The top sports and outdoor gear of 2021
This new equipment for getting outside and staying active is the Best of What’s New.
The past year and a half have taught us all how important it is to get outside and stay active—whether that means an easy hike or an epic day of mountain biking. The year’s top new gear makes those adventures better, safer, more comfortable, and more inclusive. We’ve chosen killer new shades for your next run, hiking pants designed to fit more bodies, and a helmet that will let you know when it (or you) have had one too many bad bumps. Plus, there’s even a kit made just to help your bathroom breaks in the woods leave less of a mark.
Looking for the complete list of 100 winners? Check it out here.
Grand Award Winner: The best e-mountain on the planet
When Yeti Cycles set out to build its first electric mountain bike, the company needed to do better than just slapping a battery and motor to an existing ride. The race-driven brand wanted a cycle that would scream uphill and bomb downhill at record-setting speeds, but do it with the same feel of other analog Yetis. Having a motor on board increases the whip’s acceleration and tire torque, meaning the ride could lose traction and spin out when traversing gravel, rocks, and roots if the team didn’t correctly manage that extra power. To keep a grip, they designed an entirely new suspension platform, called the Sixfinity linkage, specifically tuned for mountain-climbing e-bikes. One essential piece lies in how the rear triangle of the frame moves with the back wheel; a unique joint under the seatpost dynamically adjusts the geometry of the frame as cyclists crank over obstacles. This, and a series of other suspension modifications, result in a carbon-fiber ride that, when pedaling and climbing, reacts to the trail without too much springiness or the tires losing their connection to the ground.
Frameless sunglasses from the future
Put these new shades on your face, and you’ll instantly feel a bit like Doc Brown from Back to the Future. That’s because, instead of frames, the lenses on Oakley’s Kato sunglasses act as the frame themselves. The curved piece of polycarbonate has a lip at the top and a curvature for your nose, both of which lend it structure. Without a top or bottom frame, the wraparound specs give the wearer a sweeping, unencumbered field of view. Designed mainly for athletes like cyclists or runners, the sunglasses weigh just 34 grams, sitting in front of the face like a snug, sweeping visor.
A collapsible backpack that’s anything but flimsy
These two mountaineering backpacks have a unique trick up their nylon sleeves: they can compress down into a small package, but still retain structure in their expanded forms. The Beast18, for example, becomes a roughly 10-inch disc, but unfolded it is about 20 inches long. A loop of hardened, yet springy stainless steel runs along the pack’s perimeter to create a semi-rigid frame shaped something like a peanut. The pack collapses similarly to a nylon windshield sun screen: Flip it in half at the middle (creating a figure-8 shape with the metal loop), then fold it over on itself. The metal’s strong memory helps it snap back into shape.
A soft fabric that repels rain
Waterproof, breathable jackets are typically a little crinkly, because their moisture-blocking prowess relies on a special membrane sandwiched and glued between other fabrics. The Core Construction material from Voormi does it differently: Instead of laminating fabrics together, the company knits yarn through the membrane itself. The new material nets hoodies and a range of other garments—such as cycling jerseys or running wear—that’ll provide rain protection, but feel as soft and breathable as a sweatshirt.
Hiking pants for every body
Clothing companies typically approach plus-size offerings as simply scaled-up versions of smaller sizes, an approach that fails to recognize that a person’s proportions may not simply be a larger version of a size six. The Ponderosa Pants not only come in sizes 14 to 24, but offer two distinct fits for plus-size body types. One, called mountain, is best for bodies with broader hips than waists, while the river model works better for folks with hips and waists that measure about the same. Made from nylon and elastane, the garments dry quickly, offer two-way stretch, and have five roomy pockets.
A better way to bury your business
Sometimes when you’re on a hike, ride, or other adventure, you just gotta go. If you’re carrying this kit, you’ll have everything you need to bury your business. Dig a hole with the aluminum trowel, do as nature intended, and drop in three of the included tablets of mycelium. The fungi will break down poop ten times faster than the ground would on its own. Combined with included biodegradable wipes, the system also zaps e-Coli and other pathogens by an average of 66 percent, reducing the likelihood that those baddies will get into water sources and make people sick.
A helmet that tracks its own health
A helmet is essential when skiing, but a damaged one will do you no good. Atomic’s Redster CTD brain bucket lets you know when it’s spent. A built-in impact sensor measures blows in five different zones—whether that hit is from a tree (or just dropping it in the parking lot)—and an accelerometer records and evaluates the location and force to determine if the helmet still has the integrity to provide full protection. Atomic’s smartphone app provides a green, yellow, or red indicator on its health. In the event of a severe fall, the app can also notify an emergency contact to your coordinates.
Fast-drying, non-drooping tent toppers
Most backpacking tent flys—the tarp-like portion that goes over the shelter to protect it from rain—are made from lightweight nylon coated with polyurethane. But if you’ve ever woken up to a wet, saggy mess, you’ve experienced the material’s shortcomings. It’s stretchy, absorbs moisture, and takes what can feel like forever to dry. Nemo’s new Osmo fabric is made from a checkered weave of durable, weather-repelling nylon and moisture-wicking polyester. The result is that it dries much faster than other tent flys, and doesn’t sag. The material will debut in three Nemo tents in 2022.
Syncing underwater with sound
Scuba divers typically use radio transmitters to monitor their tank pressure. But those waves don’t travel well in water. Sound waves, or sonar, can move significantly farther through the wet stuff. Garmin’s Descent T1 transmitter taps those audio frequencies, allowing groups of divers to keep closer tabs on one another. The beacon reliably delivers tank pressure data, air time, and gas consumption rates for up to five divers to Garmin’s Mk2i dive watches from up to 30 feet away.
The smartest mountain bike suspension
For mountain bikers, pedaling on smooth terrain with a bouncy suspension wastes energy, but a soft springiness is welcome when cranking over rocks and roots. The battery-powered Flight Attendant suspension automatically adjusts itself on the fly. Accelerometers in the shock and fork and a sensor in the crank feed motion and force data to an algorithm that decides how to tweak the suspension to suit the terrain. In fact, the Flight Attendant makes 200 decisions per second, sending signals to a pair of motors in the suspension to make it softer or firmer (or keep it the same). For now, it’s only available on bikes from YT Industries, Canyon, Trek, and Specialized, but someday you may be able to retrofit it onto an existing ride.