace. Companies like Nuun (the originator), ZYM, and CamelBak sell small tablets that dissolve in water like Alka-Seltzer, delivering nutrients in a no-fuss formula.

10. Fixed-Gear Bikes – No coasting allowed! Fixed-gear bikes do not have freewheels, meaning the pedals are locked in motion with the chain and wheels. The experience is akin to driving a stick-shift car versus an automatic.

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