The Best New Gear for 2008
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The Best New Gear for 2008

Gear Girl Alice Oglethorpe rings in the New Year with her favorite products.

Split Personality

Dakine Split Convertible Bag

My biggest complaint about traveling by plane isn't the constant delays, the uncomfortable seats, or the sucky airport grub (Prepackaged sandwiches? No thank you!). It's the baggage weight limits! I know, I know. The limits are there so that the plane won't be too heavy and crash (a good as reason if there ever was one), but I just hate them. No matter how lightly I pack, I'm always flirting with the 50-pound limit. In my heart, I know that I'm an overpacker, but I also blame my size 10 feet. (Bigger shoes weigh more!)

I guess I'm not the only one with this problem, because Dakine, one of the coolest bag companies around, has a new bag that will seriously change my life. Or at least change my level of annoyance at the airport. The Split Convertible bag can unzip and split into two separate bags. So each one can be weighed separately and go through security separately. Then when you grab them both out of the baggage claim, zip them together again and away you go!


Yak Attack

Ecco Sayan Lo GTX Vibram shoes

I am definitely an animal lover. Not in the extreme throw-paint-on-Anna-Wintour's-fur-coat way. But I grew up with cats and dogs and I can't walk by a pet store without pressing my nose up against the glass to look at the puppies inside. So when I first heard that Ecco (a shoe company I'm pretty obsessed with) was going to start making shoes with yak leather, I was kinda weirded out. Yaks! Aren't they the cute (well, ugly-cute), shaggy pack animals? Do I really want them to be killed so that I can have the newest hiking shoes? But the more I found out about Ecco's yak-leather program, the more I loved it. Here's what I learned:

  • Ecco only uses hides from domestic yaks, not the hides of endangered wild yaks (thank god!) and only hides from animals that were already killed for meat. So if anything, they are using more of the animal and causing less waste.
  • Ecco has teamed up with local farmers in Tibet and China to supply the yak leather. So buying the shoes ultimately helps out the local economies in those regions.
  • Yak leather is three times stronger than normal cow leather -- must be all that Himalayan living that does it.

Enough about the yaks, lets talk about the shoes! Since yak leather is so strong and durable, they can use a much thinner piece of leather, making the shoes nice and light. They have the usual hiking shoe necessities: Vibram soles for traction and Gore-Tex so that they're waterproof. They also have some special Ecco-only features: Something called Direct Inject midsole, which means the parts of the shoe are fused together instead of relying on cement. And something else called Receptor Technology, which handles your foot differently depending on whether it's taking off, standing, or pushing off.


Strike a Pose -- Comfortably

Beinjoy Harmony Yoga Mat

I've been a yoga fan since middle school. Which, let me assure you, was far from the cool thing to do back then. My dad was pretty into it and so I joined along bending and posing my way through adolescence. I've let it drop a little, but I've recently begun taking classes at the gym and doing a few routines in my tiny studio. And this is when I realized something I never noticed before. Yoga mats are too thin! Maybe it was that I was less sensitive as a teenager, or maybe it was because I was happily situated on top of my parents' plush carpets, or maybe I've just forgotten, but I never noticed this when I used to do yoga. But now I'm doing the poses on the floor of my gym or on the hardwood floor of my apartment -- and let me tell you, both surfaces are not made for comfortable sitting. I want to empty my mind of stresses and center myself, but I keep noticing how my sitting bones are quite possibly getting bruised!

So Beinjoy's yoga mat is everything I could want. It's made of eco-friendly material and is super thick and cushiony. Plus, if you need even more of a cushion, it comes with a smaller, separate one you can buy. Pop it under your hips to elevate yourself while sitting, or put it underneath your head while lying down. This mat also addresses another issue I have: Slipping and sliding all over the place while doing downward dogs! I didn't think I had excessively sweaty palms, but it turns out I must because I can't hold myself in one place. So Beinjoy added a nonslip surface. If you want to give it as a gift to someone, it comes packaged with this pretty Asian tie.

$80 for mat, $30 for cushion,

The Sports Watch of My Dreams

Polar RS800G3 Watch

I am really into numbers. I took Calculus 3 in high school. I scored much higher on the math section of the SATs than on the verbal section. I write down my expenses to the cent, adding and subtracting in my checkbook with glee. I'm still not quite sure how I managed to become a magazine editor, but I did! And while I love my job, I definitely find it lacking in the number department. The most I get to deal with is word counts...not that exciting. But this watch from Polar fulfills my every numerical dream.

You wear the RS800 watch on your wrist, a heart-rate transmitter on your chest, and a GPS sensor somewhere else (like on your arm or in your backpack). Then exercise, and everything talks to the watch! Want to know your speed? Check. How far you've gone? Check. What zone your heart-rate is in? Check. This thing uses GPS (the same technology that tells you to turn left at the next street to get home) to configure all sorts of data you never knew you needed to know. It also comes with a computer program so you can download the data and see graphs (graphs!), and come up with specific workouts and training programs.


Beautiful Boots

Sperry Pelican Wedge

Rubber rain boots always look cuter on other people than they look on me. It's not that I haven't given them their chance: I've bought polka-dotted, striped, even some with little ducks all over them. And while the boots look fun on other girls as they splash around in puddles, I always feel like they make my legs look clunky and weird. But Sperry to the rescue! They came out with these super stylish boots that are just as waterproof as normal galoshes. These knee-high wedge-heeled beauties will look good with jeans, pants tucked into them, or a skirt. These are definitely for grown-up gals. Even though I want them for myself, I'm not a selfish buyer. So I'm going to get a pair for my closest friend. She's one of those feminine girls who owns more skirts than jeans (a.k.a. not me) and can wear heels all day long without complaint. So while I could never picture her in childlike rain boots, these are right up her alley.


Knit Picks

SmartWool Baby Dot/Stripe Sock Set

For some reason, footwear for babies fascinates me. They always look unbelievably tiny, making me think: "There's no way those can fit on a human." I seriously can't walk by a display of tiny shoes and socks without latching onto them and examining every inch. As I'm doing it, I even make eye contact with strangers as if to say, "Aren't these the cutest things you've ever seen?" So while I don't want a child of my own quite yet, I do want to purchase miniature socks and shoes. Thank god I have babies in my life who need their feet kept warm. And this is what I'm going to get them. They are the most adorable booties from SmartWool. They come in all sorts of awesome colors and they even have treads on the bottom to help with those first steps. Check out SmartWool's other baby stuff -- they also make miniature mittens with no thumbholes.


Sweatin' on the Snow

Tubbs Sojourn Start Kit

My sister just moved to Anchorage, Alaska: Home of moose, the midnight sun, and lots and lots of snow. She's a super-active, can't-sit-still woman, so she's a little concerned that the cold weather will keep her from getting out and enjoying nature. So she'll love this beginner snowshoe sets from Tubbs. There is one for women and one for men, and they include the snowshoes, poles, and a how-to DVD. But you don't need to know someone in Alaska to buy these. Anywhere that gets serious snow -- Buffalo, Wisconsin, Maine -- are perfect for practicing snowshoeing. And an hour burns about 500 calories -- meaning the hot chocolate with whipped cream afterwards is guilt-free!


Reflect on It

Mirror Me Tanks

It cracks me up when I see people working out at the gym, staring at themselves in the mirror. Some people are so obsessed with their appearance, it's crazy! But while you don't need to be gazing at your reflection your entire workout, the mirrors are there for a reason -- so you can look and make sure you have correct form. So why not psych yourself up when you catch sight of yourself in a tree pose or doing a bicep curl by wearing one of these cute tees. They come in different styles, with the tank being my personal favorite. But the best part is that they have motivational sayings on them ("Breathe," "Focus," and "Never Settle") that are printed backwards. So when you see yourself in the mirror, they are readable. It's nice to get a little reminder when you're at the gym to keep yourself going.


Sleeping Beauties

Body Linens Men's Lounge Pant

Men's pajamas are either too grungy (his old high school wrestling shirt and a pair of boxer shorts) or too cutesy (matching top and bottom with frogs all over them). But these are neither. They are nice enough that you'll love seeing him in them, and plain enough that he'll actually wear them. The concept of this company, Body Linens, is super smart. All of their PJ's (they make awesome women's styles as well) come in different thread counts (up to 800). It makes sense! Why pay top dollar for 600 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets if you're going to put a poly-blend between you and them.

500 thread count, $45,

Originally published on, December 2007.