Gear of the Year 2023 Group Test

© Dan Bailey

Over the course of a year's gear reviewing we get through sack-loads of kit. From amongst this haul there will always be a few items in particular that stand out, whether for design, build quality, or innovation. In some cases we've been especially impressed by a no-frills functional approach, or by a manufacturer's attention to detail. Or perhaps it's a product that takes a big step towards sustainability - something we'd always like to see more of.

Looking back over the last 12 months of rigorous in-the-field use, the review team have picked their personal highlights. So here it is, our Gear of the Year 2023...

Overall Summary

Make and model

Black Diamond

Storm 500-R

Price: £65

What we love: Durable, bright, and with plenty of burn time, this is a confidence-inspiring and capable compact headtorch for winter mountain use



Price: £160

What we love: In a world of soft shoes this is a rare exception, a proper trad shoe with loads of support - ideal for long pitches and big days out on sea cliffs and mountain crags.


Mythic Ultra down jacket

Price: £420

What we love: Top quality down and a heat-reflective lining make this jacket exceptionally warm for its weight. It's a hefty investment, but if you anticipate serious cold, and need something easily packable, then here's your answer.  

Sea To Summit

Sea to Summit Telos TR2

Price: £550

What we love: This lightweight backpacking tent is roomy and airy-feeling for its compact footprint, and can be set up in several different ways. Great bit of design!


Phase Nano Jacket

Price: £330

What we love: The Phase Nano is lightweight, but offers a heavyweight level of waterproofing. Making no compromises, it's also got a great cut and a proper hood. Best of all is the highly breathable fabric.


Vertex axe

Price: £179.99

What we love: A modular tool with just the right weight and geometry for all-round mountaineering, from straightforward walking through to lower grade winter climbing. Superbly made, too.

Mountain Equipment


Price: £200

What we love: Lightweight, windproof and versatile, the Aerotherm is really a well-designed take on the familiar lined softshell concept


Gore-Tex ePE Membrane

What we love: Cutting PFCs from the picture, this new more environmentally friendly waterproof/breathable technology is a welcome sign of things to come


Deuter Fox

Price: £110

What we love: A genuine trekking pack that's scaled to fit kids? Groundbreaking, in its own little way. It's a cracking pack too; almost wish it came in adult sizes.  



Price: £64.95

What we love: Excellent performance in both windy and cold conditions. Light, yet has plenty of features such as the stable pot support


FREE Headtorch

Price: £169.99 - £399.99

What we love: The unique modular nature of this headtorch allows you to customise your lamp and battery, so you get the brightness and burn time most appopriate to the activity. A really clever idea! 


Tindheim tent

Price: £450

What we love: Easy to pitch, sturdy in squally weather, and really spacious inside, the Tindheim makes the most of its tunnel design to offer a well-built tent for two or three 


Veloce Lace

Price: £140

What we love: First and foremost, the Veloce Lace is a LOT of fun to climb in. It's soft, sticky and supremely comfortable and balances a very rounded toe profile with a remarkable level of technicality. 


Aeon Ultra 28 pack

Price: £135

What we love: With a close, well-balanced and well-ventilated running vest-style fit, this is a fantastic mid-sized day pack for any hill-going pursuit, from walking (at whatever pace you like), through running, to scrambling


Vapour S

Price: £145

What we love: With a remarkable balance of performance and comfort, this is the slipper taken to a whole new level 

Black Diamond Storm 500-R £65

Reviewed by Dan Bailey UKH

A compact all-in-one headtorch is a good bet for both climbers and hillwalkers, who will generally want to balance output, battery life and no-fuss simplicity. One of the best such models we've seen is Black Diamond's Storm 500-R. 

Tough, weatherproof, powerful, and with a burn time that's hard to beat - the hallmarks of an ideal winter torch  © Dan Bailey
Tough, weatherproof, powerful, and with a burn time that's hard to beat - the hallmarks of an ideal winter torch
© Dan Bailey

While a torch of this name has been around for years, recent upgrades have made it more powerful. This chunky model won't win any prizes for lightness, but we'd say its durability, waterproofness and ability to keep working in the cold all far outstrip a bit of weight on the head, and while it's too bouncy for running as a result, the confidence-inspiring solidity is exactly what you want on a winter mountain at night.

When you're finding your way off a hill or finishing a climb after dark, a bit oomph is essential. At full output the Storm 500-R's 500 lumens kicks out a good bit of power, with a choice of flood, spot or - for maximum vision - both combined. Of course it's not much good if max output fades too fast, and here's where this wee number really shines. In terms of stamina the inbuilt 2400 mAh Li-ion battery offers more battery life than any other compact front-mounted torch we've used. At the end of the day (quite literally) that's a decisive factor.

We always carry two torches in winter; and this season, the main one will still be the Storm 500-R.

Scarpa Generator £160

Reviewed by Rob Greenwood UKC

For a while now, climbing shoes have been getting softer across the board. Whilst this is great for indoor climbing and bouldering, it's the exact opposite of what you want for trad climbing. The super-supportive Generator is in many ways the answer to trad climbers' prayers. It comes as a standard shoe or a mid-height version; and it's the former we think best suited to UK climbing.

It's got bag-fulls of support, courtesy of its full-length 1.4mm midsole, which is curved at its sides to provide even more rigidity. 4mm Vibram XS Edge is used throughout, which adds to that sense of stiffness, and there's additional rubber under the arch which further increases its lateral and torsional support. I sized the Generator so that my toes were engaged (not knuckled) and despite the comfort I've been really amazed by its edging performance. The level of support in the shoe makes standing on small edges for long periods of time not only possible, but actually comfortable.

The fact that they're well made and built to last only adds to their appeal. If you've got plans to climb on mountain crags or sea cliffs throughout 2024 then I'd highly recommend trying a pair of Generators on, because they're bloody brilliant.

Rab Mythic Ultra down jacket £420

Reviewed by Dan Bailey UKH

"Our goal was to create an alpine down jacket with our best ever warmth to weight ratio" say Rab. So have they succeeded? Well at just over 500g in size L, the Mythic Ultra is clearly way down at the lighter end of the scale for a full-on winter/alpine down jacket. It's also very, very warm. In fact, for standing around in comfort I've not yet found its lower temperature limit. Warmer down jackets are available, and lighter alternatives can easily be had, but I suspect you'd struggle to find something that's both.

Lovely long cut for maximum warmth  © Dan Bailey
Lovely long cut for maximum warmth
© Dan Bailey

It's what you put in it that counts; and here Rab have cut no corners, with a generous 240g (size M) of 900FP Nikwax-treated European Goose Down. Boosting the insulating power further, they've also included a TILT (Thermo Ionic Lining Technology) layer, bouncing back up to 15% of radiant body heat at no increase in weight.

Out on a snowy summit or a frigid bivvy, who doesn't want something as warm as possible for as little weight as they can carry? On cold, dry Scottish winter hillwalking and mountaineering days (they do happen) I've been very glad of the Mythic Ultra, and it's been invaluable for winter camping too. Though I wouldn't choose a down duvet as a crap-hits-the-fan Scottish winter mountain belay refuge, in anything but settled high-pressure weather, I can see it doing well for winter crag trips, boulderers, and continental style valley ice climbing. Weight-conscious alpine climbers should take a look too.

Sea to Summit Telos TR2 £550

Sea to Summit - a brand probably best known for its camping accessories and mats - has now ventured into the tent market. We've been giving the Telos two-person ultralight backpacking tent a run for its money in recent months. This clever tent borrows from similar freestanding designs but enhances livability through its innovative architecture, as well as incorporating attractive features such as an array of set-up modes and modular storage packs.

Telos TR2 a superb choice for base camp on long weekend mountain cragging  © UKC Gear
Telos TR2 a superb choice for base camp on long weekend mountain cragging

Sea to Summit has created a highly innovative, adaptable and comfortable tent with the Telos TR2. Despite its relatively small footprint, it feels roomy when spending time inside or seated at the entrance. The lightweight and convenient pack bags make it effortless to transport to your campsite and efficiently pack into your rucksack. In damp conditions, you do not have to worry about condensation, and its airy feel makes it great for warmer weather. We've had good nights' sleep in summer with the fly partially rolled back to gaze at the stars and if it begins to rain then you can easily pull down the fly in a few seconds.

We were concerned about possible harm to the frail bottom. Hence, we suggest you purchase a groundsheet, which can increase your total costs to quite a high amount. Nevertheless, if you are in search of a first-rate 3-season tent for two people, we reckon this would be a good investment.

Montane Phase Nano Jacket £330

Reviewed by Rob Greenwood UKC

The Phase Nano Jacket is the successor to Montane's Spine Jacket. That was so good that we included it in last year's Gear of the Year. Differences between the two are fairly slight, but they are all improvements. In other words, Montane have taken a great shell and turned it into more or less the perfect running jacket. It's spot on for backpacking and hillwalking too. Gear of the Year two times in a row - they've definitely hit a winning formula here!

Key to the jacket's performance is its Gore Active membrane, a fabric that's as waterproof and breathable as they come. All shells are sweaty to run or even walk hard in, but the Phase Nano is noticeably more breathable than almost any others we've tried. On grim days its level of breathability has often led to me ditching the windproof, which is something I never thought I'd say prior to reviewing the Spine Jacket, as I'd always favour a windproof as a result of their superior breathability. The Phase Nano saves you taking two jackets.

It's got a great cut, coupled with a decent hood, and comes in both men's and women's fit. Weighing just 250g (size M), it's the sort of shell you can happily pop in a running vest or rucksack just in case, whatever the weather. But when conditions take a turn for the very worst, then as far as lightweight shells go I can't think of something I'd rather be wearing this. Montane have done it again.

DMM Vertex axe £179.99

Reviewed by Dan Bailey UKH

This is the lightest Type 2 technical axe that DMM have ever made, their answer to the likes of the Petzl Sum'tec or Black Diamond's Venom, and a model that fits a really useful intermediate gap in the Welsh brand's lineup between the between the aggressive mid-to-high grade Apex and the toned-down walking-to-mountaineering Spire Tech.

It's pretty much perfect for this kind of thing  © Dave Saunders
It's pretty much perfect for this kind of thing
© Dave Saunders

Its slightly downturned pick and moderately curved shaft give the Vertex just the right geometry for lower grade winter climbing, but without so much curve that handling is compromised when merely walking. Light enough for long days on the hills or weight-conscious climbing, yet still sufficiently sturdy for ice and mixed climbing (within reason), or building into a belay, and with a modular head and a removable sliding grip rest, this is a versatile and effective all-rounder.

Perhaps you're more of a hillwalker, but want something that's good for the occasional mountaineering route too; maybe you're a more committed climber, but like easy fast-moving days as well as pushing your grades; or let's imagine you're heading somewhere Alpine or bigger: the Vertex covers a lot of bases. And as usual with DMM, it feels superbly well-made. Always a sucker for a decent axe, I'm a really big fan of these. I know what I'll be using more than any other pair this coming season.

Mountain Equipment Aerotherm £200

Reviewed by davesa

One of the many softshells available these days to feature a weather-resisting outer combined with a lightly insulating inner layer, the Aerotherm may not be a new idea, but it's a very well-designed take on this familiar formula.

The beauty is its versatility. It keeps the wind off and repels a fair bit of weather; it offers just a little insulation, but not so much that you boil inside. Put it on at the start of the day and just keep wearing it, whether moving or stationary, simply adding or removing other layers as required.

The Aerotherm is equally handy for runners, walkers and climbers  © Dan Bailey
The Aerotherm is equally handy for runners, walkers and climbers
© Dan Bailey

This lightweight jacket works equally well for walking, running, scrambling and climbing. It also packs into its own pocket for hanging off a harness. Not cheap, perhaps, but it's otherwise hard to fault. This is a top I'll be wearing year-round, either as a stand-alone outer in summer or as part of my winter layering. It should work really well as a windproof-plus-a-bit for winter climbing approaches, too.

Gore-Tex ePE Membrane

Reviewed by Rob Greenwood UKC

Until recently Gore-Tex exclusively used an ePTFE (expanded polytetrafluoroethylene) membrane. Traditional ePTFE technology, and the DWR treatment that augments it, contain PFCs (fluorocarbons). These 'forever chemicals' don't break down and, as a result they build up not just in the natural environment, but within living organisms too - ourselves included.

ePE is as good as ePTFE for a damp day in Wester Ross  © Dan Bailey
ePE is as good as ePTFE for a damp day in Wester Ross
© Dan Bailey

While the familiar Gore-Tex membrane itself is not considered a health concern, the method of its manufacture left room for improvement. As the negative health implications of this group of chemicals became better understood, many industries - including the outdoor industry - began working to reduce their use. The result of 10 years of development, ePE is an entirely PFC-free waterproof/breathable alternative, and represents one of the most significant developments in outdoor gear for many years. You'll probably notice it more and more in coming months and years, as brands begin adding it to their clothing ranges.

This new fabric does come with caveats, and may require some change of expectation on the part of users. While old style PFC-reliant DWR treatments are amazing at shrugging off water, and go on doing so for a long time, the PFC-free alternatives are effective for less long. Once the DWR has stopped working well, the face fabric will absorb water, thus compromising a shell's ability to breathe. If you want it to keep performing at its best, you will need to wash your ePE shell more regularly than you might be used to. Just think of it like an electric car: they're better for the environment, but you have to stop more frequently to top them up. We think this is a small price to pay to help rid ourselves of PFCs.

For more info on ePE fabric, see this recent article:


Over 2023 we've been using a number of shells made with ePE fabric. So what have we thought of them...?

Deuter Fox £110

Reviewed by Dan Bailey UKH

For the second year in a row a Deuter kid's product has make Gear of the Year. Niche? Well not if you're an outdoorsy family, with kids capable of carrying their own stuff, but not yet grown enough to fit an adult rucksack.

The back system is supportive, well-padded, and well-vented for warm weather use  © Dan Bailey
The back system is supportive, well-padded, and well-vented for warm weather use
© Dan Bailey

In 2022 it was the Climber, a genuine mountaineering pack built to child-sized dimensions. Added to the lineup in 2023 is the Fox, a proper full-on trekking pack, with the support and capacity for overnight or longer trips, in a back length suited to pre-teens and smaller teens. What's not to love?

Coming in both 30L and 40L sizes, it's as solid as you'd expect, comfy enough that no one's ever moaned (quite a high bar), and just the right side of simple. Our junior test team have been busy dragging the Fox around the Highlands for several months, and it's fair to say it has proved a massive hit. Is anyone else thinking of the children? Well done Deuter.

SOTO WindMaster £64.95

Japanese brand SOTO is renowned for designing and manufacturing high quality stoves and burners. One of their standout products is the well-known Windaster, which we have had the opportunity to test this year. So far we've been really impressed. Although it's not a new product, its outstanding features and performance earn it a place in our Gear of the Year 23.

SOTO WindMaster - a Rolls Royce among canister-top stoves  © UKC Gear
SOTO WindMaster - a Rolls Royce among canister-top stoves

This canister top stove excels in its performance in cold and windy conditions, ensuring a rapid boil time regardless of the circumstances. Despite its size, it boasts an impressive feature set with a micro regulator and piezo igniter, all while maintaining a lightweight design.

The generously sized and stable pot platform accommodates different pot or pan diameters for versatile cooking. Simmering may present difficulties due to the high-performance burner. However, the SOTO WindMaster remains an impressive choice for those seeking superior wind performance, lightweight design and versatility in a canister stove.

Silva FREE Headtorch £169.99 - £399.99

Reviewed by Rob Greenwood UKC

I was faced with a dilemma here. I've currently got three torches in for review - the Petzl NAO RL, the Silva FREE, and Black Diamond's Distance 1500. Each is very good. They all have a similarly high output, but differ quite significantly in almost every other way. Unlike the Scarpa climbing shoe bonanza this year, I'm going to select just one, as there is one that feels like it stands out above the rest in terms of innovation. That's the Silva FREE.

An early start on the Kinder Trigs  © Matt Harmon
An early start on the Kinder Trigs
© Matt Harmon

This is the world's first modular headtorch, a nifty idea that means you can switch the headlamp between three different levels of brightness (1200lm, 2000lm, and 3000lm) and four different sizes of battery (14.4Wh, 24.1Wh, 36Wh, 72Wh). As someone who likes to run long distances the ability to add a bigger battery is great, as are the extension cables that allow you to put it in a pocket so you can keep it warm - something that makes it last a lot longer in winter conditions.

The FREE is not just for runners. For those who are into cycling or orienteering, the brighter lamps will be a blessing; even winter walkers and mountaineers might benefit, perhaps by combining the least powerful (but still very bright) lamp with a midrange battery to get yourself the maximum burn time. If you're into a blend of these activities I could see you ending up with a couple of lamps and a couple of batteries. This is exactly what I've done, and I can see myself using them all a lot over the coming years.

The Silva Free 1200 XS in use across Kinder  © Matt Harmon
The Silva Free 1200 XS in use across Kinder
© Matt Harmon

Look out for our full review, coming soon.

View website

MSR Tindheim tent £450

Reviewed by Dan Bailey UKH

Modern backpacking tents often seem fairly complex in geometry, but there's also a lot to be said for simplicity. The humble tunnel tent may lack a certain space age glamour, but it has advantages in terms of ease of pitching and internal space. MSR's take on this tried-and-trusted design is a bit of a winner.

Robust and roomy, a tunnel design has big advantages  © Dan Bailey
Robust and roomy, a tunnel design has big advantages
© Dan Bailey

Pitching inner and fly together, it goes up in minutes; with a veritable spider's web of guylines, it's confidence-inspiring in wet and windy weather; and with really spacious internal dimensions, this is a comparatively luxurious home for two (three-person model also available).

So what's the catch? Well it's no lightweight. Still, for a tent that is both sturdy and very livable, most of us will probably be in a forgiving mood about that. In many respects this is the best 2-person tent I've used in ages, and one that promises to give years of reliable service on car camps, climbing trips, and family backpacking adventures.

Scarpa Veloce Lace £140

Reviewed by Tim Hill UKC

Over the last decade the climbing wall scene has exploded, and with it many traditional rules of climbing have been booted out of the window. The very concept of what a 'beginner' is, and what they can do, has completely changed too. People starting out are increasingly seeming to embrace the physical challenge of climbing, and nowhere is this more noticeable than indoor bouldering, where heel hooks, toe hooks and outrageous volumes are commonplace. 

The Veloce Lace has been designed with these people in mind. It is bucks convention in so many different ways that it's hard to categorise, but perhaps it's best described as a performance shoe designed for beginner and intermediate climbers (contradictory though that might sound). The rounded toe profile, coupled with its full length lacing, and super soft uppers provide both a comfortable and a fun fit. From the moment you've got it on you know you've got something special on your foot, and they're an absolute joy to climb in - particularly indoors - where the sticky S72 rubber compound really comes into its own.

View website

Rab Aeon Ultra 28 pack £135

Reviewed by Dan Bailey UKH

What's the difference between a rucksack and a running vest? One plausible answer might be that the former is something you carry, while the latter is a thing you wear. In recent times, some packs aimed more at walking have been blurring the distinction, with a running vest-style closer fit. We're fully on board with this trend. Rab's Aeon collection is a great example, with several models ranging from more walk-oriented to more running-like.

Its close, well-balanced and well-vented feel make this a cracking day pack  © Dan Bailey
Its close, well-balanced and well-vented feel make this a cracking day pack
© Dan Bailey

At the 'technical' end of things, the Aeon Ultra is our pick of the bunch. While designed for 'fast hiking', it would prove equally handy for a range of other uses, from scrambling to straight-up running. You can even walk slowly with it - we know from experience.

With a broad, body-hugging and highly air-permeable vest-style harness that comfortably spreads the load and provides maximum breathability, and the addition of stretchy shoulder and hip pockets to give you on-the-go access to drinks, snacks and devices, it's got all the benefits of a running vest. But it's not a vest, it's an actual rucksack, with enough capacity that you don't have to be a minimalist runner to use it. We are big fans of the hybrid pack concept, and this is a good one.

Scarpa Vapour S £145

Reviewed by Rob Greenwood UKC

No apologies for including a third Scarpa rock shoe in our bumper Christmas list, because the Vapour S one of the most comfortable, wearable shoes we've worn in a long, long time. They're a capable all-rounder which offer a superb balance between support and sensitivity. For me (which of course doesn't mean for everyone) this is close to being the perfect climbing shoe.

I've primarily used them for bouldering, both indoors and out, and have been continuously impressed (maybe even amazed) by how they pull off the unlikely trick of being able, in the one shoe, to offer enough comfort on easier circuits yet with enough performance for harder projects. When I went to Font earlier in the year, this was the shoe I used throughout most of the trip.

The Vapour S heralds a new era of slippers, making the older style that's been available until now look extremely dated. It's comfortable out of the box and punches way above its weight performance-wise. Everyone I know who's had this shoe on their foot has loved it. It's fun to climb in, too, whether you're on a circuit, a project, a single pitch crack or a multi-pitch route. If all that sounds good then do try them out!

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