Astral Designs: "Asheville has year-round whitewater and beautiful, pristine trails," says Astral founder Phil Curry, whose 25 employees make life vests and river shoes in a converted tobacco barn on the French Broad River. "And it's an open-minded, creative community." The creativity shows in the Greenjacket rescue PFD ($249, astraldesigns.com) featuring Astral's trademark foam tectonics construction, reinforced shoulders, integrated chest harness, and a big clamshell pocket we can't stop raving about. Add fleece hand warmers, and this vest is the ultimate package to keep you safe and comfy on the river. Get there in comfort and style with the Rassler ($119), a classic hike-to-huck river shoe with enhanced foot support, draining uppers, and its new sticky G Rubber soles.