Most Innovative Gear: 2017 Digital Trends Outdoor Awards

most innovative outdoor gear awards

All season long, we camped, backpacked, paddle boarded, and hiked our way through the Pacific Northwest to find the best new outdoor gear for the first annual Digital Trends Outdoor Awards. After pushing each contender to the limit, we crowned our favorite products for Cooking, Sleeping, Trekking, Recreation, Unwinding, and a special award for Innovation. And we’re giving away one of every winning product, so enter our contest!

Innovation as it relates to the outdoor industry wears a number of different hats. For something like a backpack, innovation might look like a smarter design, such as the addition of a secret compartment or a strap setup capable of evenly distributing weight. For a mountain bike, it might mean a new material for extra strength and lighter weight. While advances like these are certainly welcome, we dug deeper to find gear that fully typifies inventiveness in the industry. To do so, we sifted through a variety of creative outdoor gear from dozens of companies to answer the question, “how can innovation make the outdoors more enjoyable?”


Thermacell Backpacker mosquito repeller

Though the products we tested from GoalZero and MSR proved beneficial to our camping experience — the Yeti 1400 power bank and TrailShot, respectively — Thermacell’s Backpacker Mosquito Repeller has innovation mastered perfectly. As its name suggests, the Backpacker actively repels mosquitoes and does so in a lightweight, minimal package. Capable of burning up to 90 hours on a single 4-ounce gas canister, even the longest of camping trips can remain bug-free with this device.

Perhaps its best feature is the fact it doesn’t just defend against armies of annoying bugs across a small patch of one’s campsite, instead, it sets up a 15 by 15-foot area of protection. This proved especially useful during our testing, as it allowed us to move the Backpacker all over our campsites, creating bug-free zones wherever we moved to. It’s worth pointing out that the device doesn’t work instantaneously as it requires a few minutes to set up the parameter.

The Tech: Backed entirely by its own unique technology, Thermacell’s Backpacker Mosquito Repeller leans on a natural repellent to ward off annoying insects. Thermacell infuses its repellent mats with alletherin — a synthetic version of the repellent found in chrysanthemums — which activates when exposed to heat from a butane canister. By directing the canister’s heat toward repellent mats inserted on a metal grill on the device, it’s capable of emitting the chemical into the air, thus establishing the 15- by 15-foot area of bug repellent. Additionally, its integrated Piezo starter, which uses high pressure electric charges for ignition, requires just one or two clicks to begin directing the heat.

Adding to its versatility is that Thermacell designed the Backpacker for use with traditional butane/propane gas canisters, meaning we didn’t need to hunt down a hard-to-find fuel source. Many camp stoves require this same fuel, so chances are high anyone who even casually camps should have one of these already present in their kit. We used the same canister over several trips, which made it even more cost-effective than it already is; Thermacell sells the Backpacker Mosquito Repeller for just $40.

most innovative gear Thermacell Backpacker mosquito repeller

Because it’s compact and lightweight, it’s not out of the question to bring the device on backpacking trips. We used it primarily for car camping outings but considering the fact it weighs a feather-like 4 ounces, it shouldn’t be confined to these kinds of excursions. Furthermore, the replaceable bug mats — which the gas canister helps heat to create the bug-free parameter — didn’t take up much space, fitting perfectly in any side pocket or Dopp kit we brought along.

A no-brainer for anyone who hates swatting bugs out of their face while camping, Thermacell’s innovative Backpacker Mosquito Repeller easily made our camping trips more enjoyable, and became an instant staple of our quiver of gear from the moment we started using it.

Runners up

Having access to clean, drinkable water is one of — if not the — most important essentials for any amount of time spent outside, be it camping, backpacking, or just simply hiking. Because packing jugs of water add a considerable amount of weight to anyone’s pack, one must get creative in planning for access to consistently clean water. Enter MSR and its innovative pocket-sized water filter dubbed the TrailShot.

Comprised of a small pump attached to a hose/drinking straw, MSR’s inventive water filter is an utter blessing for any kind 0f outdoor enthusiast. During our time spent with the device, it didn’t matter if we only had access to a small stream, we were able to drink (and store) filtered water with ease.

By simply sticking the straw end of the TrailShot in a source of water — lake, river, stream, etc. — anywhere from eight to 10 pumps is all that’s required to fill up the small water reservoir. Don’t worry about any sort of fatigue, either, the hand pump (which houses the reservoir) is made of a soft rubber that’s not only easy to grip but comfortable to use time and again. Though drinking from the reservoir’s spout gives off a touch of a rubbery taste, it’s more than worth it to know the water you’re drinking is filtered and clean.

At just $50, MSR’s TrailShot removes 99.99 percent of bacterias, protozoa, and particulates, allowing us to rest assured we remained healthy and hydrated.

MSR Trailshot

Roughing it in 2017 looks much different than it did just 10 years ago, as many people like to escape the bright lights of the big city but not the blue light of their smartphone. Because of this, packing a power bank for a weekend spent outside isn’t that far-fetched, and while a number of companies offer their own variety of portable power, no one does it better than GoalZero.

Though we didn’t go full on glamping, we did pack around the company’s Yeti 1400 Lithium Portable Power Station this summer, effectively bringing more usable power with us than we knew what to do with. We’d go entire weekends recharging smartphones and tablets, or powering computers and speakers, and would return home without depleting even half of this behemoth of a power bank. With four USB ports, two AC ports, and a 12V outlet, we were never at a loss for power when the need arose.

An innovative product, no doubt, this $2,000 power bank does it all — and still has enough juice to keep an iPhone running for days on end.

GoalZero Yeti Powerbank 1400

Make sure to check out all the winning products for Cooking, Sleeping, Trekking, Recreation, Unwinding, and a special award for Innovation. And we’re giving away one of every winning product, so enter our contest!

Videos and photography by Dan Baker/Digitaltrends