GEAR REVIEWS

The Official 2015 Holiday Gift Guide

A round up of all the stuff you'll love to give and beg Santa for this holiday season!

Fisher Profoil (from $240; fischersports.com)
Looking to change up the ski touring norms, Fisher is trading fur skins for the scales of Nordic bases. The Profoil skins glue onto a ski base, just like regular climbing skins, but instead of fur to grab in the uptrack, Fischer made them out of a hard plastic with raised scales built in. In a variety of snow and track conditions I found they climbed as well as any other skin and glided better than most. But where they really excelled was in wet conditions: they don’t absorb water and snow doesn’t stick to them.

Leatherman Tread ($165; leatherman.com) 
On first glance this chunky metal bracelet looks nothing like the multi-tool camouflaged within. On the 12 links and the clasp hide 29 tools: nine screwdrivers, seven hex wrenches, a few allen keys, box cutters, SIM card pick and more. None interfere with wearing the bracelet and the links remove to fit just about any wrist. The tools work surprisingly well and the bracelet has a timeless look that could work for men and women. Since it meets carry-on standards, you’ll never have to be without a multi-tool again, even if it doesn’t look it.

Suunto Traverse ($450; suunto.com)
The smartwatch for adventurers. Like a lot of watches these days the Traverse displays push notifications from a phone, counts steps and calories, and looks pretty sharp on the wrist. But unlike just about every watch it can also navigate a pre-planned route using topographic maps and a built in GPS. A barometer monitors weather, warns of incoming storms and perfects the altimeter. There are hundreds of other downloadable apps that work on the watch. An impressive battery life of 100 hours in GPS mode means it can handle multi-day missions.

Mammut Nirvana Rocker 20 ($110; mammut.ch)
A versatile pack made for playing in the snow. A front pocket holds shovel and probe for avalanche gear. The bigger main pocket has enough room for extra clothes, food and water. Skis, board or snowshoes strap on out back. The clean, minimal design and back hugging style is ideal for wearing on lifts. It’s everything we like in a winter pack.

Hanz Waterproof Glove ($35; hanzusa.com)
More people get hypothermia in temperatures just above zero than below. The take home: wet and cold is worse than freezing, especially for fingers. For winter rains these gloves will be life savers, offering just enough insulation to keep digits warm, and, more importantly, a waterproof-breathable liner that keeps out the wet. Sticky dots all over the palms, seamless construction and good overall dexterity makes them ideal for a multitude of tasks.

Salomon Wings Flyte GTX ($170; salomon.com)
Flight demands birds be light. Same goes from these winged shoes. They feel shockingly light - just what we want when fighting gravity, whether it was running hill repeats or packed snow. A Gore-Tex membrane keeps slush and icy puddles out. A pull lace appeals to our efficiency gene. And deep chevron lugs bite into mud and snow, adding confidence in the worst conditions. After pulling these on, we almost felt like we could fly, too.

Mack Weldon 18 Hour Jersey Boxer Brief ($24; mackweldon.com)
There’s a big difference between a $10 three pack of boxers and these guys. For starters, they stay in place with a stretchy fabric anchor at the bottom of the legs and a wide, waistband that’s designed not to roll. Strategically placed mesh zones allow superior breathability where it’s needed. The rest is a mix of cotton, modal and Lycra, optimized for breathability, moisture wicking, fast drying and comfort. Once we put them on in the morning we didn’t notice them again - there’s no greater praise for a pair of boxers.

Trew Chop Shop Softshell ($129; trewgear.com)
Built into this jacket are two of the three Rs. First, Trew chose  a double weave of polyester and sorona, a fabric made from plants whose production uses less energy and produces fewer greenhouse gases. Then, rather than use a new roll of fabric Trew scooped up off-cuts from the factory floor and used them to build the aptly named Chop Shop. Soft on the inside, tough and shielding on the out, breathable and stretchy everywhere, it’s an ideal layer in most winter conditions. And, better yet, made from a production process you can feel good about.

Kora Shola 230 Crew ($145; kora.net)
Pit merino against Himalayan yak and it's the sheep that ends up mutton. Kora is one of the only companies using yak wool in clothing, even though the company says it beats sheep wool in softness, breathability and warmth. A third party study found it kept cold weather runners more comfortable, too. We can back up those claims with our own experiences using the soft fibre. It’s cozy, insulating beyond its weight, dries fast and is sustainable. Nomadic Himalayan herders collect the wool as the yak’s shed it.

Jlab Epic ($100; jlabaudio.com)
Made for sweaty pursuits these Bluetooth ear buds leave the competition in the dust. To ensure a good fit, the buds come with six pairs of different sized gel tips. To lock them in, bend the over-ear hook. We found they stayed put even in a jumping Cross Fit workout. Further customization comes on the wire connecting the buds where handy clasps bundle excess cord. Connecting to a smartphone is simple and the Bluetooth 4.0 delivered a reliable feed of tunes and calls, even across the room. The mid-cable volume button doubles as a mic and will even talk to SIRI. That’s a lot for the price and the value only increases with 10 hours of battery life.

Cairn (from $25; getcairn.com)
The perfect gift for the hard to buy for outdoorsy person. Cairn is essentially a surprise stocking of goodies that arrives every month. Each month’s mix differs but they always contain far more than $25 worth of stuff. One month’s box arrived stuffed with a magazine, a snack bar, a beer holder sling and more. The next was a titanium spork, a solar lamp and gear patches. In addition every box has coupons to buy the products at solid discounts. Buy Cairn in a variety of different bundles - from a solo box to a multi-month subscription.  

V3 Pocket Bellows ($15; pocketbellows.com)
Forget finger boxes, singed eyebrows and lungfuls of smoke, breathing life into a fire just got easier and safer. Extend the “bellows” like an old telescope and blow in the fat end. The tapered tube concentrates the air into a precise stream, delivering lung-fulls of oxygen to feed a fire. Extending from about 10 centimetres to more than 45, the bellows help give fire life without putting the blower in harms way. 

Black Diamond Crew Glove ($160; black diamondequipment.com)
People that work in the snow demand a lot from their gloves. These gloves will deliver. Goat leather on the palms and abrasion resistant nylon everywhere else stand up to hours of shovelling, handling rope and working with snow fences. A Gore-Tex membrane throughout holds the wet snow at bay. Foam padding on the knuckles offers protection. A long gauntlet locks out flakes. Most importantly, there’s plenty of toasty insulation - I stayed warm down to -15C - with enough dexterity to clip up my helmet.

Ruffwear Roamer Leash ($35; ruffwear.com)
This is the leash to give to the dog runner. The pinch-style clasp opens easily, even with mitts on, making reigning in easy. The handle is adjustable from hand sized to looping around a waist for unencumbered arm pumping. A bungey section smooths out tugs and jolts. And finally, there’s an accessory clip for poop bags or a light. All in, it’s the best leash for running with a dog that we’ve used.

Lifestraw Go ($45; lifestraw.com)
This is not the first water bottle with a built in filter worthy of making just about any puddle drinkable. But it is the first we’ve used that’s easy to drink out of. And it’s the only one that donates some profits to supplying clean water in the developing world. The Go is a standard straw-style, BPA-free water bottle. Suck on the flip-straw and the dirty water passes through the tube-shaped filter removing sediment and 99.9 percent of bacteria and protozoa. It takes only a little more effort than normal and can filter up to 1,000 litres. 

Nathan Halo Fire ($140; nathansports.ca)
See and be seen. That's the goal behind this running specific headlamp. A spotlight worthy 288 lumens comes from three LEDs: one big beam for seeing far ahead and two smaller ones for lighting footing. Customizing just how much light you want and how long the battery lasts (rechargeable by USB) with five brightness modes and scrolling through them is as easy as waving a hand in front of the headlamp. On the be-seen side, an ambient light sensor detects oncoming car headlights and automatically turns on a strobe function. $140, NathanSports.ca
 
Mizuno Breath Thermo Jacket ($130; mizunocda.com)
This jacket actually generates heat. The front is lined with absorbent and wicking Breath Thermo fabric. The mix of synthetic fibres pull moisture away from the skin and simultaneously harvests energy from it, creating heat and trapping it close to the body. More protection from weather comes from the windproof and water resistant outer jacket and a vent across the shoulder blades further regulates temps, dumping hot air from arm pits and back.
 
New Balance Beacon Pullover ($130; newbalance.ca)
This women's base layer has a trick sewn into its weave. On first blush it looks like a fashion meets function technical long sleeve. Ruffles at the obliques gives it a relaxed fit and a little edge. Extra length throughout keeps drafts out, while a roll top, turtle neck-style collar and thumb loops provide refuge on chilly mornings. Wear it under a jacket or on its own, where the glow-in-the-dark yarn can do its thing - popping in the dark without looking obnoxious.
 
Saucony Siberius Pant ($100; saucony.ca)
Not only did these pants keep us warm when temps headed for freezing, the logo changed colour to tell us when it was actually below zero. Made from a mix of polyester and spandex, the straight leg felt stretchy, lightly windproof and fleecy on the inside. In other words, super comfortable. A gusseted crotch deflected chaffing, ankle zips made on and offs easy, a zippered front pocket held essentials safely and reflective accents helped with visibility. As for the Siberius logo, it changes from white to blue when the thermometer drops below freezing.
 
2XU Hyoptik Jacket ($130; 2xu.ca)
The Hyoptik has got you covered inside and out. Silicone treating on the exterior makes it almost waterproof, shrugging off light rain and deflecting wind. And because there's no barrier it breathes really well. Combined with vents in the arm pits and back, clamminess isn't a worry. The interior liner is a mix of fibres that pull moisture away from the skin, keeping the body drier and thus warmer. With reflective accents on all sides and a handy zip pocket at the small of the back, this jacket's got just about everything we look for in a running shell.
 
Skechers Go Run 4 ($140; ca.skechers.com)
These all-weather trail runners bridge the gap between minimalist and traditional style shoes. They still have Skechers cushy ride with pillars of foam and lightweight impact absorption throughout the midsole. On the minimalist side, they have only 4 mm of drop between the heel and toes, a roomy forefoot, weigh about six ounces per shoe and are built to encourage mid-foot landing. For even more barefoot feel, pull the insole and ditch the socks - the interior is almost stitch free and lined with soft fabric.
 
Smartwool Corbet 120 Jacket ($220; smartwool.ca)
The Corbet is part of the biggest trend in layering: breathable insulation. Rather than use down feathers, which insulate really well but breathe like a plastic bag, the Corbet uses thousands of strands of wool for insulation in the vest. They lock in heat at rest and breathe when needed. The sleeves are a more traditional wool mix. The hybrid piece layers nicely but is weather resistant enough to wear as an outer when conditions are fair.
 
Merrell All Out Terra Ice ($180; merrell.ca)
Add tungsten carbide spikes and never let ice and snow chase you inside again. Embedded in the already winter worthy outsole of these runners, the hard spikes dig in to add grip and stability in sketchy trail conditions. Waterproof uppers keep soakers at bay and plastic strips add stability for uneven ground. For road approaches, reflective hits add safety and 16 mm of cushioning absorbs the pounding. Just remember to take them off before you walk inside.
 
Polar Loop 2 ($150; polar.com)
In addition to counting steps, calories and sleep, like most activity trackers, the Loop 2 measures distance, warns you when you've been still for too long, breaks down your daily activity into five intensities, and estimates how many different activities you have to do to meet your daily goals. It also pairs with Android and Apple devices to display incoming call, text and calendar alerts and works with several activity tracking apps, including Polar’s own. With up to eight days of battery life, it's one of the most fully featured activity bands we've tried.

Farm to Feet Madison ($28; farmtofeet.com)
Feel good about these versatile socks and not just because they're so comfortable. While merino wool naturally has a smaller carbon footprint than its synthetic counterparts, it usually travels across half the world to get to Canadian stores. Meanwhile, Farm to Feet uses merino wool raised and processed in the U.S. and then builds its socks at its cutting edge partner factories in the Carolinas. The Madison uses innovative knitting techniques that reduce chafe points, varies thicknesses and leaves no visible seams.

Keen Durand Polar ($250; keenfootwear.com)
The polar vortex's got nothing on these winter boots. Keen took their popular, American made, Durand backpacking boot and winterized it: 400 grams of synthetic insulation, a thermal barrier in the footbed, a higher, waterproof cut, and an outsole with snow and ice gripping zones. Handsome, in a mix of leather, textile and a big rubber toe bumper, they'll make a great everyday winter boot. But with plenty of lace adjustment and rated to -40C they can hack long snowshoe treks and winter camping, too.

Varidesk (various prices; fitter1.com)
Sitting is the new smoking and long winter days spent at the office can be even worse for your health. The Pro Series VARIDESK allows you to move from a seated working position to a standing desk in a matter of seconds. The VARIDESK is available in different models to work within your price range and more importantly, to meet your needs based on available space in your office. VARIDESKS come with a spring-assisted boost lifting system that makes adjusting the height effortless.  

Scarpa Vapor V ($170; scarpa.com)
Steep walls, tiny holds: climbing indoors demands precision footwork usually delivered by one-size-too-small, foot-crampingly curved rock shoes. The Vapor V brings relief. The slightly downturned shape transfers power towards the front of the shoe without jamming toes. A split sole design adds flexibility for smearing and cracks, the sticky rubber grips even polished holds and the dual Velcro strap closure locks in the fit. It's a nice mix of comfort and performance that performs equally well indoors and out. 

Salomon Mtn Lab Helmet ($200; salomon.com)
They say the best helmet is the one you wear. With that guideline this is a winner and the reason is weight. At only 300 grams it's one of the lightest ski helmets on the market and still exceeds the standards for impact protection for alpine and mountaineering. The latter is the key: it's designed to be worn going up as well as going down, making it a viable helmet for backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. The merino wool liner wicks head sweat and pulls right out. 

Bergans Eggen Insulated Jacket ($260; bergans.com)
To create a better down jacket, Bergans used Primaloft Silver, a blend of 60 percent down feathers and 40 percent synthetic insulation. Down feathers may be super at locking in warmth while still packing really small, but moisture is their kryptonite. Sweat too much and the jacket gets soggy and cold. Mixing in polyester fibres helps wick moisture towards the outside of the jacket, preserving the down's loft, while a water repellant outer shell keeps light rain and melting snow out. 

The North Face Modulator ($1000, TheNorthFace.com)
The Modulator turns any backpack into an avalanche air bag pack. Proven to improve the chances of staying on the surface of an avalanche, air bag packs inflate with a tug on a trigger, inflating one or two air bags that increase the surface area of the wearer, helping them stay on top of the snow rather than getting buried. But they're expensive and up till now built into packs. The Modulator is the first that can jump ship, turning any pack into an air bag pack with a couple of quick clips. 
 

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