Tax Rebate Gear: Build a Better Backpacker

This year, spend that extra dough on at-home workout gear that will make it easier to get out and log miles. Basically, you're investing in you.

In this article:

GoFit Contour Kettlebell

Timex Ironman Global Trainer Bodylink System

Perfect Fitness Perfect Situp

H2O Audio Surge Contact 2G Waterproof Headset

So iLL Holds Iron Palm

GoFit Contour Kettlebell

A kettlebell that doesn’t smash your forearms

I’ve been using kettlebells as part of my workouts for around 10 years, and have found them to be one of the best pieces of equipment I own for improving in almost every sport. Essentially a cannonball with a handle, kettlebells are a simple and effective way to work every single large muscle group, and it is a lot more dynamic and aerobic than standard weightlifting, which make them perfect for getting into backpacking shape. Nearly every exercise will work your back, abs, and legs, the crucial components to being able to carry a backpack up and down uneven terrain. One of my favorite moves involves a “clean” (where you squat and pull the weight from the floor up to your shoulders) and then smoothly transition to a “push press” (where you press the weight over your head to full extension). It’s a tough, energetic move that really targets your legs, upper back, core, and shoulders.

In short, all the muscles you really want to be strong for backpacking. The trouble is that when switching from the clean to the push press it’s easy to slam the bell against the back of your forearm. It becomes even more pronounced as you get tired and have less control over the weight. GoFit partnered with Bob Harper (of TV’s The Biggest Loser) and has come out with a kettlebell that is contoured to avoid the painful forearm crunch. While you still want to take care to avoid knocking the weight into your forearm, the pronounced curve in the kettlebell really did a good job of spreading out the impact and made swinging the 20 pound weight a lot more comfortable so I was able to clean and press to my heart’s content. The lower part of the weight is coated with a thick vinyl rubber, which is easier on floors than bare iron, and is also color-coded to distinguish among different weights.

Some kettlebells extend the vinyl coating all the way up the handle, which can interferes with many moves, but the Contour is smooth enough for perfect swinging without being slippery. Adding a kettlebell to your workout routine will quickly give you the strong legs and back that will help you power up the mountain this summer. But be warned: start light. Using a kettlebell is a fantastic workout, but you’ll probably want a lighter weight than you initially think.

The Specs:


7-35 lbs.

Timex Ironman Global Trainer Bodylink System

A GPS and heartrate monitor built into a (large) watch

It is easy to understand that what you get out of a workout really depends on what you put into it. If you want to be fast, you’ve got to train fast. But an equally important and less intuitive aspect of training is the rest period. If you never give your body a chance to recuperate you end up training tired, which can lead to injury, demotivation, and subpar performance.

Training with a heart rate monitor keeps you honest on the hard days by not letting you slack off, and also lets you monitor your exertion to be sure you take adequate rest on the easy days. Timex combined a GPS receiver with a heart rate monitor to create the Global Trainer Bodylink System, and it is easily one of my favorite pieces of training gear. I have it mounted on my child-jogger and love to be able to see all my performance specs at a glance. Whether you run, swim, bike, or hike for fitness, this all-in-one training tool will give you more hard data on your performance than you thought possible.

See our complete photo slideshow review.

The Specs:


3 oz without heart rate monitor, 4.1 oz with monitor

Size: 2" 5/16 Wide (button to button) by 2" 7/16 height (across face) by 3/4 thick

Perfect Fitness Perfect Situp

An abdominal workout gizmo that works?

Let me make one thing clear: you’re not going to look like a model by doing situps or crunches alone. If you want to look like the people you see on TV advertising workout equipment you’re going to need an insane diet, colossal amounts of determination, tons of time, and a professional lighting and camera crew. I don’t have any of those things, but I do need a strong core for carrying a heavy backpack up and down mountains.

The Perfect Situp claims to use body positioning and resistance to give you a better abdominal workout than a regular crunch, so I gave it a shot. The device has a thickly padded back mat, head and neck support with handles, and foot stirrups attached with flexible steel blades. The mat and neck support are comfortable, and with your head, hands, and feel locked down, it definitely forces you into correct position. And instead of merely raising your torso off the ground, you combine that motion with raising your legs to work your lower abs.


Perfect Fitness claims that the motion is 180% more effective for your lower abs than a standard crunch. There’s a “clicker” which makes a sound when you’ve completed the full range of motion, and it’s nice to know you’re going up far enough but not too far. The included leg blades provide 10 pounds of resistance, and you can purchase additional resistance up for 30 pounds per leg.

As a military veteran I’m no stranger to situps, and I was a little skeptical of the Perfect Situp. But after trying it out for the first time I was amazed at how quickly my abs started to burn. Normally I can do a good 50 situps before it starts to hurt, but when I was strapped into the device after 20 reps I started to feel the familiar burn and after 40 my abs were on fire. The machine was particularly effective on the bicycle crunches which work the obliques; I must have been doing them wrong for years.

After using the Perfect Situp for a month I still don’t look like the model you see on TV, but I have been able to increase the number of reps I can crank out before my abs ignite. You likely know that a strong core will help your balance on the trail, especially when you’re loaded with a heavy pack, and is important to your overall health. I liked incorporating a new device into my workout, and was surprised at how sore I was the first few times I did some hard oblique workouts. However, using the device feels a little gimmicky, and I’m not sure that the “180% better" claim is really true.

I think that calling this device the Perfect Situp is maybe a bit of a stretch, but it is certainly a Pretty Good Situp. As with any piece of workout gear, the true secret to its usefulness is how much you use it. If you’re looking to get that beach body you saw in a magazine, keep dreaming, but if you’re looking to spice up your workout routine and get a decent ab workout, then the Perfect Situp might be for you.

The Specs:


7 lbs. 10 oz.

H2O Audio Surge Contact 2G Waterproof Headset

Listen to music and stay connected no matter the weather

Listening to music while you workout is a great way to get motivated. When I’m hiking I like to listen to the outdoors, but when I’m out running long miles on the trail or treadmill time seems to go by faster with a good song. But when you workout, you sweat. And after a few weeks, your headphones are pretty nasty with no way to clean them. But with waterproof headphones you can sweat all you want and then simply rinse them off.

The Surge Contact 2G is not only waterproof to 12 feet and a great-sounding pair of headphones, but also includes an inline microphone so you can make phone calls and stay in touch while working out. I used the headphones over three weeks for treadmill workouts and trail runs on my lunch break, and came away especially impressed with the sound quality from the earbud headphones. I played a variety of music through them: Ice Cube was full-bodied and Justin Bieber’s voice was crisp and clear.

The headphones come with five different sized elastomer plugs that are easily changed to best fit your ear. They seal out sound so well that when the volume is off it is quite difficult to hear anything at all. In fact, when running outside I found it best to only put the headphone into one ear or else I completely lost all peripheral auditory sense.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a swimming pool open in my area so I couldn’t test them out swimming laps, but anyone who has spent hours staring at that black stripe in the pool can certainly imagine what a boost it would be to pair the headphones with a waterproof case and be able to listen to music during a workout. I did, however, try out the setup in the bathtub, and while it was a little disconcerting at first to go underwater wearing headphones, they have such a great seal I didn’t notice any sound difference on dry ground or under the water. If you like to listen to music or be able make calls while you run, swim, kayak, raft, or hike, try out this headset from H2O Audio and don’t worry about a little water.

The Specs:


1 oz.

So iLL Holds Iron Palm

Get hands that can crush coal into diamonds

Even though we all know that when rock climbing we should climb with our legs and only use our hands for balance, the truth is that a big key to being a good climber is to have Superman grip. When was the last time you heard someone say, “I couldn’t make it up that last pitch, my legs were too tired!” Never. To improve your climbing skills there’s no substitute for actual climbing, but unless you can go to the gym or crag every day, the best way to get better is through using a training board. The Iron Palm from So iLL Holds has four edges of varying depth to challenge you, from the 1/4 inch edge (which barely fits a single finger joint), all the way up to the 2 inch bucket up top. On the sides there are two pinches, and then large ball-shaped slopers to really test your focus and strength.

I can only make it to the climbing gym a few times per month, and it seemed like I had hit a plateau. After a few bouldering problems and routes up the 40-foot wall, my forearms would be exhausted. After having the Iron Palm mounted in my garage for a month I’m not exactly Spiderman on the wall just yet, but I went from struggling to top out at 5.8 to seeing the top of a 5.9. I won’t win any competitions, but I’m happy to see the improvement.

I would generally try to workout for 10 minutes every other day, normally when I got back from a run or bike ride. By combining pull-ups on the larger holds with timed hanging on the smaller edges and slopers, I have noticed a marked increase in my strength. My fingers are getting much more powerful, and best of all my grip endurance has gone way up. The number of routes I can complete has gone up by around 30%, which lets me focus more on my technique and get more benefit from every session on the rocks at Great Falls, VA or when I’m at the climbing gym. Being able to practice for climbing often and realistically at home will definitely pay off when you can get to a real wall and tie into a rope.

The Specs:

$99 27 in x 11.5 in x 4in