From putting the hottest camera equipment through its paces in Antarctica to testing performance activewear in the Rockies to fighting with an Instagram-repped air lounger that, pardon the pun, fell flat, Canadian Geographic reviewed more than 30 items this year.
To give you some last minute gift ideas, or to help build your Boxing Day shopping list, we asked our editors to each share their favourite item of 2017.
Tilley Paddler's Hat
Conceived of by sailor Alex Tilley in 1980, Tilley hats, with their lifetime guarantee, are as recognizable among the outdoor adventure set as trucker caps are among long-haul drivers. And for good reason. I tested my hat through a range of my personal outdoor pursuits from a late-May visit to Niagara Falls, Ont., to a mid-summer trek to the Family Fun Center in Wilsonville, Oregon. In both instances, the hat’s waterproofing kept my noggin perfectly dry, be it from the constant spray of the falls on the Hornblower cruise or as a shield on the bumper boats. Of course, with side vents and a mesh lining in the crown, the Paddler’s Hat also keeps you cool. And its 50+ ultraviolet protection factor (like SPF but for fabric, and the maximum available) is a plus anyone worried about sun exposure can appreciate. Its wind-resistant design kept the hat firmly on my head in strong gusts at the base of Niagara’s fury (and the adjustable draw cord helped ensure it wouldn’t leave my person). The wide brim also kept both the rain (from more than a few torrential summer downpours during my coaching duties at kid’s soccer) and the sun off and out of my face. Plus, the hidden pocket in the crown is a handy feature. The Paddler’s Hat should become part of your essential outerwear, be you a paddler or not. Read the full review.
Columbia Outdry Ex Diamond Down Insulated Jacket
Have you heard the one about the guy who refused to ditch his old winter coat? The one he bought in London, England, almost 10 years ago and was best suited to an English autumn, not a Canadian winter? Yes, that guy was me, but I’m happy to say that my dogged faith in that threadbare garment has ended, thanks to Columbia’s Outdry Ex Diamond Down Insulated Jacket. The coat’s OutDry Extreme waterproof-breathable shell kept me dry in snow and rain, and the 800 fill-power goose-down insulation kept me toasty on days when the mercury dipped to the mid –30 C range, even with nary more than a T-shirt on underneath. The jacket's cut, what Columbia calls its active fit (“a body-skimming fit with end-use mobility in mind”), was perfect for my 190-pound frame. Whether I was on a winter hike in Gatineau Park or skating on the Rideau Canal, the jacket gave me the freedom of movement I’d so sorely lacked with my old coat. I only have two minor quibbles with this coat. After about three months of use, the jacket’s two-way front zipper still occasionally sticks at the bottom and the Velcro closures on the cuffs also seem to have lost their stickiness quickly. Read the full review.
Columbia Cityside Fold Waterproof Boots
I don’t know about you, but nothing ruins my enjoyment of a winter day faster or more completely than having wet feet, so the biggest plus with this boot is that, true to its claim, it’s actually waterproof. The durable coated leather and suede exterior and seam-sealed interior membrane kept my socks completely dry even while slogging through ankle-deep snow in December and dodging puddles during a January thaw. The Omni-Grip rubber sole provides excellent traction on packed snow. One important note: the boot is not lined, so I wouldn’t recommend wearing it in temperatures below about -5 C unless you love the feeling of numb toes. I have high insteps, so I found these boots a bit constricting in my usual size, and because the construction is so solid, the fit does not relax even with regular wear. I’d recommend going a half or even full size up from what you’d normally wear to maintain freedom of movement and accommodate thick socks. Read the full review.
Hydro Flask water bottle
A good water bottle is hard to find. It seems like something so simple, but I’ve been searching high and low for a water bottle that combines form and function, keeps drinks cold, carries the right amount of water and doesn’t leak. Disappointed by my off-brand hard plastic water bottle which didn’t fit any of the above criteria, I was in search of something I could throw in my gym bag and take to my two- to three-hour roller derby practices. Enter the Hydro Flask. My summer practices are routinely held in sweltering arenas with little air flow, let alone air conditioning. Needless to say, I guzzle water — a lot of it. The Hydro Flask definitely kept my water cold, thanks to its TempShield technology that combines a double-wall structure with vacuum insulation to keep drinks icy cold for up to 24 hours and, as a bonus, steaming hot for up to six. The standard-mouth insulated sport cap that came with mine kept the bottle air tight. However, I did find the sport cap a little stiff and hard to open. The rugged stainless steel construction can definitely stand up to anything I can throw at it (including dropping it onto a concrete arena floor). Plus, the slim shape and mint colour of my standard-mouth 21 oz. bottle certainly make it the most attractive water bottle I've owned. Read the full review.
Nikon D850 full frame D-SLR
In July, I visited Canadian Mountain Holidays' Cariboos Lodge, perched high in the Cariboos subrange of the Columbia Mountains in southeastern British Columbia, for a heli-hiking adventure. Several times over the course of my high-altitude stay, a helicopter came to transport the lodge’s guests and a team of expert guides to a variety of terrains, from glaciers to rocky mountain tops, waterfalls and other jaw-dropping views. For the trip, Nikon Canada equipped me with the new D850, their latest full-frame camera body, as well as a selection of lenses: the AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR, AF-S Nikkor 80-400 f4.5/5.6G ED VR, and the AF-S 14-24 F2.8 G ED. This was an ideal kit for a trip of this kind. It was neither small nor light, but adventure shoots like this call for powerful cameras and great flexibility. The new D850 sensor resolution of almost 46 megapixels and extremely low ISO capability (64 ISO) provides excellent detail and dynamic range — ideal for zooming-in and editing in post-production. Overall performance and the resulting image quality are brilliant, and the D850 boasts all of the features you would hope to see (and more) in Nikon’s newest pro-level DSLR. In my opinion, this is one of the most innovative products Nikon has launched in the past few years. If you can give it a try, you won’t be disappointed. Read the full review.