Editor’s Dozen: Neil’s Favorite Gear of 2023
After another big year of trying out newly released gear and using some old products, Neil shares 12 standouts from 2023 in our latest Editor’s Dozen video, including everything from his favorite apparel to cargo-carrying equipment, bike accessories, and more…
It’s that time of the year when the editors at BIKEPACKING.com share a dozen of their favorite products they used in 2023. Some are new products, and others may have simply proved useful throughout the past 12 months. Let’s jump right into it.
Fidlock Uni Base
Made in China / $25 at Jenson
In February, as I prepared for a winter desert excursion to Arizona, I was looking at ways to add water storage to my bike. Upon Miles’ recommendation of the Fidlock Uni Base, I decided to experiment with it. Reluctant to add weight to my suspension fork, I used the space at the rear of top tube and affixed the Uni Base there. The rest is history.
The Uni Base serves as a versatile water bottle mount compatible with Fidlock Twist bottles, allowing flexible placement on the bike. Equipped with a rubber backing for grip and frame protection, along with two securing straps ensuring a firm fit, the Uni Base has so far proved very reliable. I’ve successfully used both the 800ml and 590ml bottles without any issues during rides. While alternative mounting options exist, I like this solution as it’s easy to attach to the top tube of steel and carbon frames for bikepacking trips.
Priced at $25 USD, the Uni Base offers a variety of bottle options. Although the Fidlock bottle caps performed well, I opted for a locking Camelbak cap for extra security—a feature I wouldn’t mind seeing incorporated into Fidlock’s caps in the future.
Wolftooth Remote Pro dropper lever
Made in USA / $70 at Wolf tooth
The problem with many dropper levers is their limited adjustability. When I received an email featuring the Wolf Tooth Remote Pro Dropper Lever, my interest was piqued, especially as I already have a fondness for their original Remote dropper lever. The Remote Pro boasts 48 degrees of angular adjustment and 12mm of bar adjustment, facilitating easy maneuvering around the brake clamp. With eight clamp options, it seamlessly integrates with popular brake lever clamps. The lever’s design includes an ovalized axle point, enhancing leverage at the start of the throw. Additionally, all the metal parts are replaceable.
After trying it on various bikes with different cockpit configurations, the Remote Pro proved to be an easily adaptable dropper lever with an excellent feel. While I appreciate its performance, I’d love to see the return of color options for their levers. The Wolf Tooth Remote Pro is priced at $70 USD.
Blackburn Big Switch Ratchet tool
Made in China / $50 at Jenson
I find ratchets to be more user-friendly than multi-tools, but many ratchet tools only come with the ratchet itself. This often requires carrying an additional tool. While the Blackburn ratchet tool may not be reinventing the wheel, it’s intriguing because it’s equipped with a chainbreaker tool, spoke tool, disc spreader, and an 8mm hex key. Since acquiring it this spring, I’ve brought the Big Switch on all my trips. The quarter-inch bits (which are readily available for replacement) and the excellently designed case make it stand out from other ratchet bags I’ve used. The bits securely fit into the magnetized ratchet—either the main ratchet fitting or the bottom of the handle—providing extra versatility.
I added a small extender from another kit to the mesh pocket to provide a little more versatility. The added novelty of a sunset indicator tool, regardless of its accuracy, adds a nice touch. The Big Switch is priced at $50 USD.
Cotopaxi Sombra Sun Hoodie
I haven’t been this excited about a clothing layer since I acquired my down pants last year. Having been on numerous bikepacking trips in the high alpine and heat this year, I opted for the Cotopaxi Sombra Sun Hoodie instead of coating myself in sunscreen, which just absorbs more dirt than necessary and makes me feel gross. The Sombra Sun Hoodie, crafted from 100% recycled polyester with UPF 50+ protection, became my go-to choice. It’s also hooded, so I can easily pull it over my helmet when facing away from the sun, providing a secure fit.
Weighing just 167 grams and packing down remarkably small, it doesn’t significantly add to the weight or space on my rig. Purchasing this Cotopaxi shirt on a whim before a spring trip to Moab proved to be a delightful surprise in a saturated sun shirt market. Priced at $70 USD, the Sombra comes in both men’s and women’s cuts and is available in various sizes.
Tailfin top tube bag
138-199 grams / Made in China / $70 at Tailfin
A telltale sign of a favorite product is when it finds a spot in the kit on every bikepacking trip. At least that’s the status of the 1.1 liter Tailfin Top Tube Bag. Top Tube bags are inherently simple, as they should be, but the beauty of the Tailfin system is that its design is slightly different from that of most other top tube bags. Over the years, we’ve seen top tube mounts added to the top tube of bikes, which is a great addition, but bags made explicitly for top tube direct mounts either don’t work at all or don’t work well without those mounts. Tailfin designed a system that works exceptionally well with direct mounts or without using their V-Mount design.
Once bolted on or secured with their included straps, it’s so secure that it doesn’t require a connection around the steerer tube, making the cockpit clean and the bag easy to install. I typically use this bag exclusively for food and small items like tools or batteries. The prefer the 1.1-liter version, as the 1.5L bag was too big. I also prefer the zippered version over the flip-top model, but their range of top tube bags is diverse enough to offer plenty of options to suit anyone.
Therm-A-Rest Vesper Quilt
619 grams / $499 at REI
After using a sleeping bag for years, I was excited to try a quilt again. I’ve been using the Therm-a-Rest Vesper quilt all season, and I’m pretty happy with the experience. I opted to go with the warmest Vesper because I hate being cold. After a few months with the 20° Vesper, I was happy with my decision. Especially when paired with one of two pads that each had an R value over 4, I stayed pretty warm. And on warm nights, I found it to be much easier to control my sleeping temperature with a quilt. The 20-degree Fahrenheit rating indicates the limit of the quilt, but it actually has a 32-degree Fahrenheit comfort rating. I camped plenty of nights in sub-freezing temperatures.
The Vesper quilt comes with a nice, warm toe box. The quilt baffles extend down to the ground, and with two straps that wrap around your sleeping pad, it keeps everything in place. For extra-chilly nights, the top of the quilt comes with a cinch cord and button to help keep it tight around your neck. Because quilts don’t have a bottom, it’s a touch lighter than most bags, coming in at 619 grams with compression sack, and the Vesper 900-fill Nikwax treated down packs exceptionally well for a 20-degree quilt. The quilt comes in just shy of $500 USD, but if you don’t need something that warm, the 32-degree bag is $100 less.
Old Man Mountain Elkhorn Rack
Made in Taiwan / $168 at Old Man Mountain
I reviewed the Elkhorn over a year and a half ago and enjoyed it. But as I’ve continued to review different bikes, I’ve realized that it is an incredibly versatile rack. Paired with their Axle fit kits, the Elkhorn has been used on almost all my test bikes, from full-suspension to bikes equipped with the new Eagle Transmission.
The Elkhorn is made from aluminum and has a weight capacity of 25 pounds, which is far more than I’d ever need. It comes with three-pack mounts, one on each leg, and a unique fastening system with slotted flat struts that attach the rack uprights to your bike frame or fit kit. It also has with a relatively short deck with plenty of mounting points to help strap down a dry bag. This was beneficial when mounted on a full-suspension bike, as the rear shock compression moves the rack forward. And while the axle fit kit costs an additional 70 bucks, it gives it much more versatility as it can be used with or without rack mounts. The Elkhorn comes in a tall and short version, has ample tire and mud clearance, and costs $168. Find my full review here.
Rogue Panda Gila Dry Bag
100 grams / Made in USA / $60 at Rogue Panda
Speaking of dry bags, the Rogue Panda Gila Dry bag has seen loads of use this year, especially since I’m using racks for most of my bikepacking setups. I usually use two dry bags, one for my handlebar harness and one on top of the rack. One of those is typically the Rogue Panda Gila dry bag, a simple yet well-made bag that comes in three sizes: 12, 16 and 20 liters. It comes with a dual-side opening, which makes it easy to find items, and best of all, it’s seam-sealed, helping keep water out during rain events.
I have the medium and small versions, and both are made from Ultrapack 200x, a seriously lightweight but durable material. I prefer the small 12L option as it’s not too bulky and packs to a long and rather slim form factor. After a summer of heavy use, the 100-gram, 12-liter Gila worked exceptionally well. The bag costs $60 USD and comes in various colors and fabric choices.
Stashers GO Bowl
$16 at REI
For the longest time, I was pretty boring when it came to meals. That typically meant getting to camp, boiling some water, putting it inside a single-use bag, and waiting 30 minutes for my food to rehydrate. But when Cass introduced me to the Stashers Bags, it instantly added more options and creativity to my meals. The Stashers Go Bowl and all of their bags are made from a food-grade silicone, and the Go is water-tight and boil point safe, meaning I can add boiling water and rehydrate or cook a meal inside of it.
The Go Bowl is also an excellent way to pack dinner from a town or a pre-made meal from home. And with their Pinch Loc Seal, I know when it’s closed and am confident it will keep my contents inside. Plus, it’s durable enough to be thrown around, a hallmark trait for bikepackers. While the two-cup Go Bowl is the most used bag I have from Stashers, I also own a Stashers sandwich bag and find myself bringing both on trips as they hardly take up any space.
Kenda Regolith Pro Tires 29 x 2.6″
970 grams / Made in Taiwan / $75 at AMZN
Tires might just be a more important component than the wheels to which they’re mounted. So, when I find a tire that I really like, it’s worth mentioning. The Kenda Regolith Pro comes in a variety of sizes, but I used the 29 x 2.6″ version, which measures to roughly 2.57″, making it pretty true to size. The overall tire profile on a 31.5mm rim feels and looks proportional. The Regolith comes in a few different casings too. I used the SCT casing, which weighs 970 grams.
Bikepackers generally like a nicely balanced tire that rolls well but hooks up in the corners. And while the rolling tread of the Regolith is as fast as a true XC tire, that’s okay. Its plenty fast and its predictable quality gave me much more confidence on the trail. I first started using the Regolith Pro as a front tire, but I liked it so much that I wanted to see how it performed on the back. Between cornering and braking, and the overall feel while loaded, the Regolith really is inspiring. I didn’t test them in very wet conditions other than snow-covered dry trails in the western US, but they performed exceptionally well, and I would certainly recommend them for these conditions.
GoPro Hero 12
Made in China / $350 at AMZN
When I started this YouTube Channel back in 2020, I invested in a few tools to capture footage. Offering a visual experience that told a story or shared a product was much more challenging than anticipated and often impossible without an action camera. The GoPro Hero 8 was the obvious choice to accompany my Sony and help capture B-roll for videos. It was relatively new when I purchased it in the spring of 2020. Still, camera tech evolves quickly, and there are many improvements from the Hero 8 to the current Hero 12, including more dynamic range with 8-bit vs. 10-bit color, better image stabilization, better battery life, and a view screen, making for a better overall experience. I just got the 12 a few months ago, and I’m stoked to give this one another three years or so before my next upgrade.
Club Ride Rider Short
$85 at Backcountry
I’ve tested a lot of shorts over the years, and, more recently, a lot of heavy-duty shorts from Kitsbow. Since they went under (sad day), I started looking for other options. I’d heard of Club Ride but hadn’t tested any of their gear until this year. I really liked the Mens Rider Short. It’s a sport fit, so it’s slightly tighter and is made from recycled synthetic yarn, spandex, and a touch of cotton to create a nice, stretchy, breathable feel. They’re incredibly light and thin and almost feel like you’re not wearing a short over your chamois or wool brief, which helps reduce chafing. Because of their breathability and minimal weight, the Rider Shorts do a great job of wicking sweat or simply drying from rain or a dip in the river. The 9″ inseam is a nice middle ground that’s not too short but not too long, and the shorts come in a few pleasing colors all for $85 USD.
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