Editor’s Dozen: Logan and VA’s Favorite Gear of 2023
Rolling over the end-of-year roundups, Logan and Virginia compiled their final Editor’s Dozen of 2023 with a collection of 12 standout favorites from the year. These products proved their mettle, accompanying us on local overnighters, trail rides in the Sierra Norte and the Appalachians, and on a couple of bigger missions in Oaxaca and Colorado. Find them all here…
It was a busy year, and I didn’t fit nearly as many big rides into 2023 as I would have liked. A January trip in Oaxaca and the Sage and Saddles project in Gunnison in July were the two main highlights. However, we still snuck in a lot of afternoon trail rides and a handful of local overnighters. And, following our Summer Editor’s Dozen, we still had quite a few new products that impressed us throughout the year.
In this edition of the #editors-dozen series, we’ve carefully curated another list of 12 items that have significantly enriched our experiences in 2023, earning the status of newfound favorites. Not all of them are new to the market, but they’re all new to us or have simply proven their worth during this calendar year. Each item is presented in a concise mini-review format, featuring a brief write-up, a photo gallery, and our impressions. It’s worth noting that our choices reflect items we genuinely enjoy, with the pros overwhelmingly outweighing any cons.
Maxxis Minion DHF 3.0
~1,110 grams / Made in Taiwan / $97 at Backcountry
Sad to say, I’ve personally taken a hiatus from 2.8 and 3.0” plus tires over the last few years, opting mostly for 2.5 and 2.6” rubber. This is largely because of trends and limitations on new review bikes. There are simply fewer true plus bikes now, and there are far fewer tire options than there once were, a subject we’ve hammered home a few times. But, as our new stickers say, 29+ ain’t dead. Testing the Stooge MK6 got me back on the wagon (wheel). The MK6 is a true rigid mountain bike that was built for a full 29+ front tire, and I tinkered around with different tires and setups quite a bit during my review period. A friend recommended that I try the 3.0” Maxxis Minion DHF, and I’m happy to say that I found a new favorite.
Transitioning from the 2.8” Rekon on the front to a 3.0” Maxxis Minion DHF was a game changer. This tire is truly remarkable. And when paired with a wide rim, you can run it at around 12 PSI and get a comfortable ride while maintaining plenty of sidewall support and exceptional traction while descending. For the record, I borrowed a wheel with a 45mm internal width rim for the Stooge since I had a 31mm rim on there previously. My ultimate goal is to build up a front wheel with 40mm rim for this bike since I decided to keep it. I’m strongly convinced that the MK6 and the DHF are a match made in heaven.
HyperHandle Cassette Holding Tool
Made in USA / $35/50 at Stein Tool
I lump chain whips into the same category as I do seatpost saddle rail clamps. In my opinion, they’re both examples of clumsy bicycle engineering, and they’re two of my least favorite things to mess with in the shop. Bolts, nuts, and washers always go flying across the floor when I change saddles, and removing a cassette with a chain whip just seems archaic. With that, I was excited to try the USA-made HyperHandle Cassette Holding Tool by J.A. Stein, a small tool maker in Prescott, Arizona, who hand builds and sells several specialized tools such as a Mini Cassette Lockring Driver, jigs, and alignment tools. The HyperHandle is one of Stein’s more popular products and makes a great alternative to the dreaded chain whip, providing a way to secure the cassette freehub in order to loosen the cassette lockring.
The HyperHandle is made from steel and oak and has three labeled sets of threaded bolt holes and three M5 bolts that can be interchanged in each of the configurations. These configurations line up the bolt heads to lock into the teeth on the smallest cog of several different cassettes: (10) SRAM 10T small cog (12-speed), (11) SRAM/Shimano 11T small cog (11-speed), and (12) 12T small cassette cogs.
I’ve used the HyperHandle on both 11-speed and 12-speed cassettes, and it works extremely well by locking into the teeth of the small cog to secure the freehub and providing a hole to pass the cassette tool through to loosen the lockring. I highly recommend this tool and am looking forward to never needing a chain whip again!
OneUp V2 Seatpost
592 grams (210mm) / Made in Taiwan / $159+ at Backcountry
I would describe myself as an obsessive when it comes to the reliability of dropper posts. Droppers are one of my favorite mountain bike engineering advancements—second to tubeless tires and sealant—but they’ve only recently become trustworthy enough for multi-week bikepacking. My experiences and concerns about dropper dependability seem to regularly pop up in conversation with bike nerd buddies and mechanic friends at my LBS. The Fox Transfer was the only one I trusted a couple of years ago (and it’s still a good choice), but quite a few people recommended the OneUp Components V2 dropper post, citing ongoing success. After being impressed with one I had on my Pipedream Sirius S5, I decided to grab two more for review bike builds after having some sticking issues with two well-used Transfers—not a huge deal, but they simply needed some coaxing to pop back up. Even after being properly greased, I had to bop the saddle with my butt to get them to return.
The OneUp V2 Dropper is not only one of the most trusted, but it has one of the shortest stack heights on the market. When dropped and compressed completely, it measures just 33mm from the center of the saddle rail to the bottom lip of the head (the maximum insertion point). This design maximizes the amount of travel you can have and make posts much friendlier for shorter riders. This isn’t an issue for me with super-long legs, but its a great spec for shorter riders or folks looking to eke out a few more millimeters.
Now that I have three OneUp droppers and have put thousands of miles on at least one of them, I’m sold. They’ve proved to be quick to engage, reasonably powerful, adjustable, and available in travel lengths ranging from 90 to an impressive 240mm. Additionally, they stand out as one of the most economical choices for a higher-end dropper on the market.
Wide Sleeping Pads (Nemo Tensor Wide)
628 grams / Made in China / $115+ at REI
I’m getting soft, and I’m fine with that. First, it was carrying a camp chair, which Joe and Cass both still tease me about, and now it’s oversized sleeping pads. Several years ago, I’d have mocked the current me for saying this, but wide sleeping pads are the best thing since ultralight camp chairs. Honestly, these two luxuries make a world of difference for me. And at this point, I won’t go back to a regular 20-inch-wide sleeping pad. The extra five inches in the 25-inch wide model do wonders. My arms no longer fall off the sides when lying on my back; I can curl up on my side and not be on the edge of the pad. And, most importantly, I just sleep better.
Prior to switching to the regular-length Wide model, I put the standard-width Nemo Tensor Insulated pad through the wringer for several years. That was after trying all the sleeping pads from all the brands over the years. The Tensor was the only sleeping pad that didn’t pop or develop a slow leak after multiple dozens of nights using it. I’ve had the same experience with the Tensor Insulated Wide, which is going on three years and has been used countless nights camping in the desert, the mountains, and elsewhere with no issues. Its thicker bottom fabric seems to prevent punctures with the best of ’em. In fact, I’m convinced that it’s the most durable inflatable sleeping pad out there, and it’s one of the most comfortable too.
As for the extra size and weight, the Regular Wide model packs up just an inch or so longer than the Regular and weighs just 133 grams more (495 grams vs. 628). It’s really not that much of a penalty, and to me it’s a creature comfort that’s well worth it for a good night sleep.
Made in Utah, USA / $20 at TOGS
This past spring, I was pulling a lot of long and difficult singlespeed training rides in preparation for a race. I mentioned this in my recent Doom Bars review, but my hands were getting crushed. And when hand fatigue sets in, my typical reflex is to unwrap my thumb from the bars rest my palm and thumb on the flat part of the grips. The problem is, this leaves my thumb in a useless position and I lose leverage, thus jeopardizing control on more bumpy terrain. I found myself using the brake reservoir on my Hope Tech4 levers to rest my thumb on to try to maintain a secure purchase. But that wasn’t quite enough, making it so I always needed to be on guard with my body in a more aggressive position.
This is where TOGS (Thumb Over Grip System) comes into play. Virginia had tried TOGS a couple of years ago and saw some benefits, so I thought I’d give it a shot. TOGS are essentially small thumb grips that clamp onto the bar right at the inside of the grips, creating a designated spot for the thumb to anchor while riding in the “on top” position. TOGS were revolutionary for me as they vastly improved the level of control and stability in that position, which allowed me to utilize that as a resting position in more situations and on rougher surfaces without feeling at risk of loosing composure.
Topeak Mountain 2Stage Digital
221 grams / Made in China / $72 at Topeak
In my last Editor’s Dozen list, a regular reader asked if they could nominate gear for us to try. Of course! We love hearing your suggestions. They recommended the Topeak Mountain 2Stage Digital pump. As it happens, I had one sitting in a box that Topeak had sent us to try. I started using it based on their recommendation, and I’m glad I did.
What makes the Mountain 2Stage Digital shock pump unique is its pressure selector dial at the base of the pump. It allows you to choose high pressure for inflating suspension forks and shocks, or high volume for pumping up tires. Its also digital, as its name implies, and it has an easy-to-read gauge that displays pressures up to 300 PSI (20.7bar). The threaded connector can work with both Presta and Schrader valves, and it has a flexible hose to take stress off valve stems when inflating tires.
I’ve mostly used the Mountain 2Stage Digital for adjusting the pressure on forks and shocks; specifically, it came in quite handy while dialing in the pressures on the Transition Smuggler’s suspension while I was reviewing that bike, which required a lot of trial and error to get dialed in. Having a digital gauge for such an exercise was revolutionary, and I appreciated that unthreading the nozzle is quick and smooth, and it doesn’t lose much air in the process. I tried the pump on tires a couple of times just to see how it went but haven’t used it extensively for this purpose. However, this will definitely be going in the frame bag for my next long-distance exploit on a hardtail.
SQlab Ergowave Saddle (and Narrower saddles)
231 grams / Made in Germany / 169€ at SQlab
I’ve discovered a few saddles that I rely on over the years. But sometimes when I try a new one, I wonder if I just got used to my “favorites” and if better options are still out there. This year, I came to that conclusion when Ergon sent me the narrow version of the SMC Core—the wider version was a previous favorite of mine. I tried it and found that it was a big improvement, which made me realize I may have been overestimating the saddle width I need all along. Sit bone measurements be damned, as I’m kind of in between sizes with most brands’ saddles. That series of events led me to try the narrow 13cm version of the SQlab ErgoWave 614, which is the second narrowest size.
The SQlab ErgoWave 614 is the brand’s gravel saddle that has a little more cush than the 612 road saddle and a little less than the 611 mountain bike saddle. According to SQlab, the Ergowave saddle lineup—consisting of options for MTB, road, and gravel—was developed as a collaborative research project with the University Hospital of Frankfurt and Frankfurt University. I’m not going to drill down into all the features SQlab worked into these saddles, but I’ve been impressed with how it rides. I really like the namesake feature of the saddle, a small wave that keeps you locked in to the proper part of the saddle. It also has a lightweight design, a generous pressure relief cutout, a narrow shape that doesn’t cause chafe, and a goldilocks amount of flex for comfort. Plus, they offer five different sizes.
Mountain Laurel Designs Ultra-dry bags
Made in VA, USA / $80-95 at Mountain Laurel Designs
Mountain Laurel Designs released their Ultra X 100 roll bags last year, which are made from Challenge’s fabric of the same name. As you may have noticed, a lot of bag companies made the move to similar material for their dry bags. Revelate Designs uses a comparable fabric in an off-white gray, Rockgeist has a blue version, and Rogue Panda makes theirs from an identical gray color. The Ultra X 100 replaces MLD’s older and less durable Ultra version. The new X 100 is made from material woven with 66% Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) and 33% Recycled Polyester bonded with non-toxic carbon-neutral glue to a 100% recycled waterproof polyester backing. The stuff is thin, extremely lightweight, and very tough, touted to be stronger than thick 1000D Cordura. The X 100 is also highly abrasion and UV resistant, hydrophobic, and resists cut and tears better than X-Pac and Cordura.
The Ultra X 100 Dry Bags are double/triple stitched and taped using Super Seam Tape. They have Whistle Lock Buckles, O-rings on the straps to double as a bear hang bag, and a snap centered at the opening ends to keep things from falling out while packing or moving. Better yet, they’re each made with a daisy chain to keep straps in check and to hang things from.
The Ultra X 100 Dry Bags are available in dual-opening versions (Small, Medium, and Large) and single-openers sized 7L, 12L, and 22L. I’ve been using the $80 medium double-opener as both a rack deck bag and a handlebar roll and love the size of it. It’s about 6.5” (16.5 cm) in diameter and is around 21” (53.3 cm) in length with four rolls on each end. It’s 9.75 x 32″ when laid flat (24.8 x 81.3 cm). It’s a great size that generally fits my entire sleep system and isn’t too deep, which makes it work well with a suspension fork. The smaller single-opening bag has also been a go-to for food and snacks. I have the massive 22L single-opening dry bag too, but I haven’t tried it yet; it seems like it would be a good rack deck bag for longer adventures.
Make no mistake, the Ultra X 100 dry bags aren’t cheap, but MLD claims the fabric is several times more expensive than other mainstream bag fabrics, 15 times stronger than steel, slows down small gnawing animals, and deflects sharp pointy things, such as thorns and briars. So far so good on my test bags; and I’ve had a similar experience with some of the bags from other brands made from this material.
Ibex Wool Aire Hoody
299 grams / Made in China / $285 at Ibex
It’s hard to beat merino wool when it comes to performance gear. Its temperature-regulating, wicks moisture, and naturally resists odor. Ibex has long made great merino gear that, in my experience, is more durable than many of its competitors’ products. It also comes with a good conscience guarantee that, among other things, ensures that the sheep from which their wool is sourced are not subject to cruel practices. With all that said, I was excited to get my hands on, and body into, Ibex’s Wool Aire Hoodie when it came time to replace my well-worn Patagonia Nano Puff jacket.
I haven’t been wearing the Wool Aire Hoodie long enough to offer an extensive review, but so far, I’m quite impressed. It’s just a hair heavier than the Nano Puff and doesn’t pack down quite as small, but I think it provides at least as much warmth and it breathes a bit better. That breathability makes the jacket really versatile, as it’s comfortable in a wide range of temperatures. It also has a softer face fabric made from 20-denier nylon that feels good against my skin versus the slicker shell fabric from which most puffs are made. Though they’ve never really bothered me, they can feel a bit sticky at times. The shell of the Wool Air Hoodie is also water-resistant. I generally take claims of water-resistance with a grain of salt, but it is nice to know that, should the jacket get wet, the merino fill will actually retain its insulating properties.
All-in-all, I’m stoked to wear this jacket. I love the slim fit and vivid colors and am impressed by the comfort it offers in a wide range of temperatures. I also feel good supporting a company that practices sustainability and ethical production in an industry where that’s generally lacking.
Wera x SQlab Tool
134 grams / Made in Czech Republic / $50 at SQlab
It seems like there are always new bike multi-tools being released with novel form factors, different means of attachment, and other such gimmicks. But portable bike tools are never as good as the ones you have at home in the shop. That’s why I was happy to see SQlab and Wera go back to the basics with a simple L-hex tool. It reminded me that I carried a full L-hex set on several long-distance tours, such as our rides from Cape Town to Tanzania and through Mexico to Panama. I simply like the feel and utility of L-hex keys more than any multi-tool or bit-driver I’ve tried. SQlab recently collaborated with Wera to make a high-quality, compact, eight-piece L-key set that fits in a flat plastic case. Note that this won a spot in our gear of the year, but I wanted to feature it here as well to show a few more photos and better describe why I like it.
The set includes hex 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, and 6 hex wrenches and Torx 10 and 25 bits. They’re significantly smaller than typical L-hex wrenches, but they’re very well made and big enough to feel a little more like a useful tool than a miniaturized utensil relegated to be used only out of necessity.
The plastic case is also interesting, although I don’t really understand the concept of using it to carry credit cards and cash. Maybe that functionality was dreamed up for pocket EDC aficionados. However, the case is nice as an organizer. You can slide the keys in and out by folding others over or take off the rubber band and pull them directly out from the plastic clasps. The “card holder” area on back is a nice spot for a tire boot, extra plugs, or any other flat item you need to stash in your kit.
Shimano SLX Flat Pedals
394 grams / Made in Japan / $55 at Backcountry
Shimano released updates to their flat pedal lineup in 2021, with a focus on making them lighter and a little more svelte than their chunky predecessors. We’ve been testing the SLX Flat pedals this year and have been quite impressed. Similar to the OneUp flat pedals many of us love, the new SLX has a full resin composite pedal body and is available in multiple colors, with options in black, blue, or red. The PD-GR400 has a chromoly spindle with a dual bushing design that spins freely and uses a with 6mm hex wrench to mount on the cranks. It’s 139 grams lighter than the previous SLX-range pedal (PD-GR500) with is 16mm thick platform.
The 101 x 96mm composite platform has a nice shape with angled outer edges that offer plenty of clearance. The platforms are relatively small and are best suited for folks with small-to-average shoe sizes. Virginia wears a size 8 women’s shoe, and they work perfectly for her. I wear a size 10 and they’re fine, although I wouldn’t want them any smaller.
The SLX flats are incredibly grippy, which is one of the main reasons they’re on this list. We’ve both used the OneUps, and the Shimanos seem even slightly grippier by comparison. They have nine removable pins per side, which is one fewer than the OneUps, but they’re relatively long. Having switched to flat pedals full time about a year ago, this has been particularly helpful for Virginia on rocky and rooty trails.
We’ve collectively put some big miles on this pair of SLX pedals, and so far they’ve held up extremely well. Hopefully, they’ll match the excellent durability of their SPD siblings.
Voile Nano Straps
Voilé Nano Straps are nothing new, but we haven’t sung their praises enough around here. I probably used them on every ride in 2023, so I thought giving them a nod was well overdue. Nano Straps are made from the same invincible weatherproof and UV-resistant grippy material as the regular-sized Voilé straps, but they’re miniaturized at 1/2” wide and come in 6, 9, 12, and 16” lengths. Each has a black glass-filled nylon buckle.
I use them for everything from strapping cages onto bikes to holding my brake lever while snapping photos, and I regularly replace velcro straps with them on handlebar bags, frame bags, stem bags, and all sorts of other things that come in for review. Just the other day, I readily tossed out the seat post attachment strap on a new seat pack and replaced it with a 6” Nano Voilé. I seriously can’t have too many of them.
Bonus: Ohlins RXF36 Fork
~2,160 grams / $1,045 at OhlinsUSA.com
To round out a proper baker’s dozen, I thought I’d mention one more product that that left a mark recently. The Swedish brand Öhlins has made a name for itself in the mountain bike industry with their RFX forks over the last few years, and since their USA headquarters is about 30 minutes from me in western North Carolina, I’ve been curious about their mountain bike forks. I’ve heard a lot of praise for their second-generation RXF36 and RXF34 over the last year. As luck would have it, the Esker Hayduke LVS we’re currently reviewing came with an Ohlins RFX36 fork, and I finally got to try one.
The RXF36 that came on the LVS was set up with 130mm of travel, which, according to Ohlins, isn’t even an option since it’s designed for a 140-180mm range. However, I was still super impressed with this fork from the first ride. It has a composed, precision feel yet still seemed plush and comfortable on small bumps and low-speed trails. Better yet, it felt dialed when pushing hard on bumpier terrain. I’m not going to get too far into it here, since I wasn’t reviewing the fork, but I’m very intrigued. Hopefully, I’ll be able to fit a proper test into 2024.
Make sure to dig into these related articles for more info...
Please keep the conversation civil, constructive, and inclusive, or your comment will be removed.