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?”

Winner

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

Product Review

Packed with features, the Ring Spotlight Cam Wired makes home security a breeze

With an integrated spotlight, crystal-clear video, and color night vision, this device makes home security a cinch. Here's why we like the Ring Spotlight Cam Wired as a great choice for outdoor home security.
Computing

Keep your portable computer safe and shiny with the best laptop bags for 2019

Choosing the right laptop bag is no easy feat -- after all, no one likes to second-guess themselves. Here are some of the best laptop bags on the market, from backpacks to sleeves, so you can get it right the first time around.
Deals

Here are 20 portable tech gadgets you’ll want to use every day

If you're looking for portable tech to keep you charged up while on the go (or for some great small gift ideas), we've rounded up 20 must-have gadgets. You'll find everything from a mini gaming controller to a folding Bluetooth keyboard.
Outdoors

High-tech but low-key, these are the amazing materials inside your outdoor gear

We take a look at some of the materials that are used in the creation of our favorite outdoor gear, making our jackets, sleeping bags, tents, and other items warmer, drier, and more comfortable even in harsh weather conditions.
Outdoors

Skullcandy turns to action sports with the Vert Bluetooth earbuds

The new Skullcandy Vert Bluetooth earbuds are designed with action sports athletes in mind, putting audio controls on a convenient dial that provides glove-friendly options to pause and play music, and adjust volume.
Outdoors

Uber’s bikesharing service is eating into its regular business

A bikesharing service acquired by Uber nearly a year ago is causing riders to take fewer car journeys with the company. It is, however, part of the plan as Uber looks to offer an integrated mobility platform for cities.
Outdoors

Keep the rain away and the bugs at bay with this hybrid camping hammock

The new Kammock Mantis hammock is a lightweight all-in-one solution that includes a rainfly, built-in insect netting, onboard storage, and tree-friendly straps to create a complete and comfortable camping system that is easy to set up.
Outdoors

These wireless earbuds use an A.I. to get you moving faster

The new Soul Blade wireless earbuds provide the ability to track your heart rate during a workout while an A.I.-powered coach gives advice and info on how to improve form and efficiency while exercising.
Outdoors

The Naseka electric snowmobile is built for kids, but you’ll likely want one too

The Naseka electric snowmobile is a vehicle built for kids, allowing them to have a safe and efficient ride on snow, with the ability to trade out the ski for a wheel for use in the summer too.
Outdoors

General Motors cycles into a new market with its first-ever ebikes

When General Motors launched a public campaign last year to name its new ebike brand, many wondered if Bikey McBikeface might win out. But it didn't. Instead, it's called Arīv, and the two bikes are up for pre-order this week.
Deals

Under Armour drops prices on Gore-Tex Jackets, Pants, and backpacks

The UA Outlet Exclusive sale is going on right now through Monday, February 18. During this time, you can get up to 40 percent off a huge range of outlet items, including Gore-Tex rain gear.
Deals

Keep your MacBook safe and dry with an Under Armour backpack for under $50

Under Armour is having a huge sale this weekend to help you on your quest for a better backpack. The UA Outlet Exclusive sale is going on now through Monday, February 18th, offering great discounts on stormproof backpacks.
Outdoors

The best heated gloves keep your hands toasty warm in all temperatures

When temperatures plunge, the first thing that gets cold are your fingers. Ward off frostbite and keep your digits toasty warm with these best heated gloves.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!