The myriad challenges the world faced in 2021 don’t seem to have stopped outdoor designers from getting stuck into some very exciting new adventure and sports kit. This year, there’s a been a big focus on getting creative with environmentally-friendly materials – new launches range from hiking shoes that break down once in landfill to wetsuits that say no to neoprene and ski jackets that are made from sugar cane waste. Sweeter for the planet all around.
Elsewhere, staycations and weekend adventures close to home, two of 2021’s biggest travel trends, can now get a little more epic thanks to rafts designed for long-distance wild swimming and a paddleboard you can fold up and pop in your car boot. Your head is in for a treat this year, too – an innovative trio of new helmet, headtorch and hat will keep you warm, comfy and safe when you venture into the great outdoors.
1. Picture's sugar cane ski gear
“We make clothes from sugar,” Picture Organic Clothing proudly told the world this winter season. The brand has always focused on using sustainable materials in its street and snow clothing designs, and is a regular in our best ski jacket and best ski pants guides. This year, it's gone all out and swapped fossil fuels for sugar cane waste in 60% of its 2021-2022 ski and snowboarding collection. The textile industry is responsible for 8% of the world’s carbon emissions, so innovative ways to use waste materials are long overdue – the byproduct of sugar cane, which is unsuitable for human consumption, is a very sweet choice that makes less of an impact on the planet.
2. Bern's super-safe, light up helmet
And the Oscar (well, the Outdoorsy kit Oscar in a cycling category) goes to… Bern Helmets. This brand's Hudson helmet picked up an Outdoor Retailer Innovation Awards year. This ultra-safe lid is amongst the very best cycling helmets around. Rated for use up to 27mph (making it ideal for speedy e-bike users), this helmet has added impact coverage and uses the now well-established MIPS protection system to further protect your head. It also has integrated LED lights to help illuminate your commute.
3. RuckRaft's inflatable backpack / raft
Take outdoor swimming to the next level with the RuckRaft from AboveBelow. This innovative floating dry bag works as an inflatable, waterproof raft that lets swimmers carry their belongings (up to 15kg worth!) with them on long cross-country swims. Strap it to your waist and you’ll barely notice it’s there, but it allows you to carry a backpack, a stove or even a tent on your next aquatic adventure. A new and improved version launched in 2021. Read all about what happened when we tried one out here.
4. Electra's retro-cool ebike
Electric bikes show no sign of slowing down as a trend – nearly 40% of people in the UK said they would cycle more if they had an ebike, and sale ebikes in the UK grew by 60% since March 2021. Electra’s designers took all this on board and created the Townie Go! 7D EQ for 2022. Many ebikes can be hefty and heavy to ride (and to look at), but this smart, step-through sit-up-and-beg bike sports lovely retro looks and is ideal for more casual city cycles, touring and shopping, with a fully integrated battery to keep you zooming along all day. Just add a basket. For more info or alternatives, head to our best electric bike guide.
5. TropicFeel's super-organised travel backpack
Tropicfeel consulted with 5,000 travellers when designing this pack, and it shows. The high-performing Shell is waterproof, can be expanded and is impressively easy to organise, with a clamshell opening that lets you see exactly what you’ve packed inside. This clever design is a bit like tetris – you can buy add-on pouches, toiletry bags and even camera bags designed to slot inside. Our pick of the extras is Tropicfeel’s Wardrobe System, which allows you to pack in a frankly amazing amount of clothing for a daysack – turning this into one of the best carry-on luggage solutions we've seen, ideal if you’re going cabin bag-only.
6. Red's ultra-portable paddle board
Did you know you could pack a full-size paddleboard in your rucksack? Red added a new paddleboard to its lineup for 2021 – meet the Compact Touring Board, which has an innovative ‘hinge’ design allowing it to fold away as compactly as possible and fit into a rucksack when you’re done exploring. When you do fully inflate it, this design is sturdy and stable enough to take on long distance paddles. Ideal if you’re big on adventure but short on space. Red makes our #1 best paddle board right now – the Red Paddle Co Ride MSL – so you know you're getting a quality product, too.
7. Scarpa's plant-based walking shoes
How much of your outdoor kit ends up in the bin once you’ve worn it to death? While lots of clothing and equipment can be bought second-hand, footwear is one area where it’s usually best best to buy new, in order to get the right fit. Scarpa makes some of the best walking shoes and hiking boots around, but its Mojito Bio is a little out of the ordinary. A new incarnation of Scarpa’s cult-favourite Mojito hiking shoe, these will do you proud for years – and make less of an impact when you’re done wearing them, too. This eco-friendly footwear sports a plant-based upper and midsole paired with a biodegradable natural rubber outsole, designed to break down fully at end of life, with minimal impact.
8. Finisterre's no-neoprene wetsuits
Cornish brand Finisterre went on a mission in 2015 to shake up the surf world and create a wetsuit without using neoprene, a material which is derived from petroleum and doesn’t degrade. The Nieuwland 3e is 2021’s addition to the range, a summer suit tailored for British waters and made using a natural rubber called Yulex, which is sourced from sustainably grown and harvested forests. The result is one of the most sustainably-created and best wetsuits you can buy in 2021/22. The brand also has an in-house wetsuit recycler working on the next step in the project – making new wetsuits from discarded ones.
9. Petzl's bright-but-barely-there head torch
It’s quite hard to identify what the Petzl IKO Core is for at first glance – but yes, this slim contraption is a head torch. Weighing just 79g and designed to sit snugly on your head or over a hat, this is a great choice if you hate the weighty, clunky feel of most head torches. It may feel as barely-there, but the Core still packs a hefty 500 lumens, bright enough for hiking, running or working outdoors in the darkest conditions, and also doubles up as a lantern thanks to an included storage pouch. Head to our Petzl IKO Core review to find out more about why we think it's one of the best head torches you can buy.
10. Silky's hair-friendly beanie
Silk was invented in 4000BC, so it may not seem like an earth-shattering innovation, but any outdoors lover with long – and especially curly or afro – hair will warmly welcome This Is Silk’s brand new outdoor beanie hat. This is a proper hiking hat that fits like your favourite woolly beanies, but with one lovely difference – the 95% silk lining inside, which is coupled with a cosy but breathable merino wool outer layer. Silk helps stop hair drying out, going frizzy and breaking, so it’s really helpful for wearing on multi-day hiking and camping expeditions as well as for skiing and mountaineering in cold climates when you won’t be washing your locks much.