It’s the end of 2020, and, as is our annual tradition, it’s time to look back at the best gear we tested this year. Of the hundreds of products GearJunkie staff and contributors reviewed, these items stood out as some of the best.
After 7 years, GORE-TEX has made major updates to its PRO fabric technology. New for this year, the most rugged, most breathable, and stretchiest PRO fabrics will be introduced across multisport apparel categories. In 2019, we got an early peek at the updated tech.
To differentiate between the most rugged/durable, most breathable, and stretchiest fabrics, GORE-TEX makes micro-adjustments to the membrane and weight. The most rugged membrane is actually completely new with a three-layer construction; the most breathable fabric has been swapped out for new textiles and a new backer. And for the extra-“stretchy” PRO fabric, GORE-TEX adds a thin elastic layer in the material that sits atop the ePTFE membrane.
There’s no denying these boots are incredibly eye-catching. But more than just aesthetics, the design is built for the trail. The swallowtail heel works to cushion and propel the footstrike forward, providing greater stability on uneven terrain.
And even though the HOKA ONE ONE Tennine GTX ($250) looks hefty, it weighs less than 18 ounces. A lot of innovation went into creating a highly cushioned, sturdy shoe that weighs so little.
This boot could be a wild one-hit wonder. But considering HOKA went from being ridiculed for making overly cushioned “clown shoes” to gracing many a podium, these could very well become a mainstay on the trail.
If traveling means sitting on your overstuffed suitcase to secure the zipper, or if you always find yourself scrounging through a pile of clean (and dirty?) clothes during your trip, Matador has just the pack for you! The SEG42 ($190) is effectively a dresser in a duffel.
Five zippered compartments, ranging from 6 to 12 L (42 L total), serve as soft drawers. This keeps like items together and helps prevent the dreaded luggage explosion once you reach your destination. Plus, a large clamshell opening offers space for oversized or dirty items — think of it as your travel hamper. Best of all, it’s carry-on-friendly and has backpack straps. Read our full review here.
Weighing a scant 8.8 ounces and packing down to 6 x 3 inches (smaller than a Nalgene), the NeoAir UberLite pad ($155-225) is our go-to for lightweight adventures. We’ve used this pad for everything from multinight bikepacking excursions to big-mountain summit expeditions. With an R-value of 2.3 and a 2.5-inch thickness, this sleeping pad provides the ultimate combination of comfort and warmth in a packable design.
There is no shortage of smart sportwatches out there to choose from (keep scrolling and you’ll find another on this list). And many share a lengthy list of great features: health metrics, sport-specific data tracking, navigation, and a whole lot more. But all those great capabilities also mean most of these watches suffer the same drawback: weak battery life.
Enter Garmin’s Instinct Solar line. We tested the brand’s Tactical model and could not believe how well it performed day after day (after day after day) without charging. That’s because Garmin built this watch with special glass that will absorb UV light to supplement battery power. The result is a watch jam-packed with all the features athletes and everyday active users want, that will last literal weeks without charging.
Ounce-counters, take note. This ultralight backpacking stove could change your camp chef life. With a claimed weight of 3 ounces, it won’t weigh you down. And the cylindrical design packs as small as possible while still pumping out 8,350 BTUs.
Complete with a piezo igniter and simmer control, the Primus Firestick Ti ($120) could quickly become a favorite camp stove.
SCARPA has upped the standard for alpine touring ski boots with its F1 LT model. The bulkiness you’d expect of a ski boot is gone — instead, there’s increased uphill efficiency and nimble performance on the downhill. The F1 LTs ($799) are really a miracle of boot engineering, weighing in at under 1,000 g (about 2 pounds). For comparison, some of the best ski touring boots now on market can weigh 5-8 pounds.
SCARPA’s new boots are built with Vibram UFO rubber outsoles, 3D Lambda Torsion frames, Intuition thermo-molded foam liners, and Carbon Grilamid LFT shells and cuffs in a new grid design to cut weight and increase stability.
In January 2020, Benchmade launched the best lightweight knife on the market, the Bugout CF-Elite ($170). Based on the already-popular Bugout, the CF-Elite has stiffer, lighter handle scales than the original. By improving the handle and maintaining a spectacular CPM-S30V drop-point blade with an AXIS lock, Benchmade found the Holy Grail of pocket knives.
The Bugout CF-Elite 535BK-2 is superlight at just 1.8 ounces and fits beautifully in a pocket for everyday carry. But take it in the bush, and the robust blade and ergonomic handle will serve as a rough-and-ready tool for pretty much anything a hiker or average outdoorsperson will throw at it. Not surprisingly, it earned a place among the best pocket knives of 2020.
“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” Sure, Doc Brown was piloting a flying DeLorean when he said it, but the mad scientist from “Back to the Future” may as well have been talking about onX’s debut into the off-road space. Made famous by its rich data maps and features within the hunting world, onX leveraged its cartographic and techno-wizardry to create an expansive (and still growing) network of expert-vetted off-road maps and trails.
With details to assist campers, sight-seekers, overlanders, and others, onX Offroad Maps ($30 per year) offer a helpful tool to both plan ahead and navigate in real time for a wide array of 4×4, UTV, and moto-based adventures. We tried it in the rocky Nevada desert and were thoroughly impressed.
The 2020 Old Town Sportsman Autopilot ($3,800) is available in two models. In both, a 12V Minn Kota motor allows for GPS-driven anchoring via Spot-Lock, hands-free single-direction movement as well as full control via a remote, phone app, or pedals in case of shallow water under 14 inches.
Dedicated kayak anglers will find that this boat outperforms the entirety of the motorized kayak market, giving it a spot on our Gear of the Year as well as ICAST’s Best of Show.
Salomon’s new model for fall 2020, the Wildcross, is all about traction, traction, traction. And these freshly designed Salomon trail runners are light — 30 g lighter than Salomon’s ever-popular Speedcross — and are even better in terms of performance on varying terrain.
The Salomon Wildcross ($130) has a lower stack height and drop, sticky Contagrip rubber outsole, beefier lugs, and a breathable mesh upper. We had multiple staff test them out, and they were impressed. Wet, rocky, muddy, slippery — these shoes can tackle it all. Best of all, you don’t even have to spend time breaking them in.
Design-wise, this headlamp is unlike any other. Petzl set out to make a streamlined product that provides bright light, low weight, and ultimate comfort over hours of activity.
The Petzl IKO CORE’s ($90) biggest draw is the ergonomic AIRFIT silicone headband, with the light unit on the front end and the battery unit in the back, evenly distributing weight and providing stability, no matter your activity at hand. Plus, a hybrid battery slot fits both Petzl’s rechargeable CORE battery or 3 AAAs.
GoSun is known for making innovative solar products, and the brand is at it again with the Flow Ultimate. This portable kit includes a water filter, sink, shower, and heater.
The Flow water purifier can fit in a backpack and filters 99.99% of pathogens. Plus, it’s USB-powered and runs off solar. Whether you want a warm shower while camping or clean water in case of an emergency, this kit is a winner. It’s regularly priced at $639 and currently on sale for $399.
Anyone with a mini adventure buddy knows how hard it can be to find winter clothes for kids that perform well, fit, and last. Luckily, Reima is here to change that. We’ve tested several pieces of Reima children’s gear and have been consistently impressed with the quality and attention to detail, both of which are apparent in the Heiberg and Beringer Down Jackets ($135).
The hood and sleeves can be removed, meaning kiddos can wear it as a jacket or vest all year round. What really caught our eye, though, is the innovative use of ground coffee. You read that right, ground coffee is carbonized and pulverized into microscopic particles that are then spun into polyester. And the honeycomb structure stores heat. To top it off, these jackets have a 550-fill-power down and use a fluorocarbon-free eco finish for water repellency. The jackets are high-tech, durable, and kid-approved.
A huge move this year, Wahoo Fitness expanded from trainers and bike computers into the performance wearables market. The brand came out with its first GPS sport watch: the ELEMNT Rival ($380).
This watch is a multisport beast: with eight sport modes, including a triathlon mode, touchless transitions, and “Perfect View” screen zoom options so you can focus on the metrics that matter most.
Not only is it a successful first for the brand, but the ELEMNT’s competitive price of $379 also puts it center spotlight among other watches on market.
Perhaps nothing best exemplifies “Gear of the Year” — new products that fill a need and provide comfort, utility, or peace of mind for adventures big or small — better than the now-ubiquitous face coverings we all wear. Whether shopping for groceries, stopping for gas, or meeting new people on trail, masks have become a necessary item we bring everywhere.
In fact, it’s safe to say that if you had to sum up 2020 with one piece of gear, the face mask would be it. And at a time when everyone needed a mask, virtually every gear brand stepped up to meet demand. And whether it was for running or style, companies from around the industry had something for everyone.
So, for all the brands who helped us keep covered: This is our top pick for Gear of the Year.