Most of our reviews are pretty long — and take a long time to produce — because we want to provide enough info for you to actually determine whether the gear we tested will work well for you.
But we get asked to check out an increasingly wide range of products, and sometimes, we just want to tell you about something we’ve been using and loving lately.
So we’ve rolled out a new monthly series with an incredibly original name — Stuff We Like — to keep you current on a broad range of stuff we’re currently digging.
And if there’s something you love that you think we ought to check out, drop us a note in the comment section below.
Luke: I’ve been using simple Nalgene water bottles basically since high school, but a trip to the desert this spring prompted me to finally pull the trigger on an insulated bottle that would actually keep any sort of liquid at a more appealing temperature. I know Hydro Flask’s bottles are not news to most outdoorsy folks, but I’m finally a convert. I usually go through 3-5 bottle’s worth of water on a given day, so the 40-oz version was an easy call to minimize the number of times I have to make the huge trek (about 20 feet…) to my sink. And the big plus has been on mountain bike rides — I can leave the bottle in my car and not have water that’s the same scalding temperature as the interior of my car.
MSRP: $169.95 (shorts) & $74.95 (shirt)
Luke: We’ll be posting some much more expansive MTB apparel roundups in the near future, but these two pieces are the ones that have stood out the most so far. I’ve actually been using the Foehn Brise pant for biking for the past few years and I’m a huge fan of it as a sort of do-anything pant that also looks good. So, when I heard Foehn had released a mountain bike collection, I got very excited.
The Tobin Schoeller shorts and Keats Merino shirt have not disappointed. They are undeniably expensive products, so they need to be high quality to justify that price. In my opinion, they do.
The fabric on the Tobin shorts is quite burly but also very breathable, which is why I’ve been using it both on my average trail rides and laps at Mt. Crested Butte’s bike park. I took my first good fall of the year in the shorts, and unlike all the other shorts I’ve crashed in, there were no tears or even notable scuffs. They’re on the longer and baggier end of the spectrum which I’m cool with, and overall they’ve proven to be a lot more versatile than I initially expected.
The Keats Merino T-Shirt is more straightforward — it’s just a high-quality merino wool shirt that breathes very well, doesn’t stink after one day, and I really dig its middle-of-the-road fit and simple styling. And of course, the two let me take my preference for all-black kits to the trails…
Luke: As I just mentioned, I’ve been riding the CBMR bike park a lot lately, which also means I’ve been crashing. In the past I’ve steered away from chest / back protectors while biking purely because I don’t enjoy getting sweatier than I could without them. But for the past two ski seasons, I’ve worn a back protector every day, and given that rocks and trees are a lot harder than snow, I figured it’d be silly to keep riding without some more protection during the summer.
Fox’s Baseframe Pro seemed like it could be a really good compromise — it consists of a very thin, stretchy, mesh material that has removable D30 inserts at the back, chest, and shoulders.
For how much coverage those pads provide, the Baseframe Pro is pretty low-profile and fits under most of my shirts and jerseys without much constriction or the look of a kid dressing up as Batman on halloween. And given that those pads are made from D30’s flexible material, I truly do not notice the Baseframe at all while riding.
As far as heat goes, I definitely sweat more in the Baseframe Pro than without it, but it’s proven to be a non issue for me — I can feel sweat coming down my skin under the padded zones, but it’s not so steamy that I’d opt to leave the Baseframe Pro behind, even on days where it hit 85°F / 29°C.
The main drawback with the Baseframe Pro is honestly just getting it on and off. The baselayer part of it is very tight, so it usually takes me a bit of struggling and time to get in and out of it. It wouldn’t be my top pick if you have limited shoulder mobility, but for most folks, I think it’d be fine. The baselayer material itself also starts to stink pretty bad after about 2-4 rides, but it is easy to remove the pads and throw it in the wash.
All in all, the Baseframe Pro has made me feel more comfortable and confident while riding in the bike park, it left my chest and shoulders unscathed after a dive into the dirt, and it’s comfortable and breathable enough that I no longer ride lifts without it.
Luke: This was my big splurge after the last stimulus check. For the past year, I’d just been using the Evoc Capture 7L hip pack for both biking and fishing — and it’s phenomenal for biking with my camera — but I also carry my camera while fishing and I would always end up forgetting something when switching out my fishing / biking gear.
Fishpond’s Thunderhead hip pack is fully waterproof, it’s pretty big (10 liters), and a couple of my friends already had it and were big fans. All of that made it seem like a simple decision, apart from the hefty price tag. But after picking up that check from the post office, I called up one of Crested Butte’s local fly shops (Dragonfly Anglers; they’re great) and put in an order.
I’m a big fan so far, hence the inclusion here. The Thunderhead is certainly not for those who love to have their fishing gear neatly divided into different compartments — it’s basically just one big compartment, an exterior zippered pocket, a small internal pouch, and some exterior attachment points. But it easily fits all my stuff, and for when I eventually slip a foot in the water and go for a swim, it should keep me from needing to replace a whole lot of money’s worth of camera equipment.
Luke: This one’s pretty simple: the Topeka has become my current pair of everyday sunglasses.
My criteria for that is just (1) do I like how they look on my face and (2) are they comfortable on my face. The Topeka ticks those boxes, but there are other things that have made me really like these sunglasses. First, they’re not wildly expensive so I don’t have to worry as much about taking care of them. Second, they’re polarized so I can also use them for fishing. Third, they’ve got grippy pads at the temples so they don’t bounce around a whole bunch if I forget my Pit Vipers and need some shades for biking or skiing. They’re also made from recycled materials, they’re really light, and Sunski has a lifetime warranty.
Luke: I spend most of my time in the comfiest clothes I can find while working from home, but as an apparel design graduate, I can’t bring myself to wear those outfits when I venture out into the public (at least most of the time).
There are loads of “technical lifestyle” products and brands out there, but the LIVSN Flex Canvas Pants have stood out as one of the best executions I’ve seen of the “pants that look normal but work pretty well for outdoor activities” concept.
They’ve got a pretty standard, slightly slim fit (but not super tapered) that I think looks good but doesn’t feel constrictive. That’s aided by the articulated knees and the bit of stretch in the 58% organic cotton / 40% recycled polyester / 2% spandex fabric.
It feels like a classic cotton canvas fabric, though with a slightly softer hand feel, no break-in time, and I suspect it dries faster than 100% cotton alternatives. The fact that it’s made of GOTS Certified organic cotton and recycled polyester is also a big plus.
With these sorts of pants there’s a fine line to tread between looking like the designers just tried to sew in / on as many features as they could, and going so simple that the pants are only useful when doing things like hanging out in town. I think the LIVSN Flex Canvas pants tread that line very well. The darts at the knees increase the range of motion, but don’t look weird. There’s a button on the side of the cuff so you can roll them up (with a reflective interior fabric), but the button is barely noticeable. All the hand and rear pockets are zippered, but there’s no visible added bulk.
What really got this pant in this roundup for me, though, is the little details. LIVSN definitely put a good deal of effort into making these pants (1) durable and (2) comfortable. The waist seam is rolled forward so you don’t have as sharp of an edge digging into your gut. The waistband line is nicely contoured to help alleviate the same issue. Basically every seam is double-stiched. There’s a piece of leather behind the button so you don’t just pull it through the fabric. There are bar tacks at all of the stress points. The upper is lined with mesh (which does actually reduce swamp ass). The back pockets are sewn into an extra layer of fabric at the top and feature two layers of fabric at the bottom. The hand pockets have sewn-in phone sleeves. The belt loops are sewn into the waistband, not just bar tacked to it.
I’m guessing I still managed to miss a few details, but I think the contents and size of that list are evidence of the thought that went into these pants. My only complaint with them is that they run a touch small in the waist — they felt a bit tight when I was in “off season shape.” But bump up a size at the waist, and I think most people would be psyched on these as everyday pants that will last a long time, are made from more sustainable materials, and feel comfortable when hiking, camping, etc.
Vallon and Pit Viper Toddler/Kid Sunglasses
MSRP: $38 – $99
Kristin: Ever since my son started embracing sunglasses, which I think was around 9 months old, he’s had at least a few pairs to choose from. Admittedly he has way more sunglasses than he needs, but he does cycle through all of them. After becoming familiar with 10 or so different brands, I have come to realize that not all toddler sunglasses are created equal and that, even at a young age, a good design is important. From fit to style to function to safety, there are lots of options available, but for me, there are a few pairs of sunnies that really stand out.
The Vallon Mini-Waylon sunglasses are one such pair for me. I love them because they look adorable on my son and they are polarized, lightweight, and provide 100% UV protection. I have a matching pair and they are one of my favorite pairs to grab. If your little one needs some motivation to wear sunglasses, sometimes matching with them is all it takes to sway your kid to try something new. At least it has worked for us on a number of occasions.
Another one of our favorites is the new Pit Viper XS. The XS is made for toddlers/kids and has all the same qualities (think style & “attitude”) that you would expect from a pair of adult-sized Pit Vipers. My almost 3-year-old son is on the lower end of the sizing spectrum, but thanks to the arms that extend / retract and tilt, the sunglasses not only fit, but they also sit straight on his face.
My initial reaction to the sunglasses was “meh” as they look more ridiculous than cute, but my son immediately loved them. Especially because they had what he called “sprinkles” painted on them. The sunglasses come with a strap to hang around his neck and after easily attaching them, he immediately went outside to run through the hose. My water-in-the-face-adverse son was willing and excited to run straight through the water for the first time ever thanks to his “goggles” which he felt protected him from the spray. To me, this is a huge endorsement for the Pit Viper XS.
If you’re at all familiar with Pit Viper, you’ll know they market themselves as a party-culture brand. But if you’ve ever tried a pair of their sunglasses, you’ll also know that their products are well-designed and made of high-quality materials. I was skeptical of the brand before I bought a pair for myself but once I tried them on and realized how adjustable (and safe) they were, I was converted.
Over the past year, my son and I have logged lots of miles on our Mac Ride, and on two unfortunate occasions, I fell / tipped over while riding with him. He came away from the first “crash” physically unscathed, but the second time it happened, his sunglasses cut into his nose. It was only a minor scratch but it still bothered me that it happened. The Pit Viper XS has a rubber nose piece that provides cushioning while also creating space between his face and the sunglasses. In general, this design is a lot safer than any of his other sunglasses. The sunglasses aren’t cheap, but I think he’ll get a lot of use out of them for many years to come.
Kristin: Ever since purchasing my first laptop last year (yes, I’m a bit late to the laptop party; I’ve primarily been a desktop / iMac girl), I rarely go anywhere without my Deuter UP Sydney backpack. Between the padded sleeve for my computer and the magnetic flap closure, it’s extremely easy to slide my computer into the pack, throw the flap over, and head out the door. Easy peasy. While that description might make the pack sound fairly simple, that is not the case at all (in a good way). Deuter has a knack for designing great packs that are both highly functional and streamlined.
The UP Sydney has two external zipper pockets, one of which is hidden on the side and accommodates a wallet and phone. The other zipper pocket is located on the front of the pack and is large enough to fit all my cords and any other small to medium-sized items I want to have readily available. If I know I won’t be needing to access the main compartment for a while, I generally secure the flap closed using the hook and loop.
I’ve found the 22L pack to be great for overnight trips or day trips when I need to bring my laptop. Deuter has a number of bags in their urban backpack line, but for me, the Sydney is a great size.
Kristin: The Short Sleeve Technical Tee from Machines for Freedom is unlike any other tech tee I’ve ever worn. First off, it has mesh sleeves, which I wasn’t sure I’d like. I incorrectly thought that the mesh sleeves would really stand out, and as someone who doesn’t like to draw too much attention to myself (especially when mountain biking), I thought this top might be too much for me. But it turns out the mesh panels blend in pretty well and I really like the way they look, feel, and perform. I was recently riding up a long hill on a hot day and just when I was about to get off my bike for a break, a light breeze picked up and went right through my sleeves. It felt so unbelievably good that I kept on riding and even broke into a smile. I don’t usually have this type of reaction to apparel, but boy did those mesh sleeves make me happy.
The Short Sleeve Technical Tee has more to it than just some nice mesh sleeves — and it’s worth noting that the mesh sleeves are only on the black version of the tee. The boxy cut and shorter length of the tee also make it different from other mountain bike tees I’ve tested. I was a little concerned that the tee would ride above the hip belt on my bike bag, but this wasn’t the case at all. I was able to keep it tucked into the front and back of the belt / bag. The back is designed to be longer to provide full coverage on the bike. I’m 5’8” / 172 cm and the size Medium is a great fit.
The Short Sleeve Technical Tee comes in sizes XX-Small to XXX-Large, making for one of the larger size ranges that I’ve come across in mountain bike apparel. The Micro Modal / Elastane fabric is soft to the touch (silky smooth), moisture wicking, and wrinkle resistant. I can’t say wrinkle resistance is something I typically look for in technical apparel, but I was pleasantly surprised to pull it out of the dryer after having it sit there for a full day and to not see any wrinkles (unlike everything else I own). If you’re looking for a technical top that is non-traditional, I recommend checking out this tee.
David: I mostly ran various models of Shimano SPD pedals for close to 20 years. But as I noted in our Which Mountain Bike Pedals and Why article from a couple of years ago, I’ve long been intrigued by HT’s offerings, and now that I’ve tried them extensively, I’m sold.
The T1 is HT’s mid-size platform clipless pedal, with a very similar size and shape platform to Shimano’s XT / XTR Trail offerings. The T1 SX is nearly the same pedal, but with a subtle difference: On the standard T1 (left) the wire bale that forms the forward part of the clip mechanism can pivot forward to assist with release. On the T1 SX (right), small hooks on the bolt-on plates on top of the pedal retain the bale, so all the release movement happens at the back of the pedal. This just makes the range of tension adjustment considerably higher on the SX version. If you like to crank your release values up to 11, the SX is the pedal for you.
Even on the standard T1, the range of release value feels a bit higher than on Shimano’s XT or XTR Trail pedals. HT also offers several different cleat designs to fine-tune the feel of the pedals. In short, the breakdown is as follows:
- X1E: This is a multi-release cleat, similar to Shimano’s SH56 cleat, which is meant to let you release by rolling your foot in any direction, or even pulling up hard. That’s not a feature I’m at all interested in, and I haven’t tried these.
- X1: This is the standard cleat option and HT says it offers 4° of float. That’s the same as Shimano’s stated float for their standard SH51 cleats, but the X1 feels like it has considerably less. What float there is also feels “springier” than with a Shimano system — there’s more of a tendency for the HT to self-center within the float range. The overall effect is that the T1 pedal / X1 cleat combo feels much more locked in than an SPD pedal.
- X1F: HT says this cleat gives 8° of float, but in terms of overall range, it feels closer to an SPD pedal with the SH51 cleat. Like the X1 cleat and T1 pedal, though, the X1F feels like it has more of a tendency to self-center than the SPD system — it’s not as free-floating within its range.
- X2: HT calls the X2 their “Pro” cleat, and says it has 4.5° of float. If anything, it feels like it makes the release tension even stiffer than the X1, but the difference doesn’t seem too dramatic.
Also, to be super clear, HT and Shimano cleats aren’t cross-compatible. HT says you can run the X1E, X1, and X1F cleats with the T1 pedal, and the X1, X1F, and X2 cleats with the T1 SX pedal. SPD cleats do not work with HT’s pedals, and vice versa.
The biggest point of differentiation between the T1 / T1 SX and Shimano’s offerings is the more locked-in feel of the HTs. Whether or not you’re into that is going to be a matter of personal preference, but I very much am — with XTR Trail pedals (even at the maximum release tension) I sometimes have a tendency to unclip with my outside foot while pivoting my hips through a corner. There’s none of that with the HTs — simply because I’m able to run the release tension way higher. Personally, I’m happy with the range offered in both the T1 and T1 SX — I can hit my sweet spot on both pedals, just with the adjuster set lighter on the T1 SX. But if you know you want a ton of release tension, the SX is there for you. If you’re not sure, you’re probably fine with the regular T1.
Durability has also been good. HT offers bearing rebuild kits for relatively cheap, but I haven’t needed to avail myself of them yet. That’s another strong selling point for the HT options over Shimano SPDs — durability on the latter is great, but rebuild kits don’t really exist. Once the bearings finally go, you’re pretty much on to a new set of pedals. HT also offers the T1 and T1 SX in a ton of different colors, if you’re into that.
David: Bedrock calls the Cairn 3D Pro II an “adventure sandal” and that description is pretty apt. They’re essentially a flip-flop, but with a strap around the back of the heel and an ingenious set of adjustments on the main straps, which let you dial in the fit and then take the sandals on and off without further messing with the adjustment. They also feature a grippy Vibram sole and substantially more arch support than most flip-flops. I’ve worn them on hikes of a few miles and around town, and they’re super comfortable to wear and walk in all day.
Bedrock also offers a slightly more basic version without the “3D” moniker; it’s essentially the same thing, but with a slightly flatter, less supportive footbed. I’ve only briefly tried on that version, but at least for my feet, the added support of the 3D version was clearly worth the $10 price premium. I’ve had the Cairn 3D Pro IIs for a couple of years now and they’re holding up great — I’ve worn them a ton and expect them to keep going for years to come.
Flip-flops are great, too, and still very much have a place in my life, but the Cairn 3D Pro IIs are just so much better if you’re doing a lot of walking in them — especially on uneven surfaces — and they’re just about as comfortable to lounge around in. I’m a huge fan.
Kara: These days I’m either farming or biking, with the two taking up more than 12 hours of each day. As you can imagine, I am seeing a lot of sun and dealing with some surprisingly hot temperatures in the Gunnison Valley. For this reason, I have incorporated my Bandits Bandana into my daily outfit. I can wear it around my neck for sun protection, dip it in water to keep myself cool, or use it to tie my hair back. Back in the days when Covid masking was the norm, it also came in handy in adding a stylish flair to my masks, or giving me enough coverage in outdoor settings or low-risk interactions.
This also isn’t just a regular bandana. Right after I received my Bandits Bandana, I was so amazed by the design and colors that I quickly jumped on their website to peruse through all the amazing artwork and patterns they feature on each of their bandanas. Each pattern is designed by a different artist and benefits a corresponding cause or organization. I am now the proud owner of “Come Together,” and “Together,” both featuring unique designs and artwork on 100% organic cotton. You can visit their website to learn about each of the artist, their purpose for the design, and the charity that that specific purchase will benefit.
Bandits Bandanas are beautiful, functional, soft, and versatile. I can go from a full day of farming to a nice night out to dinner and still find a reason to rock this piece of art.
Rebecca: My go-to piece of clothing this summer. I typically find myself wearing running shorts and a T-shirt when the weather turns hot. The Flylow Life Jumper definitely gets more style points without sacrificing any of the breathability, comfort, and functionality. It’s like a summer dress but more useful. It’s absolutely made for those long Saturdays where you’re going from the farmers market to brunch, then to the trailhead for a bike or run, a late afternoon crag trip, and then over to a friend’s house for a bbq. They are a longer-cut short that provide ample coverage, which I find to be very valuable when biking and wearing a climbing harness. I’m looking forward to bringing the Life Jumper on camping trips this summer and pairing it with sweaters when the weather finally starts to cool down
Dylan: When it comes to sun protection, you can either lather up with sunscreen, or wear protective clothing that covers most of your body. Each method has its pros and cons, but I prefer to wear sun-protective clothes. I’ve been wearing the NRS H2Core Silkweight Hoodies for two years now, and they have performed great when I am raft guiding, trail building, hiking, and most recently, during an 18-day Grand Canyon raft trip.
The H2Core Silkweight Hoodie is rated at UPF 50+, and I have never even come close to getting sunburnt (or even tan) while wearing one. Wearing a size medium (I am 5’11”), I am very pleased with the not-to-baggy, also nonrestrictive fit that easily allows for basically any outdoor activity you could think of. The fabric feels great on my skin, and it wicks moisture well to keep me cool and dries very quickly. Plus, the H2Core Silkweight Hoodie also comes with thumb holes and protects the tops of your hands from getting sunburnt.
Dylan: I’ve been using the 200 cm NRS PTK Kayak Paddle for over a year now, and I am very pleased with the bang-for-the-buck performance I’ve been getting out of it. In a world where whitewater kayak paddles can run you up to $400, the PTK is a good option for those not quite willing to drop that kind of dime.
I suppose when I bought this budget-oriented paddle when I first got into kayaking, I was expecting to break it or grow out of it and replace it somewhat soon. However, after a year of abuse, including throwing it on shore and accidentally running it over, hitting lots of rocks with the blade on the Gunnison Valley’s relatively shallow rivers, transporting it on a raft in Grand Canyon, and stepping on it or crunching it against other gear, it has held up very well.
At 200 cm, it fits my 6’ wingspan and relatively narrow whitewater kayaks well, but it also comes in a 197 cm length and up to 230 cm for wider boats and for touring purposes. The oval-shaped right hand control lets me keep my blade angle right where I need it to be while paddling, bracing, and rolling, and combined with the 45° feather angle, it makes for comfortable, intuitive paddling. The coating on the aluminum shaft scratches easily, but this only results in a visual problem. However, the oval insert on the right hand control area seems to be slipping toward the middle of the shaft, which isn’t that big of a problem but could be if it slips all the way out of the tight cover that keeps it in place. Other than that, I’ve been very happy with the PTK Kayak Paddle for both mellow low-volume rivers and the higher-volume pool-drop rapids of Grand Canyon, and those looking to get into whitewater kayaking, inflatable kayaking, or kayak touring should consider it as their first (and maybe only?) paddle.