We've fully tested and reviewed every item on this list to find the best NEW outdoors gear of the year. Read on and get geared up right!
Good gear matters. And we're doing the legwork for you. For hiking, camping, cycling, paddling or however you enjoy Canada's great outdoors, you're sure to find it here, in our roundup of the year's essential gear:
After more than a decade of gear-testing, this is the most waterproof and breathable jacket I’ve ever come across—perfect for hiking in some of the rainiest places in Canada. The secret to the performance is akin to rethinking the sandwich. Rather than layer the waterproof-breathable membrane between two protective sheets, like everyone’s been doing since the 1970s, Columbia developed a tougher membrane that can stand on its own. With no face-fabric to soak up water or slow down breathability, it performs better than the competition and after months of testing, shows no signs of wear.
Five Ten Quantum ($220)
German stone-master Thomas Huber designed these shoes to be as versatile as he is. Starting at the sole, the C4 rubber works well in temps ranging from sweating in the sun to freezing in the shade. The shoe’s shape is slightly turned down for good edging on tiny holds, but also wide for all-day comfort. A breathable tongue helps keep the dogs from overheating and the synthetic-leather upper won’t stretch, so even when feet get sweaty the shoe will still feel precise.
The North Face
The quiver-killer hiking boot. Rising above the ankles, they offer plenty of support for schlepping heavy loads and wandering off trail. But they weigh less than some low-cut shoes—about 900 grams—ideal for moving quickly. With a Gore-Tex liner, the synthetic upper deflected an ankle-high soaker on a creek crossing. The outsole is thickly lugged, clawing through quagmires and quickly chucking mud. But it’s the energy return we noticed the most. They felt light and energetic, even three hours into a backpack trek.
A sign of a serious backpacker is the effortless way they always seem to have everything right at-hand. For the rest of us, there’s the Glacier. Loaded with pockets and zippers, it makes it easy to keep everything you think you’ll need on the trail in a handy compartment and everything else easy to access. For instance, like on a lot of packs, a zip accesses the sleeping bag-pocket at the bottom of the pack—but this one is extra long, the giant opening creating bonus space for digging around. Two vertical pockets run down the back of the pack, adding extra room for essentials to the already large lid-pockets. And it all feels overbuilt—which we like. So while it may not be lightweight, it carries a load effortlessly and feels like it will last forever.
Marmot Ion 20 ($510)
Nights can dip to below freezing on many backpacking routes, even during the summer. The Ion will keep you cozy no matter where the thermometer goes. The top of the bag is stuffed with 850-fill down, some of the warmest-for-weight available. The bottom is a synthetic fill, which, unlike down, insulates when compressed. Baffles run in multiple directions to best distribute the warmth and make the bag roomy without dead-air space. When temps plummet, snuggle into the hood, one of the best we’ve tried. And weighing less than a kilogram, this bag won’t weigh you down.
Merrell All Out Blaze ($160)
With a low drop between the heel and forefoot, thick lugs and a stable mid-sole, these trail running shoes can go where few others can—like to many of the summits in the Rockies. A lacing system that latches into the shoe to hug the foot from all directions locks in the fit, and the mesh upper keeps the sweat down. There’s enough cushioning here to allow you to pound out long runs into the wilderness.
There are no tent pads at many prime backcountry campsites, so guaranteed the ground will be lumpy. A good air mattress is a must and this one does something no other one does: inflate and deflate fast. Rather than a tiny mouthpiece for blowing it up, it has a wide mouth. Blown and ambient air is sucked in at the same time, filling the pad in as few as 10 big breaths. A smaller valve helps firm up the 7.6-centimetre-thick pad. It deflates even faster—open the big valve and it empties in seconds.
Osprey Manta AG 28 ($220)
Summer hiking demands water and ventilation. Osprey sends this daypack in with both. Slipped inside its own zip pocket is a 2.5-litre hydration bladder. The hydration hose magnets to the chest strap for easy use. The back panel is fully ventilated to keep sweaty backs to a minimum, and it wraps around the body to spread out the load and prevent pinch-spots. Inside is plenty of storage for a day’s worth of gear and pockets and sleeves to keep it organized. There’s even a rain cover if an afternoon thunderstorm threatens.
Patagonia Houdini Jacket ($120)
Houdini was known for pulling off the seemingly impossible. Same with this jacket. Weighing less than 115 grams, stuffing into its chest pocket and essentially translucent, it looks and feels paltry, but over my shoulders it kept out the morning chill, deflected ridge-top gusts and a solid shower and stood up to a bushwhack approach. It’s the jacket we stuff into our pack no matter what we’re doing: trail running, hiking, mountain biking or climbing.
Kora Shola 230 Crew ($145)
Don’t confuse this top with wool or cashmere—it’s made from hand-plucked yak wool sourced from nomadic Himalayan herders. We found yak to be equal to merino wool in wicking performance and odour resistance, but better for temperature regulation, breathability and especially softness. (There’s not even a hint of itch.)
At a lakefront campground, you’ll live in these amphibious shorts. On land, the soft, stretchy polyester and slightly baggy cut never restricts or chafes and angled seams at the back play nice with backpacks, reducing rubbing and pressure points. Get them wet and they won’t hold water, so they stay light and dry fast. Bonus: their casual style means they’re pub-ready.
Salus Marine Jazz PFD ($220)
A good PFD is essential and this one feels like it’s hardly there—until it’s needed. The Jazz’s rockered shape fits the curves of the body better; it seems to move with us in every stroke, reach and lean. The foam is focused lower on the body, creating a less cumbersome feeling and is more breathable on hot days. When things get gnarly, the padding extends high up the spine and extra foam lines the ribs for protection.
The North Face
The Homestead feels just that: a home on the range. Whether in the front-country or the back, this spread is palatial—TNF says there’s room for a queen-sized mattress inside the two-person tent. With just single mats, there’s space for two people with all their gear and more to spare. Plus, the monster vestibule is more a garage. But for the room, the weight penalty is light. At about 3.2 kilograms, it’s not backbreaking to take this into the backcountry, especially since you could fit three inside. Just watch opening the door in the rain—there’s not much of an overhang.
Sea to Summit Basecamp 1 ($450)
Sea to Summit
Possibly the most versatile sleeping bag around. Not only is it light and packable for its warmth (750-fill water-resistant down), it’s also roomy. I could sleep on my side, stretch out my legs, even go fetal and suck my thumb. When I got hot, zips down both sides of the bag allow custom venting: roll the top down, flip one side up, open the bottom. It’s also possible to separate the top and bottom and turn it into a blanket.
Last year, Big Agnes gave headlamps the cold shoulder by sewing LED lights into the canopy of a tent. This year, they take the idea a logical step further with an integrated wiring system and battery bank and a solar panel slot. Slip the seven-watt Goal Zero solar panel into the sleeve and power the lights, an included fan, a lantern and your phone. The additional tech doesn’t add a lot of weight—the decent-sized, two-person, two door, two-vestibule tent weighs about 2.1 kilograms.
Eddie Bauer Flying Squirrel ($320)
The flying squirrel is a unique animal and so is this sleeping bag. Zipperless, you fold it like a burrito shell with a person for ingredients. It’s great for summer sleeping; fold only one side on warm nights. When temps drop towards its four-degree Celsius limit, overlap both sides and snuggle into the hood. And when it’s hot, lie in it open. The minimalist design equals low weight (770 grams) and tiny bulk (we have bigger down jackets), perfect for going fast and light.
7mesh Recon Shorts ($200)
While these below-the-knee shorts are made for mountain biking, they’re ready for anything. The articulated crotch and leg pattern allows unrestricted movement in pretty much any direction. They're cut a little longer in the front than the back, which protects the knees but still leaves room for padding. And a built-in belt keeps them snug, no matter how many calories you burn. The Gore Windstopper fabric protects against breezes and light rain, or the mud off the path, but also breathes really well and will dry fast if you need a mid-ride swim.
Boreas Muirwoods 30 ($160)
This is a day-pack ready for spontaneous adventure. With 30 litres of room, it is an ideal day-size. But it’s also built with the same suspension and padding as Boreas’s overnight packs. On the hike into the campground, overload it—attaching anything that doesn’t fit on the daisy chain. With camp set, head off with this adaptable pack—it carries a day’s load effortlessly. And if the adventure bug bites, it’s ready for an impromptu overnight trek.
MSR Guardian Purifier ($400)
Yes, the waters of our backcountry lakes are pretty clean, but this area sees a lot of traffic. Be sure with one of the only purifiers that removes bacteria, protozoa, particulate and even viruses, the smallest and hardest to sieve out. The Guardian uses a new hollow-fibre filter and an automatic flushing process, both unique to it. MSR says it can treat more than 10,000 litres and is drop- and freeze-resistant. But what you’ll really notice is that it can filter 2.5 litres per minute.
Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt (from $2,300)
Across Canada, mountain-bike trails will range from enduro-style downhills to pump-track cross-country. The Thunderbolt is ready to rocket through it all. The 120-millimetre-travel suspension sucks up small drops and smooths out the rocky and rooty bits. The 27.5-inch wheels are nimble on the old-school technical single-track and roll fast enough to keep up to ex-pros on the buffer stuff. The carbon frame feels snappy on climbs and the cockpit is all-day comfortable. With the ability to shift geometry with a few twists of an Allen key, it’s a bike that can ride anywhere.
Like a gecko, this half-kilo tripod seems to be able to defy gravity. It can crane into awkward positions, hook onto bare rock, hang off ropes and stand stable on its three legs. And like a gecko, the Pakpod’s trick is its feet: either a round base or a fold-out spike, which can also act like a hook. With extendable arms and quick adjustments, it’s easy to set up this tripod just about anywhere, including underwater. The legs only extend to about 40 centimetres, but despite its meagre size and weight, it can hold a DSLR steady. It’s ideal for mounting a POV on a kayak or grabbing a time lapse of the sunset.
KEEN Maupin ($120)
Straying from KEEN’s trademark big toe bumper, the Maupin is a more casual sport sandal. A combination of straps and synthetic fabric zigzags across the foot to lock it down. Wet environment grip, both on the well-supported insole and on the lugged-and-siped outsole, kept contact secure even on river rocks. Surprisingly amphibious, they were comfortable and unstinky when worn on land.
Oboz Sundog Light ($115)
Like the winged shoes of Hermes, the Sundogs feel like they’re ready for take off. Feeling light and agile on the feet, they beg for speedy missions on smooth trails. The all-mesh upper is cut from one piece to reduce seams, with synthetic zones at the toe, arch and heel for impact protection. And two densities of EVA in the midsoles cushion the long distances. They can handle rough trails too, thanks to deep lugs, nylon shanks and an EVA forefoot plate for protection. But we think these are at their best going fast with light loads.
Gregory Wander 38 ($140)
We think the key to success when on a family backpacking trip is using good gear, so the experience is as comfortable as possible. That’s where this youth-focused pack comes in. Using Gregory’s VersaFit system, there’s tons of adjustment in the torso length for dialling in the fit. It’s loaded with the padding, organizing pockets and quality of Gregory’s adult-sized packs. And the just-enough, 38-litre capacity encourages kids to cut down to the essentials—one of the most valuable backpacking skills.
For early morning paddles or when the wind whips, this unique jacket will keep the shivers at bay. Made from a combo of a thin layer of petroleum-free neoprene, polyester and spandex, the jacket is super stretchy and warm, but also very breathable. On a hard workout, our base layer was wet, but the jacket felt dry. Tiny channels in the inside lining suck moisture off the skin and disperse it. Outside, it deflects splashes and showers and, if you should fall in, insulates from the cold. Best of all, it’s casual enough to wear off the water too.
Circles are more efficient than rectangles. Jetboil puts this truth to good use with its first car-camping stove. Isolating the two 10,000 BTU burners eliminates weight and bulk. Instead, they clam-shell together and nest inside a pot and frying pan. The whole thing weighs about half as much as our old car-camping stove and takes up far less room in the trunk. Plus, it simmers and it can feed an optional standalone stove and built-in coffee press. What’s that we smell? Oh, yeah! Oatmeal, bacon and coffee—all at the same time.
Julbo Aero ($130)
The problem with wearing sunglasses while mountain biking or trail running: when we get sweaty, they inevitably fog. These ones are made to breathe. The lens is ventilated almost the entire way around. Even the arms have holes to help keep air moving. And the lens is treated to prevent fog. They did a great job, even when we were dripping. For forested trails, choose the Zebra Light lens. Light yellow, the photochromatic glass is bright enough for deep in the woods and adjusts quickly to shade the full sun.
Mammut Segnas ($500)
Canada can be a notoriously rainy place. A good shell jacket is essential and the Segnas is ready for whatever blows in. It uses Gore’s Active Shell, an aerobic-inspired waterproof-breathable membrane that breathes as well as anything we’ve tried. It’s paired with a tough outer fabric that stood up to bushwhacking abuse and howling winds. The combo dumps moisture on sweaty uphills, but won’t leave you shivering at the blustery viewpoint.
Icebreaker Ellipse ($230)
We love hybrid layers like this. The chest and hood are stuffed with MerinoLOFT, a down-like insulation made from strands of wool. The rest is a fleece-like mix of 75 per cent merino wool and 25 per cent recycled polyester. Breathable, but also highly insulating and easily shedding wind and light rain, we wear it like a midlayer, a soft shell and an insulating piece, sometimes all in the same day.
Always bring a rain shell pant—but know that you’ll live in a pair of hiking pants like these. The hybrid construction combines tougher panels of soft shell material in exposed places and stretchy running-pant material behind the knees, inseam and ankles. Soft shell deflects a light rain and wind and won’t blink at a bushwhack, while the lighter material adds form-fitting comfort and higher breathability for those tough climbs.
Karun World Yuco ($170)
Not only do these sunglasses help shield the daylight bouncing off our waterways with polarized Carl Zeiss lenses, they also help protect the ocean where fish live most of their lives. The frames of these shades are made from old fishing nets that would otherwise likely end up discarded. They are the world’s first 100 per cent recyclable and traceable sunglasses.
Maven B.3 10x30 ($530)
A good pair of binoculars should be included in any outdoorsy person’s standard kit. Edge-to-edge clarity makes it easy to spot wildlife on a far-off ridge. Plenty of depth-of-field will help pull out that well camouflaged bird. And scope the route ahead with the 10-times zoom. A smooth focus wheel makes it easy to hone in on anything and they’re made to handle the inevitable abuse.
Sierra Designs Nightwatch 2 ($310)
By integrating the fly and tent body into one, set up is speedy and unnecessary weight is shed, dropping the load to less than 3.3 kilograms, all without affecting stability. The mostly mesh body keeps the bugs out and ditches excess daytime heat, while overhangs over the door create a porch, perfect for cooking out of the rain.
Patagonia Merino Air ($150)
Patagonia uses a unique weaving process to make this wool-polyester blend better. They start by spinning the wool into loftier, airier fibres. Then they sew it with recycled polyester. The 50/50 combo creates a surprisingly light and incredible performing top. Though the weave looks a bit like a sweater we wore in 1988, it dries, wicks, fights stink and thermo-regulates better than anything else. It’s ideal for the variable weather and physical demands of a Canadian river trip.
Garmont Dragontail LT GTX ($235)
Garmont is back and just as tough as before. The Dragontail is a low-cut hiker that hides backpack worthy support. Though we wouldn’t want to carry a multi-day pack with them on, they’ll be a solid choice for everything else, especially rock hopping up an old moraine or scrambling for a summit. Sticky rubber holds fast to rocks, decent lugs dig into mud and dirt and the suede upper fits like a glove right out of the box.