The Best — 2022

This year was a bit intense as I was testing so much stuff that I had a hard time writing up everything I tested. It was a lot of fun, and there’s a lot of churn on each of these lists. So take a read/look and see what has changed, and what has not changed.

Only Items You Need

Confidence level: High.

This is may favorite list to write. It provides me with a really easy way to tell, the very few of you who don’t want to put thought into stuff, what you should go out and buy. I also love how many people disagree with me on these, but I stand by it. Here you go, these are the only things you actually need, same format as last year.

Best New Thing in 2022

This year I am going with iPadOS’s Stage Manager which also supports External Displays as an extended display for iPads. This was rather unexpected, and great to get this year. And assuming you have a current-ish iPad Pro, it was also free. Really firing on all cylinders there from Apple (though technically not fully out yet, it’s stable in Beta).

Nothing else comes close this year, stand out best new thing. Very cool.


Bags

Man, I love some bags. Let’s talk bags.

Best Backpack

Confidence level: High.

The Mystery Ranch ASAP SB is the best backpack you can buy. Across all categories (except if it is your only backpack) — it’s the best. Use it hiking, use it rucking, use it for travel, or for the office — this bag cannot be beat. It’s only limitation is the low capacity at 20L — everything else can be added or removed to fit the task at hand. I’ve used this bag more than any other bag in my closet this past year.

There is no more comfortable backpack to wear. There’s no backpack which feels this agile, this formed to your back. It feels truly modular, while offering the right places for quick access. It’s better than the GR1, and even though it has more MOLLE webbing on it, it doesn’t look any more tactical than the GR1. I take it into an office a lot with the MOLLE in full view and not a single person has said anything about it. Of course my choice of Navy helps, as it’s not a tactical color.

What’s the best backpack? Mystery Ranch ASAP SB. My Review.

Best Backpack for Everything

Confidence level: High.

Same as last year, someone walks up to me and forces me to only pick a single backpack, for everything I would need, and for the rest of my life: Mystery Ranch 3 Day Assault CL is my pick. I have it in Coyote, but for this hypothetical I’d probably grab something green or black.

This is perhaps one of my least used bags, but I have a few reasons this is my pick here:

  1. It’s always comfortable to wear. It’s essentially the same as the ASAP, but a little more comfort under load.
  2. It can do it all: travel, office, hiking.
  3. While the ASAP meets the first two, the 3DAP is the one that has the space to do more. You cannot easily add more highly useable space to your bag, but you can compress a bigger bag down so that it looks smaller. That’s the case here.

That’s why my pick for the horror of having to only have one backpack, is the 3 Day Assault CL.

Best Office Bags

Confidence level: It's one of these, which is for sure best, I cannot decide.

This category was very tough for me this year, as there was two new contenders where I am still relatively torn on how/where they fall.

  1. GORUCK GR1 Heritage: I’m calling GORUCK the winner here with the GR1 in Heritage materials. The versatility and low key classic looks of these really shine. But more than that, I’ve seen a few of these in the building I work in, and that tells me a lot. I personally like Navy, but Field Tan and Olive also look fantastic in person. This bag has amazing pedigree and comfort, and a really nice application of ‘heritage’ materials in the waxed canvas and leather. The key is getting a good patch, and you are off to the races with this one. I am pretty, decently, certain this would be the single best one for me when I head into the office. I absolutely love this bag, it’s a true gem.
  2. Filson Original Briefcase: I was going to place this third, but thinking about it more and it hits second because I do see these briefcases all the time in my office building. And each one I see, looks killer. It’s a stellar bag and does a lot more than you think it should. It’s now become silly expensive, which is a knock against it, but mine from 2017 still looks brand new — so there’s that too. It also holds a surprising amount of stuff for the size — confuses me each time it swallows up my gear that fills a larger backpack.
  3. Mystery Ranch ASAP SB: take the ASAP which I know and love, and add a laptop sleeve and some fun colors. Amazing stuff, this bag is stellar. The only reason I placed it third here is because I have yet to see another person using it for the office, so… That said, this one is the one I would want to wear all day for extended periods, and it is the only one of the three I would use for more rugged outdoors stuff, or even as a dad bag. The others could do it, but the ASAP SB would excel at doing it.

Best Bag for Exploring Cities

Confidence level: Wavering.

I am making the selection along the lines of both exploring cities when traveling, but also generally just being around cities. Another way to think about this is: dad bag.

  1. Filson Medium Field Bag: I picked up one of these in tan this year, and have been liking having this bag back in the rotation. It’s not a perfect bag but it is durable, easy to do a lot of stuff with, and blends well in almost any environment. For that reason, this bag gets the top spot — sad part is the pricing on these is really absurd these days. Still, the best is the best. It can be fiddly to use, but there’s a lot of value in not being backpack guy in cities, and having easy access to your gear while moving. There’s a lot of value to a bag which won’t look out of place at a fancy boutique, a park, or a forest. That’s a sweet spot this bag hits for me, and that it is really good is just the cherry on top.
  2. LBT 14L Daypack v2: good news here is that this bag is very nicely priced. While it is small, it is also light weight and has excellent exterior water bottle pockets. For dads, this is a key feature with kids. What holds it from the top spot is the overly large velcro loop field for patches — I wish that wasn’t there. LBT does sell a version without that, but it has a worse back panel on the bag. This is a quirky bag, but it’s really thin, and thus really easy to maneuver in crowded spaces with, and it offers to very usable external pockets, which further increases the utility.
  3. GORUCK Bullet Ruck 15L: still among the best bags on the market. GORUCK has several variants of this out there now, so lots to choose from, but the reason it is on the list is because it hits the sweet spot on sizing for anyone, as well as a wide range of functionality. That said, the reason I have it pegged at the bottom of the list is because the Heritage and Laptop versions are quite expensive, and the standard version doesn’t come in a slick variant to remove the PALS webbing on the bag. If you like the look, hard to not like this bag. If you can afford the Heritage, then I think you are off to the races. It’s a very good bag, but the others edge it out for visual versatility, or utility. It doesn’t have external water bottle pockets, or good external pockets like the LBT. It’s design makes it difficult to get stuff in and out of while you are actively walking, unlike with the Field Bag. That’s why it is third, certainly not because it is bad in any way.

Best Weekend Warrior/Outdoorsman Bag

Confidence level: Low.

Low confidence on these picks as I didn’t really spend much time in outdoors mode this year, so I feel my testing and gut check on this market is not up to par.

  1. Mystery Ranch 3 Day Assault CL/BVS: either would do here. It’s my pick because it checks every box for an outdoors bag. External water bottom pockets, hip belt, worlds best harness, and hydration bladder support. Easy compression straps too, and a nice top access compartment for quickly getting to items. Really killer bag for all this — it’s my pick whenever I do start hiking more.
  2. Mystery Ranch ASAP/SB: This comes in second for all the same reasons as the 3 Day Assault does for first place, but drops one spot because it lacks external water bottle pockets, a good hip belt, and capacity. But, it’s still second because if the capacity works for you, the rest of my complaints are not likely to matter for you.
  3. GORUCK GR1: stay away from Heritage for this use and you should be good to go. It’s important to note that this bag really was designed for stuff like this, it’s just that people tend to not like how heavy this bag is when empty. I’ve hiked with mine plenty, it’s a non-issue. What holds it down for me is that lack of easy/fast access to small items. That front slash pocket is just not great, the quick access mostly doesn’t exist outside the Heritage line, and thus while a great bag, the other two work better when hiking.

Best Duffel Bags for Travel

Confidence level: Spot On.

I’ve converted. When I travel I don’t do one bag shit, and I don’t do big backpack shit for the most part. I do small backpack/sling/messenger plus a nice duffel. Man, there’s a lot to be said about the duffel travel lifestyle, but that’s not for this blurb. Here’s the best you can buy:

  1. Filson 48hr Duffle Bag: this one is the best, the oil-wax tin cloth, the smart organization — those are all stellar reasons to get it. But more than that, it’s easy to carry. It carries like a messenger, not like a bulky duffle. And yet it holds a lot, you only need to remember to make the most of those two front pockets which are deceivingly large. The price is crazy, as is the theme with Filson this year — but the price is backed up here. It looks really good, and is hugely versatile in a different way than most duffles as it can pull duty as a gear bag, a day bag, or a travel bag.
  2. Filson Small Twill Duffle: I almost put this one first, as it’s a very good bag. But I moved it one slot down for two main reasons: it’s not as easy to carry; and the zipper access is more restrictive since it doesn’t open super wide. That said, if you need something you won’t be carrying much, then this duffle is certainly a more classic duffle. The flap to cover the zipper is a big win here, as it allows you to slightly secure the bag shut without using the zipper for times when you might be going in and out of the bag a ton. It’s also not round, which means it packs a lot more efficiently.
  3. GORUCK Kit Bag 32L: This bag is a bargain for what is, and what is, is nothing short of great. The above two options are better, but they are incrementally better than this, not vastly better. — while being vastly more expensive than this bag. I would fault no one for thinking this is the best duffle on the market — but they would still be wrong. It’s the third best, it is the best value though.

Best Sling

Confidence level: Good Enough.

It doesn’t feel like it to me, but I did end up testing a good amount of slings this year. I found one I really like, but I also moved away from slings near the end of the year — there’s no real explanation I have for that, but I stopped grabbing them for some reason. Anyways

  1. Blank Canvas Accessories Rover Pack: easily the best sling on the market, and a huge value for this bag too. And since you can customize the colors a lot, it’s really impressive. What makes this sling great is that it doesn’t look like anything but a sling. And it does that well with a nicely sized capacity and shape — it always held everything I needed without worry without being so large or bulky that it defeated the purpose of a sling.
  2. Mystery Ranch Indie: I actually have not wrote this up, but this is a really cool sling. It packs down to nothing, and yet is almost a full sized satchel/messenger when you start using it. And yet it is simple and unassuming visually. I am packing this on every trip as a just in case bag, and I really like it. Excellent price too. It doesn’t quite fit for this to work as an EDC bag for me — but it’s tantalizingly close. If I were one bagging and wanted a breakout bag for work, or whatever, this would be a top candidate.
  3. Hill People Gear Belt Pack: this is still a great sling, but it’s opinionated to say the least. I didn’t get a chance to try the new medium sized model, but I have the bag it’s based off of in that size and that’s a great size. What dropped this down the list is that it just doesn’t look that pleasing to me compared to the others — certainly not for how I dress. It is, easily, the highest quality sling I have owned and is really awesome. If I could get it in some ‘fun’ colors which tone down the serious vibes it throws out, then I bet it would take the top spot quickly. As it is, it’s very good, but there are better options for most people.

Best Pouches / Organizers

Confidence level: High.

I feel like I review about 50% of the pouches I end up buying in general, and this year was no different. There were three stand out pouch-things I picked up this year which made this pretty hard to list out for the second and third spots. The top spot, the Best, that is a walk away no-brainer.

  1. Evergoods CAP1: easily the best pouch/organizer on the market. It goes with me everywhere and is part of my office setup. It’s black magic good with how well it works, and how much it holds. Easily the best. The design is very clever, and you are able to pay no penalty with bulky for packing slim, while being able to really stuff it full of shit if you need to. I dig this thing so very much.
  2. Pioneer Global Pouch: this one is about GR1 Field Pocket sized, but much easier to use. The material is neat, and the package always looks pretty tidy and not out of place. The inside isn’t perfect, but it offers enough organization and separation that I constantly find it impossible to replace. It also unzips and stands up on its own if the surface is flat, which I’ve come to find invaluable when I am in a rush. I picked up another recently to replace my GORUCK Wire Dopp I use for travel with this — it’s that good.
  3. Mystery Ranch Zoid Bags: I bought these on a whim because they always looked neat, and are rather cheap. I’ve been using them every day and on every trip, since I picked them up. All of the sizes are useful to me, but the medium is perhaps my favorite. It fits flat across the bottom of so many bags perfectly and holds an impressive amount of gear inside of it. Basically, as the name implies, aptly filling up random voids in your bag. The grab handle is pretty nice as well, so you can get to the pouch really fast if you need to. Nothing special, except for the shape itself — and it’s a great shape. It’s a great pouch.

Best Pocket EDC Organizers

Confidence level: Dubious better exists.

Arc Company Ripcord (and mini) is the only one I use, the only one I have (well I have a variant which is not the Ripcord, but I no longer use it). I’ve looked and tried many others over the years, but none of them have stuck. I like both the full size and the mini. They are fantastic at not adding bulk to the pocket, while also helping to actually reduce the bulk in your pocket. Excellent product and so well made you only need one of each. These are stellar and I hate going a day without using these for my flashlight and knife.

Best Bag Company

Confidence level: Legend.

Last year, it was Tom Bihn — since that time they have been sold and are pseudo run by a Chinese investment firm (they deny this, but the evidence to my eye seems very obvious). Tom and Nik (the founder, and also both designers) are gone. The bags coming out now look (somehow) even worse. It’s sad.

What is not sad is what is going on over at Mystery Ranch. While every other bag company struggled to meet demand, and struggled to come up with truly new things, Mystery Ranch executed on them all well. And on top of that, they released special edition bags through out the year, and collaborations (as much as I hate them) with Carryology. They did all of that, with a product line so diverse that it really blows my mind. Readily available, and very aggressive pricing.

They are easily the current best bag company on the market:

  1. They make the most comfortable backpacks. You can argue others are “just” as comfortable, but it would be a waste of hot air. The adjustable Futura Yoke is tremendously good, easy to use and take on and off, and I have no complaints.
  2. They launched a lot of really interesting new bag lines: Blitz, District, Bridger, and Gunfighter (I gotta get one of the latter) to say the least. They were all new this year, and they dropped nothing else — and by the looks of it, they are all great.
  3. Mystery Ranch took absolute classic bags like the ASAP and didn’t fuck them up when they gave them a modern twist with things like a laptop sleeve. Other companies need to take note about how you can do great things in small ways.
  4. I never felt like I couldn’t get a Mystery Ranch bag I wanted.
  5. The designs are getting better on a whole with all the newer bags.
  6. They’ve ignored hype materials on the bags they make, they understand the 500D is all you need, so why waste time with other shit. And when costs need to come down, they’ve sourced another material which is nicely recycled and very similar to 500D. No hype bullshit gear.

And, anecdotally, their bags hold solid value over the long term. Filson seems king in retaining bag value, but Mystery Ranch (at a lot larger production variety) is not very far off for their Made in USA bags retaining value. Impressive all around, easily the best bag company. Easily.


Knives

Man, Magnacut, am I right? Good year for good knives.

Best Knife

Confidence level: Fight me.

If you can only have one for everything, you make it the Chris Reeve Small Sebenza — hands down the best all around knife you could own. I like the newer iterations, and I might try to snag a Magnacut version these days if you can find one and are looking to buy your first. They should be coming out more and more. Chris Reeve, as a company isn’t without its issues, but the Small Sebenza is such a stellar knife that it is hard not to crown it year after year.

This is simply one of those knives where you can drop it in your pocket and not worry about whether your knife will be up to the task — it always will be. Doesn’t matter what your application will be. There will certainly be better knives for specific tasks, but as a general ‘whatever life throws your way’ knife — it’s only the Small Sebenza which can handle it all with ease.

It’s the fucking best.

Best Pocket Knife

Confidence level: High.

This category is talking less about “any application no matter what” — we are instead talking more traditional pocket knife / everyday carry usage. This differs slightly as it’s not meant for ‘hiking’ — you know you are doing that, so go get a different knife for that. It’s meant for your normal life, and that’s a different twist than if you can only have one knife.

Ok, on with it then:

  1. Tactile Knife Co. Bexar: This knife took me by surprise this year, it is outstanding. Easily the best pocket knife out there, which means it unseats the Small Sebenza. I briefly flirted with the Bexar as the best knife overall, but backed off of the idea since it’s certainly less versatile than the Small Sebenza. That said, everything about this knife is stellar, and it comes with Magnacut. It is readily available at an impressive price. There’s essentially nothing to not love about this knife. It’s also really small to carry and nearly disappears in your pocket, while unfolding into a knife which is comfortable and easy to handle.
  2. Chris Reeve Small Sebenza: placing this in second is a prime example of what I was talking about with this knife when I listed it as the single best knife. Because it is surely not the best pocket knife, but it’s really fucking close and I could see it being the best for a large subset of people as some people won’t accept something without a locking blade — I get it, but the Bexar really is that good. The Sebenza though, it’s a classic and all time great for a reason, and time after time it shows that again. I still use my beat up S35VN all the time, and my Damascus variant just as often — I can’t tell a practice use difference between them. I am dying to get a Magnacut variant to see about that — for science of course.
  3. Hogue Deka Magnacut: People have mixed feelings about this knife becuase it has polymer scales, even with the Magnacut blade. I do not have mixed feelings about this knife, because it is really great. This is less about the fact it made it in the top three for me, and more about what it unseated to get here. And what it unseated was the Mini Bugout — which is still a great knife, but the Hogue beats it out on every category. Here’s hoping more aftermarket scales start coming out. It beat out a ton of other knives to be here too, the standard Deka, the Mini Freek, the Mini Adamas — just to name a few. It is easily better for them, and I knew this the instant I started using it. Pricing here is stellar too — this is a sleeper hit and I expect over the next year people are going to come to their senses on it.

Best Slipjoint Knife

Confidence level: Oh yeah.

I pulled this out into a separate category this year, because I do think there’s a clear market for knives which don’t lock. Either for personal or legal reasons. I tested a bunch this year, I had an itch, here’s where this all lands.

  1. Tactile Knife Co. Bexar: it’s the best pocket knife, but it’s also a slipjoint. So it’s the best here too. What I said before applies, but I should note that it was/is the easiest slipjoint to use and carry that I tested. Which is saying a lot too. This is the knife that taught me I would be ok day to day if laws changed and I was required to no longer carry a locking blade. I don’t want that, but at least we have the Bexar if they do.
  2. Victorinox / Swiss Army Tinker: I bet people want to argue this one with me, but it’s the best Swiss Army knife you can buy, and it’s also a really stellar Slipjoint to carry. It has quirks, and I don’t love the blade steel, but in the spirit of what this category is meant to be, this is an easy number two for me on this list.
  3. Giant Mouse Ace Farley Slipjoint: I was very impressed with this knife. It feels more like a locking knife made into a slipjoint than the others on this list, so this is third. Not because it is bad, but because this is the knife you pick if your only reason for a slipjoint is legal concerns. You want something that is like a locking blade, but passes the laws you need it to pass, this is a great knife. That’s not to take away anything from this knife, but rather a nod to the fact that it is less slipjointy feeling than the others. It does still require two hands to open, and I know that’s a sticking point for people — but it fits with a slipjoint as they are made to feel less aggressive than flicking a knife open. But it has a pocket clip, and a nicely shaped handle which is very comfortable in your hand. I would rank it higher, but M390 is not the steel I like seeing these days, especially not at this price point.

Best Fixed Blade Knife

Confidence level: Middling.

I love fixed blade knives, I just don’t get to use them as much as I would like to. That said, I’ve been trying out new ones here and there, so why not.

  1. Winkler SD1/SD2: I have the SD2, and the only difference to the SD1 is the shape of the blade. I love this knife. It’s pretty understated in your hand, but man does it pack a punch. More than that, it does that fixed blade knife thing where it gives you a ton of confidence that it won’t break. I love that. The fit and finish is fantastic, and the steel is interesting — I am not sure I love it, or like it, but somewhere in there. The handle and sheath are also excellent, which I feel like is a rare thing with a fixed blade these days.
  2. Benchmade Anonimus: I was set to buy a larger Winkler when this came out in CPM CruWear (a favorite steel of mine) and I am glad I picked this up. This is a beast of a knife, the sheath sucks, but if I were picking a survival knife, this would be the survival knife I pick. I dig this thing, it’s a tank. The entire knife feels like it is invincible, and while the large finger guard is an odd visual choice, in practice it’s very nice to have. It would be top, but I feel like the scales could be nicer, and thus improve how it feels in your hands.
  3. Bradford Knives Guardian 3.5: I am torn on whether to recommend you go for Magnacut or CruWear on this one — I don’t think you can go wrong with either. If you are looking for something more EDC/Used often, then you go Magnacut, for more outdoors CruWear. The 3.5 is a fantastic size of a knife, and is much more versatile than the 3, while not being over bearing like the 4/4.5. I love this little knife from these guys and it offers the best middle ground between the two knives above. Fantastic knife. I am holding it down because it does fill a middle ground which some will find not as useful as either of the above, and there are some small things about — like how heavy and thick the handle is — which make it odd to carry for a small knife.

Best Outdoors Knives

Confidence level: Good, not great.

For a lot of people ‘Outdoor’ knife also means ‘Fixed Blade’, but I don’t think it should. Modern folders can be all you need, as long as you pick the correct ones. This list is the best knives which I would take for the outdoors, assuming my only task is for that type of stuff — this is the order I would pick from to take them:

  1. Benchmade Mini Adamas: this thing is a beast. It uses a really large and stout handle that feels great and comfortable in hand, but is also large enough to feel great with gloves on. The blade seems indestructible because of how thick it is, and the CPM CruWear steel choice is beyond amazing. I love this thing, and it’s easily the best outdoors knife in my book. I could see the argument for stepping up to the full sized variant, but this ‘mini’ one still offers a very large blade on it, so it’s my pick.
  2. Hogue Deka Magnacut: I’d also put this knife on the list, as it packs a better punch than the popular Benchmade Bugout for outdoors use. It offers better steel too, while not having a huge weight penalty like the Mini Adamas has. It’s an all around stellar knife, but really performs well for lighter weight carry as an outdoors knife. This would be my pick for day hikes, when I am carrying a knife as a just in case. Whereas the Mini Adamas is more like “I know I’ll need a knife” or if I was going overnight, longer miles.
  3. Winkler SD1/SD2: Some people are simply not going into the outdoors without a fixed blade, and I get that. Right there with you. This is my choice for that use: it’s very lightweight and nimble in the hand. It won’t do the huge chopping tasks well, but it will do the finer tasks well enough that you don’t need a folder if you have this. Really great knife, underrated in my book. I’m a two knife kind of guy in the woods, so this and one of the two above is how I mostly likely am to roll into the woods.

Lights

If the 519a had not come out with a force this year, I fear it would have been a boring year…

Best Flashlight

I spent like this entire year frustrated with HDS Systems. First they could not ship their damned lights to save their lives. Then they started shipping them, teased some new emitter options, but stuck with all those being LH351D or 219b options — and those are good options — but why the fuck is there no 519a option yet?Talk about leaving money on the table, amazing.

Anyways, even with all that, the HDS Rotary is the best flashlight you can buy, and the margin is so wide that it’s not even funny. It’s damned near unbreakable, yet it has simple and intuitive controls. The beam shape and output is all you need. And the runtimes are long. There is no detectable parasitic drain either, so store it with a battery in it so it will be ready. Anyone claiming that this is not the best flashlight on the market, is just trying to be different for the sake of page views. This is the best.

Hat tip to the fact that there are some people out there selling 18350 and 18500 tubes for these (there was a small run made). Those should be standard with 519a emitters, but even without that — this is the best.

I sound like a broken record on this one, but all roads will lead you back to this, if what you want is the best flashlight, not the best fidget toy that happens to output light.

Side note: goodness, that inflation price increase hurts on this one. Buying second hand is decently reasonable, though.

Best Flashlights for General Purpose

Confidence level: I got this.

What is this category? This is the category where you need a light that is pretty good at most things, and fairly easy and durable. I don’t know, this is a tough category for me to encapsulate well in words.

  1. HDS Rotary: yes, of course. That’s the whole point of this light — that it is the best for almost everything. It’s absolutely fantastic, and I love it. The price is silly though, but when you make the best light you can charge whatever you want I guess.
  2. JetBeam RRT01 Raptor (Modified): I strongly recommend that if you get this light, you get one that has been modified to swap out the emitter. A 519a at 4500k is superb in this light. It is not as easy to operate one handed as the HDS, but it does come with the benefit of being willing to run off of a large variety of batteries: CR123, 14500, 18350, 18500, 18650. Pretty impressive. Great little light, and way cheaper (even when modded) than the HDS. It’s still not the best, but it’s close.
  3. Rovyvon E5 Angel Eyes: This one will feel like it’s coming out of left field, but that just goes to show how absolutely stellar this light is. It’s really neat, offers a lot of options and charges with USB-C while being really inexpensive. And the light output(s) are fantastic and highly useable. All around, great light. Completely different than the top two, but when you are using it, the utility is right up there with the above.

Best Headlamps

Confidence level: Mediocre.
  1. Nitecore NU25: I still love this headlamp, because for 95% of what I need a headlamp for, this one works absolutely perfectly. And even more it is insanely lightweight, with three different lighting modes (white, red, and high CRI white). It’s a tremendous light and the best headlamp I’ve ever used. It’s very compact, so mine tends to find its way with me no matter where I head — if I think I might need to do something with both hands, in low light, this is the headlamp I reach for.
  2. Black Diamond Storm: they have many different variants like ‘400’ which is what I have. All you need to know is that the numbers translate to the lumen output on them. So don’t worry too much about that, get the best value. This thing is a beast of a headlamp, and if I were going hiking in adverse weather, this would be the light I take (IPX67 rated). It’s in my get home bag in my car for this reason. It has red light too, but great water resistance and overall is a great package and still not that large. Not only is the white light great on this, it has red, green, and blue outputs as well. There’s certainly scenarios where each is a little more beneficial over the others…anyways heck of a headlamp if you need full on beast mode headlamp.
  3. Black Diamond Spot Lite: Like the storm, these are notated with numbers that are associated to the lumen outputs. What I love about this light is how small it is, while still having a red light output with a dedicated switch and being IPX8 rated. But even more than that, it’s tiny and takes standard AAA batteries — it’s also often on sale for about $15. Which is amazing, I have like three or four of these. They are excellent, and what I hand out to anyone if they want to borrow something. This is also very comfortable to wear and get articulated how you need it.

Best Emergency Lights

Confidence level: Solid.

This grouping is the lights I would want to rely on when things go really wrong, I didn’t have time to prepare, and I just need some light.

  1. HDS Executive (aka Clicky): I am placing this in the best spot. The drain on the battery when not in use is effectively zero, and it is EMP rated (so they say). It is also nearly indestructible feeling, and hugely versatile. You can set up the modes with exactly the output you want, so it never surprises you. Toss a battery in it, and grab it when you need it, good to go. I use mine all the time, typically carrying it when the weather looks precarious. The advantage this has over the Rotary is that there are no moving parts to worry about, and they don’t need a custom mod to fit a pocket clip on it — thus giving me higher confidence in adverse conditions.
  2. FourSevens MXS Standby: this light is made to be a standby light for emergencies, and it shows. Durable, and always ready. But in a different way, as it relies on you leaving it on the inductive charging base. You do that, and it’s good to go for a very long time. It’s not best on this list simply because the size precludes it from a lot of usage you would get from the HDS — you are not stuffing it in your jeans pocket. That said, put it on a shelf and plug it in, you’ll always know you have light when you need it.
  3. Sofirn LT1: I love this lantern, and it’s proven itself in power outages for me. It’s a lantern, so for me that holds it out of the top spot as it’s heavy and not as versatile. Still, I would not want to go through an emergency without this thing. Love it. USB-C charging, and battery bank functionality, dimming, and color temp shifting. I’ve used this so many times, I can’t keep track. It is one light that I make sure I keep charged and ready to go.

Best Small Pocket Lights

Confidence level: High.

I am defining this category really as AAA style lights — things which feel impossibly small. I love these lights.

  1. FourSevens Preon P1: this is by far the best of the small pocket lights on the market. It has a great tail switch, and great interface, and an amazing pocket clip. The emitter is solid, and the output is really all you need. There’s been many days where this is the light I chose to carry even knowing it would be used a ton. It’s a stellar light, stellar price, and really leaves little for wanting. I love this light.
  2. Rovyvon E5 Angel Eyes GITD: this is a deceiving little light. It’s actually tiny, packs two power sources (internal battery, and AAA) charges with USB-C, with three emitter modes. It packs a huge punch for such a tiny package, and is really easy to carry. About the size of a small box of matches, or a Zippo. Love it, but it’s held off from the top spot as it is a little more finicky to carry/use than the Preon, and the clip is not great to carry on your pocket.
  3. Prometheus Beta QRV2: Some people just want as small as they can get, and that’s this light. It is tiny. It needs to come packaged with the pocket clip, because that makes it instantly 50% better. So assuming you have that, it’s a great light which feels like nothing to carry. It’s not the best though because of the twisty interface for controlling the light, and the naturally finicky nature of using those one handed.

Best Outdoor / Hiking Lights

Confidence level: Mid.

These are the lights I think are best when you spend your days outdoors. In the dirty, sand, rain, whatever.

  1. HDS Executive (Clicky) could also be Rotary: for the same reasons this is a great emergency light, this is a great light for the outdoors. What makes it better than the Rotary? The fact that it doesn’t have any moving parts and is easy to clean even in dirty environments. HDS says this is nonsense, and the Rotary won’t fail — and I’ve buried my Rotary in sand for a photo and sunk it into the hot tub without issue. They are probably right, but still, I think the Clicky is better for this use overall, but marginally so. If you have a Rotary already, the Clicky is like 1.5% better for this use. But better is better, and thus I’ll leave the Rotary off the rest of this list, as it could also be right here.
  2. Emisar D1: I love the size of this as a ratio to the punch it packs. It’s not perfect for the outdoors, but if you are willing to accept a little risk on the durability side, then this light will really perform. It works well to see off to a distance, as it does to walk around with the beam profile if you stay away from the OSRAM emitter options. All in all, a fantastic package for this type of use, and especially so if you are hiking.
  3. FourSevens MX3F Flood: This light is last because of the sheer size of it — it’s not a small light. But it’s also not unwieldy. It’s supremely good though and I love the 144a emitters from Nichia in it. It’s not going to reach out and show you stuff in the distance, but it will be much better around camp, or if you are working late into the night outdoors. It’s a fantastic light for that, durable, with insane run times. The swappable optics make it something you can finesse a little in the direction you need it to work also — I am a big fan.

Honorable Mention: “Amazing Convoy S2+”, you cannot buy this light from anywhere but someone in the Discord, which is the only reason it is not the best on this list. You have to even convince him to make it for you. If you do that, you end up with a modern variant of the SureFire E1B-Backup, only vastly better in every way.


Watches

Oh, it was a big watch year. This section is tough for me this year, because I need to remove a little bias I have against Rolex for being terrible at getting watches to people who want them — like TicketMaster levels of bad. So I am ignoring that a bit when I go over this.

Best Watch

Confidence level: High.

I’ve been saying this for a while now, but the best single watch you can own is a Rolex Datejust. I personally advocate for the 36mm model for most men, as it is a timeless size and always looks good — though I’ll admit that the 41mm model looks very nice as well and sits well on most wrists. As for dial color, keep it simple with a Black, Blue, or Silver — perhaps two tone if that is your style. Either way, this is a watch you can wear with anything, and wear when doing anything, and still pass it down when the time comes. Pepe regularly still buy models from 40+ years ago to wear.

It’s a fantastic watch, a little easier to get than most Rolex models, and an amazing setup overall. It costs a pretty penny, but the good news is that it is timeless, so you can snag an older model in excellent shape and still have the best watch out there. No other watch is even close.

The thing about a Datejust is that it’s unassuming, so most people don’t salivate over one. And after you buy and see enough watches, what you realize is that the Datejust is the watch you actually wanted all along, distilled down into a perfect offering. There’s no one thing about it which makes it better than all others, but it’s all the things together which make it a phenomenal watch to own. Even the quirky model I have, I love it.

Best Affordable Watches

Confidence level: Above Average.

Here we are talking about watches which are under $600 — last year we would be talking about under $500 but that inflation is hitting hard and $600 is the new $500 for watch break points. Never fear though, you can get a lot of watch for this price.

  1. Casio GSHOCK GAB2100: this is the least expensive watch on this list, but it’s by far the best of all of them. This, I assume, will be highly controversial. I mean we have a Rolex as the single best watch overall, but when we drop to affordable we go with GSHOCK? Yes we fucking do. Why? Because this watch is still in my collection and still worn regularly, even with a wider selection of more expensive watches in the collection. That’s my testament to why this watch is great. It’s a great design, very comfortable, durable, and with the solar and bluetooth — it’s unlikely to be something you ever need to worry about. That’s the offering for under $150 or so. What an insane value. This watch is stellar.
  2. Seiko Prospex 1959 Alpinist Re-Interpretation SBDC149: It was actually hard to not put this watch in the top spot here, but because this category is broken out due to price, it’s hard to ignore that this watch is at the top of the range and not objectively better than the GSHOCK. That said, this watch is an absolutely amazing watch and really is flying under the radar among enthusiasts. Which means you’ll have something you don’t see that often. You’ll also have something which can be worn with a suit, or worn with your zip-off hiking pants on a trail — it won’t look out of place. It’s a killer watch, and if it was sub-$500 I think it would be top place here. Given the price disparity it’s hard to call it the best in the affordable category. But make no mistake, if you don’t want a GSHOCK — this is the watch to get.
  3. Seiko SRPE61: this would have been second place if I hadn’t found that Alpinist above — it’s that good. It is a stellar price (at or under $225) and yet it pulls off a Datejust vibe meets diver in a really classic way. It looks amazing with about anything you want to set it up for. The reason it doesn’t move up to second is the water resistance and 4 o’clock crown position knock it down a little for me. It needs to be 200m rated (or at least a screw down crown), with a classic 3 o’clock crown and then we will be off to the races with that — shit that might be top spot. For now, it’s a darn good watch, and I was really happy with it.

Best Watches, No Budget

Confidence level: Evolving.

This differs from my ‘best watch’ because my assumption with that category is that it is a focus on ‘if you can have only one’. Instead, this category assumes there are not any budgetary constraints in place, which also means that there is a possibility to have more than one watch overall, if not all but certainty. It’s also a lower confidence category, because while I have had the pleasure of handling a lot of high end watches — there’s far too many out there for me to know anything more definitive than what I have spent time handling. So this is basically: from what I have handled, used, worn, etc — these are the best ones without money being a concern.

  1. Grand Seiko SBGE285 Mist Flake: this watch is easily the best watch I own, when I am putting it in the context of allowing me to have another. The reason being: it will trend more casual and thus may not work well for all situations (if you pair this with the SBGM221G I also have, then you are set on a two watch setup). This watch is more durable than the Datejust, as water resistant, true GMT, insanely accurate spring drive (+/- 1 spd), and in a titanium case which makes it feel featherweight on your wrist. I absolutely love wearing this watch, and it’s a real gem that hits all the right spots for a Grand Seiko, while also hitting it out of the park as a daily watch. When I look at my watch collection, and think about all the watches I have handled/worn, this is the one I like best. That’s why it is my top pick.
  2. Rolex Datejust: It’s hard for this to be second on this list, but that’s a testament to how good that Mist Flake is, not anything about the Datejust. Go ahead and scroll back up and read my thoughts on this, it’s fucking amazing. Since you’re here my setup options if I were buying new would be: 36mm, steel case, black dial (or blue if have a black dial watch), baton indices, fluted bezel, oyster bracelet (or Jubilee if you spend more time in offices).
  3. Tudor Black Bay GMT: I’ve had this watch for quite a while now, and while a lot of other watches live day-to-day with it, it’s still my second most worn watch. I personally like it better than the Rolex Pepsi, as the tones of the bezel are much more subtle and not so loud on the Tudor. It’s a chunky beast of a watch, which is what holds it down, but otherwise it is a real gem and I think it’s one of the best (if not the best) offerings from Tudor. When I travel, I take this and my Mist Flake and alternate between them — it’s third for no other reason than the other two being a little more svelte and thus easier to wear most days. That said, when the weather, or task at hand, looks dicey, this is the watch I am wearing. (Note: some will say this should be the Black Bay Pro, and perhaps it should be. But that’s a little louder of a watch, without being that much smaller and this I think the GMT trends better for office/dressed up than the BB Pro does. And yes, I’ve worn a BB Pro and tried it.)

A Note: I had wanted to get a Grand Seiko SBGX261 which uses their High Accuracy Quartz movement in a 37mm case all for the amazing MSRP of $2,200. The reason this is being noted here, is because I have a suspicion that this might be a contender for a battle with the Datejust. It’s incredibly clean looking, an even better case size than the Datejust 36, and the movement and design is really lovely. It’s something I am considering picking up next, and so I wanted to toss it out as an option for everyone reading this. I suspect it would make it on the list if I had handled one. I’ve yet to see one in person.


Oddballs

These don’t fit in categories by themselves, but I wanted to point them all out…

Best EDC Pens

I went through a lot of pens this year, but not ones that you would toss on your desk and use from time to time. No, the pens I looked at were all the type you carry with you in your pocket. To that end, here are the best ones I’ve found…

  1. Prometheus Alpha Executive Pen: This is by far the best pen for this use. It is incredibly durable, takes the excellent Montblanc rollerball refills, comes in a variety of materials, and has an outstanding pocket clip. If I am headed to my office, I am absolutely carrying one of these in my pocket. It’s the only pen I carry in my pocket these days, as I have decided to only carry the best here. I love writing with it, and the screw on cap gives me high confidence I won’t accidentally ink my pants. It’s outstanding. The Electroless Nickel is stellar and weighs next to nothing, while the brass model I have is really lovely and a gem to write with — if a bit heavy to carry. Huge fan.
  2. Montblanc Meisterstruck Rollerball: You could argue that this is not a durable pen, but you are likely very wrong. I have one that I purchased sometime in the late 90s, I am going to guess around 1998/1999 and it was used in high school, college, and at work since then. It’s got wear on it, but it’s still going without issue. And if I could only have one pen, it would be this one. But the clip is not as good, nor the cap as secure, for dropping it into your pocket for carrying. That said, you’ll often see me using this in the office while the Alpha is securely in my pocket as a backup.
  3. Karas INK V2: this pen surprised me. It’s extremely good, and the pricing is excellent on it. It feels great in hand too, while the clip is beefy and the cap is secure. I made a poor choice by getting the distressed finish instead of an anodized one, as the finish I have will leave black marks on my hands — I know an anodized would not do this, so I don’t penalize for my bad decision making. The real penalty holding this one down is that it is very bulky to carry in my pocket. I now take this as my travel pen, because I know it will be ready and won’t cause me issues. Good pen.

Best Keyboard

Keyboards are stagnating if you ask me…

  1. Morgrie RK68B: no change from last year, this keyboard is stellar. It looks amazing, has great switches, incredibly long battery life, and supports my iPad Pro perfectly. I love this keyboard and have no complaints about it.
  2. Keychron K6: since the Morgrie is nearly impossible to get, the K6 would be my backup pick. It’s a really nicely done keyboard, with equally great battery life and a lot of keyboard switch options. It’s a nice package, if lacking on the design and aesthetics of the setup overall.
  3. Nuphy Air60: I got rid of mine pretty quickly, but that’s only because I didn’t like the key switches offered. That said, if you like the key switches, this is an absolutely outstanding offering. I am holding it down to third because of the lack of key switch options, but I think if they tossed my favorite clears in there, it might overtake the top spot — it’s that good. The design is top notch, and it’s a really nice and compact package — super good stuff and really clever.

Best Apps

Save a few companies, I am pretty disappointed on the poor quality of most current third party mobile applications. They are full of hyperbole, gamification, and blatant money grabs. There’s little innovation and excellent executions.

  1. Carrot Weather: I don’t know what to tell you all, but this fucking app is the best app I have ever seen. I hold every other app to the standard of this app. From the design, the information density, the ability to convey a lot of information quickly — that’s all outstanding. But then you add to it huge amounts of configuration, in a really easy to use UI for configuring it all — it’s staggering how good this is. As someone who makes a lot of apps, it is astounding to me how they have pulled this off and I am continually impressed. Get onboard, this app is worth it.
  2. Apple Maps: I know this app gets a bad rep, but man is it good. It continues to pull away from Google Maps, and while it maybe has an address/navigation miss once a or twice a year for me, everything else is so good. The integrations with Yelp, the searching, the design — it’s very well done. And even the navigation UI, stellar when compared to Google Maps. And yes, I have and do use them both, but Google Maps looks like a throwback to 2009 compared to Apple Maps.
  3. Apple News: I’ll double down on controversial picks here, because Apple News is walking away with this segment. The magazines are whatever, but the Today view and the special coverages are outstanding. Apple News is essentially my primary news source these days, and I think it does an amazing job filling that role. I love that if you mute a publication, it will still show you a spot where it would have shown that in popular feeds if you want to see it one-off, but doesn’t show you the details beforehand so you don’t get sucked in. I think that is a really clever way of handling the problem without creating a bubble situation. I check this a few times a day now, and really applaud the work that has gone into making the experience as great as it is.

Hats off to: Ulysses remains a mainstay for me and is so stable and simple that it keeps nailing it. I held it out of the top here only because those three made bigger leaps this year than Ulysses. But it is incredibly stable and well done.

Best Things to Make you Feel Like a Kid Again

  1. Lume Glow Watch Strap: CNS Watch Bands sells a variety of luminous watch bands, where the material is glow in the dark. They are really fun watch bands to have, and truly made me giggle.
  2. MaraSpec Glow Tape: this stuff is all over my gear and my house. The glow on it is outstanding, and it’s just fun. It also adheres well to most things. You need a roll or three.
  3. Vortex Solo Monocular 8×25: I first bought the larger 10x model, but found that it was bulky and heavy to carry — while very good to use. So I picked up the 8×25 and it is outstanding. It’s very small, and very easy to carry, while being great and fun to use. It’s the perfect balance, and really brings back all those kid feelings for me.

Worst Tested in 2022

A couple people have written to ask me, or mostly accuse me, of shilling a lot and not writing overly negative stuff. I like to think that I have just gotten really good at not picking out stuff I would hate, but also I know that a lot of times I can’t stand to keep testing stuff which turns out to be bad, so I ditch it fast and don’t review it — simply because I don’t want to suffer through continuing to use that thing.

Anyways, a favorite thing of mine to write is about the worst thing I tested during the past year. It wasn’t even close.

Carryology x GORUCK GR2 34L Kaidan v2 is an astoundingly shit bag. I received the morale patch velcro crooked. The aquagaurd zipper on the laptop sleeve dug into my shoulder blade when wearing the bag. The straps made out of that shitty Xpac Carryology loves, led to a rumpled underside of the strap, which makes (what are traditionally the best straps in the world) those straps something I didn’t want to wear as it felt like a lumpy annoyance. It’s a crap collaboration to wear, but it’s quite good looking. I actually did something I rarely do, I returned the bag instead of testing through and selling it later (likely for a slight profit too). It’s that bad, it’s by far the worst thing I tested in 2022. Congrats, Carryology, Taylor, and GORUCK — that bag is shit.