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The Best Gear for The New Year

By Ganda Suthivarakom, The Wirecutter

After the caloric free-for-alls of Thanksgiving and Christmas, how many of us resolve to be more fit on New Year's Eve? Don’t worry, we’re not trying to pile on the guilt. But we try to prioritize fitness and stress-reduction in our personal lives here at the Wirecutter and the Sweethome, and the new year is a great time to hit the reset button.

After the caloric free-for-alls of Thanksgiving and Christmas, how many of us resolve to be more fit on New Year's Eve? Don’t worry, we’re not trying to pile on the guilt. But we try to prioritize fitness and stress-reduction in our personal lives here at the Wirecutter and the Sweethome, and the new year is a great time to hit the reset button.

Think of fitness as an investment in the rest of your life and the lives of your loved ones. Even a bit of weight loss and as little as 75 minutes of activity every week can prevent heart disease, the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S.

Good health is free to maintain and difficult to “buy” back once it’s gone. But it also just makes the rest of your life more enjoyable. Although just acquiring this gear isn’t enough to get you in shape, having the right stuff can make the process more convenient and fun.

Fitness Tracker

Studies show that fitness trackers can motivate people to exercise more. They can provide a sense of accomplishment by raising awareness of activity patterns over time. A study done by the Stanford School of Medicine showed that pedometers can increase activity by about one mile of walking per day. We tested four top competitors, and our pick for most people is the Fitbit Force ($130 from Fitbit.com), a wrist-mounted tracker with a built-in altimeter for extra accuracy. It can measure daily physical activity and sleep, wirelessly transmit that data to your computer without a smartphone and last with long battery life. But even the best tech doesn’t matter if the device isn’t on your body at all times, and that’s where the neutral black wrist strap makes the Force a better buy than the easier-to-forget clip-on Fitbit One. Pretty much every reviewer that covers fitness trackers thinks that the Force is the best in class.

If you’d rather not make a sartorial statement with the Force wristband, the Fitbit One($93) is our favorite clip-on tracker. And if you want to sync up with an older or non-Samsung Android device, your best bet is the Withings Pulse clip-on ($100).

Bike Lights

Commuting by bike is a great way to fit exercise into your schedule if you’re a reasonable distance from work. But until the days get longer, a solid set of bike lights for the front and back of your bike are vital for visibility and safety.

We tested nine bike lights for brightness, blinking patterns and battery life. We considered the entire product lines of 29 brands, and our picks are the Cygolite Metro 360 USB bicycle headlight ($54) and the Planet BIke Blinky Superflash Turbo 1 W taillight ($30). The Cygolite was the brightest of every front light model we tested. It stayed mounted over potholed streets, had great battery life and offered great blinker options with side cutouts for extra visibility. The Planet Bike taillight uses an arresting random flash pattern, handy for getting drivers’ attention. Parabolic reflectors help to focus and concentrate the light, and you get a very long runtime for your two AAA batteries.

Touchscreen Gloves

For those of us who jog or bike outdoors with mobile phones, having to remove a glove to fast forward through music, pause an app or check GPS coordinates can be a pain. Touchscreen winter gloves keep your digits (relatively) warm while disrupting your workout as little as possible.

We tested 12 pairs of gloves using an iPhone and several tablets, and our pick is theGliderGloves Urban Style ($22). The snug fit allows for precision typing, and the entire shell of the gloves is made of a mixed-material fabric that allows for conduction using any part of your hand. Silicon dots on the palms keep a grip on your phone, and the little product care instructions tag can be used as a cloth to clean your device’s screen. The only problem is that it’s a bit on the thin side. But if you want a bit more insulation at the cost of dexterity, you can get the same gloves Winter-style for about the same price.

Exercise Headphones

Whether you’re cleaning kettlebells to high-decibel black metal or listening to This American Life on an outdoor hike, you want headphones that move with you, can resist sweat, withstand abuse as you pull them in and out of your gym bag daily, and are affordable (in case you lose them or crush them in your Herculean grip).

Our picks are Sennheiser’s OCX 685i Sports headphones. Their earloops are more comfortable and versatile than the neckbands on other headphones. They sound clear and crisp, matching clean highs and mids with thumping bass. This is one instance where noise-canceling isn’t good, especially if you’re using them on an outdoor jog, and the Sennheisers provide enough atmospheric sound for safety.

Bluetooth Speaker

The Mini Boom gives you nine hours of playback and will provide a constant soundtrack for your life, covering weekend chores and weeknight meals.

If you’re like me and you want to follow yoga podcasts or fitness apps, but the tinny phone or tablet speakerphones aren’t loud enough to hear while you’re grunting through sun salutations and burpees, a portable bluetooth speaker can help.

After winnowing down the dozens of speakers out there to the top six, we tested the finalists by playing everything from concert guitar to bass-heavy house. Our pick is theLogitech UE Mini Boom ($100). It fits into a jacket pocket but puts out 86 dB of sound, and the micro-USB rechargeable battery gives an excellent nine hours of playback.

Juicer

Juicing can do wonders for your health, and this juicer is easy to clean. It also keeps enzymes intact while getting maximum juice out of dark, leafy greens.

Juicing is the closest you can get to mainlining nutrients into your body, as the absence of fiber helps your body to absorb the good stuff quickly. A great juicer presses as much goodness out of your veggies as possible without overheating the pulp, which can break down some of the nutrients.

Our pick is the Omega 8004. It’s a slow masticator, keeping the enzymes in juice intact, and it extracts more juice from dark, leafy greens than its competitors. It gets an impressive 4.7 stars over 686 reviewers on Amazon, who love that it’s “easy to clean.” John Kohler, the serious raw food juicer from DiscountJuicers.com, lauds the Omega series for juice quality and extraction volume.

Blender

Juicers are great, but blenders keep the much-needed fiber in the mix. This model blended well with minimal fussing.

Sure, dedicated juicers can deliver instantly soluble nutrients into the body. But blender juices and smoothies incorporate that filling, healthy fiber that juicers leave out. We’re revisiting the blender guide and we plan on testing some oft-discussed models that we weren’t able to test when we first published. That said, we feel solid about the budget step-down, the Breville Hemisphere Control ($200). While not as mighty as the pulverizing Vitamix, it handled kale and frozen fruit fairly well without the need for tampering or gunking up the motor.

As delicious as fruit-only smoothies are, they tend to deliver a lot of sugar to the body; keep that in mind if you’re blending for health.

Water Bottles

Klean Kanteen Classic

Workouts require hydration. A reusable water bottle is better for your wallet in the long run and better for the environment than disposable plastic. It also saves you from having to stand in line behind sweaty jocks to aim your mouth at a gym’s dubious drinking fountain.

We pored over dozens of bottles and their reviews and got weigh-in from two outdoor gear pros, and our pick is the Klean Kanteen Classic ($14). Its stainless steel body doesn’t flavor the water, and the 1.75-inch mouth feels a little more spillproof compared to the wide-mouthed Nalgenes. They’re dishwasher safe, and the lid screws on tight to prevent leaks in your gym bag. Though the metal body may pick up dings over time, it won’t break the way that some Tritan containers can.

Food Scale

OXO Good Grips stainless steel scale

A food scale is essential if you want to ensure you're getting the correct portions of protein to supplement any workouts.

If you’re counting calories, a food scale can help you measure out correct-sized protein portions. Your eye can fudge a piece of steak that’s supposed to be the size of a deck of cards, but a scale doesn’t lie. We tested three top-rated scales that were well-liked in editorial and by Amazon reviewers. While all were quite accurate, our pick is the OXO Good Grips stainless steel scale ($50) for its excellent user experience. It switches easily between ounces and grams, has a tare function that remembers the tare weight for up to 30 minutes, and has a handy pull-out display that can be backlit blue. Both the readout and the stainless steel platform can be wiped down easily.

Waterproof MP3 Player

If swimming is your sport and you want to listen to tunes to get you through your laps, our pick is the Neptune by Finis ($140). We conducted tests over several hours (and miles) of pool and open-water swimming, and while none were perfect, the Neptune stood out for delivering music through bone-conduction over your jawbones, not through headphones, which are more susceptible to changing swimming conditions. However, we found they were better for backstroke, where your head is out of the water, than breaststroke, where you go under and above the water in intervals. They also failed with podcasts or audio that required listening for word clarity.

Rice Cookers

Paleo and Atkins adherents might disagree with our inclusion of a carb cooker, but switching from a white rice diet to a brown rice diet certainly counts as a step towards health, since it includes the nutrients and filling fiber of the rice bran.

Our pick in this instance is the Zojirushi Micom Rice Cooker and Warmer ($150). It makes the best-tasting brown rice of its competitors, though our expert tasting panel also thinks it makes perfect white rice. While it has a steaming basket and a separate timer setting so that you can steam vegetables while your rice cooks, the extremely long cycle for brown rice (1:46) means your cooked vegetables will likely go cold before your rice is fully cooked. You may be better off taking advantage of the Zojirushi’s long keep-warm function by cooking rice in the morning so it’s ready to eat when you come home in the evening.

Smart Scales

While weight isn’t the only metric for fitness, tracking it can alert you to abrupt changes in your health. Smart scales can record your weight as well as more specific data like your body fat percentage. They use Wi-Fi to upload data to an app or dashboard which can help you get granular about your fitness over time. In combination with a fitness tracker, you can have a mountain of data about your daily fitness and activity habits at your disposal.

We looked at the top players, and our pick is the Withings WS-50 ($150), which collects more data points (like air quality and resting heart rate) than the Fitbit Aria. It can share data with multiple fitness apps, including Fitbit’s. PCMag.com gave the Withings WS-50 their Editor’s Choice Award, saying, “The Withings Smart Body Analyzer is a Wi-Fi enabled scale that provides a wealth of information about your overall health, serving as a useful, albeit pricey, tool for the health conscious.”

If you’re just looking for a cheaper, simple device to just make sure your numbers are not generally on the rise, our pick is the $36 EatSmart Precision Digital. It’s easy to use and accurate, earning 4.6 stars over a whopping 11,111 reviews on Amazon.

This guide originally appeared on The Wirecutter on 1/3/2014 and is republished here with permission.