All the Gear We Fell In Love With During 2020

For most of us, the past 12 months have been filled with surprises. Between an ongoing pandemic, widespread political unrest, and the general mental strain that comes with reduced social interactions, we’ve all been forced to reevaluate the way we live our lives.

The WIRED gear team used 2020 as an excuse to concentrate on discovery. We scoured the internet and our bursting inboxes for exciting products to try, hoping to find new items we could all use to de-stress after these long, Zoom-filled workdays. And even though we tested lots of stuff, there were the occasional pieces of gear that plucked our heartstrings in unexpected ways.

Here are a few of the many products that we were surprised to fall head over heels for this year, from expensive upgrades to affordable pleasures.

Good Running Shoes

I started toying with running about a decade ago. Every time, it would go like this: I would decide it was time to get serious about getting fit. So I’d start running, then after a month or two of steady progress, I’d develop an injury. An aching foot, a sore hip, a tight lower back, a stabbing in my knee. So I’d quit. Six months later, I’d start again, only to see the pattern repeat. Maddened, I read all the articles and books in search of advice. I changed my diet. I went to the sporting goods store to have my gait analyzed so they could steer me toward the “correct” shoes. None of that changed anything.

Then, early this year, I slipped on a pair of these funny-looking shoes from a company in Switzerland. I started running in them, and I was amazed when I was able to continue running in them. The On Cloudflyers ($160) are supportive, with a stiff heel, a wide outsole, and rows of squishy, spring-like nubs on the bottom to absorb impacts. The bulbous globs deaden the hammer-like blow of each footfall while giving me a little bounce on the push-off as I truck along. I’m what the apparel industry calls “Big & Tall,” so extra cushion and support is important for me. The shoes also just fit really well, with the perfect combination of snug and loose that’s rare to find in the size 13 shoe I wear. Most 13s are just clownishly clumsy. But not these. Now I can run with no pain and no drama while maintaining a regular outdoor exercise regimen (3.5 miles, three days a week) in the year when I’ve needed it the most. See you out there. —Michael Calore

Motion-Sensing Lights

Since I started spending almost all my time in the apartment this year, I decided to slowly upgrade parts of it I never gave much attention to before. Our kitchen light switch, for example, is situated far from the entrance, all the way on the other side of the room. Walking in there at night meant occasionally stubbing my toe in the dark. I live in a rental and can’t redo the wiring, so the solution turned out to be motion-sensing lights. The tech has been around for ages—I’ve seen it in garages, basements, and entryways—but I never thought to take advantage of it in my own apartment.

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After some research, these Mr. Beams lights seemed to be the lights to buy. As I didn’t want to screw anything into my walls, I bought several of these 3M double-sided adhesives, and voila: My kitchen now lights up when I walk in, giving me enough light to not even bother flipping on the kitchen light switch unless I’m about to start cooking. I liked it so much I put another light in my closet, and I can actually see everything when I open it now! For good measure, I bought this smaller nightlight version and put it in my media console next to my turntable to better see the cue lever when I flipped a record. Seriously, if you’ve got a dark spot in your house and you don’t want to bother installing a new lamp or a switch, get a motion-sensing light. —Julian Chokkattu

A Smart Water Bottle

Pre-pandemic, I was extremely skeptical about smart water bottles. They’re too expensive, I thought, and all they do is track how much you’ve had to drink. In a bid to be healthier, I picked one up on Cyber Monday. I bought it on a whim, but now I can’t go anywhere without it. I use the HidrateSpark Steel, an insulated 21-ounce (620 ml) bottle whose bottom lights up to remind me to drink more. I check the free app obsessively after drinking even the tiniest sip to see where I am in relation to my goal (a system similar to the Apple Watch’s rings), which the app calculates using personal information such as your age, sex, weight, height, and activity level. You can pull this data from apps such as Fitbit and Apple Health or input it yourself.

In an age of social distancing and digital competition, Hidrate also shows your friends and family’s stats if they own a bottle too, so you can turn drinking water into a rivalry. Yes, the bottles are still expensive, but if you like being able to track your own data, or save the planet from single-use plastic, or if you’re just on a health kick—Harvard University’s School of Public Health says drinking enough water is linked to regulating body temperature, preventing infections, improving sleep quality, and keeping organs functioning properly—a smart water bottle is worth a try. —Saira Mueller

21st-Century Audiovisual Equipment

We all have our blind spots. My kitchen might be equipped with a top-of-the-line Vitamix and Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. But before the pandemic, my spouse and I had the same enormous, heavy, 55-inch Panasonic TV with frizzy, blown-out speakers that we’ve had for the past 10 years. We just didn’t watch TV enough to think about it.

That all changed in March 2020. In April, desperate for some sense that all was not lost, I tentatively started my upgrade by adding a soundbar. The improvement in sound quality made the very hairs on my scalp stand up. A few months later, our A/V tester Parker Hall dropped off a midrange TCL 6 Series television for long-term testing. The difference between the dusty, enormous boulder of our old TV and the light, slim, bright one was obvious even to our 5-year-old. “Why does Paw Patrol look so much better now?” she asked, jumping on the couch in her jammies. If you’ve also forgotten that your television is worth an upgrade, I highly recommend it. —Adrienne So

Desktop Guitar Amps

I never realized how inconvenient guitar amps were until I owned one. Classic tube amps sound amazing, but they’re expensive, they weigh a ton, and they put off enough heat to warm small rooms (and enough sound to rattle a small house).

This year, I discovered the desktop guitar amp. Light, toolbox-sized amps like the Yamaha THR30-II and Positive Grid Spark bring everything you like about a physical amp into the 21st century. With everything from wireless cable technology to onboard processing for convincing effects (sans-pedalboard), these new digital amps finally sound too good to call them toys. Sure, I prefer my hand-wired Fender Bassman in the studio, but for most other applications, I reach for these little guys for the sheer convenience. Both the Spark and THR models come with USB and headphone outputs, as well as Bluetooth, which makes it easy to jam along with songs, record quick demos, or play during quiet hours.

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