From start to finish, the one consistent thing about each year for me is that I use a variety of products to do a number of things. In certain ways, I am a creature of habit and I use certain pieces of gear until they unravel, break or otherwise need to be replaced, because they are either that good or I see no need to upgrade just to upgrade. Equally as consistent, I also receive a variety of pieces of gear to test for a variety of companies; and on occasion, I also learn about products that I want to purchase, or need to purchase for a number of reasons. At the end of the year, I look back on what I did, what worked for me, what didn’t, and make up a list of things that I’d recommend for a last-minute gift guide. As always, if the product made my list, you can be sure that it was tested in a variety of situations over a period of time. So, without further ado, here’s what I’d recommend for 2016 on a variety of fronts:
Best Overall Outdoor Product: Rheos “Floating” Sunglasses. Whether one is a man, woman, child, or dog venturing into the outdoors, one generally wants to protect their eyes and their long term vision, and in this respect, a pair of quality sunglasses is essential. For me, sunglasses are a tricky area, as I usually lose – or break them fairly early on. When I was contacted by Rheos (Greek for “river current”) to test their product, I half expected to return bad results based on my testing process. But, after a long period of adventures – including a very active week in Ireland – the glasses remained intact, and thoroughly impressed me. Correspondingly, with a reasonable price, and a variety of shapes, Rheos is my pick for best overall outdoor product for 2016, because no matter what one is doing outside, one needs sunglasses to protect one’s eyes – and of course, look cool.
Best Overall Introductory Camping Product: Tribe Provisions Adventure II Tent. The end of each year and the corresponding get-fit-get-outside push of each New Year seem to me to be some of the top times that gear is purchased for people. For this group, it is important to identify products that work, and products that last, because if they don’t meet those criteria, many of these novice outdoors people never go back outside. One of the things that everyone needs when going outside for a multi-night experience is a tent, and earlier this year, I tested the Adventure II Tent by Tribe Provisions. With an easy set up, and great durability (tested in deserts, mountains, and Canada) by me, this tent is a great starter tent, and a great addition for even veteran car-campers.
Best Ultralight Backpacking Product: Serac Hammocks. Over the last five years, the major trend in the outdoor industry and among veteran outdoorspeople has been to have the lightest and most minimal gear possible to go farther, and see and do more things. While this approach isn’t for everyone, if you fit into this category or know someone that does, the product I’d recommend is the hammock system made by Serac for its ease of assembly, its durability, and the freedom that its light weight provides.
Best Down Sleeping Bag: TETON Sports Altos 0. Along with tents, hammocks, and other items, one needs a good sleeping bag to get a good night’s sleep. While there are many bags available on the market, I was seriously impressed by TETON Sports latest foray into the field earlier this year, and remain impressed after even more adventures in my Altos 0. While I find that the 0 works best for me, the Altos line also comes in a variety of temperature grades for less extreme conditions.
Best All Purpose Base Layer: Ibex Outdoor Woolies One. Over the course of a year, I find that I have two types of adventures – long term adventures, which keep me solely in the backcountry, and short-term microadventures which keep me in both the frontcountry and backcountry. While outdoors clothing has come a long way, I still generally don’t like to wear my technical gear in the frontcountry, and generally, don’t like to have change outfits during transition times. In this respect, Ibex has developed a quality base layer that can be worn in the backcountry but is also presentable in the frontcountry as a normal looking clothing item, the Woolies One. Even better, like all of Ibex’s products, the wool in the Woolies One is naturally sustainable, and responsibly sourced. On many occasions this fall and winter, I’ve worn my Woolies Ones in both the frontcountry and backcountry, and been warm on every occasion. The Woolies line also comes in heavier styles; and is generally fairly form fitting overall, which is great for layering purposes.
Best Stocking Stuffer Items for the Active Individual: Either Enduropacks Hydration products, which are a great supplement for trail runners and other endurance athletes, and comes in a small plastic bottle, or Ritual Energy Bites, which provide a quick protein boost on treks, along with a jump of caffeine.
Other things I like: right now, I have recently been using a new GoPro Hero 5. While I don’t have enough field time in on the device to fully give it a thumbs up or down, what I have experienced has been fairly impressive, and at this time I am cautiously optimistic that this device might be the GoPro the outdoors person has been waiting for all of these years. Along with that, I’ve been testing some new secret products that I think will be big in 2017 that are pretty special. I hope all of my readers have a good – and safe holiday season, and I look forward to connecting with all of you in the new year.