2014: Gear of the Year

Gear is awesome. Whether you nab mountain summits, run dirt trails, slash powder or sleep under the stars, you likely use an inordinate amount of expensive outdoor equipment.

Expensive is the key word there, isn’t it?

I go through my fair share of gear but I find myself coming back to my favorites pieces for every trip. Some of them are new releases for 2014 while others are simply tried-and-true items that will never leave my gear closet. And trust me: there is a whole lotta goodness in that closet, so if an item makes this list, you know it’s the creme de la creme!

With that, I give you the best gear of 2014!

Columbia Sportswear’s TurboDown


“Like a down jacket on steroids. But it’s legal.” With a catchphrase like that, you know it must be good and Columbia delivers in spades!


I received my TurboDown jacket at last year’s OmniGames so I’ve had plenty of time to put it to good use: Iceland, Paris, Colorado 14ers and numerous camping trips have all been worthy testing grounds. In the end, I’ve yet to find an insulated jacket that keeps you warmer during activity. To be fair, this piece won’t be your go-to item if you’re just standing around during a chilly night; other jackets are better suited for sedentary warmth. But, if you’re looking for something that will keep you insanely warm while hiking, running or snowshoeing, look no further than TurboDown and it’s toasty OmniHeat. It’s worth every penny!

REI Kingdom 6 Tent


I never thought the day would come where I would rave about a massive family-sized tent, but that day has arrived. I seriously love REI’s Kingdom 6 tent!

Colorado has a fair bit of dispersed camping and it was a hard sell for me to convince Will that it wouldn’t be all campgrounds and motor homes. However, after he experienced the absurd beauty of Kebler Pass in the fall, he quickly realized that car camping doesn’t have to be a noisy, raucous event. In fact, we can find car camping spots that are just as deserted as backpacking locations.


Once he agreed upon those terms, we set about assembling a dispersed camping cache of goods. First up? A new tent! After all, why sleep in a tiny backpacking shelter if you don’t need to?! Fortunately, the folks at REI were happy to send us the Kingdom 6 tent and it has–literally–blown our minds. This shelter is such a gem!


Not only is it spacious, but it is tall. With a peak height of over six feet, it’s easy to stand inside which makes changing a breeze. It also has one massive vestibule which has plenty of space for backpacks, shoes and food. We haven’t taken the plunge yet, but word on the street is that there is an additional “garage” for purchase that can provide even more storage when attached to the doors. Will really wants some friends to buy this tent also so we can connect the two Kingdom 6’s via the garage and make a mini-commune!

Stonewear Design’s Alpha Hoody

Not only is Stonewear a company geared toward women, but it’s also based in Colorado. How perfect is that?!


They sent me the Alpha Hoody a few months back and truthfully, I didn’t expect to love it as much as I do. I first wore the top while running my four mile stretch with Heidi during her 100-mile race. I had planned on running with a jacket over top since it was so cold outside, but I quickly shed the coat in favor of a base top and the Alpha– this sucker is warm!


Since then, it’s come along on dozens of trips and I continue to choose it over other items. Not only does it flaunt a flattering fit, but it’s super comfy with thumb holes, a hood, a half zip and soft brushed insides. The other thing I love about this piece is that it’s versatile. I wear it to CrossFit, while running, while camping and to the grocery store; it fits in anywhere!

Ultimate Direction’s Jenny Vest

Uh.my.gawd. Seriously y’all, this vest!


When I started training for my upcoming 50k, I knew I would need to dial in a hydration pack that worked perfectly for me. I previously owned one that I loved, but once I started running longer distances, I began finding tiny flaws that irritated me during those long hours on the trails. {Pack roundup coming soon!}

Because of that, I decided I couldn’t wait til my roundup to mention the Jenny vest; I can’t believe how comfortable this thing is!


Ultimate Direction is another Colorado-based company and reps athletes such as Anton Krupicka. {If you check out his IG feed, you’ll see plenty of UD photos!} They feature a women’s specific-hydration line called the Jenny Collection since it was designed by Jenny Jurek. The Ultra Vest, also known as the Jenny Vest, has become my new favorite for all of my runs. Why? The fit is unbeatable!

The vest has two adjustable chest straps that make the pack comfortable for women of all boob sizes. Additionally, the larger pockets and two 10-oz bottles sit higher on the straps so that my arms don’t rub against them while running. This has been my major problem with every other vest and to date, the Jenny Vest is the only hydration vest that doesn’t cause me irritation.


The main compartment holds a 70-oz bladder so I have that water in addition to the previously mentioned bottles. It also fits a surprising amount of gear, and I’ve been able to cram my TurboDown, some YakTrak, liner gloves, and plenty of snacks inside while on long runs. In short, if you’re a female and looking for a hydration pack, definitely take a look.

Native Eyewear Roan Sunglasses

In Colorado, it’s key to wear sunglasses year round since we have so many sunny days. I learned long ago that cheap lenses won’t cut it, especially when trekking at high altitudes.


Last summer, Native Eyewear offered to send me some shades and I chose the Roan lenses. I chose the Stout Fade color and truly, these have become a staple in my daily cache of items. I wear them running, hiking, to the store and when driving my car. They’re cute enough that they don’t look like hardcore running glasses while I’m wearing jeans and a sweater, but they don’t bounce so they’re comfy when I’m running around in the woods. And while not inexpensive, $110 is a fair price for decent sunglasses!

Hoka Mafate Speed Trail Shoes

Ok, I’ll own it: I’ve totally bought into the extreme cushioning of Hoka shoes. I officially love them!


I tested the Stinson Trails last year and thus began my gradual descent into the world of maximalist trail shoes. The folks at Hoka then sent me the Mafate Speeds immediately after the Moab Half Marathon, and those have quickly become my trail shoe of choice.

Why do I love them? In a nutshell, they are so much easier on my joints! I realize that the extreme cushioning of Hokas may not be for everyone, but personally, I am experiencing less joint pain, discomfort and zero injuries and aches related to running. I’m not someone whose body easily tackles miles, but since I’ve switched to Hokas, I haven’t had any problems with my uptick in mileage.


I also dig the intense traction on the Mafate Speeds. We’ve experienced a fair bit of snow thus far, and I’ve only had to break out my spikes a few times. The Mafates have some serious grip and I have full confidence while running on dirt and snow. That says a lot since my upcoming 50k will be on sandy surfaces!

If you haven’t tried Hokas yet, just do it.

Mountain Hardwear ChillWave Jacket

I’m gonna have to burst your bubble here, but sadly, it appears as if the ChillWave has been discontinued! There are still a few women’s versions floating around the web, and it looks like the men’s version is available at Sierra Trading Post. Take my word of advice: hop on those sales before this jacket is gone!


You may remember this jacket from last winter when I did a video review of the coat for STP. One full year later, this jacket is still the warmest coat I’ve ever experienced! Yes, it’s very puffy and you slightly feel like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but I don’t care. It is beyond warm. I’ve taken this coat on winter backpacking trips and–dare I say it– I’ve become hot as a result! The hood traps an insane amount of heat inside and the pockets are toasty as well. Typically, pockets aren’t as warm as the rest of the coat, but I can go without gloves as long as I leave my hands in the ChillWave’s pockets.

It comes with a stuff sack but be warned: it doesn’t pack down anywhere near as small as a jacket like Columbia’s TurboDown. But, minimalism isn’t what this coat is after, and if you just need pure, unadulterated warmth, then the ChillWave is a great bet.

Gore Running Wear’s Essential 2.0 Running Tights

20141218ProductShoot156These tights are the bomb, period. While the Essential 2.0 Tights are not heavily lined, I’ve managed to wear them as my winter tights this season and have only needed to double up with base pants once. Since that particular day was only 5 degrees outside, I feel comfortable in saying that these tights are legit!


The Essential’s are also great for shoulder season when ventilation is key. Mesh pockets line sweaty areas like behind the knees, providing extra breathability. There is a large pocket that sits against your back and surprisingly, it’s large enough to fit my iPhone. Extra bonus? The heat from my body keeps my phone battery warm on chilly runs so I don’t lose battery power!

Icebreaker’s MerinoLOFT Helix Jacket

If you’re into Merino wool, you’re going to love the MerinoLOFT collection! In short, Icebreaker has taken wool and stuffed it with more wool and made a jacket. Sounds cozy, yes?! It’s like a Merino sandwich of sorts.


Truthfully, the Helix zip is lined with 100% Merino for next-to-skin comfort. The insulation is comprised of 88% wool, including recycled material, and the outside is a recycled polyester layer that is also water resistant. Ta da! Merino sandwich.


There is also a vest that fits just like the jacket, and I love that equally. These pieces don’t look bulky or huge, but trust me: they mean business in the warmth department. Additionally, they are both flattering and have a slim fit that tucks in at the waist so you don’t feel like you’re wearing a trash bag. Extra bonus? If you’re playing in super cold weather, the Helix fits so close that you can easily stick it underneath a burlier jacket for double warmth. Yay for chilly playtime!

Best Gear of 2014


Do you have a favorite piece of gear this year?



  • Reply Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb at

    First Heidi, now you with the UD vest. I dig my Nathan but the bladder essential takes up the entire pack so it leaves no room to really carry anything. But I debate when I want the Jenny or the Wink. Hmmm. Still want to try Hokas. Just hard for me to justify spending the $$ to ‘try’ them out. You know?

    • Reply heather at

      All signs are pointing to you testing out the UD vest 🙂 I run with a friend and she has tested all the vests that I’ve been trying out, and she favors it too! As for Hokas….LOVE. I know they’re expensive, but totally worth it in my opinion. They make the pounding on descents so much easier!

  • Reply RFC at

    oooooooh the Jenny vest looks amazing! I am still “test driving” my Hoka One Ones, the “Clifton” model. I think I might love them, but it’s too early to tell 😉

    • Reply heather at

      To be fair, I haven’t tried any of the road Hokas. Truthfully, I haven’t run on a road in FOREVER but I have found myself wishing I had a pair for that purpose…maybe then pavement would be more appealing again? But yes, check out the Jenny vest. Typically I like to say that “it’s all about personal preference” but I’m willing to bet most women will prefer that vest to others. The fit is seriously that great.

  • Reply Marissa @Barefoot Colorado at

    The Jenny vest!!! I borrowed Heidi’s for my 50k and loved it so much that I went out and bought my own! Gah, glad you loved it!

    • Reply heather at

      Huge fan! It’s such a comfortable fit for women!

  • Reply Amanda @runtothefinish at

    Holy profession awesomeness!! I need a new best friend and they need to be a photographer 🙂 hehe!!

    • Reply heather at

      Will’s talents do come in handy! 🙂

  • Reply Kovas - Midwest Multisport Life at

    Great line-up of gear! My fave new piece this year is my The North Face Quantum Full-Zip Hoodie – great feeling fabric, great fit, and works well as a mid-layer or standalone sweater.

    • Reply heather at

      I haven’t tested that one out! For some reason, TNF is a company whose gear I rarely test…I should remedy that!

  • Reply Christine @ Love, Life, Surf at

    This is pretty awesome. Thanks for putting this together Heather!!

    • Reply heather at

      Thanks Christine!

  • Reply Sandra Laflamme at

    Love your gear of the year picks! And wow! what gorgeous photographs! I will definitely be checking out some of your picks!

    • Reply heather at

      Thanks Sandra! I’ll pass on the photo compliments to Will 🙂

  • Reply Heather @ FITaspire at

    Wow. I think I’d like one of everything please! 🙂

  • Reply john marie at

    Hi Heather, thanks for the well crafted reviews and posts.

    I am in the mist of a Kickstarter campaign delivering a new innovative tool for hikers.
    Any chance I could draw a link from our site to this page?

    PS, Your piece on the REI tent, worth consideration to spend the extra few.

    Kind Regards,


  • Reply Look Ma, We’re Running at

    […] day I was reading one of my favorite “active” blogs – Just Colorado Gal – and discovered these weird looking shoes by a company called Hoka One One. At the time I […]

  • Reply Holly at

    I’m pretty sure your Gore Running Wear tights are really the Mythos SO Tight, not the Essential 2.0 which have no lining whatsoever and no reflective dots. The Mythos are pretty much sold out everywhere so moot point!

  • Reply Julie at

    Looking forward to seeing your picks for 2015!

    Love for you to check us out at OUTSTYLED.com, where the love for the outdoors meets fashion – hope to hear from you!


  • Reply Gear of the Year: Fitness {Giveaway} - Just a Colorado GalJust a Colorado Gal at

    […] January! Ultimate Direction has long been a favorite running brand of mine {see: last year’s gear guide}, and I had high hopes for this jacket. It’s incredibly light–5.3 oz–so I […]

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