The best from a year’s worth of field-tested gear
It’s hard to find truly bad outdoor gear. If you’ve got a tent that doesn’t shelter you from a storm, it’s probably fair to say you shouldn’t have bought it at The Warehouse in the first place. Buy a tent from an outdoor store and you’ll get one fit for purpose that won’t let you down. Same goes with boots, packs and jackets: as long as the fit is right and the use appropriate, you can’t go too far wrong. This is why we bring you the Gear of the Year awards: to separate the best from the best of the best – those products which stand apart from all others.
Complete feature set
Lowe Alpine Zephyr 65:75 $399.95
With an astute selection of features, the Zephyr is a full-capacity tramping pack that weighs in at a respectable 1890g and provides a tonne of functionality.
It’s a single-sac design, with an adjustable back-length harness, two lid pockets, hipbelt pockets and three large stretch-mesh stash pockets on the outside. A waterproofed side zip allows entry to the pack without having to open the lid.
We tested the Zephyr on a couple of multiday trips, carrying a full complement of transalpine equipment, including snow shovel, tent, ice axe and crampons, and were very impressed. The harness is easily adjustable via a couple of pull-cords and stayed put even with the heavy load.
The pack’s tapered shape – widest at bottom – provides a low centre of gravity, enhancing balance while walking. Functionally, it was comfortable and allowed equipment to be securely attached with its versatile compression straps and roomy external stash pockets.
Aarn Mountain Magic 38+12 $375
Aarn’s Mountain Magic utilises award winning designer Aarn Tate’s Bodypack concept to create a product that, quite simply, has no peers.
We’ve tested several Aarn packs over the years and the Mountain Magic would have to be our favourite for its respectable weight (1550g) and versatile design. Without the Balance Pockets you have a lightweight 38-litre overnight pack that has ice axe and trekking pole carrying capacity and a removable waterproof liner. Add the balance pockets for an extra 12-litres of capacity, a balanced walking posture and ease of access to items while on-the-trot.
The pack’s harness structure is provided by a couple of aluminium staves forming a ‘T’- shape, which is surrounded by a wire sub-frame and covered with a thick springy mesh. It’s hard wearing and breathable – good for airflow over the back.
The waistbelt has tool holsters and racking loops on the main sack and a tensionable lash-cord lets you stow overflow items or compress the pack.
For lightweight tramping, it’s an impressive pack.
A tent for all seasons
MSR Elixir 2 $649
The Elixir 2 is a versatile, durable and lightweight three-season tent that can handle a variety of conditions.
At 2.6kg it’s on the heavy side for a two-person tent, but with that weight comes an assurance of durability and confidence that it will handle rough terrain and conditions.
Quickly pitched, the inner and fly are supported by an overlapping butterfly configuration of poles, along with one extra short pole that tensions the ceiling. This arrangement sheds water and snow, and ensures there are no large areas of unsupported fabric.
The inner has sections of mesh for improved breathability, but maintains a much higher proportion of windproof nylon. This results in a tent that’s still comfortable in warm weather, but also very capable in colder conditions, including winter.
Large entrances and vestibules add to this tent’s practical value for long term use – each person has space for their pack.
A footprint is also included – a bonus which further enhances the value of what is already a well-priced tent.
The Elixir is best suited to multiday trips where durability and general comfort of day-to-day living are a priority over absolute weight savings.
A tough go-to pack
Montane Cobra 25 $159.95
The Cobra is a simple, top-zip pack intended to be a light (873g) and versatile companion for mountain-oriented use.
The harness comprises a frame of laminated, moulded foam that’s supported by a narrow sheet of plastic – a conventional approach that’s foolproof and hardwearing. Contoured shoulder straps and waistbelt secure the pack comfortably and stably, but without the heavily shaped form of some modern packs. The immediate benefit of this is ease of packing – because the pack’s frame and compartment do not have a strong shape bias, you can easily fit different kinds of gear.
We used this pack for day trips, carrying a load of camera gear, water and warm clothing, and found it excellent for purpose. It would be a good all-round pack for overnight mountain bike trips, runs, tramps and climbing or cragging use.
Two ice tools or walking poles can be carried via a discrete attachment system, and a sturdy grab handle on the top of the pack makes portage easy.
We liked the double layer of fabric on the base, suggesting long-lasting durability.
Hydration sleeve, hose-access port, water bottle/snow stake pockets and compression straps round out the deal to create a reasonably priced go-to pack.
Lowa Camino GTX $599
The Camino’s plush interior and relatively soft leather promise immediate comfort that should require little breaking in, whether you’re headed for an afternoon stroll or a multiday epic.
The leathers are protected by a rand that covers the toe and heel and the tread is beefy enough for all conditions. We found the sole platform suitable on rugged ground with a heavy pack. It’s perfect for bush tramping and light alpine duty.
A burly sole and medium-aggressive heel give the boot good traction when it’s slippery, and the lugs are spaced to clear mud as you go.
A comfortable and capable boot, beautifully made, that will hold its own over most terrain, leaving you with happy feet at the end of the day.
Exped Synmat Hyperlite $179.90
Gone are the days of using thin three-quarter length mats and accepting marginal comfort to save weight. Exped’s Synmat Hyperlite is every gram-counters dream mattress.
The three-season mat weighs just 350g and packs down to the size of a one-litre water bottle, yet it’s amply plush and comfortable enough for a decent night’s sleep.
The Hyperlite is 7cm thick and mummy-shaped with length-wise baffles, which help keep you on the mat. It’s insulated with a synthetic microfibre filling, though it rolls up so small you can hardly tell. The mat’s fabric is of a non-slip texture which prevented us sliding off.
We used the Hyperlite for snow camping at around 1700m and several other nights on a variety of terrain. It was super comfortable and, especially in the snow, helped keep us warm.
GPS in a watch
Suunto Traverse $649
Suunto’s Traverse does not try to be all things to all people. And that’s a good thing.
Rather than a myriad of settings depending on the user’s activity – multisport, hiking, trail running, road cycling – the Traverse has just one. And this setting is perfect for those who tramp or climb and want to record their trips, monitor the weather, mark waypoints, follow routes, know how long it took and how much ascent was involved, and then check it all out later on a smartphone or computer – whether in Suunto’s Movescount app or downloaded to view in the wearer’s own mapping software.
The Traverse supports both GPS and the the Russian GLONASS system, allowing for quick satellite location. It’s so accurate that we found even slight deviations of a few metres from the track were recorded. When viewing recorded tramps on our mapping software, it overlaid the marked routes precisely. Not bad for an 80g watch.
Operating the Traverse is simple and route recording can begin with just two button presses.
The Traverse is a fantastic outdoor navigation tool. It is highly accurate, easy to use and for those looking for a GPS device, worth every cent.
Comfort and fit
Keen Open Air $199.99
Who would have thought paracord would be such a comfortable material to make a sandal from? Turns out Keen did, and they were right.
The utter simplicity of these sandals is what makes them so great: two cords, some neoprene, a rubber sole and a PU midsole and that’s about it.
We tested the sandals in wet conditions and found them to dry quickly. The cord does not absorb water nor does it stick to or irritate the skin when wet.
A three-quarter length PU midsole offers some structure to the sandal, but it is so lightweight it allows plenty of bend. The footbed is made from a soft and quick drying microfibre. The sandals themselves are light – just 622g a pair (w – 554g).
They slide on easily and the cord stretches to accommodate your foot. Pull-cord laces make tightening a breeze. Unlike most Keen sandals they don’t have a large rubber toe bumper, so there’s nothing to protect your toes. But that’s fine by us. The comfort and fit of these sandals is what counts and in that regard, they are superb.
Helinox LBB135 $195
The name may not be the most catchy, but the LBB135 is the most advanced pole in the Helinox line-up – and the best we’ve seen for a long while.
While most poles use a twist action or clamp on each section to secure the pole, the LBB135 has four sections (most poles have three) and a mechanism that allows the pole to be retracted or locked in place by releasing or clamping shut a single lever. It’s extremely simple and effective, and allows quick set-up, collapse and fine tuning of the length.
The result is a compact and light (478g/pair) pole.
Foam grips are firm and comfortable. They don’t become slick with perspiration and because the grip extends down the pole, on-the-go grip adjustments can be made without adjusting the pole length.
Stove with a punch
Jetboil MiniMo $299
Despite its compact size, the 425g MiniMo packs a punch and is able to boil 12-litres of water on a single 100g canister. That’s enough juice for most multiday trips.
With a reliable piezo ignition, the MiniMo is simple to use and, compared to other personal cooking systems, its price is reasonable
We used the stove in Tongariro National Park in some pretty icy conditions and its boiling performance was faultless.
At 1190m, the temperature inside Mangatepopo Hut was about 13ºC. It took 2min25sec to boil 500ml of water – very close to the advertised boil time of 2min15sec. Boiling snow outside and at an altitude of around 1250m took 7min40sec to achieve a rolling boil – and there was around 800ml of water in the pot at the end.
Back at sea level, using the same canister, we achieved a boil time of 2min13sec for 500ml of water – proving the worth of Jetboil’s regulator technology that offers consistent performance through the life of the canister.
Swarovski CL Pocket 10×25 $1299
Built with Bak-4 roof prisms and with multi-coated lenses for a sharp, bright image, the CL Pocket 10×25 may, at first glance, appear to be just like any other pair of binoculars.
But they come with a premium price tag for a reason. These super compact binos offer a clarity that surpasses anything we’ve used before. Swarovski uses HD optics and field flattener lenses which flatten the image, bringing the whole field of view into focus – right to the edges of the image, not just the centre.
Housed in a shock-proof chassis and waterproof to 4m, they are more robust than their 350g weight might suggest. Because these binoculars are so light, we could carry them on our pack’s hipbelt which kept them in easy reach and meant they got a lot of use.
The centre wheel offers smooth movement and is highly responsive, allowing a moving object to be kept in pin-sharp focus.
Light and packable
Patagonia Stretch Rainshadow $399.95
We braved all sorts of weather to see how this very light (294g) jacket withstands the elements. The verdict? Easily. Patagonia’s 2.5-layer H2No shell fabric shrugged off the rain and wind events we were exposed to and helped regulate our temperature with its excellent breathability.
Being such a light jacket, we could wear it all day without overheating or taking a bath in our own sweat-induced humidity. Pit zips helped here, too.
It’s roomy enough to add mid-layers beneath and the stretchy fabric means you don’t feel restricted when hauling yourself up a bank or reaching for a hold.
The helmet-compatible hood is held in place with a single pull-cord. It’s comfortable and as effective as those hoods that use two cords.
Not only is it super light, but it is ultra packable: it stuffs into the chest pocket and can be clipped by carabiner to your pack for easy access.
Light and thin
UCO A-120 $84.95
Simplicity is the most appealing aspect of UCO’s A-120 headlamp. There’s no confusing combination of buttons or modes accessed via a single button pressed within a certain time limit. Just twist the lamp clockwise to turn it on; the more you turn it, the brighter the beam becomes. Twist it anti-clockwise for a night vision-preserving red light.
The A-120 offers 120 lumens and is run by three AAA batteries offering up to 200hr of light in the lowest output and a beam distance of up to 51m – more than ample for most tasks we needed it for.
UCO promises its neoprene strap to be headache free. It offers a fraction of the stretch found on most other lamp headbands with adjustment coming from a velcro strap that folds onto itself. So while you can over-tighten it, which can be the cause of headaches, it is more difficult with the A-120.
And though it takes three batteries, it’s not bulky. The headlamp itself is 17mm at its widest and weighs just 104g.
The North Face Litus 32 $220
With a strong combination of features, the Litus is a good all-around companion for outdoor adventures; whether you’re loading it up with cragging gear, packing a picnic lunch or bagging a snowy summit.
We found this pack immediately comfortable; its fit is such that you feel like you’re ‘wearing’ the pack and that it’s integrated with your movement. The back panel has a degree of suspension; the benefits of which are two-fold: there’s better airflow; and even if you have packed badly, your load does not influence the comfort of the pack on your back.
Access to the main compartment is via a long zip that extends from near the base in an inverted ‘J’ shape – it’s handy for accessing gear.
There’s capacity for two ice tools, and lash patches on the lid if you wanted to carry crampons.
The Litus is a well-designed pack that we could hardly fault.