www.columbia.com, 24 ounces
We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: versatility is key. Witness the following scenario: You’re flying from a temperate clime to a snow-chocked state with a 30-degree temperature difference between departure and arrival. Then, you head to your favorite resort and sign up for First Tracks, which means you’re up before the sun, staring at a thermometer that won’t budge above zero. By midday? Temperature inversion and the heat of the sun have bounced the temps up 20 degrees. There’s two ways to combat this. Pack a lot of layers, or go with an interchangeable setup like Columbia’s Ultrachange Parka. This two-in-one jacket gives you a warm liner jacket, plus a waterproof/breathable, wicking outer shell to keep you warm and dry in even the wettest blizzards. The insulated, ploy inner layer boasts Columbia’s proprietary Omni-Heat liner, which is scattered with small silver dots that reflect the body heat to create oven-like warmth (the spaces in between the dots allow the jacket to breathe). Two large zippered side pockets and a tall collar also make it a fashion-forward, insulated stand-alone. The outer shell, meanwhile, amplifies the weather-proofing, with an advanced waterproof/breathable laminate, vented hand pockets, an adjustable hood, waterproof zips, and a drop tail that you’ll really appreciate when you have to sit down on a snow-covered chair lift. The fit is on the baggy side—especially when you are wearing just the shell. Oh, and our tester’s application to the scenario listed above? He wore the inner lining to the airport and then to the resort. The next morning he started off with both layers to combat the pre-dawn cold, then stripped to just the inner for one bluebird day. And when the white stuff started to fall but the mercury held at around freezing, he wore the outer shell under a mid- and base layer. Four scenarios, one solution, and lots of extra space in his suitcase.
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www.columbia.com, 24 ounces
brooks-range.com, 15.5 ounces
It’s nearly impossible to imagine life without puffy coats. Not the super-light, somewhat anemic down sweaters that made headlines the last two years with their helium weightlessness (although we like those too), but the pillowy Michelin Man down coats that are so plush and lofty that they double as a comforter or sleeping bag on chilly nights. The 800-fill down Mojave jacket has a loft that is lush, but not exorbitant (consider it a Stay Puff Marshmallow man with six-pack abs). It offers just enough insulation to keep you warm in single digit temps, but it’s not so heavy that the jacket can only be worn in sub-zero climates. It utilizes a new treatment that renders the down water resistant—an improvement in feather insulation that arguably pushes the needle in the outdoor apparel category. There are a few companies who specialized in “waterproof” down; Brooks Range utilizes DownTek technology, a process that applies a micro-thin nanopolymer to the feathers, creating a water repellent, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial insulation that doesn’t soak up water. Our Oregon testers wore the Mojave in day-long drizzle and wet snow showers—even when the entire garment got damp from a downpour, it dried faster than traditional down by at least 50 percent (while the lightweight durable Pertex Quantum fabric shell is water-resistant, the jacket isn’t seam sealed). Better still, the down never wetted out or clumped. The jacket has a deep hood that can be pulled forward and snugged around the face with the tug of a toggled draw cord, or adjusted with a small Velcro strap to stay upright without blocking peripheral vision. Two deep, zippered hand-warmer pockets are lined with a soft microfleece and an internal Napoleon zip pocket secures phone, wallet, and chap stick. The jacket packs down to the size of a football.
We know that the ELITE Gel-Vent FFs are some of the best bike gloves on the market because one loyal tester wore his previous pair to threads (quite literally), and then went out and got another pair without pausing to consider alternatives. That kind of brand loyalty speaks volumes, and it’s justified. The synthetic leather palm delivers optimal comfort and grip, while the perforated gel-vent padding in the palms also relieves pressure on the ulnar and median nerves for hours-long comfort. Narrow vertical strips at the fingers deliver a bit more grip, and the stretchy, fine-woven mesh backs give you a close-to-the-skin fit without clumping or bunching. The Velcro hook-and-loop closure has been improved from previous models, and they also now boast a small, firm tab at the cuff that makes pulling on the full-hand gloves a breeze. We love the low-profile wiping surface on the thumb.
It’s also worth noting, several of our testers opt for the full-finger glove over the fingerless; when you take a tumble, your hands always hit the earth (pavement-covered or otherwise), and we prefer as much comfortable protection as possible when that inevitably occurs.
www.petzl.com, 6 ounces
“Throw away all your old flashlights and headlamps,” said our tester after taking the NAO on a three-week road trip. “The reactive-lighting NAO is the only headlamp you’ll need, or want to use.” We don’t take the word “revolutionary” lightly, but the new NAO headlamp is worth getting excited about. In contrast to other lamps, the 400-lumen NAO has a beam that automatically adjusts to focus on your target. If you’re pouring over topo maps, the light adjusts to a wide beam with low output. When you look out the tent fly to see if it’s a raccoon or bear rustling by the picnic table, the beam focuses, with greater light intensity for—drum roll please—a distance of 300 feet. Other advantages include fewer manual adjustments and a better burn time than any other headlamp we’ve tested. The NAO comes with a single rechargeable lithium battery that’s guaranteed for 300-plus charges—we didn’t do the math, but that’s a lot of alkaline batteries you won’ t need to buy. Each charge provides nearly five hours of use in high Reactive mode (the auto-adjust) or eight hours in low Reactive. You can set the lamp on a constant function, which disables the sensor, but cuts significantly into the battery life, as the Reactive power setting really does make power use more efficient. The rechargeable battery can be replaced with 2 AAA batteries, but our testers swear that the rechargeable battery ups the lamp’s performance. We were leery of the downloadable battery management program that allows you to adjust the light intensity, burn time, and beam distance on a computer, but are happy to report that even techno-troglodytes found it easy (and fun) to customize the lamp’s performance. The easiest option is using the custom profiles pre-programmed to enhance performance for specific activities like climbing, running, trail running, and hiking. Two features worth noting: a big off-on knob that’s easy to manipulate with gloves or in the dark and a water-resistant shell that never leaked, even during a monster Texas monsoon that one tester encountered while night hiking up a mesa near Lajitas.
We here at Gearzilla love looking forward into the brave new world gear innovations. But sometime we like to pause and express our affection for products that have become part of our daily outdoor-lovin’ lives. Such is the case of the Bianchi San Jose. This single-speed all-steel bike gets everything right—one tester has been using it for daily commutes for years, but it has also performed well in mellow singletrack and on gravel and dirt towpaths. You can run it as a fixie, but we prefer the ability to…actually brake when cycling in urban environs. We swapped out the saddle and went for the Crank Brothers’ Eggbeater pedals, and over five years of near-daily use, we’ve had to swap in new tires, replace the chain, and re-wrap the handle bars—and soon the Cane Creek brakes will need a serious retrofit. But that’s typical of any bike, and it’s still as ridiculously light, nimble, and fun to ride as it was when we bought it over five years ago. The only sad part? It seems Bianchi isn’t offering the full bike; their site displays only the bike frame. But those less inclined to build up their own perfect commuter rig can still find the San Jose (including the gorgeous eggshell blue one) on Craigslist.