Editor’s Dozen: Logan and VA’s Favorite Gear of 2020
In our final nod to the stuff of 2020, Logan and Virginia round up a dozen of their favorite pieces of gear that were special during a year of sanity rides, overnighter escapes, and local route scouting. Find it all here, ranging from pricey and odd, to cheap and game-changing…
Alright, one last look back at 2020, we promise. We already got most of it out of the way with the ’20 in 20 photo annual, our 12 most popular posts, and our compendium of bikepacking awards, which included the gear of the year. But a few of us had some leftover bits and bobs (and ideas) worth mentioning in our Editor’s Dozen roundups.
Last year was hard, but one of my silver linings was the opportunity to ride out of our back door and escape into our nearby national forest. There were a ton of afternoon sanity rides, local overnighters, and even a few long pulls to scout sections of the forthcoming Eastern Divide Trail. We racked up a lot of miles, and in doing so, tested a whole lot of gear. Here are a few items (and thoughts) that rose to the top in a rather weird year.
Hyperlite Stuff Pillow
47 grams (large) / Made in USA / $50 at Hyperlite
The Hyperlite Stuff Pillow is kind of an odd little product, and also a good one to kick off this roundup. Namely, because it’s one that Virginia and I fight over. When I first saw it, I thought to myself, “Virginia might like that.” She prefers to stuff clothing into a dry bag for a pillow over inflatable options. However, there’s a little more to it than that. The Stuff Pillow is constructed out of Dyneema and features a reversible design with a water-resistant zipper and a fleece layer on one panel. Given that we always like things that serve multiple purposes, a water-resistant stuff sack that could keep clothes dry and work as a comfy pillow seemed like it was worth checking out. When it came in the mail, I opened it up, showed it to her, and handed it over. Shortly thereafter, I went off on a little solo overnighter and smuggled it into my bag. Now, I can’t live without it.
Being a side sleeper, I’ve always been plagued with arm numbness when sleeping on most inflatable camp mattresses. Some mats are worse than others, but recently I realized that it wasn’t just the inflatable pad that was the culprit. I’ve used the Big Agnes AXL Air Pillow for a while, which I really like, but a lack of height and fluff might be part of the issue. A shorter pillow results in a weird neck angle and shoulder compression when lying on my side. Lately, I’ve been using an inflatable pillow stuffed into the Stuff Pillow along with a down jacket or shirt, creating a thicker and plusher cushion that seems to have eliminated arm numbness. I know, it’s a bit over the top, but the Stuff Pillow only weighs 47 grams and packs up to the size of a tangerine, so it’s a worthy addition, in my opinion. Plus, it has a nice fleece outer fabric on one side that’s much comfier than a nylon pillow.
K-EDGE Gravity Top Cap
We’ve used a couple different types of handlebar clamp mounts to hold our Wahoo GPS units over the years, but they always interfere with front bags in some way or another, particularly top-opening bags. The K-EDGE Gravity Top Cap solved that and puts the head unit in the perfect position that’s both out of the way and fairly easy to read.
It’s a simple little gadget that has two pieces, a standard top cap and screw that threads into the star nut on the steerer column, and the plastic insert that connects to the top cap via two 2mm hex screws. My only beef with it is that it’s not easy to remove and move to another bike. Otherwise, no complaints. The Gravity Top Cap comes standard with a Garmin mount, but you can purchase a Wahoo mount separately.
Fast Posts and Good Levers
I have dropper posts on all of my bikes now, including gravel/drop-bar rigs. And if I get a demo bike without one, that’s the first thing I change. Aside from the obvious riding benefits—and now something I recognize as an addiction—I have very long legs. Put it this way, I have a 180mm dropper post on my full-squish mountain bike and still have four inches of exposed seatpost. I can also run a seat pack on it without worrying about rub, even when it’s dropped a few inches. All that post equates to an off-camber center of gravity when the post is extended and I’m seated. Using a dropper not only improves my riding, but it also makes things a lot easier, like stopping at a red light or just mounting and dismounting with a bag in place. All this dropper use has made me realize that a fast and powerful post is key. A couple of my favorites are the new Fox Transfer and the BikeYoke Divine. And with the continual usage, I’ve also come to love high-quality levers.
Similar but different, Virginia has relatively normal-to-short legs, so the positioning isn’t as important, but with her wrist issues, having a quick post and an ergonomic, easy-to-use lever is. Two of our favorites this year include PNW’s Loam Lever and the PAUL Dropper Lever, both of which offer silky smooth operation with a large and nicely designed thumb-lever. The Loam Lever also has a sticky rubber pad that’s a nice touch. Additionally, I really like the new integrated Rival dropper lever that SRAM introduced in 2020. It might just be my favorite drop-bar dropper lever that I’ve used. More on that soon.
Ortlieb Seat-Pack 11-Liter
We’ve both been fans of Ortlieb’s Seat-Pack M since it was released in 2016. It has a no-nonsense design that’s waterproof, easy to use, and works with a dropper post—in conjunction with the Wolf Tooth Valais seatpost clamp. For 2020, Ortlieb reworked their entire line of bags with a matte black fabric and a few other details. There are two models to choose from.
The 11L Seat Pack is the smaller of the two saddle bag offerings in the lineup, but it’s a perfect size, in our opinion. The latest model got a bungee cord on the back for lashing on a layer or other gear, as well as a cord loop puller to release an air-bleed valve. Both of these two tweaks made a great bag even better. You can find all my thoughts on the original here.
29 grams / Made in Italy / €30 at PEdALED
The PEdALED Japanese Bandana caps might just be the Goldilocks of cycling caps. Most of the other options we’ve tried are either too short, too tight, or too hot. With a nice comfy fit, a gentle elastic back, and light and breathable Japanese cotton fabric, this one is just right.
Made using traditionally-dyed cotton typical in the manufacturing of Japanese bandanas, or tenugui, these are summer weight caps. They’re 100% cotton, designed in Japan, and made in Italy. Despite their lightweight fabric, they seem to hold up pretty well, too. This one has seen a lot of use and isn’t showing any signs of wear and tear. PEdALED currently offers 10 different prints, including Sushi, Cat Ochre, Brown Coffe, and this one, Leaf Green.
Rockgeist X10 Cotton Duck Bags
Made in NC, USA / $155+ at Rockgeist
As I pointed out when Rockgeist first announced this fabric offering, it sometimes seems like there are two schools of taste in the bikepacking world: those who prefer more ultralight and technical bags, and those who appreciate the more traditional aesthetic of waxed canvas and lugged steel. Fortunately, for those with eclectic sensibilities, you can have both. Asheville-based bag maker Rockgeist started offering its custom frame packs and in X10 Cotton Duck, a technical fabric with a classic look.
X10 Cotton Duck is a three-ply fabric consisting of a 10oz natural cotton duck outer face with black polyester X-Ply inner (also known as Dacron) sandwiched by a 0.5 mil shiny polyester film backing. It’s a little heavier than X-Pac, weighing 10.5 oz/yard compared to VX-21 (the standard X-Pac used by most brands), which weighs 6.0 0z/yd. However, it’s much lighter than waxed canvas and is also waterproof, or water-resistant when used on a non-sealed, stitched bag. It’s also stiffer than typical X-Pac and has a really nice feel. It’s become my favorite fabric for a stitched frame bag, hands down.
Rockgeist offers X20 Cotton Duck in four colors: Red Rocks, Eclipse Grey, Truffle Brown, Craggy Mist. Find more information on all their fabrics, including a detailed weight comparison chart, over at Rockgeist.com.
21 grams / Made in China / $150 at Ombraz
Virginia: I would never have thought that something that so closely resembles the neck-dangling cheaters my parents wear would become my favorite article of gear in 2020, but they have. Ombraz’s Classics Sunglasses are an impressive marriage of form and function. In place of the arms that support and secure typical glasses, the Ombraz have an adjustable cord that keeps them in place. During jostling activities, like running, the cord can be tightened for extra stability, but, in most situations, the cord can be left loosely dangling over the ears and behind the neck. The armless design means these sunglasses are super lightweight and, in turn, ridiculously comfortable, as they don’t place any pressure on the temples or ears. What’s more, the hingeless design makes them nearly bombproof and the flat profile takes up negligible space in any pack.
Beyond the benefits of their unique armless design, the polarized lenses on these sunglasses are fantastic. They’re super crisp, offer 100% UVA and UVB protection without being too dark, and are impressively smudge and scratch-resistant. The large aviator shaped frames provide full coverage in a timeless style that would be flattering on anyone. In short, the Ombraz are all-around awesome and, to top it off, the company plants 20 trees for every pair of sunglasses they sell.
You heard it here first. We’re officially declaring 2020-21 the era of Glampacking. While this fantastical new trend may not be for everyone, we’ve been relishing a little more frivolity on our bikes than usual this past year, which is obviously due to the style of trips we’ve been taking: COVID-requisite, close-to-home missions and escapes that aren’t too far from home.
So, how does one Glampack? It’s kind of a running joke, really, but instead of honing down the usual minimal kit to keep the bike fun and nimble, pack a couple of creature comforts. The riding might be slightly more challenging, but it’ll make the stay in the woods that much more special. The trick is to not pack too much more. You don’t want to pedal a tank, after all. A few little somethings never hurt anybody. How about an AeroPress and real coffee. A spare pair of shoes. Pancake makings. A string of lights. Two tallboys. A fishing pole. Pants you didn’t ride in. A camping chair. Okay, maybe not all of that, but pick a couple and enjoy. In short, we’ve been carrying a little bit more and treating ourselves to some atypical bikepacking pleasures. We highly recommend it.
Biolite Headlamp 200 (now 325)
49 grams / Made in China / $40 at REI
Virginia: I’m no expert on cranium-mounted lighting, but the Biolite HeadLamp 200 is such an improvement over my old one that I had to add it to my list of favorite gear. My old headlamp served its primary purpose. It sufficiently illuminated my surroundings at camp, even offering four different light settings, a tilt mechanism, and a USB charging port. It also had a pretty solid battery life, but unfortunately, it was uncomfortable to wear. I’d never given the issue too much thought. I just assumed that all headlamps were uncomfortable to wear for any prolonged period of time. Why else would most of the people I’ve camped with dangle them around their necks instead of wearing them on their heads? It wasn’t until I was introduced to the BioLite HeadLamp this summer that I realized what I (and so many other campers) had been missing.
The BioLite 200 doesn’t have any special operational features that separate it from a multitude of other headlamps. What sets it apart is how comfortable it is. First of all, the lamp and battery housing are fully integrated into the moisture-wicking sweatband strap. As such, there’s no plastic-to-skin contact. The housing’s slim design and minimal weight (the entire headlamp weighs a mere 49g) also mean the lamp doesn’t bounce or, more annoyingly, slip during wear. The headlamp sacrifices some battery life to achieve its light weight, but with three hours at maximum brightness, it’s more than sufficient for a quick night ride. On a dimmer setting, you can look forward to several nights of hands-free, no slipping, you can hardly tell it’s up there good times.
PEdALED Jary Merino Hooded Jersey
344 grams (size L) / Made in Italy / 180€ at PEdALED
PEdALED launched its Japan-designed, made in Italy Jary All-road collection in 2019 and has been adding to it ever since. I wear the Jary riding shorts quite a bit and love their Kyoto merino T-shirt, so I was pretty excited about the addition of a long-sleeve merino blend jersey. It didn’t disappoint and I’m happy to report that it quickly became one of my favorite pieces this fall and early winter.
The Jary All-Road Merino Hooded Jersey features ripstop nylon on the chest, shoulder panels, and arms for extra durability and to block the wind. The wool fabric is 49% Merino Wool, 49% Polyester, and 2% Elastan, according to PEdALED. It’s fairly thin, which I really like as I’ve found that it breathes extremely well. I’ve worn it in temps down in the 30s (F) with a long-sleeve wool base layer underneath. It’s not the warmest, but I run a bit hot so I really appreciate the weight of this garment. It also has a few other nice touches, such as a balaclava-style hood (complete with a stowage strap), windproof cuffs, a “sticky” rear hem to keep it from riding up your back, and large cargo pockets on the back.
Like other products I’ve tried from PEdALED, it fits great, but I’d suggest that it runs a hair small (I typically wear a size medium button-down shirt, and this size large fits me perfectly). My friend Ryan, shown here modeling the jersey for me, typically wears a small-medium and it was just a touch big on him. The Jary Merino Jersey is currently only offered in men’s sizing.
“Old Man Sliders”
Coined by our friend Jess Daddio and inspired by Lael Wilcox, Old Man Sliders might be the next great gear kit addition. I bought this particular pair somewhere in a small town in Colombia last February and wear them more than I care to admit. Lael’s opinion on such shoes is that they’re light, quick to put on and take off, and can serve you equally as well during a Kyrgyz river crossing shoes as they will loafing around camp or walking around town—with socks, of course.
In our opinion, it’s nice having a pair of dry and comfy camp shoes. And these are actually smaller than Crocs, lighter than Bedrocks (although not quite as easy to strap to a bag), and cheaper than about any other pair of shoes you can buy. My pair of size 10s weigh about 191 grams and cost me about $4. Yes, shoes like these will likely live in landfills forever, but really, what shoes won’t. And honestly, these have proven to have a longer lifespan than many cycling shoes I’ve owned.
Chrome Wool Hoody
218 grams (medium) / Made in China / $63 (No Longer Available)
Virginia: There’s nothing particularly unique about Chrome Industries’ long-sleeve merino hoodie. It’s constructed from a blend of merino wool and polyester fibers, so it offers the usual benefits of merino, like moisture wicking, breathability, good temperature regulation, and odor control. The design elements are all pretty standard too: it’s black, has long sleeves, and a hood. The tail is slightly elongated, which provides a little extra coverage on the bike. All in all, it’s a pretty simple top.
What does strike me, though, is how very soft it is and how well it moves with my body. I’m not a huge fan of most “base layers” because they feel too restrictive to me. I know they are supposed to be form-fitting, but there’s a fine line between form-fitting and suffocating. This shirt has a relaxed fit and enough stretch that it doesn’t feel at all confining. Sometimes, I wear it as my true base layer and, at other times, I wear it as a second layer. More often than not, though, I wear it as a standalone top. The medium-weight jersey knit fabric drapes nicely, is opaque, and the cut is long enough in the torso that it provides full coverage. Best of all, the fabric is super soft and cozy. In short, wearing this hoodie is kind of like getting a nice, comforting hug. And who couldn’t use a good hug these days?
Rigid Steel 29ers
In a moment when the bike industry is scrambling to fulfill its self-proclaimed gravel prophecy, and drop-bar bikes are being released in droves, let us not forget the one bike that rules them all: the rigid steel mountain bike. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy riding a lot of different bikes, after all, it’s riding bikes! And, I appreciate all of the new bikes, as well as the trends that are following, such as wider drop bars and bigger tires. But, when there’s a selection at my disposal, I find myself longing to return to my happy place, aboard the ultimate gravel-dirt-road-singletrack rig, the steel 29er mountain bike.
Allow me to get granular with this entry. During 2020, two bikes that I have absolutely adored have been the Kona Unit X and the Nordest Sardinha 2. Both won spots in our Gear of the Year awards, and have a lot of things in common. Aside from well-engineered steel frames, each has a geometry that’s fairly modern—a bit longer than others in the category, with a steeper seat tube—and offers a nice blend of playfulness and comfort. Another detail to note is that they were both outfitted with 29 x 2.6″ WTB Ranger tires, perhaps one of my favorite new tires. I’ve found them to be quite fast, supple, confident in the corners, and capable on everything from loose gravel to rooty singletrack. All these ingredients make for a bike that’s not only comfortable, but can pretty much do about anything. Not to mention, these are some of the most affordable bikes on the market. N=1.
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