In 2023 we tested loads of adventure equipment, from tents and sleeping gear to backpacks, adventure vehicles, bikes, and plenty more. Here are our favourites – plus some exciting new releases – just in time to fill out that Christmas wish-list!
Nemo Dagger OSMO 2P tent
This dual-wall tent uses Nemo’s proprietary OSMO poly-nylon composite fabric that is woven from 100% recycled yarns, is free of fire retardants, and is claimed to be stronger (and stretch less than wet) when compared to similar tent fabrics. The OSMO 2P is also very tough, roomy, well ventilated, and boasts a clever design, all wrapped in a package weighing 1.86kg (1.52kg stripped down for trail use). It ain’t the cheapest, but it was an absolute stand-out during testing. Even with that steep price, we reckon it’s one of the best two-person tent offerings on the market today.
Companion Rover 100 Lithium Ion Power Station
The Companion Rover 100 Lithium packs plenty of portable power into its svelte shape and is, for the regular campers at Aus Geo Adventure, one of the first things loaded into the vehicle for a weekend away. It weighs 11.45kg, is compact (410mm L x 325mm W x 370mm H), has two 10-amp power outlets, two 10A Anderson outlets, two 5V 3a USB outlets, two 5V 3a USB-C outlets, a punchy 5W LED area light and an easy-to-read display. Plus, it is solar compatible if you need to recharge it. Powered by the Companion Rover 100 Lithium Ion Power Station, the fridge will keep the family in fresh food and cold drinks, and the kids’ gadgets charged on that weekend away.
Victorinox ‘Mountaineer’ Swiss Army knife
This handy gadget has reached icon status over its 125 years of production, in its various forms. The ‘Mountaineer’ is another in the long line of no-bullshit/it just works mutli-tools that Victorinox has made its legacy. Don’t be fooled by its diminutive appearance (it weighs a scant 109.1g, is 91mm long and 20.5mm wide when folded), the Mountaineer has plenty to offer, with 18 outdoor tools packed inside. This is close to the ultimate example of big things in small packages.
Mountain Designs Redline 1P tent
From the moment this one-person tent arrived at the Aus Geo Adventure office, more than 12 months ago now, it has been in near-constant demand from staff and contributors. The Redline 1P bucks the trend of solo shelters by offering more than the bare minimum of space and doing so through intelligent design cues so as not to impact the appeal of these shelters, i.e., their light weight and compact size. The Redline 1P delivers on the light/compact remit and then impresses again with its spacious interior (and decent-sized vestibule), with length, height, and width above average for this market segment. Add in its robust construction – one robust single hubbed pole, excellent ventilation for three-season use, plus a tough outer fly and floor – and you’ve got one very impressive single-person shelter that is brilliant bang for your bucks.
Kathmandu Heli R down jacket
Lightweight, clever design, all-rounder capability and eco-friendly (complete with QR code to check its environmental credentials). It’s hard to go past the lightweight (300g) Heli R down jacket as one of Kathmandu’s most exciting apparel releases for 2023.
With bluesign® certified 100% recycled polyester outer fabric and lining, combined with recycled plastic trims and zip-tape, and Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certified 600-fill down (80% duck down/20% duck feather), you can wear this for warmth and with a warm heart, knowing your choice of this jacket encourages Kathmandu (and other apparel companies) to continue down the eco-friendly path. Winner, winner… you know the rest.
Aeroe bikepacking gear
When Aus Geo Adventure’s bikepacking cohort first heard of this new Kiwi brand – and its promise of a unique multi-bike-compatible gear-lugging solution – we were intrigued. Our first hands-on look was via Aeroe’s Spider Rear Rack (with two dry bags) and Handlebar Cradle. The Spider Rear Rack (in particular) was a standout in how easy it was to fit, how effective it was at carrying gear and, equally, in how well it worked on any type of bike – dual-suspension MTB included – exactly as promised. Later in 2023, we looked further at the Aeroe accessories list and grabbed the Quick Mount Pod for testing. It proved just as effective as the rest of Aeroe’s simple and brilliant system. Or should that be simply brilliant?
OZtrail Fast Frame BlockOut 10-Person Tent
It’s hard not to recoil when the words “10-person tent” ring in your ear, with visions of a huge canvas Taj Mahal that weighs a literal ton, takes an hour to set up/pack away and, when packed, is the size of an over-fed bullock, following soon after. Well, that was us, until we got our hands on the OZtrail Fast Frame BlockOut 10P Tent. This, folks, is a gamechanger. The positives start with the weight; at 33kg, the tent is relatively light for its capacity and is not too much of a job to load in the vehicle and carry it to the campsite. The separate ‘rooms’ are of huge appeal, as is the robust materials in use throughout. Add in the tent’s easy-to-use fast setup hub system and plenty of ventilation, and you’ll no longer run screaming when someone suggests a big extended-family camping trip.
Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody
Think of outdoor brands with serious credence and it’s hard to go past Arc’teryx. The Canadian brand has been at the pointy end of technical outdoor gear for close to 35 years. This mid-weight down-fill jacket is a prime example, with its high-quality manufacturing, durable and user-friendly attributes, and clever tech, including the combo of Coreloft synthetic insulation (in high-wear areas) and 850-fill down, wrapped in a lightweight (305g) and compact jacket. For anything short of snow/blizzard conditions in Australia, the Cerium LT Hoody (when worn with base- and mid-layer) will keep you warm. Yep, it’s up there pricewise, but meets the adage of “you pay for quality”, and then some.
Mont Zero Superlight sleeping bag
Aussie brand Mont has been manufacturing tough and reliable outdoor gear for decades and the Mont Zero SL encompasses all the brand’s renowned qualities of attention to detail, robust build and a very (for the tech) decent pricing. A 2-3 season (rated 8 degrees Celsius for cold sleepers; 2 degrees for warm folks), ultralight bag, it does not skimp on quality, with a toasty 230g of 1000+ loft goose-down and the use of Anti-Gravity Nylon outer fabric (claimed to be the world’s lightest nylon), to bring the bag in at a featherweight 417g. The SL also packs down super-compact, making it ideal for fast/light hiking and bikepacking adventures.
Yakima OnRamp e-bike carrier
The e-bike market has exploded in the past few years, but with that welcome electrical assist comes a motor, and beefed-up components, all of which add heft. Enter Yakima’s OnRamp e-bike carrier. This big bopper can accept two 30kg bikes and offers tool-free adjustment, fold-up capability when not in use, and an integrated 1300mm slot-in ramp for ease of loading/unloading bikes. The OnRamp accepts bikes up to 1270mm in length with tyres up to 3.25”, however you can purchase a fat-tyre bracket for tyres up to 4.5”. Add in typically tough Yakima construction, along with inclusion of the brand’s ubiquitous inbuilt bottle opener, and you have a winner.
The North Face Stormbreak 2 tent
When this two-person outdoor shelter arrived for testing we thought it’d be another run-of-the-mill hiking tent, albeit one at an appealing asking price. It ended up being a lot more than that. At 2.42kg and three-season rated, the dual-wall Stormbreak 2 packs down small, but still offers plenty of interior space and gear storage in its two vestibules (each is of 0.45 square-metre in size). Plus, there are additional interior pockets for more stowage of kit. The interior measures 220cm x 127cm and offers 1.09m roof height – one of the tallest in this segment. The use of two roof poles (rather than the usual one) in conjunction with the two main cross-over poles, aids stability, plus it is quick to set up/pull down. In short, this tent is great bang for your bucks.
Ozpig Series 2 Portable Stove
Yep, the name is great, is it not? And it gets better; this unique camp cooking solution is versatile, too, providing a great cooking base for any handy camp/backyard chef, and also used as a portable (or backyard) potbelly heater. The OzPig Series 2 comes with two hotplates (which can be easily swapped around to be positioned over the fire or off to the side), and there is an optional chimney. Yeah, it sounds like a novelty, but the chimney works brilliantly when cooking under cover, directing the fire-smoke out and away from the covered cooking area. Other options include a rotisserie, wok, and more. Built from cast-iron, it’s beefy, but we were surprised how often we made room for it in our vehicle when heading bush.
Merida Silex 700
Boasting a huge revision for 2024, the popular Silex is available in a range of models, with a choice of aluminium or carbon-fibre frames, both matched to a carbon front fork. This new-gen Silex has had a major geometry tweak, with a 69.5-degree head-angle providing a more relaxed ride (that’s 1.5 degrees slacker than the previous incarnation). Tyre clearance has been increased (you can now fit 700x45c tyres) and the Luddites among us can opt for a 1x or a 2x Shimano GRX drivetrain. Beefy 180mm disc brakes ensure plenty of stopping power and there’s internally routed dropper capacity. You can throw on a set of suspension forks if you wish, as the frame has been designed around this option. With a raft of model options Merida looks to have a capable gravel/bikepacking rig for everyone. Roll on, we say.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT sleeping pad
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT is a lightweight four-season sleeping pad that is suited to all seasons and especially winter in the alpine regions of Oz (indeed, we spent the winter months using this exclusively on a trans-alps expedition through NSW/VIC). Its horizontal baffles and multi-chambered core (with a tough 70-denier base and 30D top layer) produce a lightweight (439g) sleeping pad with an incredible 7.3 R-value (R-values measure warming qualities; the higher the better). That very high R-value is courtesy of the clever Triangular Core Matrix (a twin-layer of triangular baffles) and the reflective film inside that reflects radiant heat back to the sleeper. Clever stuff from a highly regarded outdoor brand with the NeoAir Therm NXT now an all-time favourite of our senior gear testing team.
Mountain Designs Stratus Hooded Rain Jacket
Iconic Aussie brand, Mountain Designs, released this waterproof outer shell this year and it quickly proved that MD’s design team know exactly what is required (and what isn’t) in an outer shell for Australian outdoor conditions. The Stratus uses the popular, well-proved, Pertex Shield waterproof/breathable fabric, in a 2.5-layer format (a combo of a 100 per cent recycled polyester outer shell and 75 per cent recycled polyester layer) that is designed for extreme conditions (it has a 20,000mm Hydrostatic Head waterproof rating, which is very high, as well as a PFC-free coating). Add in plenty of ventilation, an adjustable hood and other smart design cues and it was a winner in 2023.
Expedition 134 Heavy Duty Plastic Storage Box 55L
Don’t, for any reason whatsoever, think of this as ‘just a box’. To do so would be to ignore the fact the Expedition 134 Heavy Duty Plastic Storage Box packs in plenty of clever features to ensure you’ll never need to worry about packing your camping gear effectively and, secondly, whether that gear will get wet or dusty (full disclosure: it won’t). From the food-grade plastic used in its construction, the multiple tie-down points that still – even when tied down – allow you to open the lid, to the rubber seal that keeps dust/water/dirt out, all point at a smartly designed storage product. Add in three robust latches, the under-box moulding to assist stacking them on top of each other and being able to withstand 120kg of weight (for double duty as a campsite step), and this innocuous ‘box’ is the brilliant endgame for camp storage. We love it.
MET Crossover and Crackerjack bike helmets
Renowned bike helmet brand, MET, covered the entire riding market with the release of the Crossover and the Crackerjack helmets. The Crossover is the ultimate all-rounder with its suitability to everything from that week-day commute to that trail-blast or gravel ride on the weekend. It offers extended head coverage, an EPS liner and removable visor (for swapping from commute to MTB duties). Its MIPS-Evolve® rotational management system is integrated with the fit system, and it has plenty of airflow to offer wearers, thanks to the 17 vents. Clever design features include the 360-degree head belt to avoid head pressure points, and a reflective rear decal, as well as integrated rear LED light (along with four spotlights).
The Crackerjack is a brilliant option for the younger riders and this latest incarnation boasts improved coverage (extended head coverage) and more comfort, thanks to its 13 vents. It shares the 36-degree head belt of the Crossover, and includes an integrated LED light, with three spotlights. It’s easy to see why it’s MET’s most popular helmet for kids.
The North Face Gold Kazoo sleeping bag
Light in weight, a clever relaxed-mummy design to optimise warmth and sleep-comfort and made from 100% recycled materials (with a water-repellent finish), the Gold Kazoo has become a firm favourite of the Aus Geo ADVENTURE gear test team. The Gold Kazoo has a +2-degree to +7-degree Comfort rating, making it ideal for spring/summer in Oz.
The mummy design’s generous interior is evident in the 157cm shoulder, 145cm hip and 107cm foot circumference. There’s two 2/3 two-way side zippers and an oversized lay-flat hood to further optimise warmth/cooling. Its standard size fits occupants up to 183cm in height. It also comes in at a respectable price for such a well featured sleeping bag.
Shimano’s latest incarnation of its highly regarded gravel specific GRX component group landed late in 2023 and straight away we were (and still are) impressed. The GRX RX820 1×12 drivetrain includes two 1x options as well as (for us Luddites) a 2x drivetrain. The single-ring (1x) options are the UNBEATABLE 10-45 cassette or wider-range 10-51 (dubbed UNSTOPPABLE). Both can be paired with a 40 or 42T chainring. For 2x fans, the RX820 UNDROPPABLE includes 48/41front chainring and either an 11-34 or 11-36 cassette. No hill will be too steep. Updated RX880 carbon gravel wheels are now 8g lighter per pair. The 32mm low-profile rim height and 25mm inner rim width can fit tyres from 32mm to 50mm. A revamped direct engagement hub also features, along with the ability to quickly convert from Micro Spline to HG L2 12-speed freehubs.
Next up are the GRX RX820 brake/shift levers, specifically designed for the popular flared handlebars. Cleverly, the 1×12 shifter/brakes include two options for the left lever, being used as just the brake, or a dropper-specific option for dropper post actuation. Yep, clever. Last, but definitely not least, are the RX610 cranks and shift levers, for 1x and 2x drivetrains. Crank length options include 165mm, 170mm, 172.5mm and 175mm. There’s also a new 38T front ring option – along with the 40T – for the 1x drivetrain. Yep, the iconic Japanese brand has been busy, and it’s brilliant news for gravel/bikepacking enthusiasts.
OM System Tough TG-7
Waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof, the TG-7 builds on OM System’s (formerly Olympus) reputation for building bombproof compact adventure cameras, with its predecessor – the Tough TG-6 – widely recognised as the best rugged camera on the market. The TG-7 has a 12-megapixel sensor and is dustproof, freezeproof (down to -10 degrees Celsius) and waterproof to 15 metres. It offers a fast five frames per second (5FPS) with the mechanical shutter, or super-quick 20FPS if using the electronic shutter. The camera’s 25-200mm zoom lens (35mm equivalent) is a fast f/2.0 to f/4.9. Add in a three-inch colour LCD, WIFI and GPS capability, 4K video, lightweight (249g) and compact (113.9mm wide; 65.8mm high and 32.7mm deep) and you can see why the team at Aus Geo Adventure is suitably impressed.
Mountain Designs Pro Elite Down Jacket
Part of Mountain Designs’ all-new alpine-oriented Pro Elite range, the Down Jacket is the most versatile Pro Elite garment. The Down Jacket still shares a lot of features with the Down Parka, while offering a wider breadth of capability in that it would be also ideal for high-altitude trekking and expeditions in cold climates, such as NZ’s Southern Alps in autumn and winter, the NSW/VIC back-country, Tassie, etc. It includes the use of goose-down and synthetic fill throughout, the Pertex Quantum Pro shell outer, plus DownTek and Repel water treatments. There is heavier-duty material in high-wear areas, plenty of ventilation, and toasty warm dual-insulated pockets, too.
Yeti SB120 LR (Lunch Ride)
One of the world’s most iconic MTB brands released the rowdy LR (‘Lunch Ride’) version of its popular SB120 trail bike in 2023. The Yeti crew hasn’t messed too much with the already-impressive standard SB120 when creating the Lunch Ride version (so named in recognition of the custom mods – Yeti staffers make to their own bikes for the company’s midday rides in the Colorado mountains). Mods include a jump in front-end travel, from a FOX 34 130mm fork to a RockShox Pike 140mm. Stopping power is now courtesy of beefy Code RSC brakes. Finishing off the LR-centric tweaks is a RockShox Super Deluxe shock out the back; additional oil volume is always welcome in a hard-working rear shock. Add in a lifetime frame warranty, and we reckon it’s time for lunch, don’t you?
RRP from $6500
Australia’s Best 100 Bike Rides
Everyone has fond memories of their first bike ride – and this collection of the best 100 rides in Australia will add plenty more of those. Whether you are just starting off on two wheels, or have been cycling for decades, the sensation of absolute freedom as you pedal along a path or trail, exploring some of Australia’s most spectacular locations, is why riding a bike always brings a smile to everyone’s face. This really is the lucky country when it comes to cycling: from leisurely routes along our beautiful coastline, to amazing two-wheels journeys through our unique wilderness, Australia has a ride for every cyclist, no matter their age or ability. This Australian Geographic book collects 100 amazing Aussie bike rides and includes a full ride description, grading of the ride, what type of bike you will need, distances and, of course, spectacular photography that will inspire you to pump up those tyres and get out there.
Samsung T7 Shield portable SSD
There’s a lot more to being a rugged portable drive than just a label, however: said PSD needs to fulfill its promises of speed, functionality and durability, every single time. There are a few rugged/tough drives around, and we recently spent nearly six months testing one of the market’s most popular: the Samsung T7 Shield. The Samsung T7 Shield solid state drive (SSD) is available in three capacities: 1TB, 2TB and the 4TB version tested here, and it is compatible with a number of operating systems, such as macOS, Android and Windows. Loaded with tech, very light in weight and tough in construction, the T7 Shield was subjected to tough conditions during its testing tenure and came through unscathed and, most importantly, with all data intact. It ain’t cheap, but you get plenty of reliable portable storage bang for your bucks. We don’t want to give it back.