The Coolest Pieces of Gear We Tested This Week

Here at Men’s Journal, we constantly test the latest gear to find the best new products you should know about to take your next adventure, workout, wardrobe, and every other part of your life to the next level. That includes everything from the best new adventure gear like a kayak that can double as a fishing boat to the absolute coolest gadgets and innovative tech you should own like a must-have soundbar to upgrade your home theater setup or a pair of bookshelf speakers. Here, check out our editors’ favorite picks for Gear of the Week.

[Editor’s Note: Check back each week to see an updated list of our favorite new products, along with all the previous weeks’ gear picks.]

Blue Diamond Sea Salt Almonds & Whole Blueberrry

Snacks are fuel for performance or everyday life, so, yeah, we qualify them as essential gear. Blue Diamonds just released their Almond & Fruit blend series with pairings that include sweet cardamom almonds and honeycrisp apple, ghost pepper almonds and tart cherry, and dark chocolate-flavored almonds and toasted coconut. I’m partial to the roasted sea-salt almonds with whole, dried blueberries. They’re simple, satisfying—with great crunch from the nuts and chew from the blueberry nuggets—and ideal for stashing in a backpacking pack, in a gym bag, or an office desk drawer. — Brittany Smith, Senior Editor

[$4.90, single bag;]

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Proof 72-Hour Merino Tee

There are some tees you reach for just about every day—and then there’s the one that’s actually designed for it. I recently wore Proof’s newest 72-Hour top two days straight. The goal with this gear is that you’re supposed to be able to wear the shirt for three days without it starting to stink. A behind-the-seams look would show you the merino’s doing the hard work to keep you feeling fresh and ready to go even when you’re far from it. In an ideal situation, you wouldn’t wear the same shirt for that long, but it felt good knowing I could if I needed to, whether I’m on a trip or just have an unexpectedly sweaty commute. The shirt, which comes in any color you could want, has the feel of an athletic shirt and has a similar weight to that of a cotton tee. The 72-Hour Merino Tee is part of Proof’s new gear rollout that includes a 72-Hour Merino Henley ($74 and $98 for long-sleeve) and its 72-Hour Merino Polo ($78), which feels like the kind of business-casual shirt you might wear every day (or hell, three days), especially when the forecast is calling for hot weather. In short, it’s a line ready for your most adventurous days this spring and summer. —John Lonsdale, Deputy Digital Editor

[From $68;]

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ROKA R1 Goggles (Dark Amber Mirror)

ROKA’s consistently pushing innovation in the triathlon space, whether it’s with a revolutionary wetsuit design or, in this case, a brilliantly engineered goggle that expands the typical field of view. Their R1 Goggle, designed for open-water swims, has an 11-degree retroscopic tilt, meaning the bottom of the lens is tilted away from the cheeks. That, coupled with reduced architecture along the top of the goggle lets you see more of your surroundings—like a buoy or a boat—helping you swim straight, maximizing speed and efficiency. There are 12 lenses to choose from, each tint primed for varying conditions, like low light (pre-dawn swims), fog, transition light, and bright sun. Triathlon season, here you come. — Brittany Smith, Senior Editor


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2019 Lincoln Nautilus

Completely wiped out after a couple hours of snowshoeing, we were ready for a relaxing afternoon but still had a short drive ahead of us. Fortunately, we got just that when we got back to the parking lot: the all-new 2019 Lincoln Nautilus. We loaded up our muddy and wet boots and changed out of our snow pants and stowed them in the back, pressing a button to open and close the rear door. Turning on the heated seats and pressing another button on the dash to reverse, a rearview camera offered an extra set of eyes to help us get out of the lot, especially helpful considering our back window was covered with mud. The Nautilus is a luxury five-seater that can accommodate a few of your buddies or your family, along with tons of high-tech features in and out that we recently had the chance to test for ourselves. Back in the city at the start of our long weekend, connecting our iPhone and cranking a playlist to 11 on the fantastic Revel sound system, we took the new SUV upstate for a late-winter weekend getaway. Hitting the weekend crowd traffic out of the city, we got comfortable thanks to the Nautilus’ roomy interior for our road trip out of Manhattan. This Nautilus is equipped with the brand’s Co-Pilot360 system, including BLIS, an acronym for its Blind Spot Information System, which is perfect considering it’s bliss when it comes to city navigation and getting alerted when there’s a vehicle approaching. Your headlights: You can set them to automatically switch to high or low when you’re approaching an oncoming car. The bottom line: From tech that helps you literally stay in your lane on the highway to adaptive cruise control, Lincoln built the Co-Pilot360 as a solid driving companion to make your drive safer, and it delivered during our weekend of testing. The best part is that it doesn’t show off—it’s there when you need it and out of the way when you don’t, letting you enjoy the ride just a little bit more. — John Lonsdale, Deputy Digital Editor

[From $40,340;]

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RX Nut Butter Vanilla Almond Butter

RX Nut Butter is the answer to your almond and peanut butter woes. If you’re a bit bored of the normal variations, or just want something to fix a hankering for sweets, grab their protein-packed jars or single-serve pouches. With flavors like Vanilla Almond Butter (great on apples), Honey Cinnamon Peanut Butter (slather on a banana), and Maple Almond Butter (smear on toast), it’s honestly difficult to choose a favorite. We like the added egg whites for protein (9g), dates for sweetness (3g), and coconut oil and sea salt for taste and texture. These babies clock in at 180 calories for 2 Tbsp—about the same for a normal serving of nut butter—so snack in moderation. — Brittany Smith, Senior Editor

[$22.98, 2-pack;]

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Rapha Custom

Whether you’re part of a cycling club, spend your weekends pedaling with a hodgepodge mix of old friends, or are gearing up to compete with a group in a tour or race, you’ll appreciate Rapha’s new custom kit offerings. Starting with a minimum of five orders, you can personalize jerseys, bib shorts, filets, base layers, and accessories. Choose from hundreds of color ways, fades, and patterns, even adding team names and sponsor logos. Right now you can select between Rapha’s two signature ranges: Pro Team (more of a performance-driven fit and feel) and Classic (a more relaxed kit). Soon, there will be more ranges available for customization. And, perhaps best of all, the pricing is scaled, so the more kits you order, the cheaper the price (up to 40% off). Let your imagination run as wild as your rides. – Brittany Smith, Senior Editor

[Starting at $170 per item for an order of 5-9;]

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Sony 4K SXRD Home Cinema Projector

There’s no shortage of TV ads trying to upsell larger screens in the weeks leading to the Super Bowl, that annual American celebration of nachos, gambling, and judging commercials. And for last year’s game, I went really big—Sony-projector-big.

Like many, a lot of my interactions with projectors have been at movie theaters or the occasional presentation at the office, so I didn’t really know what to expect. While the lighting in my living room is somewhat controlled, it’s not a dark as a dedicated home theater, which is where something like this Sony is designed to shine.

After spending some time setting up a portable screen, and running wires for speakers and a subwoofer to the AV receiver (this projector doesn’t have built-in sound) we sat down to some pre-game action. Images from this projector are crisp, even in a less than ideal room flooding with light. Typically, most 4K projectors used tech to boost the lower than true 4K resolution up, making it look better on the screen. Why? Because true 4K projectors were simply too expensive for most homeowners, until recently. This projector is priced at the entry-level end of the true 4K market.

With 8.8 million pixels and a lamp cranking out 1,500 lumens of brightness, the game had very saturated resolution. During commercials, I was surprised by the solid black level performance, which is something that you’ll need for 4K movies. Sitting next to the projector the cooling fan was pretty quiet and only noticeable in high lamp mode.

But maybe the best part is how easily it suits two kinds of movie watchers. If you want to geek out on the setting and fine tune the image, you can. But, if you just want to watch the game, you can pick between a range of preset settings. — Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor


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Vitamix A2500 Ascent Series

In my book, a toaster oven and a coffee maker are the only appliances that I use frequently enough to warrant dedicated countertop real estate (that’s almost true: a coffee bean grinder is also a worthwhile investment). While I have other kitchen gadgets, from a sous vide circulator to a stand mixer to a waffle maker, none of them get used enough to sit out all the time. Until now, that’s how I viewed blenders—but Vitamix changed that. I knew Vitamix’s rep long before I got one. These machines are a fixture in many commercial kitchens and they’re whirling around behind the counter at places like the Smoothie King and Starbucks. They don’t come cheap, so why do you need one when a $100 blender will mix stuff up? 

The smoothies coming out of its 64-ounce carafe are just smoothier than what I’d normally be drinking at home. The brand’s earned a rep for some serious horsepower and performance, most of which is controlled with an old-school knob on many of its models. The A2500 is a take on that with a knob that gets a visual refresh with a digital timer and a pair of flip switches. The chunky base hides a 2.2-peak horsepower motor that makes soups silky smooth and blasts protein powder into oblivion, so you don’t get any of that chalky taste. All that power leaves you with a refined, creamier blend that doesn’t take nearly as long.

Now, with this kind of power, smoothies happen almost daily, but it’s also got me into making mayonnaise and peanut butter—the latter you’d be foolish to try on lesser machines. Cleanup doesn’t have to be fussy either, which helps make it easy to work the machine into your daily routine. Just fill the carafe with warm soapy water and give it a whirl for a few seconds. — Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor


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Nike Free RN 5.0 Running Sneakers

You’re about to see some new Nikes on your next road run: This week the brand dropped its 2019 Free RN 5.0 running shoes. With a 6mm heel drop, these Nikes help your feet get reacquainted with the road under you. Put simply, they’re designed to make your feet feel and move a little closer to what it’s like if you weren’t wearing sneakers at all. Nike suggests going slow with the Free RN 5.0s to start—spring for shorter runs and lead up to longer ones, especially if you’re not used to this type of running shoe. You can get a pair for yourself online now if you’re a Nike member and in stores the first week of April. In the meantime, if you’re looking for comfortable, lightweight running sneakers to wear on longer runs, try Nike’s Epic React Flyknit 2s. — John Lonsdale, Deputy Digital Editor 


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Levi 501 Slim Tapered

Levi 501 jeans are iconic. Every red-blooded American male knows this. But, in honor of the 166-year-old company going public, I figured it’s worth touting one of the new, modernized 501 cuts: the Slim Taper, part of Levi’s Red Tab collection. I’ve always been more of a 511 guy, preferring a slim fit that I can wear at the office without looking super cas (only mostly cas). The new 501 ST strikes a harmonious balance between the 511’s sleeker, contemporary design and the roomy, original tailored-for-grandpas 501. The jeans sit at mid-waist, so your ass will hang out of them 500 percent less than with the 511s, and they’re slim but not so slim that kids will ask you what early-aughts indie band you used to play in. And, at the end of the day, that’s all I really want in a pair of jeans. — J.R. Sullivan, Senior Editor


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Blundstone 500 Series Chelsea Boot

When it comes to gear, most of us are on the hunt for the newest, shiniest, most innovative. But sometimes, it’s more satisfying to take the opposite approach, to ditch the quest for a new love and instead reconnect with an old, trusted friend. Which brings me to the Blundstone #500 series Chelsea boots that I cannot seem to remove from my feet. There’s nothing novel or cutting-edge about them—they’re the same slip-on ankle boots that the Australian shoemaker has been cranking out since 1968. They’re astonishingly versatile. When it’s cold, they keep your feet warm and dry; when it warms up, they feel light and cool. Dress them up with a sport coat, down with jeans—or in the summer, shorts. According to Blundstone, more than 25 million pairs have been sold over the past five decades. I know that I had a pair once many years ago, but they got lost somewhere along the way. I am glad that they’re back in my life. — Larry Kanter, Deputy Editor


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Caldera + Lab The Good Multi-Functional Serum

As the grooming editor, I’m lucky enough to get to try a lot of products. But few of them make it into my normal rotation. I’ve been using Caldera + Lab The Good Multi-Functional Serum for several weeks and it’s an absolute keeper. The serum, designed specifically for men—is made almost entirely of oils and extracts from seeds, herbs, flowers, and fruit. It smells lightly herbaceous. (My colleagues have described it as “fresh,” “earthy,” and “grassy.”) It rubs into skin really easily and completely, so your face doesn’t have a greasy look—a feat of chemistry since it has so much oil in it. It’s brightened up my visage and made my skin softer. And since it’s made of 100% non-toxic, wild harvested, organic ingredients, it should be OK for people with sensitive skin (though you should always do a patch test if you’re concerned). The packaging is really handsome, so you’ll be glad to leave it out on your bathroom counter or nightstand. — Marjorie Korn, Senior Editor


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Salted Caramel Perfect Bar

In the pursuit of leading a healthier lifestyle, I’ve tried to nix processed food and excess sugar from my diet. That’s easier said than done when I’m ravenous after a workout, craving something sweet, or getting peckish at the office. I’ve been reaching for Perfect Bar’s latest flavor: salted caramel. It’s fudgy in texture and pretty dense, so I feel satisfied (not hungry after 20 minutes). Its main ingredients are peanut and cashew butter, so, no, it’s not a low-calorie bar by any means; it clocks in at 320 calories and 17 grams of sugar, which are pretty high. That said, the sugar is coming from real food, like honey and maple syrup, which I’d prefer over the fake stuff. And it’s not like typical processed bars. You’ve got to store it in the fridge. Typically, I’ll eat half and store the rest if I want a sweet snack—that’s if I can stop myself once I start devouring. — Brittany Smith, Senior Editor

[8 bars, $29;]

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To The Beat Duffel 24L Lululemon X SoulCycle

I was on the subway yesterday and someone asked me about this To The Beat Duffel, a collaboration between Lululemon and SoulCycle. I usually don’t get that excited about gym bags—in fact, I’ll more often toss clothes, shoes, and a lock into a plain ‘ol backpack. But this is no ordinary gym bag. It’s made of neoprene, which is lightweight and stays looking fresh—even after it’s been stuffed in gym lockers, kicked under my desk, and dropped on salt-covered sidewalks. It has a bottom zipper compartment separate from the main hold, which can be used to store dirty clothes or shoes (a pair of boots can also fit flat across the bottom). And the bag has nice structure, so you can find things inside really easily. Best part is that it’s currently on sale. Get it while it’s hot. — Marjorie Korn, Senior Editor 

[$139—typically $198,]

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MLily Fusion Luxe Mattress

A bed that’s too soft or unsupportive and envelops you in a stifling cocoon—those are my two bugaboos when it comes to mattresses. I sleep hot and have low-back issues, but I was pleasantly surprised after testing Mlily’s Fusion Luxe mattress. The company, which has partnered with Manchester United to boost athletes’ recovery, has what it likes to call 12.5” of performance layers nestled within the mattress. Its base has a sturdy flex foam to create a supportive foundation, as well as a flex border meant to distribute your body weight and ease pressure. This is a hybrid mattress, meaning it has foam and, in this case, 1,000 pocket springs, which keep you from sinking into the mattress. A zoned foam sits on top of the coils to provide steady airflow—really nice if you sleep like a rock and tend to stay in the same spot. Next is a smart latex foam that really hugs the contours of your body. And finally, there’s a foam engineered to regulate temperature and a cooling knit fabric to ensure this puppy stays cool. And it does. My spine also felt properly aligned when sleeping on my back. Another added bonus: It ships in a box. It’s compressed and rolled—just make sure you have some extra hands as it’s pretty heavy. — Brittany Smith, Senior Editor

[Starting at $1,948.50;]

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Bevel Beard and Hair Trimmer

Some of our editors visited the Bevel Barbershop in Barclays Center (it’s open throughout the remainder of the basketball season, and indefinitely during select events and concerts). And by that I mean I watched our Editorial Production Director, Russ, get a proper haircut by a celebrity barber—his first in 25 years. If you’re the type of guy who likes to trim his own hair and beard—or at least touch them up between trips to the barber, you’ll appreciate this cordless trimmer. Getting crisp, clean lines and fades is a cinch with the adjustable blade (no tools required). The ergonomic shape is designed to fit comfortably in your hand for greater control, plus it’s quiet and stays cool, even after extended use. Russ’ verdict: He’ll continue to be his own barber, albeit with better results, thanks to Bevel. — Brittany Smith, Senior Editor


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Like you, I’ve never used a snow brush and thought: Well, that worked well. But with the SnoShark, I’m changing my tune. It’s not your average convenience-store buy. The 2-pound scraper is over-engineered in every way: The 20 1/4 x 11-inch nylon head flips out, creating a rake you can use to push or pull a large sheet of snow off your car. It has an EVA foam cover, so it won’t scratch your windshield or paint. The handle extends the tool to almost 40 inches, so reaching across even the largest SUV isn’t an issue, and it collapses down to about 24-inches—perfect for stashing in your trunk. Pivot the head back down and it works as an ice scraper, though because of the head size, detail work—like scraping your side-view mirrors—takes some effort. — Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor


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Asics MetaRide

A couple of our editors have been lucky enough to take Asics’ new shoe, the MetaRide, for a spin. They’re zero-drop—meaning the heel is even with the toe—but you wouldn’t know it given what designers have coined GuideSole technology. The sole is curved to rock you forward and give a sense of propulsion. The bulk of the shoe’s weight is in the back (a men’s size 12 is 12.3 oz), so your stride mimics a pendulum. Pressure is taken off the ankle joint; the toe box is tapered, which is meant to help with toe-off; and heel-lock technology keeps your foot secure without added irritation. All of this works to maximize energy efficiency, making longer miles feel less taxing. Asics’ designers say heel strikers will get the most out of it, since it naturally keeps you more on the ball of your foot, as will neutral runners. That said, over-pronators (whose feet roll inward more than the normal 15%) will enjoy them just fine.

So, specs aside, how does MetaRide perform? I’ve had mixed feelings about maximalist shoes in the past, but I was pleasantly surprised when I started jogging. I spent a couple years consciously transitioning from a heel striker to a mid-foot striker, and the MetaRide felt like they were made for me. Running just felt easy, and I wasn’t actively thinking about how I was landing—though the real fun begins when you pick up the pace and sprint. The heel stayed put, as promised, and the shoe overall felt snug but not uncomfortable. It’s a sharp-looking release from Asics. (As a long-time Chicago Bulls fan, I’ll always be partial to red and black.) 

If there’s a buzzkill, it’s the price: $250. But Asics promises it’ll go down in the coming months (they’ll also roll out cheaper versions of the shoe), and that you can expect to get more miles out of these than other running shoes—up to 500. Fifty cents a mile. Totally worth it. — Marjorie Korn, Senior Editor


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Banza Chickpea Rice

I’m down with cauliflower rice, but sometimes you want something a little toothier. This week, Banza, the company that makes chickpea pasta, released a rice version of their garbanzo formula. It contains almost four times the amount of protein than brown rice, and 5 grams of fiber per serving. Chickpea pasta/rice can be a little finicky. Underdone and it tastes bitter, while overdone makes it fall apart. I’ve found the cooking time is less than it says on the package; it only needed about 3 or 4 minutes, so watch it like a hawk. Use a wooden spoon to “catch” a little rice to try it, then drain while it’s still chewy, since the residual heat will cook the rice further. So far I’ve used it to make a mushroom and spinach bowl. I’m excited to try it in our Perfect Stir-Fry recipe. Can paella be that far behind? Find it at Whole Foods. — Marjorie Korn, Senior Editor

[$4 for 8-oz bag;]

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Google Home Hub

Who doesn’t want their devices streamlined? (Rhetorical question. The answer’s no one.) Google Home Hub houses all your everyday gadgets—calendar, speaker, computer—in a sleek 7-inch display. Keep it in your kitchen; Google Assistant can pull up recipes and YouTube tutorials if, say, you need to know how to tie a chicken for roasting when you’re wrist deep in said chicken. Post it in your living room to play your favorite Spotify playlist and put your favorite photos on rotation using Live Albums. Or, keep it in your bedroom to get up-to-date weather and traffic updates when you get ready in the morning. It’s so handy, but don’t be surprised if you need to suppress the impulse to holler out Hey, Google when you get in the office. — Brittany Smith, Senior Editor


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Wahl Lithium Ion Vacuum Trimmer

I’m going to guess if you’re a guy under the age of 35 that you’re likely nurturing a beard that lives somewhere between a 5 o’clock shadow and the point when significant other keeps asking “When are you going to shave that thing?” Like you, I’m in the perma-stubble camp and for years I kept a 1/8-inch guide affixed to a bulky, full-size trimmer—the sort your barber might use—to mow my face down each Monday. It works, but the head’s wide and not easy to articulate, it’s loud, and it leaves a mess in the sink. 

All reasons why you should upgrade to this Wahl vacuum trimmer—and I know, it sounds infomercialish to have a beard trimmer-Hoover hybrid. But it works: Nearly all the clippings get sucked into a little, removable mesh trap and the first few times I had to stop and look inside just to prove to myself it was working because you can barely feel it cutting and there’s no mess. The kit has all the guides you need, the buzzer is just over a pound in weight and runs pretty quiet, and it lasts about 90 minutes before needing a recharge. —Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor


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OtterBox Venture 25 Cooler

I went to Florida a couple weeks ago and took along the OtterBox Venture 25 Cooler to put it through its paces. At 25 quarts, it’s the smallest of the three sizes (45 qt. and 65 qt. are also available) and totally fine to check on domestic flights without additional fees. I mostly used it to lug around rations on a boating trip, and to tote beer after a tennis tournament. It more than did the trick. It’s plenty big to hold a couple days’ worth of stuff for a couple people (or one day’s worth for a group). Use the separators and trays to partition off drinks food, ice, or fish if you’re on a fishing trip. As you’d expect from a premium cooler, everything works great. The latches create a strong seal, the handles make it comfortable to carry, the drainage plug is a nice touch, and it serves as an extra seat. For camping, the side table is a must. It promises to keep ice cold up to 10 days. And since I needed to leave the cooler with my folks, my dad verified that, after a week of sitting in the back of his car in the hot Florida sun, the ice melted but the Miami Weiss stayed cold. — Marjorie Korn, Senior Editor


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Aer Sling Bag 2

There is such a thing as the perfect caryall. Aer’s Sling Bag 2 has a designated shoe compartment that keeps your sweaty, dirty kicks off your valuables. The front pocket lets you slip in your phone, cards, and keys for easy access, so there’s no need to rifle through all your belongings when they inevitably drop to the bottom of the bag. We also love the ballistic nylon exterior and YKK Japanese zippers; the bag feels premium and durable, ready for years of use. — Brittany Smith, Senior Editor


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Fluance Ai40 Powered 5” Bookshelf Speakers

I will bet the small fortune that I don’t have, that if you bought a speaker in the past 18 months it was wireless, Bluetooth-ready and could fit in a backpack. Miniature speakers that upgrade your phone’s sound by a smidge are all the rage for convenience and portability. I totally get it, but I’m here to tell you, it’s time to get back in the legitimate speaker game. And the easiest, best way to do that right now is to go buy yourself a pair of Ai40s. (That’s right, a pair. Pretty helpful if you’re taking advantage of that 1930s innovation called stereo sound.)

They are incredibly easy to hook-up and versatile. A standard RCA input (the red and white cables), means they can connect to TVs, receivers, or even laptops. Plus, they also have Bluetooth capability, so you can stream directly from any device without the help of any other components. And the sound? It’s awesome. I’ve had them in my office attached to a turntable and the rich, deep tones have made me rediscover all sorts of music that I’d been streaming through one of those paltry portables. It’s a revelation. —Greg Emmanuel, Editor-in-Chief


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Stio Gannett Peak Hooded Jacket

Stio nailed this mid-layer fleece by hitting a couple of key points: The exterior of the Gannet is a smooth, 100 percent knitted polyester, so your top layers slip and slide easily without bunching up, which is what you want under your ski jacket. Next to skin, the feel is warm, light, and textured—but it will grab if you wear it over a long sleeve shirt, which can be annoying. The zippered chest pocket is perfect to stash a phone, keys, or a wallet. On a run, the poly fabric wicks moisture off your skin and breathes well. The 12-oz weight stands up as an outer layer in milder weather, and the horizontal striping pattern is just enough to keep it from being another boring fleece. — Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor


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This premium subscription box service is part bargain and part personal stylist. After you complete an online questioner about your style—body type, size, the brands you wear, and what styles you like, based on photos—Bombfell’s stylist assemble a box of tops and pants, pulling from popular brand names. You keep what you want, return what you don’t (you have seven days to return it using a shipping label they provide) while saving up to 20 percent off full price for clothing you decide to keep. We found the experience pretty straightforward, from working with their stylist over emails and editing the box. Once the order is prepped, you have 48 hours to confirm or make changes by email before it ships. We like the fact the shipping label is included, which makes returning clothing dead simple. The average price of a box is around $90 and could be a solid solution for someone who is too busy to shop or paralyzed by the choices when they visit the store. —Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor


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It’s not often that something comes around in the category of fitness equipment that actually feels both new and, more importantly, useful. So I was intrigued when I learned about XChain, a modular weight that changes shape with a few clicks. And after trying it out for a few weeks, I’m pretty sold on the thing. It’s made up of six links, which all together weighs 10 pounds. Doesn’t seem like a lot, but by creating different shapes, it changes the weight distribution, and you’ll have to take my word for it that it feels more like 20 pounds when you play around with it. Between each of the grip-friendly links, there’s a lock/unlock switch, meaning you can change the shape fairly quickly. It’s designed for high intensity interval training, and since it doesn’t weigh as much as, say, a kettlebell or a mace, you have to control the path of the XChain throughout the entire movement, rather than letting inertia take the wheel (like you do in a kettlebell swing).  Make it into a cube for overhead slams and one-arm swings, make it into an S for wood choppers, create a U and put it on your shoulders for ballistic squats, or lengthen it for swings. The company has done persuading power output studies, but getting the thing in your hands and playing around with it is convincing, too. It’s not intuitive, necessarily, but the website has a guide online with eight configurations and the exercises you can do with it. It also takes up very little space, so for at-home workouts, it’s great. It won’t replace barbells and hand weights, but it is a fun workout, and different than you’ve probably ever experienced—and how often can you say that? —Marjorie Korn, Senior Editor


Courtesy XChain

Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L

When it comes to travel bags, flexibility is essential and Peak Design’s Travel Backpack proved that when we took it along to cover the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in Denver. We asked a lot: hold three days’ worth of clothing—including two bulky sport coats—along with toiletries and tech, yet keep it all organized.

Aside from the brand’s Tech Pouch ($59.95), which we filled with a tablet, Goal Zero battery, and cables, which we crammed into a smaller satchel that was easier to handle on the plane, we fit everything else in the expandable Travel Backpack that was tucked in the overhead. Heavy? Sure. But we were able to zip around the show faster than with a wheeled carry-on with both hands free, and getting on and off the plane was easier, too. 

The bag’s design is smart, with pockets and panels that max out your organization, but with the ability to convert into duffel-like open space for those times when you just need to shove a bunch of stuff in and get out the door. While the bag expands to 45L it will compress down to 35L when you’re traveling lighter, and handy straps on every end help get it in and out of tight spaces. The build sits up and zippers on all side get you into the main cavity from any angle. That design feature makes it really easy to swing the bag around to your chest, unzip, and yank out a laptop, tablet, or your camera.

Our favorite parts are the rotating straps that tuck away and clean up the look of the bag, making it easier to get in and out of overhead storage. Okay, that’s not exactly true: Our real favorite part is the nearly 20-minute long video tutorial on the brand’s site walking you through all the features. You don’t often see that for a bag, but this one warrants the education. But, don’t worry, use the bag once or twice and it becomes second nature.

Get it alone, or use it like we did, kitted out with packing cubes designed to fit inside (from $29.95). Equally as impressive is its Wash Pouch ($59.95) which might be the best design we’ve used: flat bottom that sits up tall, with a clamshell opening in the right mix of bulk storage and tiny pockets for contacts, toothpaste, and shave gear. — Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor


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Filson Ranger Backpack

I’ve tested tons of backpacks over the years, but I’ve never found one that’s big enough to use for a weekend getaway and that looks nice enough to haul my gear to work—until now. Filson’s rugged Ranger backpack is pretty minimal: It has one huge main compartment, a spot to keep a laptop or a magazine inside, along with one small pocket for keys or a portable charger and an opening flap that, should you spill something on it, wipes off without a problem. While the buckles sometimes slow me down when I’m rushing out the door, I don’t have to worry about a potential broken zipper. It’s not cheap, but it’s ideal for the traveler who wants to upgrade their everyday luggage. — John Lonsdale, Deputy Editor


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Jaybird RUN XT

The beauty of Jaybird’s Run XT earbuds is two-fold. They don’t stick out of your head like Frankenstein bolts (they’re sleek and for the most part stay put); and they’re a powerhorse for more than just running, whether you want to pop one in when you’re cycling, shooting hoops, or cranking out a gym session. And they just got a major upgrade: They’re entirely waterproof. Head out in a torrential downpour or get your sweat on in bikram yoga. They won’t short circuit. — Brittany Smith, Senior Editor


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Danner Mountain 600 Weatherized Boots

Cold-weather boots have come a long, long way. The Mountain 600s just might be some of the most comfortable winter-ready kicks I’ve worn. They’re my newest go-to winter boots, from the freezing-cold weather on a trip to Banff National Park (along with a fall-free curling session thanks to the grippy Vibram soles), to rainy days in New York. — John Lonsdale, Deputy Editor  


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Apple Watch Nike+

If you’re the type who’ll only use a fitness tracker that fits seamlessly into your everyday life and style, then Apple Watch is top of mind. But if you really want to transition seamlessly from work to workout, get the Apple Watch Nike+. We’re partial to the Sport Loop, made with reflective yarn for greater visibility during night runs. It’s more comfortable for all-day wear, especially when you start to sweat, and it’s way easier to get on and off (the beauty of Velcro). Of course, you get some Nike perks. Aside from themed watch faces, Nike+ Run Club app is pre-installed and accessible with the touch of a button so you can track your runs and view your workout history instantaneously. There’s no reason not to level up. — Brittany Smith, Senior Editor 

[From $399;]


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Nike Odyssey React Shield Water-Repellent

Nike’s Odyssey React gets winterized in its latest Shield Pack release. A water-repellent upper keeps your toes from becoming popsicles, and rubber traction fixed along the toe and heel help keep you from sliding on slick sidewalk grates or slushy, icy streets. The toggle lacing system is also a blessing on those brutally cold days: You don’t need to take your gloves off to adjust. — Brittany Smith, Senior Editor


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Hydro Flask 12 oz Coffee Mug

This is the kind of insulated mug that the other mugs in your cupboard wish they could be. I used to only drink out of it during my commute and at my desk, but I got tired of my coffee getting cold at home. It’s not completely spill-proof (it has a sturdy lid but it doesn’t fully close, so if you’re looking for that, it’s worth looking at other Hydro Flask mugs), but it saves you from having to put your cup in the microwave. — John Lonsdale, Deputy Editor  


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Wolaco Warren Short

There are certain brands that gain a sort of cult following among athletes and fit guys alike. Colleagues have tirelessly shouted their love of Saxx Underwear (with no chagrin), and similarly praised Wolaco—a New York City startup popularized by compression wear with phone pockets. Their biggest launch of the season, their Warren Short, doesn’t disappoint. The 7.5” inseam is ideal for runners who prefer the added mobility and lifters who like to layer their duds with tights. Breathable, stretchy tech fabric and a zippered, sweat-proof phone pocket on the left hip take these shorts to the next level. — Brittany Smith, Senior Editor


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Old Town Castine 145

In a lot of ways, the Old Town Castine 145 is like that plush SUV you take on long trips: it’s comfortable, has a lot of storage, is easy use, and has tricks that make time in driver’s (or paddler’s) seat enjoyable. While the boat isn’t exactly a floating La-Z-Boy—it’s a touring kayak that comes pretty damn close.

We spent the day exploring the north shore of Long Island in the largest of the three models that make up the Castine line (14.6-feet long, 26.5-inches wide, and 56 pounds), which is Old Town’s return to the touring market after about a decade. It’s the comfortable cockpit that kept us out for hours without complaining. The ACS2 seat has a low profile backrest that moves up and down, with a second adjustment that changes the angle of the support under your thighs. They’re joined by tweakable thigh and foot braces. All told, I had it dialed in, without a manual, in about 10 minutes—not easy for a sit-in build and my 6’3″ frame. While the seat is perforated foam, in the kayak world, this is as close as it gets to sitting in a Caddy.

And like a premium car there smart storage for your phone: a sliding day storage compartment pulls out from between your legs, locks in pace, and then retracts automatically. It’s big enough to stash your phone, wallet, keys, and a snack with a beefy rubber gasket to keep it all safe. Deck rigging bungees cover the boat, front and back, to stash gear that’ll survive getting wet. And for supplies that you need to keep dry, but not necessarily accessible while paddling, there are two, sealed hatches that shut with straps. The two bulkheads that create the storage also help with solid stability. On the water, the Castine really moves, given its size, and it tracks well too. Aside from taking on the wake of a passing ferry the wrong way, we felt very secure. And we were able to maneuver in and out of the nooks and crannies while exploring.

We kept finding little details the more time we spent with the boat, like the bow and stern toggle handle that spring back and out of the way when not in use, but extend out enough to clear your knuckles while hauling the boat. This new line also offers two smaller sizes, the Castine 135 and 140, so finding a size that fits should be easier. — Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor



Old Town

DUER Performance Denim Relaxed

DUER crafts jeans, pants, and joggers for movers and shakers. That’s to say people who are prone to blowing out their crotches skateboarding, cycling, or just living in their duds. Their Performance Denim boasts an undetectable seat gusset that provides a greater range of motion and, yes, durability through the crotch. Triple-stitched inseams and double-layered back pockets also boost longevity. As for the denim itself, it’s treated to neutralize odors and made with moisture-wicking fibers to insulate in chilly temps and cool when you work up a sweat. The Skyline blue wash and relaxed fit also strike that perfect balance of cool and casual. — Brittany Smith, Senior Editor


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G-RO’s 30L Multitasker

Holiday airline travel is manic enough. So when we booked the cheapest tickets we could find on Spirit for a quick Thanksgiving flight to Chicago, I knew I need to keep it simple. G-RO’s 30L Multitasker fit the bill perfectly. The large side-mounted wheels are a godsend—no more twisting or tweaking—and combination composite/waterproof fabric construction keeps it lightweight and durable. Small enough to go overhead or even under the seat, it’s big enough for a laptop, shaving kit, a couple of t-shirts, and some clean socks. Even when I’m not traveling, I use it to haul work stuff from meeting to meeting around NYC.—Jon Langston



Holden Corkshell Summit Jacket

Here’s what I want out of a winter jacket: keep out the wind and water, don’t turn me into a clammy raisin once things heat up, and give me full range of motion. That’s what the Holden does while keeping up with just about anything you’re going to face this winter, from skiing to hiking to snowboard. The four-way stretch material means a full articulation that won’t ride up your torso when you lift your arms above your head. It has a removable powder skirt, two-way adjustable hood, and magnetic pocket closures (which we love better than zippers for easy access). Layer up for seriously cold weather, but otherwise, this jacket has got you covered for winter weather and mucky spring. —Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor 




Softwear Hoodie

I hate when I have to take this sweatshirt off. It’s American-made, and it’s, hands down, the softest layer in my wardrobe. You can’t go wrong wearing it under a running shell or a canvas jacket or winter coat. —John Lonsdale, Deputy Editor  


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PKTX Grill

The PK grill might be the best charcoal cooker to come out over the last few years—and this version makes it easier take along. Out of the box, we’re huge fans of the retro 50s era minimalist styling, but this grill doesn’t have may shortcomings when we fired it up over the start of the tailgating season. Cast from rustproof aluminum, the PK has a flat bottom which makes it easy to bank coals to one side for two-level grilling or smoking (and if you’re not cooking over two zones are you even really grilling?)

The PKTX is the same grill body as the original, but nestled into a folding stand. Outfitted with nearly five-inch wide wheels, the PKTX rolls over most terrain—including anything your backyard or a paved parking lot can throw at it—although very rocky trails could be an issue. Pop the sand up and the grill’s grate is at around 36 inches high, which is a comfortable working height. Collapse the stand and you can stash a bag of coals on board as you pull. With few moving parts, the grill feels solid and cooks very well with the proper attention to the four vents that let you dial in hot and fast for burgers and lower heat for true barbecue. Our only nitpick is we’d rather see a solid slab on the side table, which can never be too roomy, instead of losing space to a dedicated cup holder. —Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor


PKTX Grill

Samsung The Frame

For about as long as flat-panel TVs have dominated our living rooms it seems like we’ve been trying to disguise them. So, to see if Samsung’s The Frame lives up to the promise of a TV hiding a screen in plain sight, we tested it for a few weeks.

At its core, the Frame is a 4K display with a 40 Hz motion rate and 120 Hz refresh rate; the latter helps smooth out what you’re watching. The image is bright, defined with good color and contrast—this isn’t a case where a kitschy gimmick is masking lesser technology. Wrapped around the TV is a magnetic bezel that accepts different metal “frames,” in four parts, that snap onto the TV with magnets (the TV ships with black, and you can get faux wood grain in walnut, a vaguely Scandinavian-like birch, or white for an extra $200 or $250, depending on the TV’s size). The roughly two-inch thick frame, in conjunction with the included no-gap mount, means the TV hugs the wall nearly as tightly as a piece of framed art. The TV ships with legs that will rest on furniture, but let’s face it—if you get this, you’ll want it on the wall where it would actually replicate installed art.

While the frame on the TV helps execute its look, what really allows it to hang tight to the wall is Samsung’s One Connect box. Instead of a freeway of wires exiting the back of the TV, Samsung puts all the unsightly connections in its One Connect box, a separate black rectangle (borrowed from Samsung’s QLEDs) that has a power port, AUX output, common interface, optical, Ethernet, four HDMI 2.0, and the port that links the box to the TV. From the One Connect, a thin, translucent cable that looks like an old-school lamp cord connects to the TV (the only other connection is the TV’s power cord) and you can keep the connections off to the side in or on a piece of furniture. News flash: It’s really helpful to not have all of the ports you need access to smashed between the back of the TV and the wall. If you plan to hang the TV on the wall without seeing any wires, it’s worth noting the two cords connecting the One Connect to the Frame TV aren’t rated to be buried in a wall, but Samsung says they’re working on a solution for that soon.

What sets this TV apart is its Art Mode feature, which allows you to select from about 100 stock paintings, prints, photos, and digital art that displays on the screen when the TV is off (you can get a $5 monthly subscription for a constantly updated gallery to pick from or, of course, upload your own). A motion sensor detects when someone’s in the room so the Art Mode shuts off when no one is there. Samsung says when the art is displayed, the Frame is consuming about as much power as a typical cable box. You can control all of this, and options like art work matting, with the remote or an app. The remote and TV were smart enough to control our non-Samsung brand soundbar right out of the box without any complicated syncing.

We found the Art Mode worked well from across the room, but you’ll want to keep it out of direct sunlight where the glare ruins the illusion. Would it survive a up close scrutiny for oil on canvas? Maybe not, but on a wall mixed in with other framed pieces it certainly hides itself when you’re not watching TV. The Art Mode aside, this is a solid looking TV, though a bit pricey for the tech packed in. — Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor

[$1,200 to $2,500;]

Samsung The Frame

Char-Broil Commercial Series Tru-Infrared 4-Burner Gas Grill

Are you one of those people who says goodbye to their grills after Labor Day? More than half of grill owners crack up their cookers year-round, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. I’m usually a charcoal guy, but that can be too fussy for game day wings, especially when you start sniffing winter. To make things easier, I’ve set aside the kettle and started using Char-Broil’s Commercial Series Tru-Infrared.

Char-Broil’s offered infrared cooking for years now and it can solve a lot of the issues associated with cooking over an open fire, namely flare-ups. A quick review of how the tech works: Over the four tubular burners is a perforated sheet of 443R stainless steel that cuts off the air flow turning the energy into infrared heat—the feeling when you step into the sunlight. In a standard grill you’ll get more convection heat (think: the fan moving hot air inside your kitchen oven) which helps cook the food, but also exposes the flame and when fat meets that, you get flare-ups. 

Out of the box the assembly was manageable (sold exclusively through Lowe’s, they’ll put it together for you, too) and I was impressed with the build quality, especially the coated cast iron grates that’ll hold heat in and deliver a good sear. The side burner comes with a griddle cover, which is a nice touch if you’re into smash style burgers, bacon, or topping things with a fried egg. The four burners push out 32,000 BTUs over 525 square inches of cooking surface (plus another 200 inches for the warming rack) which is about enough for about two dozen, four-inch burgers. 

This grill slaps on sear marks very well with virtually no flare-ups, despite cooking up fatty burgers. If you’re a charcoal grill fan, you might complain the flavor isn’t the same—which is an age-old argument—but that should be offset with the ease of use. The push button ignition is consistent, and a built-in tank scale gives you an idea of how much fuel you have left. It’s always a good idea to ignore the temp gauge mounted to the hood because even the most accurate ones won’t tell you the temperature down near your food. — Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor


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Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset

The Ambeo is a comfy, wraparound-style noise-canceling set that also has superpowers. In each earbud is a microphone that, along with a control switch on the cord, allows you to customize the amount of ambient sound you let in—toggling between total noise-cancellation or boosting voices if you’re in a crowded room. But the real trick is what they add to your videos. Use the mics to record highly detailed surround-sound-style 3D audio through your smartphone’s camera app. The effect is astonishing: cars zooming by disappear in the distance, voices from behind make you want to turn around. Like 3D video it takes a little practice to make the effect really kick, but it takes your content to the next level. — Jonathan Chase, Contributor


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Google Clips

Cameras that automatically recognize faces and people are nothing new, but the Google Clips, which uses AI to automatically capture notable moments, transforming them into stills, short clips, and GIFs, is notable for what it doesn’t do: automatically share those images online. It learns faces—yours, your kid’s, the dog’s—and notable poses and actions, but unlike your smartphone, Google stores it all locally until you decide to share them. After a few weeks sitting near the kitchen table, we had a nice mix of dog and family candids that liberated us from the tyranny of constant smartphone selfies. — Tom Samiljan, Contributor

[$264 with mount case;]

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Vasque Saga GTX Backpacking Boots

These Saga GTX boots continue the trend in making backpacking boots lighter and more flexible without the tedious break-in time. The high and soft collar lends great ankle support, giving the boot a comfy basketball high-top feel that makes trudging down a trail easier. To stabilize and add durability to the upper, Vasque mated a featherweight synthetic textile to a Nubuck leather band and TPU toe guard, heel guard, and yoke. Right out of the box we put it through its paces on a long and dusty trek up the dirt road to Black Bear Pass outside of Telluride, Co., where it sailed over slick rocks and knobby boulders with ease—and no blisters. A scramble to the top of Red Mountain No. 3’s 12,890 feet completed its mountain goat bona fides. — Adam Bible, Contributor


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Rab Zero G jacket

When minimizing weight is your main concern, this 11-ounce 1000-fill power down jacket is an insurance plan against cold weather. Ethically sourced European goose down fills an ultra-fine, silky-soft, tightly knit Pertex Quantum shell for an unsurpassed weight-to-warmth ratio. The baffles are stitched to eliminate cold spots, and the down-filled hood has a flexible polymer peak you can shape for more protection or more visibility. Oversized handwarmer pockets hold essentials, and keep your fingers toasty when you’re at high camp waiting for your water to boil, or when you’re curbside waiting for your Uber to show. — Berne Broudy, Contributor


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Helly Hansen Rigging Coat

As fall careens to winter, the weather is becoming more inclement—and unpredictable. So the Helly Hansen Rigging Coat is getting put through its paces. It has classic HH sailing roots—its long style was designed as a top coat for sailors prepping the boat or waiting between heats during a regatta. While for us sometimes sailors, the season’s about over, this coat is still getting worked pretty hard. It’s totally waterproof; I was in a pretty sideways storm the other day and the durable water repellency treatment meant the rain beaded off. The construction is such that I didn’t feel the wind, and when I got to my destination my clothes were bone dry. As the temperature drops, I’ll snap in the Primaloft liner (which can be used as a jacket itself). The hooded shell itself has enough pockets in just the right places. And, not for nothing, it looks pretty sharp, too. — Marjorie Korn, Senior Editor 


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Sonos Beam Soundbar

Call it the Swiss Army soundbar, capable of handling three tasks you’d normally need separate devices for. Not only is the Sonos Beam a killer home theater soundbar at a ridiculously good price, but it also delivers the brand’s trademark multiroom magic—meaning it can work with other Sonos speakers spread throughout your house. And it does it all with built-in voice controls, effectively turning it into a smart home hub and negating the need for a standalone Echo device. — Seth Porges, Contributor


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Maho Shades sunglasses

When it comes to sunglasses, I keep it simple. But, that can get old. So instead of experimenting with funky frame shapes, I played with color, which is why I like the Galapagos Crystal Slate ($125; shown) from Maho Shades. The polished zyl acetate frames have a clear and smoky color to them in a shape that is just unusual enough for everyday wear. But the bright polarized gold mirror lenses is what sets them apart. The build is lightweight, despite having heavy-duty 316L stainless steel hardware that will withstand life on the water, and comfortable to wear all day. Not into the gold? The more traditional, and less expensive Uluwatu Charcoal ($95) has a blue tinted lens in a black frame that is closer to that wayfarer look. — Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor


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Merrell Wilderness Legend Waterproof (Limited Edition)

The Wilderness Legend is boundlessly durable—inspired by co-founder Randy Merrell’s first handmade hiking boot. It’s crafted from Horween waterproof leather—a stunning black oxblood color nonetheless—and boasts a blissfully supple sheepskin-lined footbed to prevent fatigue. Vibram outsoles provide the grip (and peace of mind) you need in slush, mud, and anything else you get into this season. We especially love the pop of color from the cobalt blue laces. Head to for a chance to win the Wilderness Legend boot and a rucksack (pictured). — Brittany Smith, Senior Editor


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Hobie Mirage Compass Kayak

While I’m always attracted to multi-purpose designs, too often one aspect always gets the short end of the stick—like that leaf blower/vacuum that is a sucky sucker. In trying to make a lower priced kayak that does more, Hobie developed the Mirage Compass: A pedal-assisted fishing boat, that happens to pull double-duty as a solid recreational kayak.

For those who fish, the Compass can be outfitted with everything from a soft-sided cooler up front to a fish finder in the cockpit to H-crates in the back (rod holders are molded into the body). Tracks on either side of the cockpit accept a host of accessories. That adds to the 68-pound hull weight, which maxes out to 400 pounds, but the build should cost less than Hobie’s higher-end fishing kayaks like the Pro Angler or the Outback. Strip all that gear off, and the nimble boat is a comfortable, easy-to-use recreational kayak.

We took the Compass on a tour of the nooks and crannies around Riverhead. The kayak’s pedal system, which Hobie calls the MirageDrive, moves you along faster than other boats relying on a paddle and you’re less likely to tire out because you’re using larger leg muscles (you can still paddle, too). The MirageDrive is an overbuilt chunk of engineering that works very smoothly and is easy to adjust. But, oddly enough, the plug in the hull that accepts the MirageDrive system is not watertight so an inch or so of water fills the divot in the cockpit. Hobie isn’t worried about the long-term exposure to salt water, and it’s not enough water to get you or your gear wet, but it still seems like something that is easy to seal with a gasket. Turning on a dime in the water is easy thanks to a dial on the hull that controls steering (a separate pull rope control the rudder, yanking it up and down so you can retract it when pulling the boat out of the water). Our Compass pulled to the port side slightly when the dial was centered and Hobie says this is adjustable by tweaking the tension balance on the rudder lines. Other kayakers paddling traditional builds, and even a few friends on SUPs, were impressed with the Hobie’s precise turning.

The bow on the 12-foot long Compass comes from Hobie’s Mirage Revolution kayak and it cuts through the water nicely. Add an extra inch or so to the width of the Hobie Mirage Outback, and you have 34-inc wide Compass, which is very stable because the hull borrows a multi-chamber design from the brand’s fishing kayaks. It felt surefooted when I stood up in it.

The seat is comfortable, and in a pinch can be pulled out and used on the beach. Though the bungee that holds the paddle tight to the side of the boat isn’t in a great spot—it’s rather tight there next to the seat and the hull. But the list of things Hobie could improve on the Mirage is a short one and for someone new to kayak fishing who might want some sit on top recreational paddling, this boat strikes a nice balance between cost, quality, and versatility. — Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor


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Hydro Flask Wine Tumbler

My friends are hosting a weekend of outdoor activities (sailing, hiking,running, yoga, culminating in an oyster roast on the beach), and I wanted to bring along a thank you gift that was in the spirit of the trip. So everyone’s getting a Hydro Flask 10 oz wine tumbler. It’s perfect for morning walks with coffee, and wine soon after. Pro-grade stainless steel makes it easy to wash away the aroma of java so it doesn’t spoil the bouquet of what it’s filled with next. Not for nothing, the shape is nice to hold. The Hydro Flask 25 oz wine bottle is coming along as well, which is the perfect vessel for sommelier-approved boxed wine. — Marjorie Korn, Senior Editor

[Tumbler, $30; Wine bottle, $45;]

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Yakima Showdown

As the single kayaker in my house, it didn’t take long to realize wrangling help to load a boat onto the roof of my car is a pain. That’s what makes a self-assisting rack so appealing—the promise to make the chore a solo effort. To see if one is worth the price, which can be between up to four times more than a standard roof rack depending on the brand, I tested the Yakima Showdown over a few weekends by loading and unloading my 14-foot-long, 53-pound Old Town Castline kayak off the north shore of Long Island. 

The two-part Showdown rack attaches to crossbars, slides out, then pivots down stopping a few inches away from the car doors. From there, each rack has a fold-down arm that helps keep the boat steady, so you only have to lift the kayak to about chest height. Once it’s all strapped up, you have to pull the boat away from the car, rotate your grip to push the kayak up and level with the roof of the car, then push the rack in as it slides closed. I paired the Showdown with Yakima’s JetStream crossbars ($200), replacing the factory-installed versions on my Subaru, and the Skyline towers ($200).

Installation out of the box is pretty simple, though you need crossbars that extend at least 3 1/2-inches past the towers, and as you can imagine, setting both Showdown racks the same distance away from the end of the crossbar is important. Each rack has a pair of twist knobs that tighten clamps onto the rails, and they bite securely. I loaded the boat myself without an issue, centering the cockpit roughly between the racks. The build is just stiff enough to not hit the side of the car when loaded (although folding in side mirrors is a good idea). From there I slid the inboard cradle on each rack down to support the underside of the boat. Take your time here to make sure the hull is touching all the cradles as I had to readjust the boat a bit, which is easier before the straps are in place. The locking pin that keeps the rack from sliding out while you’re driving is a really tight fit and fussy because you have to thread it through four holes. 

Once the bow and stern tie-downs were added, the kayak felt secure cruising at 55 to 60 miles per hour. The only issue after loading a few times is you have to make sure you’re pushing the boat up and onto the roof at roughly the same speed so the rails don’t bind. While Yakima says the rack provides 30 to 45 percent weight assistance, depending on the boat, you still need to be strong enough to push some of the kayak’s weight above your head and tall enough to lift it in-line with the top of your car. The rack’s 80-pound load might not work with some larger fishing kayaks, which kitted out can inch close to about 100 pounds, but it should be plenty for most recreational boats. The Showdown can also hold a pair of SUPs. — Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor


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Stumptown Coffee Roasters Debuts Nitro Hair Bender

Cold brew can be viewed as the pumpkin spice latte of summer. For me, cold brew is a year-round obsession and while it’s just about the easiest drink to make at home, Stumptown’s nailed a 10.3-oz can of the stuff. Its Nitro Hair Bender uses gas to create a creamy head, almost like a beer, as you pour it out, giving the coffee a perceived sweetness that didn’t even need any added sugar. — Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor

[About $5 a can;]

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La Sportiva Lycan Mountain Running Shoes

The Lycan is the first La Sportiva shoe I’ve worn, and apparently I’ve been missing out. From the moment I slipped it on, this shoe felt great. “Great” actually doesn’t cut it—it was as if the Lycan were molded to fit my foot. I’ve tried plenty of other kicks that were well cushioned or lightweight and fast, but with the Lycan, I experienced the joy of running in a shoe that gives a Goldilocks fit with the perfect amount of snug support. Other aspects were dialed in just right, too. The midsole is pillowy in the heel for great shock absorption, and the firm forefoot gives excellent response at toe-off. The Lycan turned my Sunday afternoon run through New York into a blissful experience, and its spot in our shoes for road and trail guide is definitely well earned. — Michael Charboneau, Contributor


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Jetson Tempo Kids Electric Scooter

The satisfaction my kid had when she could first pedal a bike without any help remains a priceless moment. But, the smile she had while zipping around the street on this electric scooter wasn’t like that. This one was all about pure speed (with far less consideration about crashing). Setting up the Jetson Tempo was quick and just about the most difficult part was having a kid wait for the initial overnight charge. The next day the scooter’s design proved intuitive: She stood on the board, pushed off to get it going, then jammed the throttle with her thumb before racing off at around 8 or 9 miles per hour (which turns out to be a perfect speed). The brake over the rear wheel is easy to engage too—step on it and it cuts the power to the battery, stopping the scooter in a few feet. She beat the steel deck up a bit going over concrete and large sticks, not to mention any puddle she could find, but the Tempo didn’t flinch. (Note: There is no rear fender to prevent splashes.) It’s rated to carry 120 pounds up to six miles before needing a recharge, which can take up to five hours. While it doesn’t collapse, at 15 pounds, it’s light enough to carry to toss in the car and take with us. — Sal Vaglica, Senior Editor


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The post The Coolest Pieces of Gear We Tested This Week appeared first on Men's Journal.

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