GEAR REVIEWS

Get Out There's 2014 Holiday Gift Guide

We scoured the country for the best gifts for endurance athletes this holiday season

CamelBak Phantom 20 LR ($130; www.camelbak.com)
Start cramming in your winter kit and a 20 litre pack normally fills up fast, but not this one. The voluminous interior, split into two big compartments, felt more like 35 litres when we needed it, but also compressed almost flat when all we wanted was an insulated hydration pack. Like all CamelBak packs it comes with a bladder, but unlike most this one is lumbar style, meaning it sits horizontal across the hips, were the water weight is less noticeable.



Columbia Diamond 890 TurboDown Hooded Down Jacket ($380; www.columbiasportswear.ca) Long name, but amazing warmth. Both the men's and women's versions of Columbia's warmest technical jacket mix down feathers and synthetic fill to create a puffy with no compromise. The top of the line 850-fill down feathers compress small and lock in body heat. 40 grams of synthetic insulation retains warmth when wet and a reflective liner helps up the overall warmth without weight.



Ecco Urban Lifestyle Ontario ($210; www.eccocanada.com)
Function meets fashion in a slush puddle in these winter boots. The exterior is a patchwork of two different colours of weathered camel leather treated with a tanned-in Hydromax waterproofing, which translates to long lasting waterproofing and good breathability. Inside is a wool-like synthetic fleece lining that's not only warm, but cozy too. Cut above the ankle with deep lugs on the outsole these will take you from downtown to ski town all winter long.



Hoka One One Mufate Speed ($170; www.hokaoneone.com)
Hoka's super fat patented cushioning feels like running on clouds and has helped more than few people we know start running again, but sitting so high made our weak ankles nervous. That's why we're excited about the Mufate Speed. A lower foot frame allows the foot to sink deeper into these trail shoes providing inherent stability on rough ground, while retaining thick padding and lots of rebound.



Keen Uneek ($120; www.keenfootwear.com)
A lot can be done with two pieces of parachute cord - tie up a bad guy, rig an emergency rappel, build a shelter and, now thanks to Keen, make one of the best fitting sandals out there. Using just an outsole, a leather saddle and two pieces of cord the designers made a shoe that adjusts to the shape of a foot in 3-D for a hug like feel. Like their name suggests these are original looking - or should that be lanigiro.



Mountain Hardwear Super Power HZ ($90; www.mountainhardwear.ca)
Wear this versatile baselayer on its own or under a shell, regardless the Wick.Q fabric does the same thing, pull moisture off the skin and disperse it so you stay dry while moving and don't get cold when you stop. On its own reflective accents keep you seen and a zip neck makes it easy to let off some steam.



2XU Thermal Compression Tights ($140; www.2xu.com)
Compression clothing promises all kinds of benefits - from longer endurance to better recovery - and that goes for winter too. With a fleecy feeling liner built into these compression tights they can be worn on their own for cool weather running or layered under a shell pant in colder temps or higher windchill activities like cross country skiing or winter biking. Whatever they're used for the flat seams won't chafe or irritate and drawstring waist keeps them in place.



Brooks PureProject LS ($70; www.brooksrunning.com)
This running shirt doesn't wear like one. It feels and looks like it's made of cotton, but is actually a mix of Tencel, polyester, Spandex, nylon and Brooks's proprietary DNA fabric, which means it wicks moisture, dries fast and is machine washable. Semi-fitted, two cinching ribbons on the sides hike the shirt higher for unencumbered running or looser for a more casual look. It works for hanging out, killer work outs and everything in between.



Dish Performance Denim Skinny Raw ($108; www.dishjeans.com)
Most skinny jeans may look good and be trendy, but their performance attributes end there. These skinnies are the exception. Made with L2X fabric, a mix of cotton, polyester and Lycra, they have plenty of stretch and hollow core fibres help pull moisture into the pant and spread it out for faster drying and better comfort.



Lowa Renegade Ice GTX ($400; www.lowaboots.com)
How do you make a great fitting pair of winterized hiking boots? If you're Lowa you start with one of Europe's most popular summer hikers, the Renegade, and then pimp it out for the cold and slippery. The mix of smooth and Nubuck leather exterior is backed with a Gore-Tex barrier and an insulating liner for water and cold proofing. Then they added Lowa's own G3 outsole, beefy lugs, soft rubber and chunks of textile that stick to everything from slush to ice.



Merrell Keira Beanie and Scarf (beanie: $30, scarf: $35; www.merrell.com)
Don't let the fact that this matching scarf and toque combo is made from 100 percent wool scare you. The merino fibres are super fine making them non-itchy and naturally breathable and warm. So not only do they look cute alone or paired, but they're made to perform, too.



Chaco ReversiFlip ($65; www.chaco.com)
Flip flops are standard issue on hot weather holidays, but alone they rarely go with every outfit. Now they can. The thong on these flip flops easily pull off and can be replaced with 12 different strap colour and pattern options. While the look may change the comfort of Chaco's legendary polyurethane footbed won't. These may be the most comfortable flip flops we've worn.


Mizuno Breath Thermo Wind Guard Glove ($30; www.mizunocda.com)
One of the reasons it's so hard to keep hands warm in winter is that they sweat a lot - normally wet equals cold. But the Breath Thermo fabric in these gloves actually does the opposite. It pulls the moisture from the skin, activating a chemical reaction that creates heat, warming the gloves by a couple degrees. The wind resistant shell helps keep the heat close to the digits, right where it's needed.


Moving Comfort Just Right Full Zip Jacket ($125; www.movingcomfort.com)
Maybe the most fashionable piece of functional clothing we've seen, the Just Right's motorcycle inspired accents give this jacket an edgy look. Then the body is made with a soft, fleecy fabric that breaths really well to help regulate temperatures. Fitted, a cool hood to hide in, yeah, no need to choose between style and substance anymore.



Nathan Zephyr 100 ($65; www.nathansports.com)
This isn't the flashlight my Dad took running. Designed specifically for pounding the pavement in the dark the 100 lumens of light - enough to light a path; upgrade to the 300 if you want a flood light - are directed down at a 24 degree angle to better light up the route ahead and keep you seen by cars. A hand strap reduces strain and it has an integrated emergency siren, just in case.



Osprey Farpoint 70 ($240; www.ospreypacks.com)
When we venture off the wheeled-luggage track this is the kind of bag we like to haul. The 55-litre main pocket has plenty of space for week's worth of clothing, an extra pair of shoes and whatever other gear we need to bring. The 15-litre mini-me bag is ideal for carry-on. They clip together in multiple ways. The main bag has a similar harness to the uber comfy ones Osprey sticks on its expedition backpacks. Basically, you won't hesitate to take the long walk to the end-of-the-road town.



Pearl Izumi SELECT Barrier WxB Pant ($160; www.pearlizumi.com)
Few activities can test waterproof clothing like biking in the rain. It's impossible to keep legs dry without a pair of waterproof breathable pants like these. The 2.5-layer fabric uses microscopic charcoal and taped seams to help keep rain out and the breathability high. The fit is just roomy enough to make layering easy, but not so loose as to be flappy in the wind.



Polar V650 ($300, $350 with heart rate monitor; www.polar.com)
The evolution of the cycling computer looks like this: a 2.5 inch colour, touch screen, powered by an Android operating system. With GPS and Bluetooth it not only talks to other devices, like a heart rate monitor or cadence sensors, but also logs route and elevation data. At home with the free app and web ecosystem, it can all be overlapped to see where you were working hardest.



Salomon Fast Wing Hoodie ($110; www.salomon.com)
Everyone needs a good windbreaker and this is a great one. It only weighs 90 grams, but it blocks the wind, can deflect a drizzle and packs into its chest pocket. It's a great piece for blustery rides and runs or stuff it into your day pack as an emergency shell, where you'll never notice it until you need it.



Saucony Ponytail Skull Cap ($30; www.saucony.ca)
This toque makes it easy to keep hair out of your eyes. First, the obvious, there's a hole in the back made for stuffing your ponytail through and holding it still, even if you didn't bring an elastic. Second, the poly-Spandex fabric, is stretchy, so it can wrangle up the strays and keep them tethered for the duration. The stretch also makes sure ears stay covered.



Skechers GoRun Ultra Extreme ($110; www.skechers.com)
Not only do these trail runners feel exceptionally light, but the cushioning sucks up impacts and returns energy for a smooth and fast feeling ride. They're also waterproof, with a three layer barrier construction that blocks the wet but maintains good breathability. Our dogs didn't overheat on a 20C degree late fall day and still felt comfortable running below freezing.



Suunto Ambit2 R ($250, $300 with heart rate monitor; www.suunto.com)
The Ambit2 is a great watch packed to the gills with features for tracking just about every metric imaginable in multiple sports and a portal home to all kinds of downloadable apps, including one that measures beer-equivalent calories. This version, the R, is specific to runners, ditching a lot of the extraneous info, but, thankfully, not the option to download the beer app. The simpler interface focuses on what runners need and nothing else.



The North Face Apex Gym Duffel ($85; thenorthface.com)
There's plenty of room in this gym bag for everything you need for your next workout. The 45 total litres is divided into a large main cavern, accessed through the top zip, and a bunch of smaller organizing pockets. A separate vented area works great for stinky shoes and post-work out sweaty clothes.



Timex Ironman RunX20 GPS ($155; www.timex.ca)
Most GPS watches are big, chunky and expensive. The RunX20 checks none of those boxes. The case is one of the smallest we've seen on a watch that can track speed, distance and calories burned. The battery lasts six hours in GPS mode and a lot longer in standby and sleep modes. It comes with several preloaded workout measures, like intervals and stopwatch set ups. And best of all, it is one of the most affordable GPS watches on the market.



Under Armour Performance Chino ($80; www.underarmour.com)
UA calls these chino style slacks the "best pair of pants you'll ever put on." My wife and I agree. For her, they're fashionably slim, especially tapering from the knee to ankle, and snug in the butt. For him, they fit loose through the waist and the fabric is soft, super stretchy, wrinkle resistant, wick moisture and pockets are deep and actually hold change. I could comfortably rock climb in them and wear them out to dinner in the city. They're my new fav pants.



Sugoi Zap Bike Jacket ($160; www.sugoi.com)
In daylight the Zap looks like a regular waterproof bike jacket, with casual colours, a drop tail, long sleeves and rear zip pocket. Shine artificial light on it, though, and it becomes another beast entirely. The fabric is a blend of polyester, polyurethane and 25 percent glass beads. When a light, like car headlights, hit the glass beads the entire jacket shines with an eye catching pop. It ensures you'll be seen when it really counts, but blend in the rest of the time.



Scarpa F1 Evo ($719; www.scarpa.com)
Seeking the middle ground between a ski boot that can rip downhill and one that weighs as little as possible Scarpa came up with the F1 Evo. Like the first part of its name suggests it's a speed demon on the backcountry skin track or ski mountaineering race course, weighing less than 2.5 pounds per boot and offering a huge range of motion for unencumbered strides. On the way back down it lives up to the rest of its name. A carbon frame throughout increases responsiveness between boot and ski and stepping the heel into a binding automatically locks the boot into ski mode, an industry first.



Smith Pivlock Asana or Arena ($175; www.smithoptics.com)
These bike inspired shades are so light, the lenses are so clear and the fit so comfortable, we sometimes forget we're wearing them. Both the men's Arena and women's Asana come with three lens options - clear, rose and mirrored. A quick pivot of the arms and they separate from the lens, making switching between lenses fast and easy. There's nothing casual about them, but they're optimized for sweating and fit well with a bike helmet.



Kahtoola NANOspikes ($55; www.kahtoola.com)
Not sleet, not snow, not ice, not slush will keep us dedicated runners from getting our work out in, but a hard fall from slipping might. Rather than take the risk just slip on a pair of these running crampons. The tough rubber binding straps onto a pair of runners like galoshes, arming your casual kicks with 10 carbide spikes that grab even glare ice. The price of confidence on any footing? About 8 ounces.



AMK Ultralight Watertight .5 kit ($18; www.adventuremedicalkits.com)
Inside this first aid kit is everything you really need for dealing with the most common backcountry problems for day trips and short overnights - wound closures, pain killers, blister prevention, and dealing with broken bones. It's all contained inside a waterproof pouch and weighs less than four ounces.



lululemon Metal Vent Tech Henley ($84; www.lululemon.com)
You sweat, bacteria grow and reproduce, your shirt stinks. Sometimes permanently. To stop the cycle lululemon wove microscopic silver fibres into this long sleeve work out top. Silver kills bacteria and stink, so the shirt stays nice smelling longer. After a couple hot, sweaty runs we did the smell test and our olfactory arena was pleasantly surprised. It's a nice looking shirt too - never out of place in the Starbucks pre-workout line up.



Outside Inside Roll-Up 5 in One Game Set ($21; www.outsideinsidegifts.com)
A backcountry hut, camping, traveling or even at home, no matter where you're going and with whom, this game set is worth bringing. The two, two-sided boards are ready for checkers, chess, backgammon, ludo (like Sorry!) and snakes and ladders. All the game pieces and flexible boards roll up into a compact case for easy carrying.



Headsweats High Visibility Race Hat ($20; www.headsweats.com)
Not only will this ball cap tame unruly bed head, the Coolmax sweatband will keep your melon from overheating and sweat from dripping in your eyes and it weighs nothing, it may also save your life. The proprietary knit fabric is full of reflective elements that shine bright when hit with a car's headlights.



Nikon Coolpix S810C ($370; www.nikon.ca)
Blurring the line further between a smartphone and a point and shoot camera, the S810C connects to the web with an Android operating system and download apps - Twitter, Instagram and Facebook come preloaded - on its touchscreen interface. Snap a 16 MB pic with 12 times optical zoom and post automatically via WiFi. You can also browse emails and surf the web. If you want better pics than your phone can hack this is a slick option.



Olloclip 4 in 1 ($80 for iPhone; www.olloclip.com)
These tiny lenses will set you free from the cramped quarters of your smartphone's limited creative photo control, hijacking an iPhone, iPad or Samsung Galaxy's onboard camera with four lens options - fish eye, wide angle and two macros for close ups.  The anodized aluminum casing and precision glass are tough and small enough to hang out in your pocket and slip into place in a second when inspiration strikes.



Orange Mud HydraQuiver SUP-Sip ($80; www.orangemud.com)
So far the options for carrying water while stand up paddle boarding haven't kept up with the popularity of the sport. The HydraQuiver, from the out of the box thinkers at Orange Mud, is one option we're excited about. A neoprene leg strap holds a water bottle holster securely to the upper thigh and a back up waist band makes sure it doesn't slip. It comes with a water bottle and there's also a small pocket and a key clip. Basically, everything you need for your next marathon SUP paddle.



Black Diamond Ion ($28; www.blackdiamondequipment.com)
The Ion is one of the smallest and lightest headlamps that can actual brighten up the trail in front of you. The single white LED emits 80 lumens on max setting, enough to stumble safely home from just about anywhere. Powered by two AAA batteries it also has various brightness and distance modes, a red LED for night vision, a lock mode, is water resistant and is touch sensitive - tap the side to change the brightness. Not bad for under $30.



SealSkinz Cycle Over Socks ($70; www.sealskinz.com)
These wind and waterproof socks stretch to slip over bike cleats turning even our mesh summer shoes into rain, cold and snow worthy warriors. But what really makes these lust-worthy is that they also breath, something very few shoe covers can say. That matters - even in the cold, feet sweat. And because they're a fabric sock they wash easily.



Swiss Army Delemont EvoGrip 11 ($50; www.swissarmy.com)
The non-slip handles on this new knife from legendary Swiss Army allowed us to tackle a quick bike repair in the rain with confidence. With only the essential tools  - knife, can and bottle openers, file, hole punch and a screwdriver - the weight and size remain manageable. Everything you need. Nothing you don't.



Dare 2b Bugaloo Snowsuit ($55; www.dare2b.com)
For a young family to get back into the outdoors means bringing baby along and with this snowsuit not only with junior be warm but she'll look ridiculously cute too. Compressible synthetic fill throughout the one piece snowsuit keeps them warm, a water repellant finish keeps them dry and the ears on the hood keep them cute. Designed to grow with the kid, when the included boots and mitts don't fit, they pull off and the elastic wrist and ankle take over.



Dr. Cool Cooling Recovery Wrap (from $25; www.trainerschoic.ca)
On first glance Dr. Cool may look like a basic neoprene knee brace - and you can use them that way - but hidden inside is Coolcore, a chemical-free cold storage chamber. Soak and freeze the wrap and the core locks in the cold for longer rest, ice, compression and elevation sessions with less futzing. In other words, no need to strap bags of pees to your knees.



Optimus Elektra FE Cook System ($100; www.katadyn.ca)
Stoves don't get much more efficient than this. The compressed gas stove mates with a heat exchanger pot and a clip-on windscreen to boil a litre of water in about three minutes and weighs just over a pound. It's ideal for fast snow-to-water melts in the frozen backcountry or, with its simmer ability, chef-ing it up. But we think we'll use it most for improving on leftovers or overpriced meals at the resort - it's ideal for boil-in-a bag cook ups.



Icebreaker MerinoLOFT Helix Zip ($260; www.icebreaker.com)
This light, puffy jacket is stuffed with wool fibres. Like down feathers or synthetic fibres they do a good job of locking in heat, but they're also warm when wet and breath well, helping to regulate temps inside the jacket and extend its utility from cool to cold. While the exterior is a water resistant recycled polyester, the inside lining is soft wool, which pulls moisture away from the body and keeps funky odours to a minimum.



Outdoor Research Superlayer Jacket ($240; www.outdoorresearch.com)
Insulation used to be stiff and not-breathable. Fine for sitting around, but not good for warmth while being active. So, manufacturers are searching for a new breed of insulation, one that dumps excess heat on the move, but locks it in when still. The Superlayer is one of these newbies. OR mixed Primaloft Silver insulation, wrapped between highly breathable materials to create a jacket that stretches abundantly, perfect for easy layering, and also packs a surprising punch of warmth for its weight and bulk.



Nite Ize PetLit LED Collar Light($5; www.niteize.com)
We clipped this light to our wandering weimaraner's collar, turned it on with a twist and headed out the door for a night time walk. Even 100 metres away we could see her sneaking for the bush. It's enough light to keep her seen on the road too. The light comes in five fun styles, including a fire hydrant or dog print. All come with a single LED that lasts 24 hours and the battery is easy to replace.



PackTowl RobeTowl ($75; www.packtowl.com)
The RobeTowl delivers a four star upgrade on the original, chincy PackTowl. Made from the same super absorbent and soft micro fibre, the Robe is part lightweight and compressible towel and part cover up for easy changing or just a little warmth for the walk to the hot tub. The hood kept our wet head from getting cold and the robe can absorb four times its weight in water. We might not take it camping, but it's definitely coming on our next ski holiday.



Stanley Mountain Vacuum Coffee System ($50; www.shopstanley-pmi.com)
It may look like a thermos, but it promises so much more for the coffee connoisseur. Like a Russian nesting doll the thermos disassembles into a surprising number of pieces: pot, two cups, press and a storage area for grounds. Add a litre of water and they create French press style coffee and then store it in a leak-proof vacuum bottle. It keeps hot for 15 hours or iced for 13.



Innate 64 ounce Growler ($50; www.innate.ca)
The only hitch in the fun of filling a big bottle of beer at your local micro brew is that the priceless elixir gets warm before it's empty or (if you're a lightweight like me) goes flat and funky within a few days. Enter Innate's insulated 64 ounce growler, a stainless steel beauty that's been manufactured to strict precisions creating the least amount of air leakage possible. With double wall vacuum insulation that translates into bubbly, hoppy, cold goodness for longer. Oh, and the stainless isn't going to break when you drop it…not that we ever do that.



FITS Light Nordic Crew ($20; www.fitssocks.com)
We get to test a lot of socks. The ones from FITS are always top notch, fitting perfectly with cushioning where we need it and a nice soft, but supportive blend of fibres. No surprise, FITS is owned by one of the oldest sock knitting mills in the U.S. and these are their premiere cross country ski style, with a cut and weight ideal for the sweaty needs of skinny ski purists. The mix of merino wool, nylon, Spandex and  polyester works like a thermostat for our piggies.



Wojo Wallet ($13; www.wojowallet.com)
This is the wallet for those that hate wallets. Made form a neoprene sleeve wrapped by a stretchy silicone band it holds cards, cash and even a key. Even stacked with a dozen cards its still slim enough to slide into front pockets or even those annoyingly small ones in running shorts or tights. Plus, it floats and won't absorb water or sweat. Essentially, the perfect stocking stuffer.


 

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