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Gear of the Year: Tried and Tested Goods from Our Time Outside in 2017

In the Blue Ridge, Ma Nature musters some mean conditions—from scorching summer heat and humidity to biting, icy wind and snow, with plenty of roots and rocks thrown in. That makes it the perfect place to punish outdoor gear. Our experts tested and selected the latest and greatest gear, including brands from right here in our Blue Ridge backyard.


Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody $300

Patagonia is calling this the best warmth-for-weight jacket they’ve ever built, and we’d be inclined to agree. The expertly designed Micro Puff Hoody delivers ultralight, water-resistant, down-like warmth. The featherlight garmet even stuffs down into its own pocket and comes complete with a reinforced carabiner clip-in loop.

Helinox Chair Zero $120

Put simply, this is the lightest and most compact folding chair available. The Helinox Chair Zero weighs one pound and packs small. With a seat eleven inches off the ground and a frame strong enough to support up to 265 pounds, it will be a welcome addition to any thru-hiker’s pack.

Thermacell Backpacker Repeller $40

Utilizing the same camping gas canisters that backpackers and campers have in their bag already, the compact and lightweight Backpacker Repeller is a nifty little device that keeps bugs at bay even deep into the backcountry. Like other Thermacell products, the Backpacker deters stinging and biting insects by creating a 15 x 15-foot zone of protection, keeping your campsite comfortable for as long as your gas canister is up to the task.

ENO Fuse Hammock Divider $30

Asheville-based ENO was the first to bring hammocks out of the backyard and into the world of outdoor adventure, and they’re still making one of the all-time best packable camping hammocks. Even better, they are constantly innovating, as evidenced by the new Fuse Hammock Divider. The Divider affixes two Hammocks to one set of anchor points, allowing for side-by-side hammocking with a new level of comfort.

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Oboz Scapegoat Mid $145

A lightweight hiker with all the toughness and durability of bulkier, heavier mids, the men’s Scapegoat is tailormade for long, hard days on steep, rocky terrain. The durability comes from the sturdy build of the shoe. Features like synthetic leather and reinforced rubber toe and heel guards make it virtually indestructible, but the lightweight feel will keep a spring in your step as you log mile after mile.

KEEN Terradorra Waterproof Mid $140

Designed specifically with women in mind, this lightweight hiking boot doubles as an around-town trekker. With a glove-like fit and a cushioned ankle panel, it delivers flexible freedom and all-day comfort, and its fully waterproof design will keep your feet dry and comfy on even the gnarliest of multi-day treks.

Outdoor Research Foray Rain Jacket $215

Its superb breathability is enhanced by its Torsoflo design, which allows you to unzip the side of the jacket from the armpit down, providing increased ventilation even while wearing a heavy pack. Throw in GoreTex and you’ve got a top of the line rain shell that should never leave your day pack.

Patagonia Belgrano Pants $99

Built for long days on the trail and extended periods of travel, these lightweight, quick drying pants are made from 95 percent recycled polyester and feature a durable water repellent finish and stretch.

Deuter Airlite 28 $119

Built around the comfortable and ventilated Aircomfort back system, the trampoline-style suspension copied by many but invented by Deuter in 1984, the Airlite 28 is a roomy daypack that can handle an overnight trip as well as day-to-day use. The large exterior front pocket accessibly stows bulky items, and extra layers while providing adjustable compression.

Farm to Feet Elkin Valley Lightweight Technical Crew $23

Inspired by the Elkin Valley portion of the MST, these lightweight trail socks feature targeted cushioning zones and a seamless toe closure for all-day trail comfort. It’s quality you’ve come to expect from the Mount Airy, N.C.-based Farm to Feet.

Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 $54

The lightest chair from the Montana-based Crazy Creek, the highly-packable Hex 2.0 comes in handy whenever space and weight are a factor, but it’s also perfect for day hikes. The chair doubles as a sleeping pad for ultralight backpacking.

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YETI Panga $300

The Panga is YETI’s first foray into the world of waterproof gear storage, and it’s quickly becoming a staple on watercrafts around the country. This fully submersible duffle acts as a gear fortress, allowing absolutely no access points for rogue wetness and a laminated, high-density nylon shell that is virtually impenetrable to nature’s assaults.

Bellyak Play 35 $595

The Play 35 from the innovative, Asheville-based Bellyak offers a combination of classic freestyle kayak designs and a patented river interface. Bellyak is the first craft made specifically for whitewater prone paddling, and the Play 35 is the top choice for those looking to surf, spin, splat and reinterpret downriver fun. The lightweight design and bomber construction also make it a great choice for families, groups or smaller paddlers looking for one do-it-all river vessel.


Orion 45 Cooler $479

It’s the best high-performance cooler being made in the Blue Ridge today. It comes in a variety of sizes, from the compact 25 L Forest to the ready-for-anything 85 L Dorado. Features include six tie-down points, four bottle openers, camping latches, and accessories such as an attachable minibar, cutting board, and bluetooth waterproof speaker.

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Orvis Helios 3 Rod Starts at $849

This revolutionary new line of rods from Orvis takes casting accuracy to a whole new level. It comes in two lines, the 3D and 3F, both of which come in 9 foot 5 and 8 weight models. The former offers anglers all the power they need to make long distance casts on big water without sacrificing accuracy, while the latter is designed with accuracy and finesse in mind.

IceMule Boss $300

Ultimate portability, ultimate ice retention, and ultimate ease of use all characterize the newest product from the Blue Ridge-based Ice Mule Coolers. The premium, multi-day ice retention and a best-in-class suspension system lets you take the Icemule Boss just about anywhere you’d want to get lost in the Great Outdoor, but is particularly at home at a fishing camp or the bottom of a drift boat.

Redington Rise Reels $190 — $220

The Rise reel from Redington marries style, elegance, and performance. Fashioned from durable anodized aluminum, the Rise sports a U-shaped, ultra-large arbor design for quick line retrieve. The compact carbon fiber drag system offers smooth fish-stopping power and an oversized drag knob for quick adjustments. With models sized from 3/4 to 9/10, the Rise is suited to perform in a variety of fishing conditions.

Patagonia Stormfront Pack 30 L $300

Feel free to trust this 100 percent submersible pack with everything from your car keys to your most expensive camera equipment. The burly nylon used to fashion this pack sports a welded waterproof finish. Inside, there’s enough room for a 15 inch laptop, an SLR camera, and a whole slough of fly boxes.

Redington Sonic Pro Waders $300

After extensive field testing and feedback from women anglers, Redington constructed the women’s specific, Sonic Pro Waders with waterproof stretch-fabric side panels and stretch-mesh back for a secure fit while still being comfortably mobile for all body types. The seams are all sonically-welded for uncompromising performance. Other features include a two-sided fleece-lined hand warmer pocket and a large interior stretch mesh pocket.

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Specialized Epic Hardtail Pro Carbon World Cup $5,500

It’s the lightest frame Specialized has ever designed, and the front end is supported by top of the line Brain Fork technology. With new geometry, the crazy low frame weight, and a build from the racing gods, this bike proves that hardtails are a mainstay in mountain biking.

Watershed McKenzie Bikepacking Frontloader $123

Asheville-based Watershed Drybags is introducing their very first bike specific bag this year: the McKenzie, which uses the same Navy SEAL approved ZipDry technology that’s been employed in other Watershed drybags. The McKenzie also features abrasion-resistant fabric and a 100% submersible closure system that affixes quickly and easily to your handlebars with a secure mounting system.

Yakima High Road $230

Yakima’s new premium upright bike mount, the HighRoad is secure, sleek and simple to use. Designed with high-end bikes in mind, the adjustment-free hoop with its integrated TorqueRight knob means almost any bike—road or mountain—with tires up to 3.25” can be quickly and easily loaded for safe travel, without stressing the wheel or frame contact.

National Geographic Map, DuPont State Forest $12

DuPont State Forest is not only one of the best mountain biking destinations in the East, and National Geographic has all the deets you need about this bonafide mountain biking mecca. This includes all 80 miles of DuPont’s multi-use trails along with difficulty ratings, popular waypoints, and select loops.

Topeak Mountain Morph Hand Pump $38

This compact aluminum hand pump has all the features of your floor pump. The high volume barrel fills mountain tires quickly while a t-handle and a fold out foot pad extend out, and a flexible hose makes inflation efficient. The pump weighs in at 250g and includes a mounting bracket.

Industry 9 Enduro S MTB Wheelset $860

Asheville-based Industry 9 has been the country’s premier manufacturer of hubs and wheelsets for the past decade. Part of I9’s premium aluminum spoked Torch Mountain System wheelsets, the new Enduro-S rim is the perfect balance of weight, width, and features.

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Stio Hometown Down Hooded Vest $185

This hooded vest offers street-worthy style that doubles as a great insulator for backcountry adventure even in the dead of winter. Thanks to 800 fill, responsibly sourced water repellent down, the Hometown Hooded Vest shines when the mercury dips to its lowest.

Gerber CenterDrive Multitool $119

The Gerber CenterDrive is among the best multitools out there. It focuses on the three tools you use the most—spring loaded pliers, a knife, and the center-axis driver, which operates just as efficiently as a standard screwdriver. It’s also sporting 12 other features, including a pry bar with a nail puller and bottle opener, a serrated blade, and a limited lifetime warranty.

Grip 6 Belts Conservation Series $50

With a design that conceals the belt flap on the inside, providing a clean and balanced look, Grip 6 has some of the most lightweight, lowest profile belts on the market. Now, they’re using their stylish, comfortable belt design to give back. The company is donating 10 percent of every belt sold to conservation nonprofits.

Smith Lowdown Focus Sunglasses $350

With its new Lowdown Focus sunglasses, Smith is giving the world its first brain sensing eyewear. These shades combine with the Smith Focus app to measure brain activity and provide users with cues to focus breathing, enhance athletic performance, or more calmly navigate the chaos of everyday life.

Stio Eddy Shirt LS $129

This water- and wind-resistant snap shirt was built with a soft-handed nylon-polyester blend that offers mechanical stretch for mobility and range of motion. Features include pearl snaps, two chest pockets, and easy-roll cuffs.

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Vasque Trailbender $130

If long distance trail running over steep, rocky terrain is your forte, then the Vasque Trail Bender is the tool you need to get the job done. Designed to conform over invariable terrain, this shoe delivers superior cushioning, stability, and impact reduction thanks to an injection molded midsole.

Bridgedale Trailhead $19

The Bridgedale Trailhead provides targeted cooling ventilation exactly where it’s needed most. The signature T2 anti-compression cushioning at the achilies heel and metatarsal head combine with 30 percent Merino wool to offer crucial longevity on long distance trail jaunts.

Superfeet Carbon $55

The breakthrough design of Superfeet’s Carbon insole combines the strength of carbon fiber with ultralight foam to create its most innovative, high performance insole yet. Features like beveled edges, foam perforations, a wider forefront, high density foam, and an odor control coating combine to make this one of the best running-specific insoles around.

Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR $550

In addition to standard activity tracking data like distance, pace, and heart rate, Suunto delivers functional data like EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption) and PTE (Peak Training Effect). Users can also pull training plans onto the watch to guide their daily workouts, get regular checkups on their progress across sports in an easy-to-read infographic, and use 24-hour heart rate monitoring. The watch also monitors daily steps and calories burned, and sets targets for each. On-screen navigation using activity-specific heat maps from the Suunto Movescount app aids in route discovery around the world.

Osprey Duro 15 $140

The Osprey ENDURO 15 was designed specifically with trail runners in mind, particularly those who are more interested in routes than races. Whether you’re sipping from bottles or drinking from the included 2.5 liter hydration reservoir, this running-specific pack has plenty of room for all day or even multi-day treks but is still sleek enough to keep you moving swiftly and unencumbered.


Adidas Sprung Sunglasses ($170)

With a comfortable fit, lightweight frame, and protective lenses, these sunglasses are the perfect choice for any late summer activity you’ll jump into.

Showers Pass IMBA Jacket ($199)

The versatile jacket is the perfect mix of protection, comfort, and mobilitya designed to go from everyday errands to singletrack riding —with a percentage of proceeds going directly to IMBA.

Granite Gear Two Harbors Pack ($99)

This ergonomic pack keeps the weight closer to the carrier’s back, providing better center of gravity. Abrasion- and water-resistant fabric and zippers shelter your gear from the elements.

Diamond Brand Gear Upcycled Messenger Bag ($70)

This classic messenger bag comes with a sustainable twist. Constructed in Asheville from leftover Boy Scout tents and repurposed hardware, each bag is durable, unique and features a quick-release metal front clip, interior pocket, and adjustable shoulder strap.

Sierra Designs Summer Moon 2 Tent ($180)

The lightest fully freestanding dome tent on the market, this two-person tent has a simple two pole design for easy set up. 3lbs 7oz.

ABUS Hyban Helmet ($70)

Stylish and safe, the helmet offers 18 huge air vents, an integrated LED light, and magnetic chin strap closures.

Mountain Equipment Super Couloir Glove ($135)

This tough, dexterous cold weather climbing glove features a stretch double weave soft shell outer, and a waterproof, windproof and breathable insert. The goatskin leather palm reinforces high abrasion areas.

Mountainsmith Approach 25 WSD ($35)

Mountainsmith’s most versatile backpack designed specifically for women, it’s ideal for day hikes or your daily commute bag.

FITS Performance Trail Sock ($19)

The high cuff is a built-in scree-guard that helps keep out the trail while trail running. Below the cuff is a vented lower that increases breathability.

Merino Ninja Suit ($200)

Stay warm on your next winter adventure with this Merino wool blend full-body underwear. It’s stretchy and comfy, yet it stays dry and holds onto body heat during the coldest nights. The front entry chest zip makes it easy to climb in and out.

EB400 Bluetooth Ear Buds ($100)

No strings attached, these fully waterproof earbuds connect to any device and feature an 8-hour battery and enhanced antenna for anti-skip Bluetooth technology.

Carhartt Rigby shirt ($70)

This Carhartt shirt jacket can fill an outdoorsy dude’s wardrobe for most of the winter, especially if it’s the Rigby. The stretchy, fleece-lined snap-down allows maximum flexibility and durability for winter adventure.

Ecōths Zander LS ($79)

This 100% organic cotton flannel looks and feels good. For every garment Ecōths sells, they donate 3 meals to local food banks throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Walls 833 Original Outdoor Work Pant ($45)

Built with 11 ounces of durable cotton duck that can handle the toughest adventure, they feature a comfort waistband and feature a relaxed cut that makes them ideal for kicking around camp.

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