The economy was limping for much of the most recent gear-design cycle. Some companies have taken gambles on new products, while others have taken a hard look at existing lines and made sensible improvements.
GearScout spent a few days out West at the Outdoor Retailer show, looking for new gear that will make your time in the field easier and safer, whether it's with your unit or your family and friends. We found a mix of equipment that falls neatly into tactical and recreational categories as well as a third category that could go either way.
Arc'teryx Naga Hoody
The coolest tactical pajamas. Ever. A hybrid fleece has Polartec PowerStretch in the body to move sweat under body armor and a hard-wearing, water-resistant fleece on the arms and shoulders for protection from the environment and the elements. The hood is cut to fit under a helmet, and the sleeves have thumb loops to keep things where they belong during kinetic pursuits.
Princeton Tec Charge MPLS
You can find plenty of helmet lights on the market now, but none combine the low-profile, multispectrum light, flexible stalk and AA battery found in the Charge. The 55 lumens of light from the end of its 1-inch stalk will suit any admin task. Its base configuration mounts to an Ops-Core ARC rail, and it comes with adapters for PALS and ARC-less helmets.
Smith Aegis Eyeshield
Smith updated the Aegis eyeshield with feedback from the field and made it sleeker while retaining the highest protection levels available. In an industry first, Smith is serializing each lens so it can be tracked through its service life. It's applying the supply-chain accountability normally found in body armor and helmet programs to protective eyewear.
Arguably one of the best lensmakers in the world, Smith has applied its know-how to tame the optical qualities and remove distortion from the protective lens. In our testing, we found lens changes with the PivLoc system are exceptionally easy. Available in two sizes, Aegis and the 15 percent smaller Aegis Compact, in black, Tan 499 and MultiCam.
MMI Tactical Individual Concealment Kit & X3 Anchor Stake
MMI's Individual Concealment Kit comes with a 5-by-8-foot camo net, shock-corded poles, stakes and a storage sack. The setup works out in the open to conceal the presence of a small observation post and can be linked to cover a hide site for a couple of men. Available in MMI's proprietary DEPSOC camo in woodland, arid and transitional patterns.
We also saw MMI's new X3 Anchor Stake, shown. It's a giant screw than you can slam into frozen ground, drywall, mud huts or even a two-by-four. Use the jaws of your Leatherman to back it out. You-break-it-they-replace-it warranty.
Price: Concealment Kit, $150; Anchor Stake, $18 for six.
Five Ten Valor
Five Ten made some innovative assault boots in years past. This year, it takes on the combat boot with the Valor. It's a lightweight boot with a super-sticky rock-climbing rubber sole and a unique, fully enclosed heel cage that locks each step while offering super agility. The full-height cuff protects your ankles with just enough material to keep out scree but not so much that your socks fill with sweat. Available in tan, black, MultiCam, Realtree and Mossy Oak.
NEMO Equipment sleeping bags
These are still a ways out, but NEMO Equipment has turned its forward-looking design efforts to sleeping bags, embarking on a project to make sleep systems that bring the needle back toward comfort and convenience while still keeping the throttle in the performance zone. The first bags in the line — Cannon, Pulse and Stratoloft — include features such as dual-side zippers, removable hoods, sleeping pad slots, spoon shapes that split the performance difference between mummy and rectangular shapes, and waterproof/breathable footboxes. The bags are still in active development and subject to change, but the protos we saw behind closed doors got us very excited. They probably won't be up in stores until 2013 but should be worth the wait.
Price to be announced.
Black Diamond Icon Headlamp
BD's Icon gets redesigned this year, making the watertight light sleeker and lighter and doubling the output from 100 to 200 lumens. It's also the headlamp included in the Marine Corps Personal Environmental Protective Survival Equipment, or PEPSE, kit. The light has a main LED for distance work and a set of secondary side-mounted LEDs for close-up work. A power indicator lets you know if it's time to change the AAs (or recharge the battery pack).
CamelBak All Clear Bottle
In 60 seconds, the All Clear's UV light kills more than 99 percent of the bacteria, viruses and protozoa swimming around in this 0.75-liter water bottle. You scoop up the water, screw on the cap and hit the button. Give it a few rotations as you watch the LCD count down time to refreshment. Its rechargeable battery will last 80 cycles per charge and uses a mini-USB cable, so you can run it from almost any charger. For an extra $15, you can get a 100-micron pre-filter that filters the chunky stuff. Look for it in the spring.
Patagonia River Crampon
Felt soles are outlawed in many states these days, so how do you keep from busting your ass when fishing mossy riverbeds? The solution — simple soft-aluminum bars that grab rock without absorbing any transferable waterborne organisms that could contaminate the next stream or river you wade into. They work equally well in fresh or salt water and strap on to just about any fishing boot. Bonus: The wide aluminum bars are easier on boat interiors than spikes or cleats.
Drift HD Camera
You can't go a season without a new action-sports camera hitting the market. This season, the updated Drift records in HD — 1080p at 30 frames per second — with a built-in monitor, a rotating lens with 170-degree field of view, a splash-proof case, a remote control, an external mic input and a number of accessories that will get you through your most extreme YouTube moments. It's a system that combines the most useful features found in its competitors into the most mature action-cam on the market.
Gerber Remix Tactical
When you've got to hang on to your knife in dire situations, say climbing a ladder, the Remix Tactical is about as handy as it gets. Its huge finger hole makes an easily found retention point for a carabiner, while the other end still has a slot for a dummy cord. Stainless steel liner locker with G10 scales and 7CR17MoV steel (equivalent to 420HC) will hold up to hard use.
Granite Tactical Gear MPS 36 & MPS Ultralight
Two of Granite Gear's latest packs haven't been priced yet — or named, really. The MPS 36 (not pictured) is a jungle pack based on the SOCOM patrol bag, the Chief Patrol. It's a smaller, three-day-assault size (36 liters/2,200 cubic inches) that has a roll-top opening while keeping the front access panel found on its bigger brothers. The frame is slimmed down a bit and allows only vertical adjustment of the shoulder straps.
The other new pack, the MPS BDM, pushes the limits and blurs the lines between milspec and lightweight. As our nation's operators become more athletic, they're pushing out farther on recce missions than ever before. They are looking for gear that will get them to the objective without holding them up. The minimalist, through-hiker-inspired design of the MPS Utralight looks like one of the answers.
Prices to be announced.
NEMO Frontier 4P
The Frontier has room for four guys — or three guys and their stuff — and sets up in seconds with only one pole. There's a decent-sized vestibule for gear out front, and shaped vents stay open to make sure things don't get too stuffy. It's a single-wall setup that weighs in at less than 7 pounds. If you're a patriot, know that the tent is made in the USA and is even shaped like the Pentagon.
Petzl Lynx Crampon
Probably the most versatile crampon ever, the Lynx will get you across icy landscapes with dual points, or switch over to single-point for technical ice climbing. The crampons work with climbing-specific boots or regular (weltless) boots with their interchangeable binding system. All the adjustments might add a little weight, but if you need a universal glacier travel system, have a look at the new Lynx.
Using brushless motors and self-cooling spinning cams, the tiny WaveJet water propulsion system fits in a space no bigger than a kickboard but provides 20 pounds of thrust (up to 7 mph) for more than 40 minutes using rechargeable batteries. While its first application is as a slide-in pod for surfboards — meaning you need a WaveJet-compatible board — the flush-mounted, self-contained system is bound to make it into a neutral-buoyancy powered nav board for tactical use below the waves, as well as kayaks and water rescue systems above.