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Outdoor Features

Outdoors Magic Gear Of The Year 2014

Best outdoor kit from 2014 including a shell jacket, walking boots, a headtorch, a technical pack, a GPS device and lots more all from the outdoors industry's biggest brands, selected by us.

Our pick of the best outdoors gear of 2014

As the year draws to a close, it’s time to pick out the very best of the outdoors kit we’ve used this year from waterproof jackets, via winter-friendly insulated clothing through to an outstanding off-road running headtorch, a proper all-weather blaster of a lightweight stove and lots more.

How we selected the gear

In each case we’ve explained why we rate that particular item so highly plus at the end there’s a ‘bubbling under’ selection of kit that didn’t quite make the cut, but is still exceptionally good.

The bottom line is that these days, there’s very little genuinely poor outdoors kit around, so to really stand out from the crowd is getting harder and harder. So here’s our selection of the best of the best. Let us know if you think we’ve forgotten anything.

The Gear

Check out the kit by either scrolling down the page or jumping to your preferred item by using the links below.

Mountain Equipment Gryphon Jacket | MSR WindBoiler Stove | Berghaus Ramche Jacket | Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody | Osprey Exos 48 Pack | Satmap Active 12 GPS | The North Face Thermoball Jackets | Rab Continuum Hoody | Petzl Nao Headtorch | Inov-8 Race Ultra 290 Shoes | Scarpa R-Evo GTX Boot

Mountain Equipment Gryphon Jacket: £200

What Is It?

A full-on technical mountain waterproof shell jacket in both men’s and women’s versions made from ME’s own-brand Stretch Drilite fabric and complete with all the trimmings you’d expect on one of ME’s top-end Gore-Tex shells, so you get a grab helmet-compatible mountain hood, a selection of handy pockets and pit-zips too.

Why We Like It

We’re huge fans of ME’s recently developed ‘Alpine’ fit for its combination of neatness and lack of restriction, but until this year it was only available on the high-end Gore-Tex Pro shells. The Gryphon has exactly the same cut, but at a more affordable price and is simply a cracking mountain jacket full stop. Yes, Gore-Tex Pro is more breathable and ultimately more durable, but the Grypon’s not far behind and significantly more affordable too.

More Information

ME website: Product Page

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MSR WindBoiler Stove – £110

What Is It?

MSR’ first crack at a JetBoil-style personal cooking system looks outwardly familiar in a ‘so what’ sort of way – it has a pot with a heat exchanger base, heat-resistant caddy and clip-on transparent lid, but what makes it different is that it uses the Radiant Burner first seen on the Reactor mountaineering stove and it rocks particularly in the real world where it’s indifference to wind gives it a genuine performance edge.

Why We Like It

The burner performance on the WindBoiler is unreal. In still conditions it’s brutally fast, but when the wind gets up, it maintains its boiling times when other stoves struggle. That means that while it’s not the lightest or neatest one-pot option out there, it’s the one we’d choose if we were heading out in changeable winter conditions, no contest. A brilliant little stove.

More information

MSR website: Product Page

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Berghaus Ramche Hyper Hydrodown Jacket – £230

What Is It?

Impressively lightweight micro-baffled down insulation from the crack Berghaus Mtn.Haus design team that weighs just 181g in a medium, which is lighter than a lot of wind proofs. It uses the brand’s UK-friendly hydrodown fill in super high-lofting 850 fill power version and uses body-mapped baffles to make that insulation go as far as possible, placing more down where it’s needed and less where it’s not.

Why We Like It

We’re huge fans of the Berghaus Mtn.Haus kit in a slightly gear geeky way. It’s relentlessly uncompromising and seems to have been built to fit sponsored climber Leo Houlding like a glove. It’s not the warmest down jacket out there but if you really want something that’s light, tiny and punches above its weight in thermal terms, you won’t find much else out there on the same level. Think of it as something that weighs less than a micro fleece, but is significantly warmer and you’ll get the idea. You’ll need deep pockets mind.

More information

Berghaus website: Product Page

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Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody – £200

What Is It?

New out this winter, the Nano-Air is designed as a synthetically filled jacket that’s also breathable enough to use when you’re on the move, which is the achilles heel of nearly everything else out there of its ilk. It also manages to use fabrics that are stretchy as is the FullRange synthetic fill itself. The idea is that it’s warm enough to keep you happy in cold conditions, but breathable enough that you stay comfortable even when you’re working hard.

Why We Like it

It’s a brilliant concept and the fabric and insulation combination does genuinely seem to work – there’s none of the clamminess you get from insulation sandwiched between two layers of windproof fabric, genius in other words. That said, we’re a little torn on the execution: the cut of the jacket is, in our book at least, slightly too generous for technical use and renders the stretch superfluous plus we’d like a tougher outer shell for use with packs and when climbing.

Which is a pretty serious proviso to be fair, the concept though is genius. It just needs a neater design.

More information

Patagonia website: Product Page

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Osprey Exos 48 Pack – £120

What Is It?

Completely redesigned from the original Exox series, the new version mixes a vented AirSpeed™ trampoline suspended mesh back system with the new ExoForm™ mesh hipbelt and harness. The idea is a pack that’s both light and comfortable and supportive thanks to a design that wraps around and embraces you like a very close friend. On top of that, you get all the super neat Osprey design features and build quality that mark the brand out.

Why We Like It

It was a close run thing between this and the new version of Osprey’s climbing pack, the Mutant, but the Exos won out because it really does bring something different to the table. Somehow it manages to be light – think around 1100g for the 38L version – improbably comfortable with that beguiling soft embrace from the stretch mesh belt and straps, yet supportive too. Add in stuff like numerous storage pockets, tow-on-the-Go™ trekking pole attachment and the rest of Osprey’s refinements and you’re having your cake and eating it. And at £120 for a weekend-friendly backpacking sac, it’s not even that expensive. Winner!

More information

Osprey website: Product Page

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Satmap Active 12 GPS – £450

What Is It?

The updated version of the original Satmap Active 10 gets a faster, higher resolution screen plus a bunch of improvements including HighRes mapping, bluetooth compatibility and HRM support. It still does all the great Ordnance Survey mapping stuff of the original unit, but faster and clearer with added versatility – the price includes the UK 1:50,000 series mapping, but there are plenty of other options out there.

Why We Like It

We reckoned the original SatMap Active 10 was the best real world navigational tool out there thanks to a combination of outdoors-friendly hardware with button controls that you could use with gloves, a genuinely intuitive interface, and rechargeable battery pack, but the new Active 12 is better in pretty much every way you can think of. For real world navigation use it would be our first choice every time.

More information

Satmap website: Product Page

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The North Face Thermoball Jackets – £150/£170

What Is It?

It launched last year, but has been updated for this winter with a massively improved cut and neater colours. Thermoball uses tiny balls of PrimaLoft insulation to give down-like levels of warmth with synthetic-style resistance to dampness. All of which seems to be this year’s holy grail, with stuff like hydrophobic down and PrimaLoft’s own Down Blend technologies promising similar benefits.

Why We Like It

It’s a pure synthetic technology but with the same level of warmth to weight as 600 fill power down and without even hydrophobic down’s dislike of the damp. And now it fits much more nicely too. Lots of different options to choose from as well with some great colours.

More information

TNF website: Product Page

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Rab Continuum Hoody- £250

What Is It?

New lightweight down jacket from Rab that’s decently light – think less than 350g – but still impressively warm thanks to the use of 850 fill-power Nikwax-treated water-resistant down and super light Pertex Quantum GL fabric.

Why We Like It

Our test medium-sized Continuum Hoody weighs just 334g, but it’s still properly warm, an optimum balance of warmth and weight we reckon. The helmet hood means you could, it you needed to, use it for lightweight alpine mountaineering, but it would be just as happy on a Himalayan trekking trip or for us in a frigid bothy, bunkhouse or tent. Just a really nice down jacket with the added reassurance of that water-resistant down.

More information

Rab website: Product Page

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2014 Petzl Nao Headtorch – £145

What Is It?

The updated version of Petzl’s ultimate running headtorch not only adds more light output – it’s up to 575 lumens compared to the original’s 315 – it’s also markedly more power efficient giving significantly better burn times when used with the reactive lighting technology that adjusts output to suit your needs.

Why We Like It

The original Nao was impressive at first acquaintance, but despite the vaunted reactive lighting technology, a lot of users found the burn time disappointing. For this winter, not only has Petzl upped the output to seriously impressive levels, it’s also massively improved burn times – you can programme the levels too – making it one of the best off-road running lights out there. OM tester Fell Running Guide, Dave Taylor was seriously impressed when he used the Nao back to back with nine other top torches.

More information

Petzl website: Product Page

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Inov-8 Race Ultra 290 Shoes – £120

What Is It?

British off-road running specialist Inov-8’s first ultra-running shoe has more cushioning and a wider forefoot fit than its more minimal models, but still uses the brand’s ‘fingered’ meta-shank plate underfoot, has lower than average drop for running shoes and weighs a not unreasonable 290g. It’s designed to allow serious distance runners to run for longer with improved support and comfort.

Why We Like it

When inov-8 created its ultra-friendly shoe it also, inadvertently, produced a light, but decently cushioned and reasonably protective trail-running and light hiking shoe for those who want a little more comfort than the brand’s excellent original models.

That extra cush means it doubles up nicely as a door to trail shoe too and copes well with harder surfaces too. You do lose a little of the sensitivity you find with a lower, thinner-soled off-roader, but the pay-off is better comfort and a broader forefoot fit. We’v been using it for around six months now and we’re fans.

More information

Inov-8 website: Product Page

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Scarpa R-Evo GTX Boot – £180

What Is It?

A three-season trekking and hiking boot that utilises the Sock Fit technology originally used in the brand’s lightweight technical boots to give a glove-like fit generally and particularly over the top of the foot where the traditional tongue design has been replaced with ‘Scholler S-tech fabric, which links the tongue, ankle flex zone and collar with an elastic action’.

Why We Like It

Boot fit is specific and personal, but if your feet work with Scarpa’s last – and a lot of UK feet do – that Sock Fit design really does seem to give an ultra-comfortable fit with a glove-like – sock-like maybe? – supportive softness over the top of the foot in particular. Add in Scarpa’s years of boot-making experience, a Vibram sole unit and modern, but not excessive aesthetics and you have one very nice walking boot that’ll cope with anything short of full winter conditions.

More information

Scarpa Website: Product Page

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