It's hard to say if our ninth annual list of the year's greatest designs, gadgets, and toys is our best yet—actually, yes, we can say that. It was one hell of a year for gear. So don't just lie there staring at your record collection. Rewrite your wish list now.
Nobody'll Know How Little You Paid
Most days, there are as many of Herschel's color-splashed backpacks in the GQ offices as there are skinny ties. For 2012, this three-year-old Vancouver-based brand applied the same winning formula—functional, affordable, simple design in a Skittles array of colors—to its Novel duffel. Its killer app is a waterproof zip-up shoe hatch on the side, which also works as a dirty laundry quarantine or a safe space for prone-to-spill grooming products.
Herschel Novel duffel, $80. Available at herschelsupply.com
What You Get When You Google "Best Tablet"
Didn't Apple just come out with a mini tablet? Yep. Google did, too—six months ago. And I haven't put the Nexus 7 down since. It's my e-reader (thanks, Kindle app!), my fact-finder (Google's voice search makes Siri look sorry), and my assistant—it knows when I have a meeting and lets me know when I should leave based on traffic. Plus, at $200, I won't freak if I leave the Nexus 7 in the taxi.—Jon Wilde
Google Nexus 7, $200. Available at google.com/nexus
Rugged Enough for Deep Space. Cool Enough for Earth.
If you're ready to break from the canvas- rucksack masses, meet the Hyperlite Summit. Cut from racing sailcloth, it's waterproof and ghostly light, with no extra zippers or pockets. And it flips the bird at old-timey bags by looking like it's made for a moon landing.
Hyperlite Summit, $148. Available at hyperlitemountaingear.com
Blow Your Cover, Save Your Bag
Dragging an anonymous black roller to the airport? Nothing says This one's mine better than this slice of leather from Owen & Fred, hand-embossed with your details. And if your luggage game is already next-level (like, say, you snagged one of those Herschel duffels a few pages back), then all the more reason to tell the concourse it's yours.
Owen & Fred Custom Leather Tag, $45. Available at owenandfred.com
The Mean Green Espresso Machine
Presso asked how the urbane outdoorsman could make espresso without electricity. In answering, it also solved an age-old work problem: how to brew high-end beans at your desk without your office manager screaming, "That's a fire hazard!" The end result is the ROK Espresso Maker. Add a cup of hot water, flex your pecs to pressurize the grounds, then sip. Cue envious co-workers.
ROK Espresso Maker, $173. Available at rokkitchentools.com
Way Cheaper Than a Personal Trainer
The Nike+ FuelBand is your conscience, digitized. The smoky translucent strap lives on your wrist, measuring just how active you've been each day by converting body motion into NikeFuel and tracking all your data on a smartphone app. Sit on the couch and its score remains as sedentary as your ass. But meet your daily goal and the FuelBand's embedded LED display lights up in celebration. Cheesy? Sure. Addictive? Very. And that's exactly the point.
Nike+FuelBand, $149. Available at nikestore.com
Once You Go for Black Soap...
It felt weird trading in our usual drugstore bar for designer soap, but these cubes from Seattle's Blackbird, one of the country's best indie men's shops, left us no choice. Their suds smell of just-muddled mint, cedar chips, and floral-but-not-girlie geranium. Olive oil keeps skin moisturized in the dead of winter, and charcoal—a natural sanitizer—gives the blocks their midnight black hue.
Blackbird Soap Set, $28. Available at blackbirdballard.com
Leave the Elliptical to the Ladies
Jumping rope is a nearly perfect exercise—maybe the most efficient way to burn off a Big Mac's worth of calories. But most jump ropes are very imperfect: too short, too stiff, too crappy. Former Olympic wrestler Buddy Lee made the Aero Speed length-adjustable and added swivel bearings for smooth spins. Now you have no excuse for not getting your Pacquiao on.
Buddy Lee Aero Speed jump rope, $45. Available at buddyleejumpropes.com
The 2012 Cologne of the Year
If you've been to Yosemite, you remember the olfactory high: a blend of resin from towering balsams and the smoke of freshly stoked fires. Odin 07 Tanoke is that, in a bottle. It hits that rare cologne sweet spot of being noticeable but not overpowering. Just don't be surprised if people around you want to make s'mores and tell ghost stories.
Odin 07 Tanoke, $125/3.4 oz. Available at odinnewyork.com
Cookbook of the Year
Magnus Nilsson opened Fäviken Magasinet in a remote barn in Sweden in 2008, and by last year both the restaurant and the chef's insistence on trekking out into the woods for his ingredients were world-famous and widely imitated. His cookbook is half recipes and half treatises, but it has at least one thing you can use to knock the socks off a date. And no foraging required.
Use on everything
1 pound unwashed herbs (pick one: mint, lovage, oregano, thyme, sage, tarragon)
1 pound high-quality sea salt
1. Briefly pulse the herbs in a food processor, making sure they do not heat up. 2. Combine the herbs and salt, then pass the mix through a sieve. 3. Store in an airtight jar. Impress guests at will.
The Return of the Blacksmith
Favoring fire and fist over outsourcing and e-mail, Oregonian Michael Hemmer hand-forges knives from reclaimed Swedish timber saws. He hammers the metal into cutlery with wood handles that feel as good in your palm as they look on your chop block. And like Hemmer himself, these carbon-steel blades will keep their edge.
Michael Hemmer Large Chef's Knife, $100. Available at ferndaleblacksmith.com
Your Onions Aren't Worthy
The three most important pieces of wood in your house: coffee table, baseball bat, and cutting board. Lostine's is solid walnut and thick enough that it won't split when you get carried away with the onions. That leather strap lets you hang it up and show off its battle scars with pride.
Lostine Rectangular Cutting Board, $115. Available at minam.com
Doorstops. Conversation Starters.
I used to rely on random things to hold doors open—a sneaker, stuffed animals, a Macho Man Randy Savage piggy bank. Anything besides those beige wooden wedges that cause flashbacks to junior high. Areaware felt my pain and made these colorful cork doorstops that look cool without trying too hard. Because after all, they're just doorstops.—Mark Anthony Green
Areaware Doorstops, $30. Available at areaware.com
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