Sage Dart flyrod
The Claim: Sage’s small-water rod delivers small flies in tight spots with short casting distances.
Field Test: Not only is my spot on the Pecos—and most of the rivers I fish—a longish approach, but it’s also small, but full of wild Brown and Cutthroat trout. So I’ve dropped my long, heavy 5-weight rod in favor of light and short.
Verdict: At 7’ 6”, the Dart is a full two feet shorter than my other rod, and it comes in 0 to 4 weight models. I chose a 3 weight, and its fast action was perfect for dropping tight loops into tight spots. And when a fish strikes a tiny caddis dryfly a few feet away, it’s game on. $700
Costa Mag Bay
The Claim: These polarized sunglasses that remove refracted light glare off the water’s surface are essential for sight fishing.
Field Test: Small, freestone rivers and streams mean spot fishing for spooky trout, and for me matters get complicated because I wear a prescription. SportRx.com—a San Diego-based group of opticians that work with sunglass makers like Costa, fit my prescription into these performance frames.
Verdict: Not only did I see fish in the water with the Trivex lenses, but the lenses were progressive—that’s basically no-line bifocals to you hawk eyes—meaning I can look down into the lower part of the lens and tie on a tiny Mayfly, a total day changer. Prices vary depending on your RX
Simms G4 Pro Shift Fishing Backpack
The Claim: With the pack on, you can unclip the lower “fanny pack” compartment and spin it 180-degrees around your waist while the shoulder straps and pack stay on your back.
Field Test: My local stretch on the Pecos River in New Mexico requires a bit of a scramble to get to the goods. I thought this pack would help.
Verdict: The Shift allowed me to carry everything I needed without having to change into my waders at the put in. With its two separate compartments, the reel, flies, tip-it, float sat in the lower waist pack while the rest of the gear rode up top. In my case, I removed the upper half of the pack, and fished with the essentials in the lower pack until I got to a hot spot. $350
Grayl Ultralight Purifier
The Claim: The cartridge on the Grayl removes viruses, bacteria, and protozoa, while also filtering out silt, heavy metals, and microplastics.
Field Test: When I’m on the water, I don’t carry water, but the deer and elk upstream of me don’t care. The Grayl works like one of those coffee plunger pots, pull it apart, fill the lower half with water, then plunge.
Verdict: I never want to get Giardia again! $60
The SUP craze washed over the outdoor industry a few years ago, leading to rapid product development, specialization (yoga, fishing, and racing to name a few) and all manner of custom-made works of art and low grade knockoffs. But it’s the leaps made with do-it-all inflatable boards that we’re most keen on. Whether you’re into van life or just don’t feel like having an 10-foot board in your (hopefully downsized) life, the new boards (and breakdown paddles) go from the size of larger coolers to utilitarian floatation devices more than capable of letting you paddle efficiently on mountain lakes and mellow rivers. With a two-chamber pump, they inflate in about two minutes and roll up nearly as fast. And, if you don’t care about keeping up appearances and you have the skill, they’re fine for some mellow surfing too. Which, when it comes to paddle boarding, is pretty much as extreme as we get. Although we’ll for sure race you.
Hobie Adventure 10’6″
Believe it or not, in terms of construction, inflatable SUPs are about as advanced as skis. Take the Adventure which features a seven-layer laminate construction and a drop stitch core. That attention to detail explains the price difference between quality boards (that won’t leave you swimming for your life) and the knockoffs. But nearly as important, quality means that, when inflated properly, the Adventure feels a lot like a traditional board. $1,099 (with pump)
Red Paddle 10′ 6″ Ride MSL
The company claims their versatile 10’6″ is the world’s best selling inflatable and we understand why that is. It’s nearly 5 inches thick—and width boosts the stiffness of inflatables—but more importantly, Red Paddle got the shape right. The board accelerates well on flat water, and turns crisply. We didn’t surf it—yet—but we’d suspect that the shaping of the bottom would get it up into a plane quickly. We were also big fans of the grippy decking and the extra stable feel for first timers. $1,300
Hala Gear Rival Playa 11′
If you’re looking to do more exploring than you are river surfing, the Rival Playa is the call. For one it’s the most stable board we called in (it’s six inches thick and 11 feet long), but it’s also kitted out with ample rigging points for stowage. We also appreciate how easy Hala makes the process. Their “Straight to Water” package includes a rolling backpack with their B-line paddle included. And the “Stomp Pad” midship makes for a maneuverable feel. $1,199
Kammok Mantis All-In-One Hammock Tent
The Claim: Finding a patch of ground devoid of rocks, roots, and windfall branches to set up a tent can be vexing, so why bother?
Field Test: I never find that one rock—until I’m settling into sleep. This year I lofted it, hammocking to avoid tortured terra.
Verdict: All I needed was to find two live trees between 12 and 18 feet apart, and I hung the webbing straps and attached the carabiners integrated into the hammock. I was swinging in less than five minutes. The bug net can be removed, and a rain fly guyed out hovers over the hammock. An optional Pongo Pad inflatable mattress helps keep the base flat to avoid the banana effect on your back. And all at under three pounds. $229 —D.C.
Klymit Versa Luxe Blanket
The Claim: One side is rip-stop polyester, the other cozy high loft fleece, so this 23-ounce, technical blanket covers 58” x 80” and serves as a shawl-like wrap or blanket.
Field Test: I also found that summertime camping often doesn’t require a sleeping bag. That’s especially true for hammock camping where this blanket was just fine.
Verdict: The four corners of the Versa have hand pockets that enable you to wrap it around your body on cool nights or mornings by the campfire. You can also stuff it into a footbox forming a fleecy pillow. $120 —D.C.
The Claim: A great solution for “dogs must be on leash” campgrounds, this hitching rope ties to two trees above the ground, and you simply attach your dog’s leash to the thread-locking carabiner for 20 to 30 feet of tangle-free rover roaming.
Field Test: My German Short Haired Pointer, Daisy, will never sit still. Who better to test it?
Verdict: Tangle-free Daisy. One end has webbing with loops to adjust to various tree or post diameters, the rope is reflective, and the stuff sack is attached to the rope for no more “where is that little sack?” moments when packing up. $60 —D.C.