I reviewed a lot of products this year, and one thing I am always sensitive to is not leading people on a never ending chase towards ‘new and shiny’ for no reason other than it is ‘new and shiny.’ It’s the reason I try to keep my “best page” (for members) up to date: so that members always have a sense of what I find to be the best, no matter what I may be using/reviewing/writing about at any given time. To wrap up 2018, here’s a look back at the items I think were the best new items of the year, as well as other notables which fall into the best.
- Best New Backpack: Tom Bihn’s Shadow Guide. This won’t be perfect for everyone, but it truly is an outstanding bag. I passed the first time Tom Bihn offered a review sample to me, as the timeline was one I couldn’t meet. But I circled back to them and got a sample after thinking about it more, and I am glad I did. It’s so simple that it’s ideal for a lot of scenarios. I think it’s far better than most gym+laptop bags out there, and the looks are stellar on this. It’s handily the best new backpack of 2018.
- Best New Duffel Bag: Tom Bihn’s Road Buddy. If my review of this weren’t enough of an indicator, these are not only the best new duffel bags, they are the best duffels I’ve used full stop. I thought for sure Duffel bags were going to keep morphing into these weird hybrid backpack options, but Tom Bihn clearly stepped back and made a really great bag. It works so well for road trips that I suspect as more people realize this, you’ll see more people talking about these.
- Best Re-release: GORUCK Bullet Ruck 15L. I had been waiting for this for years. It didn’t disappoint, and it may overtake my usage of The GR1. It’s a fantastic size which will fit many people well. It’s not as heavy or tactical looking as the GR1, and yet it still holds a good amount. I think this is easily a better pick over the 10L variant for most people, and likely a great introductory bag to the brand. All the while being something you’ll use for a long time to come.
- Best Brand: Bond Travel Gear. I’ve tried 3 items from them now and each of them are great. The prices are great, functionality and everything else is superb. I’m excited to see what they turn out in 2019, and suspect they are going to be around for a while.
- Best Clothing Item: Bluffworks Meridian Dress Shirt. I test a lot of clothes, and this one surprised me. I didn’t think you could get better than wool, but this shirt proved you can. I love it. It looks “normal” and is damned comfortable. Really good shirt.
- Honorable Clothing Mention: GORUCK Performance Clothing. Don’t be fooled by the marketing on GORUCK’s site, because these clothes are not for everyday wear. However, they make some of the best outdoor and hard wear clothing I’ve ever used. The only issue is that the prices are pretty high. I think their Simple Pant line is outstanding and if you need outdoors/hiking pants, or you want something which dries really fast it’s great — I wear mine 5-6 times a week and almost always travel with a pair as backup.
- Best App: CARROT Weather 5. I thought this app was a gimmick for a long time, but they’ve leaped ahead of the competition for information density and usability and pretty much everything else. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are causing some other weather apps to shut down — they are the benchmark for all weather apps.
- Best Knife: Massdrop x Ferrum Forge Gent. I’m not alone in crowning this knife the best of the year. And it will be that for years to come. Near perfection at a really low price. Insanity. I carry this knife a ton and I am always surprised by how great it is. Forget spending money on a Sebenza, get this knife.
- Best Wallet: Tom Bihn Nik’s Minimalist Wallets. I can’t believe three mentions of one brand, which isn’t GORUCK. But these wallets kick ass and Tom Bihn snuck in a ton of great gear at the end of this year. The only real issue with these wallets is I had just bought another wallet right before these came out — and now that wallet won’t see much use at all.
- Best Watch I Reviewed: Hamilton Khaki Field Automatic. Love it. Could easily be my only watch in a sad world where I only could have one watch. It balances everything so well: price/weight/size/style/comfort. I am not sure there is a better well rounded watch out there which is also easily found at sub $400 prices.
- Best Keyboard: Vortex Core. The first usable 40% keyboard. And a great price. Don’t be shocked if you see me using this in Starbucks, because this board was made to travel with me.
- Best Time Sink: Shortcuts.app. Yeah the rabbit hole on this is very deep. Very deep indeed. Even more so if you dive into the subreddit for it.
- Best TV Show: Below Deck, the standard, not the Mediterranean variant which is just ok. This show is about psychology, management, and entitlement. The best show out there by far. Yeah, you can like Game of Thrones, but Below Deck is far more extraordinary in many ways. If you aren’t watching it yet, you are damned lucky, because now you have a ton of seasons you can binge watch.
- Still Hands Down the Best Backpack: GORUCK GR1. I know this might feel like I am beating a dead horse, but if you can only have one backpack make it the GR1. Even with the price increase, even given all the new bags, it’s still the most versatile and overall best backpack money can buy.
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