There's nothing like getting on the chairlift and realizing you’re quite literally about to freeze. Mountain elements are no joke, and you need gear as serious as your love for fresh powder. Here are our top picks for Winter 2017.
Crab Grab Man Hands ($60)
Why We Chose It: What started as a half-joke and became the most successful snowboard traction company in history, has now morphed into a legitimate glove brand (or mitten brand, rather). These classically styled leather offerings from Crab Grab are timeless and subtle enough to pair with any outerwear.
Why We Liked It: The silhouette of the Man Hands is, perhaps ironically, small. It’s a welcome trait when many mitts on the market seem to employ more material than needed. There are no frills here — no fancy closures or handwarmer pockets — just enough to get the job done. The Man Hands will please mitten minimalists, male or female.
Tester Tip: No leather gloves, no matter how manly, will hold up without care. It’s important to apply the supplied leather treatment before use to increase waterproofing and invest in more throughout the mitts’ lifespan, in order to maximize it.
Dakine Vapor Gore-Tex 2L ($380)
Why We Chose It: Since the 2015 launch of their outerwear program, Dakine has graduated from accessories brand to softgoods powerhouse and precedent-setter in fit and functionality — the two traits any jacket is chosen on. One step down and slightly more affordable than the brand’s top-of-the-line Sawtooth 3L, the Vapor 2L exemplifies Dakine’s careful attention to detail. Simply put, it looks good and we knew it’d perform.
Why We Liked It: A minimalist approach to design and a long fit — the jacket extends about two inches past the bottom its front zipper — lend a streetwear look to a jacket worthy of missions to zones miles from any road. Water beaded on the 2L Gore-Tex, and the lack of insulation was appreciated during non-lift-assisted ascents. The Vapor rivals mountaineering-quality equipment but looks distinctly less technical and nerdy.
Tester Tip: There is a difference between 2L and 3L Gore-Tex—3L being slightly more waterproof—and both can use a touch-up at least once a season, so treat this jacket, and your other outerwear, with Nikwax to maintain longevity.
Dakine Stoker Gore-Tex 3L ($420)
Why We Chose It: The Stoker Bib is a shining example of the appealing utilitarian aesthetic that has come to define Dakine’s outerwear line. Building on the brand’s beloved Prospect Bib, we knew we couldn’t go wrong with the Stoker.
Why We Liked It: On the whole, not much has changed from the Prospect. It’s still a 3L Gore-Tex bib with a tailored-not-tight silhouette. The differences come in the form of pockets and closure. Where the Prospect employed a single chest pouch and cargo-style pocket on the side of the leg, the Stoker has three on the chest and two on the front of the legs, reminiscent of mid-2000s Holden styling. And the bib’s primary closure mechanism is now operated by a zipper down the front, as opposed to down the side, as it was on the Prospect.
Tester Tip: Use the zipper to the side of the main one when nature calls to avoid unzipping all the way from the top.
Lib Tech Swiss Knife ($750)
Why We Chose It: Positive camber is what snowboarding was built on. Mervin Manufacturing (Lib Tech and Gnu) shunned this profile for some time before reintroducing it with their own twist, labeled as C3. It’s heartening to see camber’s comeback, now that snowboarding has realized collectively that a substitute for its performance attributes doesn’t exist.
Why We Liked It: The Swiss Knife’s directional, C3-equipped profile can hold an edge like Lib Tech’s BTX and C2 profiles can’t. It’s not that they’re bad; they’re just conducive to a different style of riding. Combined with Magne-Traction, the edge-serration technology pioneered and perfected by Mervin, you would be hard-pressed to find a board that rails and rallies better than the Swiss Knife. This same positively cambered profile provides explosive pop and sturdy landing performance.
Tester Tip: Ride this board with a directional stance to fully unlock its freeride potential.
Smartwool PhD Snowboard Medium Socks ($26)
Why We Chose It: Nobody likes cold feet. And if anyone knows how to make a sock for the winter, it’s Smartwool. While most brands of their magnitude are located in a major metropolitan area, Smartwool is in Steamboat, Colorado, a built-in R&D lab in the mountains surrounding. Wool is the ideal material for snowboard socks, and you might as well go with those who know.
Why We Liked It: While most of us overcame the “thicker the better” ethos around the time we graduated from the bunny slope, a sock too thin still exists. As could have been deduced from their name, these were just right. The medium cushion fit well in a boot, and the wool provided plenty of warmth and wicking.
Tester Tip: Wool socks will mitigate stink better than acrylic, but one pair for a trip isn’t going to cut it.
The North Face Fort Point Insulated Flannel ($120)
Why We Chose It: Outside of the performance-specific designs The North Face is known for, the brand has done an impressive job as of recent in creating appealing pieces that wear well on the street. And not just in an “I go on so many adventures” sort of way, but in a manner that competes with lifestyle labels like Brixton or Pendleton.
Why We Liked It: When you find the right shirt-jacket, there’s hardly a need to take it off between the months of October-March. This is one of those cases. While the 60-percent cotton flannel means it may not be the proper midlayer for summiting in Nepal, it’s an ideal insulator for resort use and most daytrips into the backcountry. And it works just as well paired with denim as it does Gore-Tex.
Tester Tip: Jackets from The North Face tend to run big, and such is the case with the Fort Point. Our 5’10”, 150 lb. tester is a consistent medium and fit better in a small.
Union Falcor ($330)
Why We Chose It: Starting with the introduction of their Contact model in 2008, Union has led the way in minimal baseplate-to-board binding design. The concept utilizes a foam in place of hard plastic, metal, or nylon to negate dead spots created by a rigid baseplate directly contacting a snowboard’s topsheet. Consequently, the ride is “surfier” and the board flexes more evenly. Travis Rice’s pro model Falcor is Union’s latest foam-to-hard-surface interface iteration.
Why We Liked It: While predecessors and counterparts employing this same type of tech allow natural movement for both the rider and board, they can, in certain scenarios, lack support. The Falcor is a hybrid of a standard, more rigid, baseplate and one designed as discussed. Where some bindings feel too stiff and others too loose, this one is just right.
Tester Tip: We found the middle of the three forward lean settings to be ideal for most all-around applications.
Vans Infuse ($370)
Why We Chose It: Since its early 2000s introduction — on Vans boots — Boa’s unique closure system has been polarizing. Avid proponents cite efficiency while opposing purists laud the tried-and-true benefits of laces, especially their capacity for customization. Until the inception of the Infuse, the two closure methods weren’t featured on the same boot.
Why We Liked It: It turns out this two-in-one approach really does provide the best of both worlds. The Infuse would be an excellent and rugged boot without the Boa, but with the twist of a dial it locks your heel further in place and becomes an even better boot. Factor in the removable tongue-stiffeners and oversized Velcro power-strap, and you have perhaps the most adaptable boot on the market (updated this season with an improved sole). The Infuse is versatile, well-balanced and subtly technical.
Tester Tip: To avoid a brutal break-in period, remove the tongue stiffeners as soon as you take the boot out of the box. Slide them back in for any scenario in which additional rigidity is desired or to provide a re-up in responsiveness, should they become too soft for your liking.
Dragon NFX2 ($200)
Why We Chose It: The frameless, cylindrical, quick-change goggle is now a marquee piece in any competitive optics line displayed in illuminated cases from Meribel to Mammoth, and it started with this one. The look and functionality Dragon pioneered with the NFX2 has been duplicated over and over, but the original still sets the bar for clean aesthetic and ease of use.
Why We Liked It: The quick-change lens concept is simple, but not until recent was the technology perfected. Operated by a lever on each side of the frame that locks the lens into place, Dragon’s version is one of the top two most efficient on the market. Swiftlock makes carrying an extra lens logical, not tedious, while its sleek, minimalist look and medium fit work well on a spectrum of faces.
Tester Tip: The benefits of carrying an extra lens extend beyond variable lighting scenarios. When you find yourself with a goggle full of snow, post-ragdoll, hit reset with the flip of a lever and the addition of a dry lens.