Nicely straddling the world of outdoor needs and urban styling, the Daily Brief has quickly risen to the top ranks of one tester’s massive collection of shoulder bags.  Much of that’s due to its slew of features: a smart mixture of both cotton-touch poly and water-resistant waterproof, 200D tarpaline makes it a bag that’s a comfort to use while still standing up to the elements.  The bag boasts 20 liters of internal storage, including a Velcro-secured padded laptop sleeve, a separate padded slot for tablets, and almost too many pockets. Indeed, sometimes stuff would just disappear amidst all the sleeve and pocket options. But we do love the zip-secure outer pocket (with three internal sleeves) as well as the elastic side pockets (one with a snap closure), which can fit water bottles, small notebooks, or a backup camera lens.  The whole thing rides on a 1.9-inch-wide shoulder strap made of nylon seat belt fabric, with an easy-to-adjust buckle and additional padding at the back. Save the profusion of extra pockets, most of these assets are pretty standard in any urban-friendly satchels, but what really set Merrell’s bag above the rest is the waterproof zipper running the length of the weather-resistant main flap. This gives you near-instant access to the bag’s insides without having to unclip the twin buckles. We could grab our camera, swap lenses, produce our passport, or just check our itinerary with blissful ease.  The flap also has a clip for a bike light and webbing lashes that fit a U-Lock, but we’d likely forgo the external lashing of the lock as it made the bag a bit top-heavy on longer commutes.

For us, sometimes the best measure of a bag’s usefulness is how quickly someone else swipes it from our testers and makes it their own—which is precisely what happened when the Headaitch entered our testing rotation. What was supposed to be two weeks of hearty use become four months as one girlfriend made it her go-to hauler for just about everything (gym clothes, work documents, grocery shopping, travel carry-on, wine hauler, overnight bag—to list but a few).  Look at the bag and you’ll understand why. Constructed of 900D nylon on the outside, with a reinforced 1,000D base and a 150D ripstop lining, the bag can take some serious punishment, from rough handling to rougher weather. We tested out the small size, which offers an ample ten liters of storage, secured by a full zipper (a feature not often found in smaller totes), and supported by two wide shoulder straps to carry the weight. Inside, deep, Velcro-fastened pockets and a full-width zipper pocket are perfect for stuff you want to keep separate from the bag’s cavernous center. And Crumpler’s aesthetic lets you punch up the color with fun patterns, or go for the conservative urban black.  We say go bright.
Tested size small; medium size has 17 liters of storage for $70.

ezfitinsoles.com; 2 ounces
Custom insoles can make the difference between performance and pain. They can also be incredibly expensive. Masterfit’s EZ-Fit Insoles are a solution that provides miles and miles of comfort at an affordable price. Cheap shoes have sewn-in footbeds, but performance footwear generally comes with a removable insole; shoe manufacturers realize that runners, skiers, hikers, and other athletes immediately pull out these cheap, flimsy factory insoles and replace with ones that provide real support and cushioning. One Bend, Oregon-based tester wears insoles 90 days a year in ski boots, and twice that in hiking and running shoes. Her top choice for support and all-day comfort? Masterfit’s EZ-Fit insoles. Rather than requiring you to go to a boot fitter (which we still heartily recommend, especially when you buy new ski or hiking boots), the EZ-Fit insoles can be trimmed at home for a perfect fit. The insoles then quickly adapt to your individual arch and heel shape to provide maximum comfort, stability, and performance. The insoles have “Contour Domes” that ring the heel pocket base—they automatically adjust to the volume of your heel for a snug fit—whether you’re foot is super thin or ultra-wide. The body of the insole is a multi-layered EVA, with a contoured arch that automatically adapts to provide just the right amount of support. Underneath the heel and forefoot are shock pads and a forefoot cushion for a smooth, pain-free stride.
EZ-Fit Terra is designed for running and hiking footwear; EZ-Fit Snow is designed for ski, snowboard and mountaineering boots

While we love cotton t-shirts, cotton socks should be retired to historical museums along with monocles and hoop skirts. To understand this point of view, try Lorpen’s new Comfort Life Socks. We love their bright colors, snug-but-not-too-tight fit, and versatility. The socks come in both merino wool and modal (a super-soft cellulose fiber spun from beech trees) yarns. Both concoctions proved to be virtually indestructible, with a measurable benefit in moisture absorption to provide a sweat-free fit. We also like that the low-volume weave fits well under casual shoes. Both the merino and modal versions include about ten percent Lycra to add stretch and maintain shape. The modal socks didn’t shrink at all after a dozen washer/dryer cycles, but we recommend hang-drying the merino versions. The colorful stripes add a bit of playfulness to any wardrobe, although our testers voted for the retro peace sign design two to one. The Comfort Life Socks come if a variety of designs, in both men’s and women’s fit.

www.isafebags.com; 3 pounds
Everyone agrees that the right outdoor equipment can make your family safer, but the new iSafe Collegiate Laptop Backpack elevates personal security to a whole new level. Like the Clark Kent/Superman scenario, this inauspicious pack cloaks a superhero-level alarm system. Hidden underneath a velcro-secured patch on the shoulder strap is an activation pin for the alarm. In case of emergency, you slip your fingers under the strap and pull the pin out of its housing (like a grenade). A painful, ear-splitting staccato siren erupts. Much louder and more shrill than a smoke alarm, the device is so loud that it’s a near-guaranteed deterrent for a would-be attacker, human or otherwise. Four LED lights on back of the pack blink when the alarm is activated. Inside is room for raingear and a down jacket, lunch, and a day’s supply of gear for your next urban or backcountry adventure. We’re still researching on the siren’s impact on bear, cougar, and wolves, but during testing, it cleared a room of tough guys in less than five seconds. Our testers also gave the pack a two-thumbs up for camping with kids—if they get lost, the siren’s as good as any audible locator beacon or whistle we’ve tested. Warning: You’ll want ear protection when testing this pack and, definitely, don’t let your toddler play with it while on an airplane or crowded theater.
Note the hidden alarm trigger on right shoulder strap (you know it is there, the bad guys don’t).