Like blister tape and strong coffee, gear is essential to getting out there. But not all gear is created equal.
Whether it’s been passed down, borrowed, purchased, or gifted, the gear you own says a lot about your style of adventure. It can make or break a trip. It can evoke memories, tell stories, and inspire new shenanigans.
That’s why we’ve searched through basements, bins, backseats, and bargain shops from Colorado to Costa Rica to curate the third annual Dirtbag Darling Gear of the Year Awards, the short list of the clothing and equipment that has defined our year.
The criteria is (at times, painfully) strict: We told no brands or PR reps about when the list would go live so they couldn’t sway us with free gear. No one can pay to be a part of it. Every piece must be put through hell to ensure durability and performance. And, most importantly, I made it really tough for everyone involved: only one piece of gear allowed per person (well, for the most part).
So, here we go: Our list of the lived in, beat up, worn out, and well loved gear we never leave home without.
NEMO Losi LS 3 Person Backpacking Tent
$489.95 | NemoEquipment.com
“Anyone who sleeps under the stars knows that a tent is more than just a bunch of rip-stop nylon. It’s your home away from home. We upgraded to the Losi LS 3 Person Backpacking Tent this camp season and were blown away by its weight, ability to fend off the wind and snow, and techy features, like clever corner anchors that make setting up a breeze.”—Whitney James.
Tie: Manda and Avasol Sunscreen
“I’ve been searching for an effective water-resistant sunscreen for surfing made with the most all-natural ingredients possible, that actually stays on during a long session in the tropics, through face plants and tumbles in the washing machine, doesn’t feel so gross and slimy that I want to wash it off immediately, doesn’t make me break out, doesn’t come in plastic packaging, and doesn’t have toxic ingredients that kill the coral reefs. Avasol and Manda are a tie. I use them interchangeably and love them both.” —Rhea Cortado. Photo by Vivian Kim.
Western Rise Women’s Bailey Stretch Flannel
Burton Wheelie Board Case
$249.95 | Burton.com
“The Burton Wheelie Board Case was a lifesaver for me last snow season. This snowboard bag is lightweight, durable, and easy as pie to roll around. Better yet, it fits a few boards with ease, so I can throw in a powder board and an all-mountain board for a trip where I’m not sure what the weather will bring. The removable compartments mean my gear stays organized and helps keep some distance between the socks I wore all day on the mountain and the rest of my clothes. It fits my boards, boots, outerwear, layers, and helmet so my full kit is always packed and ready to go on a whim. Priceless.” —Liza Tagliati.
Oru Beach or Bay Kayak
$1,175 or $1,275| OruKayak.com
“I know the price tag on these boats can make your heart stop for a minute. Once it starts beating again, consider the cost-per-use of this recreational kayak. This durable boat folds up into a box that fits under your bed, in your closet, or in the trunk of your car, and you can carry it in its own backpack. I’ve used it more in the past year than I’ve used my $500 traditional kayak in past five. Whether you go with the Beach or the Bay (which can be outfitted with a skirt), this boat will change the way you think about adventures, and is surprisingly easy to set up and break down. Just be prepared for everyone watching to come over to chat with you about it—which can be a plus or a negative, depending on how introverted you are!” —Johnie Gall. Photo by Brandon Scherzberg.
Peak Design Everyday Backpack
$259.95 | PeakDesign.com
“Although I got the Peak Designs late in the year, it has come through as one of the best pieces of gear I own. I always struggle to figure out how to carry a giant camera with me outdoors, yet still have it accessible when I need it. I hate having to take off my backpack and dig around for my camera, but I don’t like it precariously dangling from a carbineer on my chest, either. This bag has been the answer!” —Brandon Scherzberg.
Hydro Flask 32oz Insulated Bottle
$39.95 | Hydroflask.com
“I always travel with a water bottle. It keeps me drinking water throughout the day and I never have to buy plastic bottles. They Hydro Flask stays cold all day, even when I’m kiting in the hot Brazilian sun. Plus, they come in a variety of super cool colors.” —Sensi Graves.
Dueter Women’s Backpack ACT Lite 60+10 SL
$209 | REI.com
“After having my hand-me-down backpack stolen, I spent half a day trying on weighted backpacks and walking around REI to find the perfect fit. I found everything I needed in the Dueter. Taking into consideration the differences between men’s and women’s bodies, this pack was designed specifically for us gals, with easy adjustments for shoulders, backs, and hips. It’s incredibly lightweight and I love the separate bottom compartment that provides easy access to my sleeping bag so I don’t have to unpack everything. The other detail that gets used often? The external side stretch pockets for water and a celebratory ‘We made it!’ beer.” —Leslie Schipper. Photo by Miriam Subbiah.
Arrowood Lux Mid WP
$160 | Teva.com
“Full disclosure: I’ve been working as Teva’s blog editor for a few years now, but I wouldn’t feel right leaving the Arrowood boot out of the awards because it’s an outdoor shoe I wear more than any other. Until this lightweight, waterproof, leather sneakerboot came along, I was constantly changing out of hiking boots and into more comfortable shoes—and vice versa—during road trips. The Arrowood is not a technical hiking boot, but for quick two-milers or rock scrambling, it’s my go-to shoe. And, well, it’s way cuter than everything else out there—and that’s important!”—Johnie Gall.
Still searching for your one-and-only? Check out last year’s winners list here!