www.alitedesigns.com, 1.6 ounces
The self-portrait may be the reigning Facebook profile photo trend, but all those close-to-the-camera, off-kilter shots with your arm extending into the great beyond shouldn’t dominate your wall. Alite’s Twig Pod offers an easy solution, ideally suited to help you document your outdoor adventures. This quick-to-assemble monopod has a rugged stake at one end so you can literally plant it in the earth, angle the shot, set the timer, and let the world bear witness. The 30-inch height is perfect for a from-the-hip angle, and the ball-head mount lets you position the camera in all imaginable angles. Then, when you’re done posin’, the Twig Pod collapses (much like a tent pole) to fit into a seven-inch-long stuff sack. Then you can stash the 1.6-ounce device and forget about it until you need it again. You can also use the Twig Pod to take long exposure shots, and it’s suitable for point-and-shoot cameras (as well as iPhones when accompanied by the $15 Glif, a one-piece stand and tripod mount). Serious photographers are better off with a true monopod, but for lighter cameras and people looking for fun ways to get real self-portraits, this one’s a low-cost winner.
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www.alitedesigns.com, 1.6 ounces
We’ve never been big fans of the standard camp chair—the awkwardly folding, bulky canvas gigs with the even bigger carry bags. Even with drink holders in both arm rests, they’re never as good as we want. Well, San Fran-based Alite Designs must’ve heard our quiet dissatisfaction, because their Mantis Chair really hits every sweet spot. The chair employs the same pole assembly tech found in tent frames—a simple, but genius design solution—to create a ridiculously strong, breathable 210D ripstop nylon chair that holds up to 250 pounds. The frame assembles in seconds, and the four corners of the seat slide seamlessly into the tips of the aluminum poles (color coding keeps things easy, though our testers hardly needed the guidance). The chair sits about eight inches above the ground on four cylindrical legs, providing all-day comfort, whether you prefer to keep your feet flat, sit Indian-style, or contort into some other quasi-yoga pose. Plus it fits into a carry sack that’s a modest 17.5 inches long and five inches in diameter. The two-pound chair is ideal for car camping, but a bit hefty for backcountry applications. To address the needs of ounce-scrimping backpackers they’ve developed the Monarch chair ($70; pictured, right). Built off the same design as the Mantis, the Monarch boasts only two legs:your feet offer the additional stability, which lets you slowly rock as the chair takes the bulk of your weight. The Monarch provided the same body-hugging comfort and support as the Mantis (with the same 250-pound weight limit), but weighs in at a feathery 1.3 pounds, packing into a stuff sack that’s 12 inches long and only 4.5 inches in diameter. The Alite designer refers to the Monarch as the “six-beer chair” because, after six beers, balancing on its two legs can be…challenging (and potentially humorous for those around you). We see this a challenge, but some might find it an insurmountable obstacle. Both of these chairs are as at home at outdoor concerts or on the beach as they are tent-side. The thin diameter of the chair legs means that the feet can sink into wet dirt or sand, leaving the sitter off balance (or in a slow-motion fall). But on dry land, both chairs proved to be admirable outdoor thrones. And a bonus: one three-year-old car camper even figured out how to wear the Monarch.
Just because you’re hitting the international scene doesn’t mean you have to leave behind your flair for fashion. The Crush Felt Hat achieves what other stylish lids haven’t been able to offer—the ability to travel with a real hat that retains its shape, whether it’s on your head or smashed into your carry-on or the overhead bin. Made of 100-percent felted wool, the Crush will also keep you surprisingly warm. The other all-natural merino wool attributes apply, including wicking without any odor retention, and warm-when-wet comfort. We love the slight, almost pill hat-style brim as well as the circles of gray stitching around the hat base. You’ll love its all-natural, classic fashionable function.
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.
www.eaglecreek.com, eight pounds, ten ounces
As much as we strive for minimalism in our active lives, outdoor obsessions typically means that every trip we take includes a bike helmet, bike shoes, climbing shoes, trail runners or day hikers, a puffy mid-layer, a rain jacket, soft shell hiking pants, and—ya know—all our other clothes. Thankfully, the EC Adventure Upright accommodates all our gear-centric activities with aplomb. We tested the 25 model, which boasts a cavernous 75 liters of storage space (that can expand to 82 liters), for a West Coast jaunt that included all the afore-mentioned gear specs as well as camera gear, extra bags, and space for wine and beer from California’s Russian River Valley and Portland, OR. The pack interior gives you tons of storage space—just one big, open container for your goods, along with compression wings on clipped straps to tie everything down. The large interior panel in the door also kept our folded laundry (which we love putting in one of Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Folders) from the rest of the guts of the bag, while the large zippered outside pocket let us stash our jacket before checking the bag; the smaller one is great for travel documents. The whole rig rides on a pair of durable wheels that handled copious abuse in both urban and outdoor environs, but when the bag was packed to capacity, the collapsible handle didn’t glide out as easily as it had at the start of our trip (read: before we acquired WAY too many bottles of rare beer). Other details—like the “piggyback” clip that lets you attach your day pack to the roller, a slip-away luggage tag, and exterior compression straps—round out features of this durable suitcase, and the colors schemes (black, green, and a burnt orange) will also let you tailor your pack to your own on-the-road aesthetic. Oh yeah, it also comes with Eagle Creek’s famed lifetime warranty.
Specs and testing were done on the Upright 25 model ; comes in two- and four-wheel versions in sizes ranging from 39 to 123 liters.