We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›
Our annual Best of the Best gear roundup is one of our favorite projects of the year. The editors, writers, and gear junkies of Field & Stream submit nominations for new must-have hunting, fishing, and outdoor gear released in the past 12 months. Then the fun begins: we create a long list of categories and products and start debating. And if you’ve ever been to a hunting or fishing camp for more than ten seconds, you know how that goes. But once the bickering ends, we end up with a long list of finalists and award a winner for each category.
Below are this year’s winners—the most impressive and innovative hunting and fishing gear of the year. The only way to describe each piece is, well, the very best of the best.
Best Hunting Gear of 2023
- Best Compound Bow: Xpedition XLite 33
- Best Crossbow: Tenpoint Flatline 460
- Best Rifle: Wilson Combat NULA Model 20
- Best Precision Rifle: Nosler Carbon Chassis Hunter
- Best Handgun: Kimber KDS9C
- Best Shotgun: Beretta Ultaleggero
- Best Scope: Leupold MARK 5HD 2-10X30 M5C3 FFP TMR
- Best Binocular: Zeiss SFL 30 Binocular
- Best Spotting Scope: Vortex Razor HD 13-39×56
- Best Shotgun Ammo: HeviXII 3-inch 28
- Best Rimfire Ammo: CCI Clean 22 Hyper Velocity
- Best Centerfire Ammo: Remington Premier Long Range
- Best Conventional Trail Camera: Browning Strike Force Pro X 1080
- Best Cellular Trail Camera: Reconyx HyperFire 2 Cellular Trail Camera
- Best Knife: Benchmade Narrows
- Best Duck Decoy: Lucky Duck XHDI Spinner
- Best Early Season Hunting Apparel: Sitka Intercept Hoody and Pant
- Best Hunting Pants: Kuiu Pro Brush Pant
- Best Rubber Boots: Chêne Slough Boot
- Best Traditional Boots: Meindl EuroLight Hunter Boots
- Best Turkey Vest: Tethrd M2 Turkey Vest
- Best Hunting Waders: Kuiu HD Flex Wader
Best Fishing Gear of 2023
- Best Fishing Apparel: Free Fly Men’s Elevate Hoodie
- Best Saltwater Fly Rod: Sage Salt R8
- Best Freshwater Fly Rod: G. Loomis IMX Pro V2 5-Weight
- Best Fishing Waders: Grunden’s Boundary Zip Stockingfoot Wader
- Best Freshwater Rod: Shimano Poison Ultima
- Best Freshwater Swimbait: Berkley PowerBait CullShad
- Best Smallmouth Bass Lure: Z-Man Gobius
- Best Trolling Motor: Power Pole Move
- Best Fishing Kayak: Old Town ePDL+ Kayak
- Best Saltwater Spinning Reel: 13 Fishing AL13
- Best Saltwater Conventional Reel: Shimano Speedmaster II 8
- Best Fishing Line: Shimano Mastiff Fluorocarbon Line
- Best Saltwater Pack: Feral Concepts Flats Satchel Wade Fishing Chest Rig
- Best Fishing Jacket: Best Fishing Jacket: Simms Fall Run Hybrid Hoody
- Best Polarized Sunglasses: Fin-Nor Sportfishers
Best Outdoor Gear of 2023
- Best Tent: Sea to Summit Ikos TR2
- Best UTV: Polaris Xpedition ADV
- Best ATV: Can-Am Outlander PRO 500 Hunting Edition
- Best Hiking Boots: La Sportiva Jackal II Boa
- Best Backpack: Gregory Zulu and Jade
- Best Grill: Traeger Timberline XL
- Best Smoker: Camp Chef XXL Pro Vertical Smoker
Best Hunting Gear of 2023
Best Compound Bow: Xpedition XLite 33
Before this year’s bow test, a colleague asked what I thought of Xpedition’s new bow, specifically its jaw-dropping $2,000 price tag. I reserved judgment until after shooting it, and am glad that I did. The Xlite 33 was the runaway winner of this year’s test of the best compound bows. Its riser is made from a proprietary alloy called Magnite, which Xpedition says is 33 percent stronger than aluminum and even stronger than commercial-grade carbon. The material is comfortable in the hand, and the bow is extremely lightweight (5.4 pounds) without seeming wispy. In addition, the cams and some hardware (like the cable guard and limb pockets) are Cerakoted. It is virtually impervious to the weather.
More importantly, the Xlite 33 was a top shooter for everyone on our test panel, and when groups were averaged out, it was the only bow in the entire field to produce sub-1-inch groups across the board. In a decade of testing flagship bows, I’ve never seen one that stood out more in the category of accuracy and forgiveness for everyone on the test panel. Though the bow was the slowest in this year’s test (a first for our winner), it still clocked 292 fps with an IBO-spec arrow, and had a comfortable, consistent draw cycle with a rock-solid back wall. I’ve put all of that to good use as I’ve made the Xlite 33 my go-to hunting bow this season, and have punched three deer tags with it so far. —Will Brantley
Best Crossbow: Tenpoint Flatline 460
TenPoint won our 2022 crossbow test with the Nitro 505, and they followed that up with a repeat performance in our 2023 test of the best crossbows with the ultra-compact Flatline 460. It has many of the same features that made the Nitro 505 so good, including the RX8-Cam system, reverse-draw limbs, Micro-Trac barrel, and ACUSlide cocking system. The Flatline 460 also sports new aluminum Scope Struts, which significantly strengthens the platform for scope mounting.
This crossbow clocked 472 fps out of our chronograph with a 408-grain finished arrow. It managed that in an incredibly compact hunting package that weighs just 7.5 pounds (before accessories), is 26.5 inches end to end, and 7.5 inches wide when cocked. It also had a crisp, 2.14-pound trigger and our test panel averaged 1.68-inch groups with it at 40 yards. For hunting, this crossbow is the perfect blend of high performance and easy handling in a treestand. The accessory package includes the ACUSlide, 100-yard EVO-X Marksman Elite scope, bubble level, six EVO-X CenterPunch arrows, quiver, and Sentry bow hanger. —W.B.
Best Rifle: Wilson Combat NULA Model 20
Why would we select a $3,000 rifle as the best rifle for 2023? It’s simple. It handles like a Japanese Katana, functions like a Swiss watch, and shoots like a benchrest rifle. The one we tested in 6.5 Creedmoor averaged 1.04-inch groups with five different loads. To be sure it wasn’t a fluke, we asked for another in .308 Winchester. It averaged 1.07-inch groups in five different loads. The Wilson Combat NULA Model 20 is a continuation of the most accurate pound-for-pound hunting rifle legacy that Melvin Forbes started 40 years ago.
Wilson Combat modernized the design with an EDM receiver cut from 4140 barstock, a fully machined 4340 barstock bolt, and their own 416R stainless threaded barrel. Then they finished it with Armorlube DLC and Armor-Tuff coatings. They also incorporated a hinged floorplate and a special Timney Elite Hunter trigger with a safety that locks the bolt. This is all housed in a fantastically light, pillar-bedded, carbon fiber stock from AG Composites. When assembled, this svelte, tack-driving rifle—which is available in .243 Win., 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm-08 Rem., .308 Win., and even .358 Win.—weighs only 5 pounds. Nothing else came close. —Richard Mann
Best Precision Rifle: Nosler Carbon Chassis Hunter
There are a lot of chassis guns on the market today, but Nosler’s latest Carbon Chassis Hunter is a class of its own. First, it looks like something that belongs under the back seat of the Batmobile. Its sleek, blacked-out looks are more than complimented by an uncompromising fit-and-finish and smooth-running Model 21 action. The Carbon Chassis Hunter can shoot, too.
During the annual F&S Rifle Test, it turned in one bug-hole group after the other with multiple shooters and multiple brands of ammo. It also handled nicely when shot from a variety of field positions, making it a solid rifle for those who compete in NRL Hunter or want to take this rifle out for a walk during deer season. Nosler is offering the Carbon Chassis Hunter in four chamberings (6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 28 Nosler, and 300 Win Mag). The rifle does come with a hefty price tag, but if you must have the best, this is it. —Matt Every
Best Handgun: Kimber KDS9C
In 2017, Wilson Combat modernized the 1911 with their EDC-X9 pistol. It was revolutionary because it was a compact, high-capacity 9mm, 1911-like pistol, that did away with the grip safety and barrel bushing. That pistol, which many professionals consider the best 1911-style pistol ever produced, clearly provided inspiration for Kimber’s new KD9SC pistol.
The KD9SC is a 15+1 round 9mm pistol that weighs 28 ounces and has a very ergonomic grip that’s as comfortable as a Browning HiPower. It has a fully fluted, crowned, and ramped, 4-inch barrel, a crisp 3.5-pound single-action trigger, and an aluminum frame and stainless steel slide. The high-profile rear sight is adjustable for windage, and the front sight has a fiber optic insert. The KD9SC is available in stainless or black, is optics compatible, and like the EDC-X9, it does not have a grip safety or a barrel bushing. The similarities between Kimber’s KD9SC and the EDC-X9 are enough to make it noteworthy, but what really sets the KD9SC apart is its price—the suggested retail is only $1,499—half the price of the EDC-X9. —R.M.
Best Shotgun: Beretta Ultaleggero
As it closes in on its 500th birthday, Beretta remains deeply proud of its history, but not bound by tradition. A case in point is this year’s best of the best shotgun, the Ultraleggero, a gun that combines modern materials and methods with old-fashioned walnut and steel to create an innovative, easy-carrying bird gun. A 12-gauge with 28-inch barrels, the Ultraleggero weighs 6 pounds, 6 ounces, putting it in that sweet spot of “light enough to carry, heavy enough to shoot.” Having hunted with an early model for half of last season, I can attest that it’s easy both to tote and to hit with.
Most lightweight O/Us save weight by means of alloy frames. The Ultraleggero instead has a skeletonized steel frame for strength, and the cutouts are filled with 3D-printed plastic sideplates on the sides and bottom. To Beretta’s credit, they have incorporated plastic into a traditional O/U design and made it look good. Not content on only saving ounces in the frame, Beretta engineers hollowed out the stock, shortened the forend, made the forend iron into two pieces (one plastic), and removed the mid-rib. The result is a light 12 that handles like a 20. Plus, Beretta plans to offer custom-printed sideplates to personalize guns. — Phil Bourjaily
Best Scope: Leupold MARK 5HD 2-10X30 M5C3 FFP TMR
I really like First Focal Plane scopes for target shooting and even hunting, but they can come at a cost—and not just a big price tag. FFP scopes tend to be geared to long-range shooters with magnifications that are really overkill for most of the shots I take at game. But the Leupold Mark 5HD 2-10X30 turns all of that on its head. The optic was designed for tactical carbines; however, you should consider putting it on your hunting rifle. With a low-end magnification of just 2X and an illuminated reticle (available in the illuminated model only), it can be used quickly in the woods. If you need to stretch a shot out, you can dial up to 10X and use MOA or MIL holdovers (specific to separate models) to calculate wind and trajectory, or estimate the range of your target. The Mark 5HD 2-10X30 comes with Leupold’s ZeroLock turrets and is made for jumping out of helicopters, so you can’t break it. —M.E
Best Binocular: Zeiss SFL 30 Binocular
Last year, Zeiss redefined how small and lightweight a premium full-size binocular can be with its SFL 40 and won our test of the best binoculars. Now they’ve downsized further—and made every bit as big a splash. At a time when smaller binoculars are gaining popularity, the new SFL 30, available in 8×30 and 10×30, uses the same groundbreaking design as the SFL 40 to deliver stunning optical performance in a true compact size. The result is a vibrant, immersive image with outstanding edge-to-edge clarity and the ability to resolve fine detail in a binocular that’s just 4.7 inches tall and weighs a skimpy 16.2 ounces. The big focus wheel is smooth, precise, and dials in from a few feet to infinity in just 1.4 turns. My 8×30 test model sailed through a brutal submersion-and-deep-freeze weather-resistance test, too, proving that it can handle whatever you throw at it.
To be clear, the SFL 30 is not quite pocket-sized like many ultra-compact binoculars hitting shelves these days. While exceptionally handy, it’s not as tiny as the tiniest. But the SFL 30 isn’t meant to come in and out of a pocket to quickly verify this or that. It is made for serious glassing, and for that, it’s about as small and lightweight as you could hope for—enough to earn Zeiss back-to-back Best of the Best Awards. —Dave Hurteau
Best Spotting Scope: Vortex Razor HD 13-39×56
The brand-new Vortex Razor HD took home the best compact award in our 2023 test of the best spotting scopes test. It was by far the lightest and shortest scope we tested, weighing only 26.8 ounces and measuring 10 inches long. It is, by every means, a true compact spotter. The optical resolution, feeling of immersion, and image quality were all excellent. It scored the highest among compact spotters and even rivaled some full-size scopes.
Made for backcountry hunters looking to minimize weight and save space, the Razor HD is one of the best in its category. Besides the great glass and space-saving design, the build quality and ergonomics are excellent. It is comfortable in the hand, and all of the adjustment knobs are smooth. Plus, it can handle the nastiest of conditions hunters will face in the field. Lightweight, clear, and durable. What else could you ask for in a compact spotter? —Ryan Chelius
Best Shotgun Ammo: HeviXII 3-inch 28
While I am not yet sure what to make of the 28-gauge waterfowl trend, I can say this: You are not undergunned with the HeviXII 3-inch 28-gauge. At all. The 1-ounce, 1350 fps loads come in shot sizes 4 and 6. I patterned the gun with an SBE. Naively, I thought I should give the little gun a chance, so I patterned it 35 yards instead of the usual 40. Any concerns I had about the small bore of the 28 patterning a magnum load well vanished when I started counting holes. At 35 yards with a factory Modified, the gun put 90 percent of the pellets inside a 30-inch circle. That totaled enough hits (over 110) that I would be comfortable shooting ducks and big geese with it at that range. And, when I tried the shells on an opening day hunt, I doubled on a pair of big Canadas.
Over the years, HeviShot tinkered with its formula as the price of tungsten rose. Back then, not all HeviShot was equally heavy. These HeviXII shells are the real thing, the original denser-than-lead 12 gram per cubic centimeter HeviShot that changed everything we thought we knew about ammunition years ago. The 4 shot I used weighed 3.6 grains per pellet, which is indeed denser than lead 4s, which are 3.3 grains. And, HeviShot is the same misshapen stuff it always was, and they still load flax-seed filler on top. These are the same shells that revolutionized waterfowling, just smaller, and very effective but still expensive, at a little over $3 per shell. —P.B.
Best Rimfire Ammo: CCI Clean 22 Hyper Velocity
There are a lot of .22 Long Rifle loads to choose from, but due to the versatility of this little cartridge, new loads are always welcome. CCI is the leader in rimfire innovation, and their newest Clean Hyper Velocity load for the .22 Long Rifle caught our attention. Though listed as a “target” load, a 31-grain lead bullet at more than 1500 fps is suitable for small game, especially when it will drill dime-size groups. I’ve headshot several squirrels with this load, some at around 50 yards. What sets it load apart is the polymer coating on the bullet that has an optimized geometry for better precision. This totally encapsulating polymer coating replaces the wax coating you’re familiar with on .22 LR ammo, and it reduces fouling in the barrel and eliminates the black residue you get on your hands when handling traditional 22 rimfire ammunition. Also, and very important with today’s prevalence of suppressors, the polymer coating helps keep your suppressor cleaner. CCI Clean Hyper Velocity is the fastest polymer-coated clean offering from CCI. It’s almost as fast as their famous Stinger. —R.M.
Best Centerfire Ammo: Remington Premier Long Range
When Remington went bankrupt in 2020, there was worry that the ammunition hunters had trusted for so long would disappear. Federal not only saved the brand, but they allowed the ballisticians at Remington to elevate and modernize the product line. Remington’s new Premier Long Range ammunition is one result. This centerfire rifle ammunition is loaded with Speer’s new Impact bullet that has its core molecularly bonded to the jacket. This bullet is topped off with Speer’s new Slipstream polymer tip and the result is a collection of high ballistic coefficient loads that deliver precision, but more importantly, good penetration up close with reliable low velocity bullet upset at distance. Remington currently offers their Premier Long Range ammo for 10 popular big-game hunting cartridges from 6.5 Creedmoor to .300 Remington Ultra Mag. Earlier this year, I tested the 172-grain load for the .308 Winchester in Africa. It performed exceptionally well on a variety of small and large big-game animals, up close and at a distance. —R.M.
Best Conventional Trail Camera: Browning Strike Force Pro X 1080
The reason why this Browning camera is our pick for the best non-cellular cam of 2023 is because it’s so much like virtually every other Browning camera we’ve tested: It offers top-of-the line performance at a mid-range price.
The Strike Force Pro X 1080 simply does everything well. It sports Browning’s typically zippy .2-second trigger and has the best detection range (90 feet) of all the new-for-2023 cameras I tested, which, in combination, means the Strike Force Pro X 1080 camera doesn’t miss much of anything. Picture and video quality are both very good, and while I haven’t had this new camera long enough to test battery life, if all the other Browning cameras I’ve used over the years are any indication, it will keep snapping pictures, even at busy sites, for longer than anyone has right to expect. Bottom line: the Strike Force is going to be my new go-to conventional camera. —Scott Bestul
Best Cellular Trail Camera: Reconyx HyperFire 2 Cellular Trail Camera
I know. You could buy four decent cell cams for the price of one Hyperfire 2. But this is Best of the Best, not Best of the Reasonably priced, and Reconyx is the gold standard when it comes to flat-out trail-camera performance. Their latest wireless camera is essentially the same one that won our test last year, but even better, as it’s now 4G LTE enabled, which should result in stronger signal pickup and improved picture transmission. The Hyperfire 2’s trigger speed (.2 second), flash range (150 feet), and detection range (up to 100 feet) are all best in class, which means if a deer walks in front of this camera, you’re going to get a picture of it. But what really sets the Hyperfire 2—and Reconyx cameras in general—apart is how tack-sharp that picture will be. Reconyx picture quality is just on another lever. So, if want to be able to count every kicker and burr of every buck, or if you just have to have best and you don’t care what it costs, the new Hyperfire 2 is for you. —S.B.
Best Knife: Benchmade Narrows
You’re looking at the thinnest Benchmade knife ever made. Measuring only .28 inch in thickness, the new Benchmade Narrows is a super-lightweight, compact EDC knife. Engineers accomplished this with a newly designed axis lock and by substituting the liners for a new lock stud and torsion spring. The result is an impressively thin, yet extremely durable knife.
I started carrying one in early July, and it quickly became my go-to knife in the woods and at home. It is extremely useful for those who spend time in the backcountry and are looking to save space. I keep mine clipped to my pocket every day, and it has even helped quarter a deer and breast out ducks. While Benchmade reduced the thickness of the frame, they kept a longer 3.43-inch blade. This means you get the weight of a compact EDC knife but with a full-size blade. The titanium handle is lightweight, comfortable, and grips the hand well. It is a true do-it-all knife. —R.C.
Best Duck Decoy: Lucky Duck XHDI Spinner
Attention all decoy addicts: This isn’t just the best new decoy of 2023, but possibly the best spinning decoy ever created. What makes it so good? The biggest innovation here is the magnetic wings that make sure the spinner wings always turn off white side down. That might not seem like a big deal for the average duck hunter, but for obsessed waterfowlers, we know how easily white spinner wings can flare geese. This allows you to run spinners for ducks and shut them off for incoming honkers without issue.
Moving onto the incredible EVA carving and paint scheme: This thing looks good…really, really good. It features a detailed design with flocked black wings that reduce glare in the sun. It runs on a 7.4-volt lithium-ion battery and comes with the new Lucky Duck Remote Kit, which you can pair with other spinners. I’ve been running the new XHDI for the last couple of months, and I have yet to run into an issue. —R.C.
Best Early Season Hunting Apparel: Sitka Intercept Hoody and Pant
Since the early September archery opener, I’ve been relying heavily on one single outfit while chasing elk, mulies, and whitetails in western Montana: Sitka’s new Intercept Hoody and Pant. This gear shined during archery elk season when the mornings were cold, but midday temps climbed into the 80s and 90s. I was just as comfortable during those cool mornings as I was hiking uphill in the blazing, high-elevation sun. Even when the mercury dipped in mid-to-late October and early November, I kept wearing my Intercept Hoody and Pants, along with a lightweight merino wool base layer. If the morning chill began to cut through to my mid-section, I just threw Sitka’s ambient hoody over top of the Intercept, and I was good to go.
There are a number of technical features in the Intercept line that stood out. The built-in face mask came in handy on those rare occasions when I actually managed to get close to elk, and the removable knee pads allowed me to spend more time in the uncomfortable crouched, kneeling, and crawling positions that spot-and-stalk bow hunting so often demands. Because they’re made from merino wool, both the hoody and the pants wick moisture away from the body and keep scent down to a minimum. I’ve benefited enormously from having this setup during Montana’s big-game hunting season, and I’ll be sporting the outfit again when next September rolls around. —Travis Hall
Best Hunting Pants: Kuiu Pro Brush Pant
My primary hunting area in southwest Michigan is infested with thorns and briars that usually go right through my hunting pants. There were times my legs would get so cut up walking in that I’d have to sit down to pull thorns out of my skin. But I don’t have this problem anymore with the Kuiu Pro Brush Pants. They feature durable reinforcements in select panels with a high-density double-weave fabric. I’ve purposely plowed through thorn bushes with these pants just to watch them glance off.
The Kuiu Brush Pants are a bit heavier, but come with a pair of removable suspenders for better support. My first look at their performance was last spring while shed hunting, where they shined in the nastiest stuff imaginable. They work just as well in the upland fields as they do the whitetail woods, and are my go-to for any situation where I am expecting to run into throns. —Travis Smola
Best Rubber Boots: Chêne Slough Boot
Waders or muck boots? It was always one or the other until someone at Chêne decided to combine the two. Enter the Slough Boot, a tough neoprene muck boot with a 12-inch upper waterproof nylon extension that secures to a belt or belt loop. The additional 12 inches of premium wader material turns these muck boots into hip waders within seconds. That means a whopping 28 inches of water protection when fully unfolded.
These hybrid boots are made for off-season preparation. Whether that means planting duckweed in your honey hole or sludging through water and muck to set stands for whitetails—the Slough Boots will keep you comfortable and dry. Speaking of comfort, the 7mm innersoles are as comfy as rubber boots can get and feature a moisture-wicking liner to pull sweat away from your feet. The tread pattern is excellent, and I always feel sure-footed, even when walking through the swampy muck. If you spend any amount of time during the off-season in mud, water, or muck, these boots are game changers. —T.S.
Best Traditional Boots: Meindl EuroLight Hunter Boots
When it comes to lightweight hunting boots, you’ve got two options: You can buy cheap boots every couple of years, or you can buy really good ones far less often. I’ve done it both ways and have settled on the second option. You don’t spend much more in the long run—and your feet wind up much happier. Meindl’s new EuroLight Hunters are really good lightweight boots. You get a sense of this the second you see the 9-inch waxed full-grain nubuck leather uppers and reinforced toe caps, the Gore-Tex liner, the rugged DUO-DUR III Sole, and the obvious quality of the workmanship. But you don’t really know how good they are until you lace them up and take them outside.
The EuroLights come in uninsulated men’s, insulated men’s, and insulated women’s versions. I hunted all fall, in three different states, with the uninsulated men’s, which quickly became my everyday go-to hunting boots. They were comfortable right out of the box, required virtually zero breaking in, and hit the perfect sweet spot between light enough not to weigh you down and tough and supportive enough to handle almost any terrain. I took them upland hunting in September, deer hunting in October and early November, and elk hunting a couple weeks ago—and at no time did I wish I had different boots, which speaks to their do-it-all versatility. How long will the EuroLights last before you need to buy new ones? I haven’t had mine long enough to say. But I can tell you this: I got my last pair of Meindl boots in 2011, and they were my everyday go-to hunting boots right up until the day these arrived. —D.H.
Best Turkey Vest: Tethrd M2 Turkey Vest
There wasn’t much of a debate for the best new turkey vest of 2023. The Tethrd M2 is the first fully modular turkey vest available that allows hunters to customize it as they see fit. If you like more pockets, add more pockets via Molle clips. If you prefer a hydration bladder, secure one to your back. Or maybe you’d prefer a bird-bag to carry your gobbler out of the field. You get the idea. The vest is yours to build and tailor to your specific hunting style.
To top it all off, the M2 is extremely durable and quiet. It can be just as effective for the minimalist bowhunter and offers new ways to organize and store gear. I hunted with my Tethrd M2 all spring, and it served me well for my run-n-gun hunting style. There isn’t any other turkey vest with this much customization that allows hunters to adjust the look throughout the season until they find what works best for them. —Derek Horner
Best Hunting Waders: Kuiu HD Flex Wader
Like every other duck and goose hunter, I was shocked when I heard Kuiu was launching a new line of waterfowl hunting apparel, including waders. But any skepticism I had about this big game apparel company breaking into the waterfowl world vanished when I put on the new Flex Wader. I was shocked with how comfortable, lightweight, and breathable these waders are. I wore them on a few early season hunts this fall and even lent them to my dad for a second opinion. By the end of our annual duck trip, we were both thoroughly impressed.
The Flex Waders feature everything you’d expect out of a premium duck wader—a four-layer waterproof fabric, EVA soles, insulated boot, YKK zippers, and reinforced paneling. But it was the boot that left the biggest impression on me. The EVA soles and aggressive tread make this boot not only very comfortable, but also extremely stable in the mud and muck. I haven’t hunted in them long enough to know how they’ll perform in the late season cold and ice, but I have a feeling they will do just fine when paired with other Kuiu layering options. Some hunters will complain about the camo pattern, which I understand, but I will say that I’ve found darker camo patterns to perform better in a wide variety of habitats. So as much as you might not love the valo pattern, it works just fine. And for $900, this duck wader comes in below some of the other premium hunting waders on the market. I suspect you’ll start seeing more Kuiu waders at the boat ramp in the coming seasons. —R.C.
Best Fishing Gear of 2023
Best Fishing Apparel: Free Fly Men’s Elevate Hoodie
Free Fly has taken the saltwater fly fishing community by storm with high-performance, lightweight fishing apparel. This year they released the Elevate Hoodie, which is one of the most comfortable fishing shirts I’ve ever worn. It features soft fabric with moisture-wicking and anti-odor technologies. Besides the UPF 30+ sun protection and full-coverage hood, the Elevate Hoodie comes with new sun cuffs that offer full back-of-hand protection. A small design upgrade that goes a long way on the water.
When I say this is the most comfortable fishing shirt I’ve ever worn, I mean it. In fact, I liked the Elevate Hoodie so much that I bought a second one during my two-month-long fishing trip to Florida last spring. The lightweight design is so comfortable and breathable, that I barely noticed I was wearing it. Later in the summer, I found it works just as well on a river as it does on a flats boat. It is the best all-around performance fishing shirt you can buy. —R.C.
Best Saltwater Fly Rod: Sage Salt R8
There wasn’t a more anticipated fly rod release of 2023 than the Sage Salt R8—and it didn’t disappoint. Besides being one of the top performers in our five-day saltwater fly rod test in South Florida, I spent over two months fishing with the R8 in the Florida Keys, Everglades, and the Bahamas, where it proved to be one of the best all-around saltwater fly rods.
The R8 is Sage’s newest premium fly rod built with sensitivity and feel in mind. After fishing with it all spring, I can attest to that claim. It delivers precise presentations without sacrificing the power and strength needed to handle big fish. I landed small shrimp and crab flies close to bonefish and snook without spooking them. Subtle strikes were easy to feel, and when I hooked a big fish, the R8 had more than enough power to properly fight and land it. Sage stuck with the classic aesthetics that they are known for in the Salt R8, and the looks match the incredible performance. The 8-weight version offers the most versatility in technique, species, and pursuit. But if you want to chase giant silver kings, buy the 11-weight model. —R.C.
Best Freshwater Fly Rod: G. Loomis IMX Pro V2 5-Weight
An excellent trout fly rod should be able to do it all. That means having enough backbone to punch through stiff winds and fight big fish, yet sensitive enough to land a dry fly 30 feet away without spooking trout. The IMX Pro V2 5-weight checks all of those boxes and more. It is a fast-action rod, but not too fast. It can throw dry flies with precision, manage line with ease, and detect the most subtle of takes. I know this because I accomplished all of those tasks within the first day of fishing with it.
G. Loomis took two of their rod building technologies—Conduit Core and GL7 resin system—and combined them to design the IMX Pro V2. What that means is they avoided excess graphite wraps towards the bottom of the rod and replaced it with their proprietary material. The result is a much lighter rod that is equally as durable. And it is impressively light in the hand, but not so light that you feel like you can’t bomb a cast across the river. It falls in the sweet spot of “light enough to cast all day, but strong enough to fight and turn big fish.” The IMX Pro V2 comes with chrome single-foot guides, chrome stripper guides, a hook keeper, a premium cork handle, and an aluminum reel seat with a wood insert. It is a high-end fly rod without the premium price tag ($600) and an absolute workhorse on the river. —R.C.
Best Fishing Waders: Grunden’s Boundary Zip Stockingfoot Wader
I know what you’re thinking. Grunden’s is a saltwater fishing company that makes gear for commercial and hardcore saltwater anglers. I had the same thought when I heard Grunden’s was releasing a new wader, but quickly changed my mind once I fished in the Boundary wader. It is by every means a premium fly fishing wader made with Gore-Tex Pro Wader Laminate material that offers excellent breathability. The thoughtful design behind these waders is clear. The seams aren’t in any high-wear areas, the suspender system is the biggest and most comfortable I’ve ever used, and the zippered chest pockets offer plenty of storage for accessories.
But the most important thing about these waders? They don’t leak. I know it seems like I’m setting a pretty low bar for a pair of $900 waders, but I have owned other “premium” waders that leaked after a couple of uses. But after a full spring and summer in the Boundary waders, not a drop of water came through. It hasn’t even been a year since the release of these waders, so I can’t tell you how they’ll hold up over the long haul. But I can tell you this, the new Grunden’s Boundary waders are lightweight, comfortable, breathable, and, most importantly, waterproof. They get the signature of approval from this trout bum. —R.C.
Best Freshwater Rod: Shimano Poison Ultima
The Shimano Poison Ultima is the most futuristic-looking and best casting rod I’ve ever fished with. Let me explain why: First, you’ll notice the triangular-shaped rear grip that rests flush with the underside of your forearm. This offers better stability and control over the lure, more leverage when fighting fish, and an overall better feel of the lure’s action and subtle takes. I experienced all of those benefits when I got the chance to fish these rods on Lake Yale just before they were released at ICAST. Second, this rod is extremely lightweight and easy to cast and control. And lastly, this thing just looks like a winner. The carbon fiber design and triangular shape make it look twenty years ahead of its competitors.
Shimano also cut every ounce of unnecessary weight in this blank by constructing it with lightweight elastic carbon material and by hollowing out areas like between the reel seat and rear grip. This material, Torayca MX, is made by controlling the crystal structure of the carbon fibers early in the design stage, which lends to a strong, durable, and lightweight rod. I know it’s easy to get lost in all of that fancy terminology, so let me simplify it for you. The Poison Ultima is a serious bass angler’s rod, and its on-the-water performance backs that up. —R.C.
Best Freshwater Lure: Berkley PowerBait CullShad
Charging into the formerly niche market of 6-inch, pre-rigged bass fishing swimbaits, Berkley did more than reinvent the wheel with this one. Other baits in this genre sink fairly quickly, making it hard to fish these lures slowly under docks and over brush without the belly-rigged treble hooks latching onto cross-beams and branches. The CullShad, though, rides high in the water column and still has a beautiful rocking and kicking action, even when slow-rolled. It also skips as good or better than any other bait on the market, making 15-foot skips beneath docks look easy. And if you want to fish the CullShad a little lower in the water column around points and bluffs, the bait comes with predetermined locations where nail weights can be added to get the bait deeper without throwing off its balance.
Berkley’s propriety Honeycomb Technology used in the rear half of this bait makes it more flexible and limber in the water, while simultaneously taking advantage of the strength that comes from this structure. A brilliantly thought-out bait, the CullShad is available in 12 colors in both a $12 6-inch version for bass and other gamefish, as well as a $15 8-inch version for the real beasts roaming the waters. —Shaye Baker
Best Smallmouth Bass Lure: Z-Man Gobius
This is the most lifelike goby lure I’ve ever fished. What sets it apart from other realistic lures is its ability to swim like a goby. Z-Man’s ElaZtech material gives the lure a subtle, lifelike swimming action that closely mimics real gobies. And when I say closely, I mean it is practically identical to the real thing.
Be sure to have a few on any northern bodies of water where gobies are present. Fish can’t seem to resist them, especially smallmouth. Of all the lures I fished, none consistently fooled large wary bronzebacks more consistently. Fish them low and slow with short twitches like actual gobies for the best results. Another application for the Gobius is trout streams. Trophy trout love sculpins, and while they are not a goby, they look pretty similar. Bouncing a Gobius through rocks in likely holes is a good bet to stick a trophy brown. The Gobius is available in eight colors, with options to match the natural patterns. —Max Inchausti
Best Trolling Motor: Power Pole Move
“Drop the Power Pole” is a familiar phrase on my boat when a big fish comes tight. I’ve always depended on my Power Pole to keep me in one place, so you can understand my skepticism when they released a trolling motor designed to do the opposite. But my concerns and fears we quickly put to bed when I finally tested Power Pole’s new Move trolling motor.
I’ll start by saying it’s expensive. The pedal model will run you $5,000 and the remote $6,000. But you get every bit you pay for out of it. A full titanium shaft gives the Move an impressive strength-to-weight ratio while adding a level of corrosion resistance that’s unmatched. If you don’t believe me, Power Pole is so confident in the durability of the shaft that they backed it with an unconditional lifetime warranty and a 3-year warranty on the entire unit.
Its brushless motor is whisper quiet, so fish won’t hear you, even at the highest speeds. It has plenty of power, too, enough to plow through the thickest hydrilla mats on my local waters. A small head design minimizes the amount of space it takes up and lowers the chance of tangles, especially for fly anglers. The intuitive remote and user-friendly app allows you to maximize the motor’s potential at the click of a button. —Max Inchausti
Best Fishing Kayak: Old Town ePDL+ Kayak
I was part of a small group chosen to test the Old Town Bigwater ePDL+ a good six months before it was finally revealed to the public at ICAST 2023. And trust me when I say it was not an easy secret to keep. If you’ve ever ridden an electronic bicycle, the ePDL+ feels a lot like that, only on water. It features pedal assist technology that makes pedaling, trolling, and cruising a lot easier.
I got to test this boat while chasing redfish and snook in the mangroves around Tampa Bay. I ran the ePDL+ all day long, usually on the highest assist level, both with and against the currents of a receding tide. And it barely made a dent in the battery 36-volt, 20-amp hour Lithium-ion battery. Truth be told, it was a rather lousy day as far as fishing was concerned, but I really didn’t care because this kayak is so much fun to pedal around. I don’t like to use the word “revolutionary” lightly, but the Old Town ePDL+ is just that. It’s going to change the fishing kayak world just like the electric bikes did on land. —Travis Smola
Best Saltwater Spinning Reel: 13 Fishing AL13
The AL13 is 13 Fishing’s first spinning reel designed for saltwater pursuits with a fully sealed gear box. Many reels that offer sealed protection—a feature coveted by serious salty anglers—come with hefty price tags, but 13 has long prided itself on making dependable gear that the average angler can afford, and the AL13 series is no exception.
Available in six models, these workhorses are constructed of aluminum from top to bottom. The largest sizes can apply up to 44 pounds of drag pressure, while smaller inshore models can put 16.5 pounds of heat on the fish. I’ve used the 4.0 size the most for everything from fluke to false albacore, to giant sheepshead, and have been blown away by the seamless engagement and dependability of the drag system. I’ve watched many similar reels in the same price range fail under the pressure of hard-running fish, but the AL13 hasn’t been rattled after five months of hard use.
The oversize foam power knob on the handle is also a nice feature, as it won’t slip out of your wet or slimy hands and makes faster work of beating feisty fish so you can hurry up and hook into another one. Nine ball bearings make the AL13 silky-smooth, whether you’re ripping a metal lure through an albie school as fast as you can or working a crab-tipped jig around a bridge piling with ultra-finesse. —Joe Cermele
Best Saltwater Conventional Reel: Shimano Speedmaster II 8
Thanks to the rising popularity of techniques like slow-pitch jigging that allow anglers to use very light, strong rods to beat big fish, round-profile reels are getting smaller in size but bulked up in the drag department and ability to retrieve a lot of line very quickly. The Speedmaster II 8, however, is perfectly designed to fish with modern light tackle or play with a heavier rod if you need it to.
This new smaller size joining the popular Speedmaster line-up has been pulling double duty for me all summer and fall. With a retrieve rate of a whopping 38 inches per turn, it brought some monster seabass up from a wreck in 160 feet of water in a flash, and paired well with a short, light jigging rod. Later in the season, the pinpoint adjustability of the lever drag system helped me stop some giant striped bass with a heavier rod after they inhaled my live bunker.
Features like Shimano’s Super Free Spool also make this reel a terrific option for casting plugs and metal lures, as the technology eliminates friction on the spool shaft so you can hit boiling fish a mile away.
Most impressive for a reel of this size are its tolerances. Despite having a compact design, it has the guts and construction to handle as much strain as you, or the fish, can put on it. It’s become my go-to for tautog fishing, as its light 18.5-ounce weight helps it balance well with a sensitive rod, but its lifting and cranking power can get these scrappy brutes out of the rocks and wrecks before they can retreat to their line-cutting hidey holes. —J.C.
Best Fishing Line: Shimano Mastiff Fluorocarbon Line
I often overlook what line I spool my reels with, and it’s a big mistake. But after fishing with Shimano’s brand-new fluorocarbon line, I don’t have to think about what to put on my reels anymore. This impressive all-fluoro line starts with what Shimano calls Nanoarmor technology which they claim makes nano-size ridges across the outer surface of the line to enhance knot strength and toughness. This isn’t visible to the naked eye, so the best way to test the strength of the line is, well, to fish it. And that’s what I did leading up to the Mastiff release at ICAST 2023.
I was impressed by knot strength, easiness of tying, and casting distance. Not one of my knots slipped while fishing 8-pound fluoro, and I never broke off a single bass. That was all the proof I needed to know how strong and durable Mastiff is. Plus, it’s easy to tie and cinch down. Shimano’s new Mastiff line comes in 200-yard spools of four to 20-pound test. —R.C.
Best Saltwater Pack: Feral Concepts Flats Satchel Wade Fishing Chest Rig
The older I get, the more I realize I lugged around far more tackle than I needed when I was younger. These days I prefer to be a minimalist when I fish on foot, so when Texas-based Feral Concept unveiled their Flats Satchel, I fell in love and couldn’t get one fast enough.
Whereas most hip packs and chest packs are designed to accommodate a few smaller tackle trays, the Flats Satchel holds exactly one full-size tray. It also features a single—though roomy—interior pocket for stashing a few packs of soft plastics. Ample webbing lets you easily attach hemostats or a plier’s sheath, nets, and Boga grips, and there’s even a handy cell phone pocket in the back. Best of all, when you open the pack, it folds down and lays the tackle tray in front of you, creating a stable, mobile workstation for rigging and rummaging.
The Flats Satchel was created for wading anglers targeting seatrout and redfish on the flats, though I’ve used it for everything from stream trout pursuits to back-bay striper stalks along the sod banks of New Jersey. What I like most is that you can swap single tackle trays you already have loaded as missions change rather than whittling tackle down to smaller boxes for traditional hip or chest packs each time you target a new species. Not only is the Flats Satchel comfortable to wear and cast with all day, but it’s also built rock solid. Completely American-made, the pack is constructed of durable 1000 denier Cordura fabric that’s mildew and rot-resistant and just damned hard to hurt. —J.C.
Best Fishing Jacket: Simms Fall Run Hybrid Hoody
Fall weather seemed to come out of nowhere this year where I live. One day in October, it still felt like summer. The next day, temps plunged—and finally, mercifully, it felt like the greatest season of the year had begun.
I’ve hit the trout river as often as I can since autumn arrived, and on every outing, I’ve worn my new favorite jacket: the Simms Fall Run Hybrid Hoody. This thing is fantastic. It’s super-light and warm as hell, thanks to PrimaLoft insulation (made from 60 percent recycled fibers). The jacket has a DWR finish for water resistance. The front and back are abrasion resistant for wearing under waders, and the sides and underarms feature fleece panels that provide some nice stretch and improve mobility. It has two large chest pockets big enough for fly boxes, zippered hand-warmer pockets, and a mesh “dump pocket” on the inside for additional storage. The three-panel, insulated hood is adjustable, and there is a chin guard for added warmth. As the temperatures get even colder with winter looming, I suspect the Hybrid Hoody will be a fantastic layering piece—making an already versatile jacket even more so. —Colin Kearns
Best Polarized Sunglasses: Fin-Nor Sportfishers
I started wearing my pair of Fin-Nor Sportfishers during a week of Osceola turkey hunting and redfishing along northwest Florida’s Nature Coast, and I’ve been sporting them daily in Montana ever since. They’re so light and comfortable that I hardly even notice when they’re on my face, and the polarized L4 lenses let me see what’s going on in the deep holes and the spartina flats that trout and redfish call home.
One of my favorite aspects of the Sportfishers is how flexible they are. Rubberized “temple tips” and spring hinges allow them to slip on and off with ease. They never get hung up on my ears, and they don’t cause any of the discomfort that’s typical of sunglasses with more rigid frames. The nose pads can even be adjusted for a more customized fit.
All of these seamless design features made perfect sense when I found out that the Sportfishers were designed by folks with decades of experience at the highest levels of the eyewear industry. Now that I know about Fin-Nor, it’s safe to say I’ll be sticking with their best-in-class eyewear for years to come. —T.H.
Best Outdoor Gear of 2023
Best Tent: Sea to Summit Ikos TR2
The three-season Sea to Summit Ikos Tent utilizes the same award-winning tension ridgeline as their Telos tent. I first tried the Ikos in Moab, Utah, on a river trip, and while I had the two-person tent to myself, I loved how roomy the headspace was because of the unique tension ridge.
The Ikos weighs just over five pounds, which seems heavy for a backpacking tent, but because of the ample interior space, this is a two-person tent that is actually comfortable for two people. The durable design allows me to camp comfortability with my dogs, and paired with the footprint, I had minimal worries about damaging the floor even when camping on rocky terrain.
It comes equipped with two doors and vestibules, and I love how much gear storage is built into the tent design. Not only are there the standard side gear pockets, but two gear lofts as well. Having multiple configurations, this tent is even more versatile. Set it up as a fly only, have a dry setup, or utilize a partial fly. Since I used this tent throughout the summer, ample ventilation was necessary. The mesh design allows for fantastic airflow with added flow options within the rainfly. The Ikos is a tent that outdoor enthusiasts across multiple disciplines and skill levels can enjoy. —Meg Carney
Best UTV: Polaris Xpedition ADV
Polaris unveiled a new mobile base camp for 2023 in the Xpedition. This new UTV has a 114hp, 999cc ProStar twin-cylinder, four-stroke motor, and a fully-enclosed cab with heat and A/C. It comes with Polaris’ Ride Command system that has a 7-inch touchscreen display with GPS and front and rear camera views. The machine rolls on 30-inch tires and comes with a 4,500lb winch.
The Xpedition has a massive fuel tank with a 200-mile range, so you can really get out and explore the backcountry. There is an optional rooftop tent that sleeps up to four, making it perfect for hunting and fishing excursions way off the beaten path. —Derrek Sigler
Best ATV: Can-Am Outlander PRO 500 Hunting Edition
Can-Am reworked the base Outlander ATV for 2023 and came out with the brand-new PRO series. The Hunting Edition 500 comes with a 650cc motor tuned for 40 horsepower and designed for less vibration, lower engine noise, and cooler running. The PRO also gets steel racks, steel bumpers, a 3,500lb winch, arched A-arms for added ground clearance, and full skid plates to protect your machine. And, of course, it comes in camo.
While I always liked riding the Outlander, the new PRO series is more comfortable and feels a but more stable. They moved the engine mounting location back some, which also helps with overall balance. Traction is tremendous with an auto-locking front differential, and the XPS Trail King 6-ply 26-inch tall tires grabbed really well. It makes for an all-around great hunting, working, and trail-riding ATV. —D.S.
Best Hiking Boots: La Sportiva Jackal II Boa
Trail runners are the option for many hikers who embark on long-distance treks, day hikes, and, of course, running. While I opt for hiking boots from time to time, you’re more likely to find me in a pair of trail running shoes on the trail. The La Sportiva Jackal II Boa shoes are unique aesthetically, but what they may lack in appeal with their appearance, they make up for in performance. The shoe’s fit offers what I crave in a good trail shoe: a snug fit. With traditional laces, it is hard to get a tight fit, and it’s easier for your feet to shift around as you hike or run. With the Boa’s constricting design and high sock-like collar, it hardly feels like I’m wearing a technical trail shoe.
The tread is adequate for nearly all terrains I run or hike on, but they aren’t waterproof. When using these in wet conditions, I came to terms with the fact that my feet were getting wet. For scrambling or steep downhills, the tread is on par with the best hiking boots I own, and I loved that I didn’t have to worry about getting blisters or jamming my toes into the end of the shoe. The Jackal II Boa shoes have been my go-to footwear option when I hit the trail and likely will continue to be next season. —M.C.
Best Backpack: Gregory Zulu and Jade
The Gregory Zulu and Jade backpacks are multi-day packs built for movement and comfort on the trail. The free-floating suspension is not only supremely comfortable, but also provides additional ventilation for greater comfort during warmer treks. The tensioned mesh back panel creates such stellar ventilation as it allows for a space between the pack and your back. The men’s and women’s designs offer a high level of adjustability in the back panel and with the waist belt. The hip belt utilizes a FreeFloat flexible adjustment that conforms to the shape of your lower back and hips to provide likely the most comfortable backpacking experience you’ll ever have.
Everything about these backpacks screams intentionality. The materials, overall design, and durable construction make these the best new packs released this year. —M.C.
Best Grill: Traeger Timberline XL
If there is one thing we take as seriously as our outdoor adventures, it’s how we cook our meat. The folks at Traeger pulled out all the stops with the new Timberline XL grill. It has a sweet touchscreen control panel and an interactive app that lets you be in control of the action while you’re cooking. The design also lets you have consistent cooking temperatures from start to finish. The internals of the grill keep a constant, steady stream of wood smoke over your food for amazing flavor. It has a built-in induction burner for pan searing, boiling, or other pan or cast-iron activities.
The cooking surface of the grill is massive. It can handle twelve chickens at once, so you can feed a whole crew of people. Have salmon fillets from the Kenai River in Alaska that you want to smoke and barbecue? No problem. Want to grill a whole backstrap from an elk or tasty whitetail? There’s plenty of room for that and more. You can even give your Timberline a custom name. I went with Smokey the Bandit, 10-4, good buddy! —D.S.
Best Smoker: Camp Chef XXL Pro Vertical Smoker
What’s not to love about the Camp Chef XXL Pro smoker? It uses pellets for smoking and has a smoke box that also accepts wood chips or charcoal with a dual action system that is fan driven for complete immersion in smoky goodness. The smoke is vented down and then out, forcing it to stay with your food for the longest amount of time. You can control the smoker with the exterior controls and through the Camp Chef app for set-it-and-forget-it smoking perfection. It comes with three regular racks, three jerky racks, and a set of hangers for doing sausages, hams, and other meats.
I’ve used several Camp Chef smokers in the past, and this is, by far, the easiest I’ve ever smoked with. It makes getting just the right amount of smoke flavor into your meats, or even cheese, easy. I just got a bunch of sockeye and coho salmon from Alaska, along with some halibut, and I can’t wait to get the fillets into the Hi Mountain Gourmet Fish brine and put them into the XXL with some of Camp Chef’s Competition Blend wood pellets. —D.S.