Thule Vital 8L Hydration Pack—$140

There are a few packs out there designed to get down. Like, literally down, as low as possible. They often integrate an oddly-shaped reservoir and a hip-hugging chassis. Keep the center of gravity low and planted. The concept makes sense, but it’s a love-or-hate experience for most. Thule’s Vital 8L pack isn’t as focused on getting down as it is on getting medium. The body of the pack is a few inches further down the rider’s back than a traditional pack, but its shape is very familiar.  Most of its features are familiar as well. There’s the external, expandable softgoods stash compartment, easy-access lumbar pockets, and an internally stabilized 2.5-liter bladder. What’s not familiar is Thule’s ReTrakt hose system which trades the single magnetic clip many hoses use for two corresponding long panels for easier positioning and re-positioning.

Vital 8L

Fly Racing Freestone MTB Helmet—$110

Fly Racing made the leap from moto to mountain several years ago, and their products mix dirt bike style with mountain bike functionality. The Freestone helmet features a moto-style adjustable visor with alloy anchor bolts on the sides and a single anchor bolt up front. Basically, the visor isn’t moving until you want it to. It also features a dual-density inner construction, long seen on full-face helmets but only recently making the leap to trail designs. The softer internal foam works for low-speed impacts while the firmer external foam handles the heavy stuff. There are also panels of softer EVA foam on the sides of the helmet that face the more sensitive areas of the skull and brain. The rear retention mechanism integrates that same EVA foam for extra softness which happens to be valuable for anyone without the luxury of hair as natural padding.

Freestone MTB

Bontrager Flatline Shoe—$130

Recent years have seen some refreshing competition in the flat pedal shoe market. 5.10 was getting a little too comfortable, though comfort isn’t the most important criteria in flat pedal shoes. It’s grip. Below its reinforced toebox and heel, and its EVA foam midsole, the Bontrager Flatlines have a unique outsole. A few other shoes have a specific grip panel where the pedal interfaces with the sole, but the Bontrager Flatline shoes extend that panel back to just in front of the heel. At the front of the toes and the back of the heel, there is a more traditional ground-hugging tread pattern, but in between there’s a shallow grid cut into the Vibram rubber. Great for flattie fans who like to ride with their pedal the middle of their sole. Also great for people who ride with their pedal in the correct position, but who are we to judge?


Leatt Airflex Pro—$80

The Airflex Pro is a half-step beyond the ultra-thin trail pads that are gaining popularity as trail bikes are gaining capability. That half-step is in the form of extra padded panels on the sides and above the main 3d knee cup. Inside the cup are some silicone-printed traction pads to keep them in place. What’s not there to keep them in place are any straps or velcro. If the lightweight knee-socks your riding buddies use are not enough but the hard-shell hardware your roller derby buddies use are too much, these might be just right.