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The best gear gets out of your way. The items we bring with us outside—whether it’s on the trail or to our backyard patios—should work so well we forget we’re using them. The top shoes are the ones you don’t think about at all, but that painlessly support your miles-long schlep through the woods. This year’s best products in recreation—including a one-pound tent, a truly innovative sports bra, and a fire pit that keeps smoke out of your eyes—make our active lives more fun and comfortable.
Radius Zone Mosquito Repellent by Thermacell
Grand Award Winner No stink, no flame, no bugs
Spring and summer mean beers, barbeques—and bugs. In fact, by one estimate, parts of the United States could see above-average mosquito numbers this fall and winter. Most options for keeping those flying menaces away can be unpleasant: Citronella candles produce a flame, which is hazardous during fire season and creates smoke. Butane-powered repellants burn fuel to keep the bugs away, so you can’t bring them on an airplane. Thermacell’s Radius Zone Mosquito Repellent deters the biters without combustion. In this 3.3-inch-tall device, a battery-powered heater warms a liquid containing metofluthrin, a synthetic mosquito-repelling chemical similar to one in chrysanthemums. Cranked up to 257 degrees Fahrenheit, the metofluthrin vaporizes, creating a 110-square-foot no-fly zone for skeeters. To keep the screen going, recharge the lithium-ion battery via USB every six hours or so—which you can do while the device is running. Replaceable metofluthrin cartridges last as long as 40 hours. Throw the whole small gizmo in your bag for your next out-of-state camping trip and enjoy staying bite-free. Thermacell
FirePit by BioLite
Low-smoke fire pit
Fires are fun; smoke in your eyes is not. The FirePit all-but eliminates that irritating plume. A battery-powered, 3-inch fan on the outside of the 2.25-foot-long metal grill pushes pressurized air down three interior stainless-steel tubes and out 51 jets. The engineered airflow means that the logs (or charcoal, if you’re grilling) burn more efficiently, reducing smoke by about 80 percent. Control combustion speed and heat by adjusting the fan, which you can do with a button on the unit itself or via an app on a Bluetooth-connected phone. BioLite
Forge boots by Tecnica
Custom-fit hiking boots while you wait
Hiking boots, like shoes, are usually mass produced: You find your size and hope the fit is comfy. But these trekking kicks are different. Tecnica designed the Forge with a moldable material called thermoplastic polyurethane in the footbeds and uppers, so an in-store technician can customize them to the shape of your paws in just 20 minutes. Heated to 180 degrees, the footbeds become more flexible. Then, with the insoles under your feet, the store tech applies an air-pressurized system that molds the material to you. They repeat the process with the uppers. The custom fit means fewer, if any, blisters on the trail. Tecnica
Phantom by DPS
Ski ‘wax’ that lasts forever
Because traditional wax wears off, weekend skiers should polish their planks before taking to the mountains—and racers before every competition—to get the best speed and glide. But Phantom is a new formulation that can be applied once for the life of the skis. The proprietary liquid consists of short chains of fluorocarbons that, after at least two hours of outdoor UV exposure (or 40 minutes at a store), permanently bond with the polyethylene on the ski’s bases. Skids with Phantom are faster than those with all-temperature waxes; only high-end, temperature-specific pro formulas still win out. Bonus: The liquid emits none of the fumes that waxes do, and it won’t leave nasty chemicals behind to trickle into the water supply. DPS
Grail bicycle by Canyon
Canyon designed its carbon-fiber Grail bike to make long trips over bumpy dirt or gravel roads more comfortable. The key is its double-decker handlebar. The company added an extra horizontal beam to the top of the handlebars, which provides a more comfortable arm position and allows the lower bar to absorb vibrations before they reach the rider’s hands. Thanks to a leaf spring at its center, the additional structure flexes seven times more than typical ones do. The result is less arm fatigue during epic rides down dusty, earthen roads.
PureMove bra by Reebok
A motion-responsive sports bra
Sports bras have come a long way. In 1977, jogger Hinda Miller sewed together two jockstraps to create her own undergarment. Even today, finding a bra that supports the breasts without discomfort is a challenge. In fact, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 17 percent of women avoid exercise altogether because they are unable to find a bra that gives the right amount of support. The PureMove bra provides both support and comfort by incorporating a substance called shear thickening fluid in key places: the straps and back. The stuff remains pliant when at rest, but firms up with movement. It’s the right amount of support only when you need it. Reebok
Fly Creek HV Carbon with Dyneema tent by Big Agnes
To travel light, some backpackers hit the trail with just a bivouac sack—a small, low shelter that’s more of a body bag than a tent. High-rolling trekkers could instead grab this $800 one-person shelter. Big Agnes constructed the floor and rain fly using Dyneema, a very strong, light fiber made from ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene. Big Agnes makes these tents largely by hand to ensure a precision build—a necessity because Dyneema does not stretch. Combining the Dyneema with flexible carbon-fiber poles and a breathable nylon body make this a real home on the trail that’s as light as you’ll find.
Breathable waterproof protection by Green Theme Technologies
Textile manufacturers traditionally treat the outer layer of their waterproof, breathable jackets with durable water repellent, or DWR, to make raindrops bead up. The problem is, many DWRs contain perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which are bad for people and the planet. Green Theme’s tech goes on differently. Garment makers apply a PFC-free, hydrocarbon-based liquid to the fabric and then add pressure to permanently bond it to fibers, making them waterproof. This process is also better for the environment in another way: Unlike DWR application, it requires no water. Marmot adopted Green Theme for its Eclipse and Phoenix jackets, and Black Diamond has a shell on the way.
See the entire list: The 100 greatest innovations of 2018
RZR XP Turbo S by Polaris
Polaris created a buggy that drives pretty much anywhere. Thirty-two-inch tires help: They’re the biggest on an all-road vehicle and provide 16 inches of ground clearance to get over logs, rocks, and desert dunes without bottoming out. A beefed-up, mostly steel chassis makes the cruiser resistant to twisting and bending (Polaris even used thicker bolts than on the previous model). But the real innovation is the RZR Dynamix Active Suspension, a version of which also appears on mountain bikes and the Ford Raptor truck. Computer-controlled shocks on all four wheels automatically adjust 200 times a second, responding to both what the driver does and what the terrain throws at the vehicle. If you turn left, for example, the shocks stiffen on the right side, keeping the craft from banking outward. That means a smoother, safer ride—wherever you go.