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The Gear Wars Trilogy, Episode 3: The Umpires Strike Back

Design pitfalls that testers hate and you should avoid

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Well, eight of us testers, photographers and editors are heading abroad for our annual Editor’s Choice testing trip. This time we’re whisking away to Wales in the United Kingdom.

I’m psyched. I’ve been scoping out photos on the web and Wales looks stunning. This is the stomping grounds of Mallory and Irvine, where you can kayak through the crashing waves beneath craggy sea cliffs, mountain bike to ancient Druidic ruins, or cross remote mountain ranges on Roman-era pack trails.

There’s only one inevitable problem with our Editor’s Choice trips: Testing next spring’s crop of gear means our final field tests always fall on the crazy cusp between autumn and winter. In the fat months of July and August, the Welsh sky would be azure blue, the green meadows sprinkled with wildflowers. Now, it’ll be equally beautiful yet more challenging, snow-dusted peaks draped in tones of russet and gold, their colors shining wetly between twisting wraiths of fog.

So besides humping loads, hoisting pints, and gaping at the scenery, we’ll be fussing away at test gear with rain-wet, wind-chilled fingers. In such conditions, design hassles are not well tolerated, and when it comes to equipment, we’re not a patient lot to begin with. We always try to analyze and quantify our gear kudos and critiques, but the ugly truth is that ground-zero testing often involves raw, unfiltered profanity, because us testers hate…

–Water filters that clog. Living here among southern Utah’s silty streams and potholes, gimme a coffee filter and chlorine dioxide any day.

–Packs without hipbelt pockets. They should be legally required – on climbing models too. Mandatory points off when missing. Spanky spanky.

–Water bottle pockets where you can’t draw or replace a bottle while wearing the pack. Instant scorn, even on otherwise solid offerings.

–Tight hydration ports, where the ports are too small to take a bite valve without wrestling. THE classic lazy designer symptom because it’d be so easy to notice and solve.

–“Waterproof” gloves and mitts that leak. (About 70% of what we try.)

–Electronic compasses on sports watches and gps. Wel we don’t actually hate them; we just hate how they drain power, require constant calibration, and you can never be sure if they’re reading accurately. No foul if you can turn ’em off.

–Puncture prone sleeping pads. Sure, you can patch ’em, but drowning mats in the bathtub has this serial killer vibe that gets creepy after a while.

–Boots with poorly padded tongues. You can’t cinch your foot in without lace cutting. Unfortunately, this is common on lightweight footwear.

–Boots with pointy toes. American feet are getting wider due to the flip-flop mania, and most of us don’t need to climb chain-link fencing. While the idea of edging on nubbins might sound appealing, by 3 p.m. on a long trail day, small-ovlume toe boxes just plain hurt. Fortunately, some bootmakers are offering wide (and narrow) versions of their core backpacking models.

O.K. your turn. Got a gear peeve I’ve missed? C’mon, vent! You’ll feel better afterward.

Alright, off to the airport. In between treks I’ll try to blog from some suitably snug pub. –Steve Howe