Instead of my usual running-and-hiking-only focus, I decided to try a few things that have broader outdoor applications and have been pleasantly surprised with the results. Here are a few of my favorites from this season so far.
Swiftwick socks + Topo Athletic shoes
This has been a winning combination for me over the past two years, and though I occasionally try out different brands of shoes and socks I keep coming back to these. Swiftwick makes comfortable socks that dry quickly and always outlast my other pairs by a factor of three. The Vision Five have been my go-to this summer as they fit great, have a little bit of cushion, and I dig the design.
For shoes, I bought a couple pairs of Topo Mtn Racers this spring as I planned to do some races and hikes in wet areas (and, let’s be honest, they were on sale). So far I’m super impressed with how they fit and function on wet granite and in the Alaskan outback which I just returned from. I have over 250 miles on the pair pictured above and they are no worse for wear. I can’t wait to see how they hold up throughout the summer.
Check out Swiftwick socks and Topo shoes.
Nathan Pinnacle 12L Running Vest
Last year I almost exclusively used the Nathan Vapor Krar 2.0 4L vest which was great, but it had some issues. Namely, it’s a bit hot and stuffy to wear. This year, I chose to go for a higher capacity pack and couldn’t resist the tempting features of the Pinnacle 12L vest. With three times the capacity of the VaporKrar with a weight penalty of less than four ounces, it has been impressive — Nathan clearly did a lot of work to increase the airflow while not forcing a decrease in performance.
They kept a lot of the same features like the multitude of easy-access pockets, zippered waterproof phone storage, and it comes with an insulated bladder. I have worn it for a number of training runs and also for a 50k race, and so far so good. I look forward to many more miles with this vest.
Check out the Nathan Pinnacle 12L vest here.
Sea to Summit DryLite Towels – $11.95 – $36.95
I go back and forth on the utility of microfiber towels – they are lightweight and effective at removing moisture, but often they aren’t very comfortable to use. Over the years, though, companies have been developing more cozy models that include a more comfortable suede finish. I picked up a couple of DryLite towels to use at the beach and on the river this summer, and I have been impressed with their usefulness and light weight.
The Large version weights just 5 ounces, which is nothing compared to a regular beach towel. They come with a carrying case which I always lose immediately, but I often just hang them up to dry and then fold down to pack away. While I don’t bring a towel on backpacking trips, this has been in my river bag every day this year and has come in handy more than I expected.
Check out Sea to Summit DryLite towels here.
PATH projects Wheeler FT short
My love for PATH projects gear continues to grow the more I use their products. They have recently debuted the Wheeler FT as an “active lifestyle” short with many of the features and fit of their other shorts which I have grown to love like zippered pockets, a stretchy “flex twill” material, and durable design.
As soon as I received my shorts, I knew I would be living in them all summer. They are designed be active in but also have a professional look that is more formal than a traditional pair of running shorts. Because of that, I’ve worn them while guiding wildlife and hiking tours without feeling underdressed. These are definitely my go-to warm-weather bottoms and will be for the rest of the season at least.
Check out PATH projects Wheeler FT shorts here.
Ombraz Sunglasses – $140
Ombraz sunglasses are unique in that they are arm-less: there is simply a cord that connects the two sides of the lenses which can be tightened and loosened around your head. This allows you to adjust the tightness exactly as desired without the glasses slipping down your nose or falling off. There are no sidearms or hinges to break, and the glasses can be stowed almost completely flat. They come in a variety of frame options and lens colors, all of which are top-notch quality (lenses are from Zeiss, a German high-end optics company).
I thought these would make good sunglasses for whitewater rafting, and I was right. Instead of using traditional sunglasses with a Chums-type retainer cord, the Ombraz sunglasses fit perfectly and feel more secure than anything else I’ve tried. When on the river this is exactly the type of security you need along with the flexibility to take them on and off with ease.
I don’t often wear these sunglasses in social situations (I usually stick with Goodr), but they are almost always with me on the river. I wouldn’t say they are the catch-all single pair of sunglasses you need for all aspects of life, but they definitely work well for water sports.
Check out Ombraz sunglasses here.
BioLite Headlamp 330 – $59.95
The light’s battery is detached from the bulb and sits on the back of the headband, which redistributes the weight and reduces bounce when in motion. It has a higher capacity than many other options on the market (900mAH compared to the 600mAH of my favorite backpacking light, the Nitecore NU25).
Though the button to turn the lamp on and off is a bit awkward and hard to depress, the device itself works very well for both general use around the house or campground as well as running. At its lowest output level it can last 40 hours, supposedly, and of course it is rechargeable via micro USB.
BioLite AlpenGlow Lanterns (500/250 lumens) – $79.99/$59.95
Another line from BioLite I was interested to use were the AlpenGlow lanterns. Available in both 500 lumen and 250 lumen options, they offer a different take on traditional camping lanterns by including multiple colors, dimming, flickering, and cycling colors. Whether you want task-based lighting to make your way to the bathroom at night or ambient light to set the mood, these lanterns do the trick.
The 500 lumen model can run for up to 200 hours on low, and it also includes a 6400mAH rechargeable battery that also has a USB-out port so you can charge your phone or other devices from it. I used these lanterns extensively during two car camping trips earlier this summer and they were perfect. If weight is not an issue and you want a quality light source for your campsite, these are the lanterns to get.
Check out the BioLite Alpenglow lanterns here.
As my activities changed a bit this year and I find myself doing a fair amount car camping in addition to my running and backpacking, I had the need for some different gear and have enjoyed trying out a bunch of different things. From clothing to lighting, there are lots of options available and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the new gear being released. I hope to be able to thoroughly test these items and write some more in-depth reviews later in the year to give a better sense of how things held up.
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Brandon Chase is a writer, endurance athlete, and guide based in Maine. He is a former Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State and spent nearly a decade overseas serving at embassies in Egypt, Cyprus, and Pakistan.
Along with a 98-day thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, he has summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, hiked the West Highland Way, fastpacked in the Himalayas, and trekked around New Zealand and South Africa. He also regularly competes in ultramarathons at the 50k, 50-mile, and 100-mile distances. He is a Lead Guide for Andrew Skurka Adventures and the New England Outdoor Center.