This year, the basketball gets a new update in the form of the 94Fifty ($295), a Bluetooth-enabled basketball that pairs with your mobile device to track shot speed, dribble force, control, spin, and acceleration. Posted to Kickstarter on March 5th, it crushed its $100,000 goal in a little over a month. We took it for a test run.
You axed for it
We don’t mean to split hairs here, but some axes are just simply better than others. You won’t find any designer jobs on this list; those are for your mantle. No, these are utilitarian axes that cut right to the chase, because there are trees to be chopped, timber to be split. Whether you’re a rugged outdoorsman, a weekend cabin dweller, a Middle-Earth dwarf or just a guy who has to clear some branches, these are the five best axes you’ll find.
Gifts for the resident jock
Part of you doesn’t want to buy The Athlete any gift at all. He roughhouses at the Thanksgiving football game; he runs negative splits at the charity 5K; he seems to be toweling off every time your girlfriend is around. While we’re all worse for wear, he’s aging like a Rodin. But ultimately, he’s a good guy who just really likes to get the blood flowing. He whipped you into shape for Tough Mudder, remember? And who came along for a second opinion when you bought the used Cervelo? Who’s consistently willing to do an aerial chest bump? Yeah, that’s him. Go ahead, get him a little something nice for the holidays this year. We’ve got all the ideas you need.
Gear for the Top of World
Sometimes the mountains just call your name. Whether you’ve got a season to train for a summit bit up Mt. Rainier or just a Saturday afternoon to log some miles hiking up the local ski hill, the right gear can mean the difference between enjoying the majesty and struggling through misery (or worse). Here’s the gear we used for our recent solo free climb of Mount Olympus in Utah — but it’s perfect for any ultralight mountain mission.
No Ropes, No Worries
Some of my friends and family actually do think I’m a little crazy. This summer I decided to really find out what drives me to climb, what pushes me to expand my own vertical limits. What better way to really connect with myself and with the wall than to do it like the early purists and those on the leading edge of the sport today — with no ropes and no worries?
Climb, Splash, Repeat
Imagine cranking your way up an unforgiving rock face, no ropes or safety protection, just your fingers and wits pitted against every crimpy, stretched out, exposed move. At the hardest moment your grip finally gives out and you plunge more than thirty feet — to a splash landing in the Olympic Training Pool in Park City, Utah. For some, this kind of climbing, called deep water soloing, is the stuff of nightmares. For the few dozen professional climbers and thousands of spectators at the recent Psicobloc Masters Series, it’s a progression of the sport unparalleled in its difficulty and exhilaration. We captured the action from the pool deck.
Gifts For The Wilderness Explorer
What do you get the guy who spends more time sleeping under the stars each year than most people do in their entire lives? The guy who has gear for every season, every sport, journey, and surprise bug-out? When buying for the discerning backpacker, climber, skier, and general “live larger” type, you can’t simply walk into the nearest outdoor shop and buy something flashy. These explorers live and breathe in the world of Gore-Tex, crampons, and ice axes — and a gift card will get you dropped faster than the cell phone coverage on his last jungle trek. Stumped? Don’t be. We’ve tested out some great gear this year and zeroed in on the best selections for the adventurer. He might destroy your gift on his next expedition into the wild, but he’ll be grateful you bought the best.
Small Game, Big Gear
As the mercury drops, game enthusiasts from across the fruited plain trade in their drift boats and fly rods for double barreled breach-break shotguns, some blaze orange, and a Labrador, if they’re lucky. Upland hunting takes many shapes and forms depending on where you call home: there’s the cold Northeast, the prairies and cornfields of the Midwest, the Intermountain region on down to the South. Still, more unites these sportsmen than divides them; tall-tales, cold walks and fantastic wingshots are all par for the course. The gear, though, is probably our favorite part. So gather round — we’ve hand selected the best of this year’s gear to keep you covered from head to toe while you’re out on the hunt.
We won’t all climb Everest. In fact, most of us won’t. That’s not to say that we don’t enjoy a good weekend under the stars — we certainly do. But, while there are sleeping bags made for extreme conditions (and even ones that hang from trees or that you can wear), you’re probably after something more straightforward. You want something that’s built well, that’ll keep you warm on a cool night and that you can take anywhere: Kelty Ignite DriDown ($200). Hands down, the Ignite DriDown is the best of the best, a versatile, quality, bang-for-your-buck sleeping bag.
If there’s one constant in almost all mountain activities, it’s that sooner or later you’re going to come across nasty weather. It doesn’t matter if you’re chasing big walls in Yosemite, powder lines in Courcheval or summit days in the Canadian Rockies — staying warm is the difference between owning a harrowing expedition and bailing back to civilization with your tail between your legs. Patagonia’s Special Edition Encapsil Down Belay Parka ($699), a perfect fusion of purpose-driven engineering and uncommon design, is the most formidable backcountry armor on the market.
The Bar, Raised
An active life is a fulfilling life, and part of maintaining an active lifestyle is eating healthy. In an ironic twist, one of the most challenging times to eat well is when you’re out exploring. Energy bars do their job, but usually with lots of sugar, saturated fat and other ingredients you can’t pronounce. Fractionated palm kernel oil while overlooking the North Kaibab Trail of The Canyon? Pass. Made from organic, humanely-treated beef, bison and turkey (both beef and bison are grass-fed), EPIC bars ($34) are also gluten-free, so those who’ve gone paleo can enjoy them without Grog turning over in his grave.
Collectively we spend a lot of time running: we’re Ironman finishers, ultramarathoners, trail runners, joggers and ad-hoc sprinters, police fleers (seldom to never) and woman chasers (only when we know her). 2013 was a good year for running shoes of all stripes and three of them stood out to us. These shoes — the New Balance Minimus Hi-Rez, Hoka One One Rapa Nui 2, and Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra ($120+) — are drastically different in design, but each is free of gimmicks and encourages a natural running stride.
It seems like everything is becoming quantified these days. Not to be left out, the data-mining 94Fifty Bluetooth Sensor has made its way into one of America’s most popular sports. 94Fifty Bluetooth Sensor Basketballs ($300), made in partnership with Spalding, are the first digital sports products to be embedded with inertial motion sensors, serving up coaches and players with various metrics concerning ballhandling, shooting, jump-explosion, defensive foot-speed agility and athleticism.
Race. Rinse. Repeat.
If you think that your performance on race day is only tied to your best efforts on the track or your bike during training, you’re overlooking the most important part of your training cycle: recovery. By spending all day focusing on how you’re going to break your body down during your next CrossFit binge and not on how you’re going to rebuild and progress, you’re already two steps behind your competitors. Read on for the best recovery products to step up your game.
Not a treatise on Pink Floyd
There’s a lot happening in the body that’s implied by the catch-all word “bonk” (a.k.a. “hitting the wall”). While the resulting symptoms can occur at once as a symphony of pain and delirium, it’d be a mistake to think they all have the same cause and the same treatment. In my opinion, the the most valuable distinction for beginner long-distance runners is between dehydration and a glycogen bonk, or, generally speaking, running out of stored carbs to burn.
Run Forest, Run
In urban settings like New York, walking, let alone running, is hard enough. With the abundance of hazards — from reckless taxis to sharp-eyed grannies — hitting the streets in your new pair of kicks often means putting your life on the line. If you’re looking for a quieter run around the Big Apple, forget the Central Park Reservoir and Hudson River Park: when the only other New York residents you want to see are plants, birds and squirrels, check out these less frequently traveled trails.
More than a marathon
You’ve probably been hearing more about them: occasional murmurs of very long distance races, men and women running six marathons across the Sahara, a 3,100 mile race in Queens, NY, in the middle of summer. Ultrarunning, or running more than a 26.2 mile marathon in a single shot, seems an unlikely pursuit — and it is. But it’s also growing.
An estimated 60,000 people finished an ultra in the U.S. in 2012, up from about 10,000 in 1990. That number is still small compared to the 487,000 people who completed a marathon in the U.S. in 2012, but it’s still an awful lot of people running exceptional distances. And now you’re thinking about toeing the line for an ultra. Good for you. We’ve got a handy guide to help you through, complete with advice from a few pros at the top of the sport.
May the Force Be With You
Fitbit’s newly announced Force ($130) is one of the most advanced activity trackers released to date, greatly improving on the company’s earlier Flex product in particular. But its ultimate appeal and success with consumers may rely just as much on the Smart-Watch-like features that have come along for the ride.
A Dozen Gifts for the Mountain Man
We’ve all got a guy in our lives who’s more at home chopping a cord of wood or filleting his latest fly fishing catch than spending the day lazing in front of the TV or playing Halo with the bros. He’d wear flannel and hiking boots to board meetings if he could. For that ultimate outdoorsman on your gift list this year, forego the REI gift card and DVD set of Duck Dynasty. Whether he spends his time hunting big game, scouring the river for the best brook trout lies, or just enjoys living in front of a campfire instead of a laptop, we’ve got the best gifts for the modern day backwoodsman.
Quick Draw Specialist
A knife is a knife is a knife, right? To the unprepared, yes. But you can’t just pick one up from the local flea market and expect it to hold up when you need it most. In any instance, a knife is only helpful if it’s at the ready, but how often do you have both hands free during a one-man project? This is where the SOG Flashback ($100) shines. It’s widely known as the fastest assisted-opening blade on the market today and is also solidly constructed, handsome and impressively durable.
Initiate Ghost Protocol
In 2010, the crew of the latest Mission: Impossible movie called Charles Cole, Five Ten’s president, with one simple question: could he design a shoe that could climb up a glass wall? Cole and his team went to work on their Stealth C4 rubber, rebuilding it stickier than ever. The result? Rubber that is viscous enough to gain purchase on glass (just watch Tom Cruise use it in Mission: Impossible), while maintaining the durability to do battle with even the sharpest rock faces. We got a look at Five Ten’s Team VXi and Freerider VXi Element ($125), two groundbreaking pieces of footwear.
Reality is looking pretty good
Most of the snowboarding industry’s technology slowly creeps forward with marginal improvements: things get better, but not way better. This year K2 dropped something that falls squarely into the way better category: their Ultra Dream Snowboard ($550), a cunning combination of the brand’s recent technological advances.
Home away from home
A tent can be your portable backcountry palace or can just as easily feel like a nylon coffin with a view. Unless you’re looking to shell out a few thousand dollars to set up a basecamp in the Himalayas, the Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 3 ($550) is your best bet for logging serious miles and catching serious Zs during your down time.
Alone in the Produce Aisle
Trying to get in shape? Most fitness gurus agree that unless you change your diet, you’re wasting your workouts. But fear not — we’ve got your back. In addition to finding you this inspirational video, we’ve put together a handy index of fruit nutrition, largely based on our experience at the Woodstock Fruit Festival. Why fruit? Unlike most supposedly “healthy” snacks, fresh fruits are digested easily and provide a wide array of vitamins and minerals. Additionally, they deliver their sugars (i.e., energy) with a healthy dose of fiber, allowing you to digest glucose without the usual insulin spike and subsequent crash. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they’re delicious.
Fence, Swim, Jump, Shoot and Run
Think that vegans don’t get the protein needed to really compete? Think again. Justin Torrellas, a raw vegan athlete, spent the past year at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, training for the 2016 Olympics in the modern pentathlon. We caught up with the former bassoonist to talk about children’s books, positivity, and the value of short shorts.
Exploring a Fruit-Focused Diet
Over the course of four days, I ate little else but fruit. Such is the life of a fruitarian. If you’ve heard of the fruitarians, it’s probably because of their most famous devotee, Steve Jobs, who named the Macintosh computer after his favorite fruit — or it might be in connection with the paleo diet, which advocates eating only what our cave-dwelling ancestors could have procured. If you haven’t, let me fill you in: the fruitarians eat fruit. Lots of it. At the Woodstock Fruit Festival, where 562 fruitarians gathered for a weeklong conference on health, exercise and raw food, the average diet consists of around 80% fruit.
Everything Else is Slow R
You don’t have to be a genius to understand that there are trade-offs in life, a fact that applies to products as well. The spork notwithstanding, hybrid products typically appeal to a broader swath of the population in exchange for being less desirable to enthusiasts in either of the original disciplines. The Adidas Terrex Fast R GTX hiking shoe ($180) stands out for being both nimble and rugged; it’s not a compromise, but an elevation above and beyond what exists in the lightweight hiker category.
The Only Skis You Need
We first heard about Utah ski brand DPS from a few locals after poaching some storm day powder lines at Snowbird Ski Resort a couple of seasons ago. Over a few apres ski beers in the lodge they spoke in hushed tones of ultralight carbon fiber skis that a few of the pros were using to rip steeper lines and push faster speeds than ever before. Turns out, if you’re hunting for the best ski of 2013, adding to your growing quiver, or even downsizing to a “one ski fits all”, there just isn’t a ski that handles the entire mountain like the Wailer 112RP ($1,249).
For truly superior training effectiveness on the bike, you need to unleash your full power. That means monitoring power output under real-world conditions, and for that there’s no than the Garmin Vector ($1,700). With an unparalleled ease of installation and compatibility with any ANT+ head unit, the Vector gives you accurate power output at the pedal that’s easily swapped between your road and tri bikes. But remember, only use your power for good — like crushing the competition.
Until now, our experience with origami was limited to bar tricks and entertaining children — and we’ll be damned if turning a napkin into a swan isn’t a crowd pleaser. But what if you could apply the principles of the Japanese art of paper folding to a piece of high-performance outdoor equipment that typically weighs upwards of 50 pounds and requires a roof rack to transport? You’d have the Oru Kayak ($1,095), a foldable 12-foot boat made in the U.S.A. from a single sheet of double-layered plastic that folds down into a 33 x 29 x 10-inch case.