Even as we spend too much time within protective walls, brands continue developing ways to maximize our moments outside them — and easing the transition between these very different worlds. No wonder some of our favorite new outdoors products include a headlamp that provides exactly the amount of illumination you need, a sleeping bag that mimics a spider web for optimal insulation and a ski binding that makes climbing uphill almost as effortless as schussing down.
BioLite HeadLamp 750
Light Modes: Spot, flood, spot and flood, strobe, burst, red flood, rear red, rear red strobe
Waterproofing: IPX4 (guards against rain, but not submersion)
Battery: 3,000 mAh Li-ion, Micro-USB rechargeable
Headlamps have a dirty secret. Those numbers attached to their names and displayed on their boxes? They are boasts of brightness, measures of maximum light output counted in lumens, but they don't tell the whole story. What the makers of these lights fail to mention is that headlamps hit those high beam levels for only a short period before dimming down.
Headlamps do this to conserve battery life and achieve longer run times. Now BioLite is shedding light on the situation, so to speak, with Constant Mode. Unique to the HeadLamp 750, Constant Mode lets you halt the dimming and run at a stable brightness for an extended time.
The mode maxes out at 500 lumens — the full 750 is reserved for Burst Mode — which it can run for two hours before dropping into a five-lumen reserve state. Set it at 250 lumens, and you can squeeze four hours out of it.
By contrast, other lights might begin to dim as soon as 30 seconds after emitting their full brightness. Extending that luminosity isn’t easy.
"The biggest tricky thing is the thermals," says Ryan Gist, director of engineering at BioLite. "You have to keep the LEDs and electronics cold but also get that heat off so it's not going right into your forehead or near the battery." The breakthroughs in the 750 come in part from products BioLite designs for use in developing regions of Africa.
Constant Mode isn’t the only standout feature though. There’s also Run Forever Mode, which keeps the light on forever when wired to an external battery in a backpack. And there’s a rear light for visibility, ensuring this honest illuminator looks just about as good from the back as it does from the front.
POC Cornea Solar Switch Goggle
Light Gradient Range: 7 to 33% VLT (visible light transmission)
Available Colors: Uranium black
Additional Treatments: Anti-fog and anti-scratch
Two years ago, the GP100 included a futuristic pair of winter goggles that could shift from one tint to another at the push of a button. That capability had existed before, but not in such a streamlined and effortless package. They seemed too good to be true, and they might've been because they were never released.
But now POC has made the dream a reality. It cut the cord, uncoupling electrochromism — the property allowing certain materials to change color or opacity when introduced to an electric charge — from batteries and buttons. Instead: a solar array, self-sufficient, automatic and embedded in the forehead of the Cornea Solar Switch. It enables the lens to darken when the sun is out and lighten when the clouds roll in.
"By and large the best [technologies] are always the ones you don't notice, they just work," says Oscar Huss, product director at POC. "Solar is more convenient, simple and elegant. When you think about it, to use the sun's energy to give you protection from its light is just neat, especially when it's automatic and instant."
The key ingredient is a liquid-crystal layer — not unlike what’s used in the dimmable windows of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner — that adjusts when it receives a solar-facilitated charge. (The functionality also appears in POC’s new Aspire Solar Switch, a pair of shades for cycling.)
Best of all, the switch happens faster than you'd think to reach for the spare lens of a manually interchangeable pair, leaving you free to focus on slashing fresh powder.
Montbell Seamless Down Hugger WR #3
Temperature Limit: 30°F
Insulation: 900-fill Power EX Down
Shell: Weather-resistant Gore-Tex Infinium Windstopper
United States Patent No. 7,900,301, filed on December 19, 2008, is notably vague in its abstract. It describes "a woven fabric product made of woven fabric pieces cut out of woven fabric," positioned in a particular way. The diagram adorning the patent's first page depicts three stacked rectangles. The outermost two are characterized by diagonal lines and the one in the center by pointillist dots; it might be an aerial view of a scenic parkway or a cross-section of a grilled cheese sandwich.
It's neither. The patent is for Montbell's Spiral Stretch System, a sleeping bag innovation the brand it swears by to this day. Its inventor-speak language describes an elasticized construction that allows a bag to embrace its occupant while stretching to accommodate any tossing and turning. It's cozy, non-restricting and, because it eliminates extra space between bag and body, heat efficient, too.
“Spiral Stretch” refers to the "Down Hugger" portion of the Seamless Down Hugger WR's wordy moniker, but there's another innovation, patent-pending, that gets you the "Seamless" bit. It's called Spider Yarn, and it enables Montbell to abandon the traditional method of building sleeping bags with baffles, the interior fabric separators typically belied by a bag's exterior rows of stitching. Baffles exist to create tubular channels, which prevent the down filling they hold from shifting into uneven concentrations.
Spider Yarn effortlessly assumes that function. Strands of it, arranged like a web, trap clusters of down in place, creating a sheet of evenly distributed fluff. Without baffles, the down is left to loft unrestricted, increasing overall warmth and minimizing cold spots. Bonus: the stitch-free design also makes it look as sleek and cool as a sleeping bag can.
Outdoor Research Archangel Gore-Tex Jacket
Weight: 19.4 ounces
Handy Hood: Helmet compatible and wire brimmed for stability
Pit Zips? You know it
Gearing up for outdoor adventure can be an exercise in compromise. A cozy fleece might not breathe great, for instance, while a durable hardshell ski jacket might not flex so well. The latest generation of Gore-Tex Pro leaves such trade-offs behind.
“It offers the ability to find the jacket or pants that really work for your needs,” explains Gore product specialist Mark McKinnie, who led the reinvention of Pro fabrics. “A garment that’s highly focused on a specific purpose, or something in between for all-around use.”
In development since 2016, Gore-Tex Pro 3L encompasses not one upgraded material, but three, which the brand refers to as “most rugged,” “most breathable” and “stretch.” Apparel makers can transform any garment with just one of these materials, but that’s just the beginning. Like comic book characters with special superpowers — most notably stretch, which adds a thin layer of elastane for 20 percent give — they make the biggest impact when they join forces.
Exhibit A: Outdoor Research's Archangel Gore-Tex Jacket, one of the first garments to deploy multiple versions of the technology where they’re needed most. This climbing-specific shell combines the most breathable material with strategically placed stretch.
“The name comes from the angel wing-shaped stretch-pattern piece on the upper back and shoulders,” reveals OR outerwear project manager Charlie Berg. “Along with panels on the side body and underarm, it provides really good overhead reach. This fabric package gives the jacket a unique level of performance — it’s really rare.”
OR isn’t the only enthusiastic brand. Everyone from Arc’teryx to Norrøna to Patagonia is working the material into the streetwear and mountain gear of the future. If the Archangel is any indication, that future looks bright, breathable and stretchy.
Marker Duke PT
Weight: 30 ounces uphill, 40.6 ounces downhill (PT 12)
DIN Range: 4-12 or 6-16, depending on model
Boot Compatibility: Alpine, Touring and GripWalk soles
Every backcountry skier knows that how you get uphill is as important as how you get down, and for decades, backcountry bindings favored easing the ascent. But that’s a shame, because few of us got into skiing for the climbing. Marker's Duke PT makes no such concession. Remove its toepiece entirely to lighten the underfoot load and reveal pins for smooth uphilling, then snap it back into place with a four-part auto-lock mechanism when it's time for those glorious downhill turns. Who wants to pay for a lift ticket anyway?
Hydro Flask Trail Series
Weight: 8 ounces
Capacity: 21 ounces
Further Detail: Even the carrying strap is perforated to shave weight
How do you make one of the best hiking bottles on the market even better? You shave the weight. So Hydro Flask did just that, adopting titanium construction — extending even to the mouth cap and the pivots of the strap — and reducing space within the double-walled insulation without sacrificing its temperature-maintaining power. This tough, adventure-ready vessel still keeps cold beverages cold for 24 hours and hot ones hot for 12, but it’s slimmer, more stylish and 35 percent lighter than its predecessors.
Hillsound BTR Stool
Weight: 12.2 ounces
Folded Height: 11.4 inches
Load Capacity: 240 pounds
Better than a rock. That’s the joke behind the acronymic moniker of this ultralight instant seat. Stash it in your pack’s water bottle slot, and it’s ready to blossom into a surprisingly comfortable camp stool at a moment’s notice. The 14-inch BTR smartly supports your tired tuchus with nylon mesh fabric and aluminum alloy poles (a 17-inch version is available for taller campers). The coolest feature? Phantom Lock, which allows the twisting telescopic legs to magically stiffen once engaged.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Ultralight Down Jacket
Weight: 6.67 ounces (medium)
Shell: Ripstop fabric with a DWR finish
Ideal Use: Backcountry skiing … or outdoor aprés drinking
A funny thing happened in 2018. A confluence of frosty Eastern European temps and preponderance of older, fluffier geese gave Allied Feather and Down access to a limited quantity of uncommonly toasty, airy 1,000-fill down. The supplier approached Mountain Hardwear, which slipped some of it into the lightest, warmest, fully-featured insulated layer ever. Even with a hood and zippered pockets, the new Ghost Whisperer packs down to the size of a Chipotle burrito. If you see one, grab it: MH only had enough material for 2,000 jackets.
Matador Seg42 Travel Pack
Weight: 2 pounds, 4 ounces
Number of pockets: 9
Matador's unique take on the rugged travel duffel, a ubiquitous item in the pre-COVID-19 age, is apparent at a glance: it's covered in zippers. There are five on its lid, each one opening into separate compartments that occupy the bag's entire 42-liter void. The design provides the organization of packing cubes plus the convenience of exterior access, a combo no other pack offers. The interior dividers can also be tucked behind a panel when all you want is a standard-format duffel, complete with backpack straps and a hidden laptop sleeve.
Big Agnes Salt Creek SL3
Interior Dimensions: 70 x 86 x 47 inches
Packed Weight: 5 pounds, 2 ounces
Additional Features: Outer vestibules for gear storage, three interior mesh pockets plus loops for a gear loft
With one simple feature, the SL3 three-person tent transmutes the camping experience from huddling inside a ripstop pod to immersing oneself in the natural landscape (you know, the way camping should be). That feature is a third door. Roll it up for a 270-degree view of sprawling vistas and gorgeous sunsets. Attach a pair of trekking poles, and it deploys as a handy awning for extended shade and rain protection. Practically speaking, that extra door is also an extra exit, so whoever winds up as the middle sleeper doesn't have to clamber over the others to get out.