This is an advance excerpt from our highly anticipated and soon to be released Summit Book 2017. Really, it is worth the wait, we promise!
Awesome gear that is functional plays a huge part in making our outdoor experience incredible. It’s like a newly sharpened knife or a tuned-up car (I mean a brand new iPhone). It’s delightful whenever one uses it and it gives you the power to elevate yourself to new heights. Yes, gear won’t carry you to your destination or lift you beyond your abilities, but it can keep you safe and healthy, and sometimes it just puts a smile on your face.
Doug and I put together a list of our favorite gear that we discovered and acquired over the last year. Some things are very specific, some were a surprise, some are inexpensive and some are meant to last for a very long time.
With a growing family, I spend way too much time at my local REI, buying new sizes and of clothes and shoes for my kids. There were a few absolute ‘have-to-haves’ I acquired this past year, and others were purchased out of need and necessity. Some gear let me down, but here’s a list of stuff that truly made my life better.
I ran an early-season trail race and it was pouring buckets of rain. From what I remember, the sky was dumping cats and dogs too. The jacket I was wearing that day sucked badly. I vowed to get a better one for my next race as my old one nearly made me quit the event. Early in the year, REI stocked a bunch of running gear and I was able to try on several jackets in our local store. Debating long and hard, I ended up grabbing the Salomon Equipe Soft-Shell Jacket and man, I love it so much. Especially now that it’s cold and wet outside, I am wearing the jacket on every run and it’s an incredible versatile layer on hikes. The material is thin, but it keeps me warm enough for our PNW winters. It’s breathable when I’m running (and I tend to run hot) so I don’t boil over and want to throw the coat into the ditch. The jacket isn’t waterproof, but it repels light rain and dries easily. It has a tailored fit, but comes with long sleeves which allow me to hide my hands in them when it’s chilly out. A simple chest pocket is good for small stuff like a key or a gel pouch but won’t fit your phone. A giant back pocket fits lots, like a rain shell, gloves, a hat- I don’t know what else you could fit back there, but it’s a great idea to put a huge pocket back there. Seriously, I’d wear that jacket every day, all day, but since I wear it for running, it’s a bit smelly to wear it out for beers with friends. Perhaps I should get a second one, performance wear for the office?
Biggest need for my new hiking boots was that they needed to look hot. Call me vain or European, but I love non-bland, non-boring shoes. The crazier the color, the better. I’ve been going through several hiking boots in the last few years and was in desperate need for a new color. I mean, a pair that was really up to the task. My old pair (which I brought with me from Germany) was getting long in the tooth and killed my toes. Then, sort of by chance, I picked up a hightop approach boot from Five-Ten at a garage sale, but it never withstood the long hikes we were on and the boots were 100% NOT waterproof. In fact, I actually believe it was made out of sponge material. Sometime last year, when volunteering at the Reinhold Messner event in Seattle, I was given a pair of really rugged, Gore-Tex Adidas hiking shoes. Although I liked them, they were somewhat heavy and low cut, like a shoe and not a boot. Call me crazy, but when I go hiking I want a boot that protects my ankle, no minimal toe ticklers for me, thank you. Oh, and the Adidas came in boring black, which was a super-bummer too.
After month of comparing prices (and colors) and checking online sources in search for the perfect boot, here is what I needed: I wanted a great all-around boot. A pair I could use while hiking with the family and one I could put some crampons on and run over an ice-field, if needed. Most higher end European brands have decades of experience making boots tested in the most rugged terrain of the Alps. I knew if I’d stick with any of those brands, I wouldn’t be let down.
During last year’s Annual REI Member Sale they offered the La Sportiva Trango TRK GTX Hiking Boots on sale and I jumped. They were red(!!!!) and Gore-Tex, and lightweight with a flexible sole, but sturdy enough for high-alpine hikes over snow and scree fields. Made in the Dolomites in the Alps La Sportiva knows how to make good boots and my trust in one of Europe’s most heralded outdoor brands has not disappointed me. I love them. Almost too much. They feel surprisingly light on your feet, but at the same time my feet feel protected when fast packing over difficult terrain. I haven’t had a chance to try them in full-blown winter weather, but I can’t wait to get out there.
Man, coffee is so great, but coffee out of a stainless steel french press is even greater. I might rock the occasional man bun, but I refuse to join the hipster world of pour over coffee. I started enjoying good coffee when it was still made in French Presses and this coffee maker has been part of my morning routine over the past 15+ years. In fact, the classic Bodum French Press was probably one of my first purchases I made when I arrived here in the US sixteen years ago. The one downside of french press coffee is that the glass beaker often breaks. When you rely on coffee to awaken from the dead every morning, a broken beaker can easily turn into a life and death situation. A few years ago, fancy kitchen companies released painfully expensive stainless steel variations of the trusty plunger pot. Those were a great idea, but as already mentioned they were painfully expensive. Fast forward to 2016 and you can now enjoy french press coffee out of a stylish, unbreakable, stainless steel coffee pot for the price of a replacement glass. The pot doesn’t keep the coffee hot for hours, but coffee never lasts that long in my house anyway. This trusty french press greets me every morning, waking me up if I hit the trails or the MacBook.
After my first trail marathon in the spring of 2016 my legs didn’t recover as well as I hoped. After a couple of days, everything seemed fine, but after a few longer weekend runs my knees completely locked up. At first I freaked out, thinking my time had come and I had to rush to find a gun. After a few anxious weeks of nervous resting and browsing WebMD I concluded that my muscles had hardened post-race and were pulling on my knees. Nothing in my knees needed complicated reconstructive surgery – or amputation as initially feared. All I needed was to take better care of myself. More stretching was needed and I finally embraced foam rolling. REI started stocking a inexpensive variation of the trusty foam roller. A roll of sturdy foam – simple really but a lifesaver. This thing does exactly what it advertises: It gives you momentary pain, but looses my muscles and relaxes the legs. A revelation, a simple solution to a complicated and possibly serious issue. Now my trusty foam roller never leaves my sight. I almost gave it a nickname… almost.
My big revelation after my Squamish50 race was that the socks I was wearing sucked. So much so that my feet and toes were feeling really uncomfortable over the last few miles. I knew that if I wanted to keep up running those insane miles, I needed to upgrade my socks (and well shoes eventually too) but starting with the socks seemed the more cost effective step. I acquired some. I didn’t spend an insane amount of money on them, but I love them now and would never ever wear anything else for any run longer than 15 miles. It really does make a difference when you’re wearing a sock that’s engineered to pull moisture away from your feet when they inevitably get sweaty while running. Can’t wait for my next long run in my Balega Enduro V-Tech Quarter Socks, really.
Sometimes new technology seems overly fussy for me. I’m not a big fan over over-engineered stuff, just for the sake of over-engineering. Take water bottles for example. Growing up hiking in the Alps, the SIGG water bottle was the standard for carrying water or tea with you on long hikes. Back then, in the good ol’ days those simple devices, they came in 2-3 colors and 1-2 different sizes. They weren’t insulated, but were lightweight, cleaned easy and were super durable. Everyone had one, or two. Today, my family still takes SIGG bottles on our hiking trips and I’ve long shunned the over complicated hydration packs on hiking trips. But, sometimes, new technology offers new mobility. Back then we hiked, or called it hiking, even if it often turned into trail running. In today’s world, no one would think of taking old-fashioned canteen on trail runs. Hydration bladders with slick and purposeful backpack or vest systems offer the perfect lightweight travel solution for your hydration needs. For my longer trips, races and adventure runs, I needed a hydration pack. But, there are two hundred different packs and vests and solutions out there, how do you choose the right one? Well, I didn’t make it easy on myself because I wanted something that would be versatile so I could use it on races and on unsupported adventure runs. After carefully checking prices, I settled for the Patagonia Forerunner vest. Yes, Patagonia offered the cheapest solution for what I was looking for. I needed something more than a minimal racing vest, but didn’t want to spend close to $200 for a solution that was Mt. Everest approved. The Forerunner has a great hydration bladder system and offers additional pack space to allow me to pack enough food, emergency supplies and change of clothing when in the backcountry. It’s still not a full backpack and thus allow for swift travel without a lot of bounce, and the various straps keep the back tight to my body – a must for fast descends. I’d been using this pack for the Beast race and Squamish and have no complaints. And yes, I have started using it for hiking too. Those SIGG bottles do start feeling a bit outdated now.
There’s truly a never-ending amount of gear one can buy, isn’t there? There’s always shiny and improved stuff, every season. But the one area I am often overlooking is ‘safety’. Sounds crazy I know and it feels crazy to admitting it, but so far most of my money on gear went toward getting the kids new hiking boots in what feels every other month. With a couple of color runs on my agenda in the early fall, I felt the need to get more serious about those Ten Essentials.
I picked up the SOL Emergency Bivy. Not just a emergency blanket, but a superlight ‘sleeping bag’. Does it work? I have not tried it yet. Does it make me feel great that I know I am better prepared – hell ‘ya. And it’s cheap, it feels like a travesty not to bring some basic emergency gear on your trips deep into the backcountry. Do you need a bivy like that when walking around Staircase with your family? Of course not. But on solo trip that venture off the beaten path you need to be prepared and when running you tend you go light, with minimal gear and as soon as you take a break somewhere you realize how little gear you actually have with you. So I started to invest in, and carry with me some essentials. One key item is the bivy sack and I hope I never have to use it. But knowing that I have it with me is what matters.
I wouldn’t leave the house without my phone, and running is definitely better when you have your phone with you. It tracks your steps, counts your mileage, entertains you with playlists filled with podcasts and music. One thing I was worried about when I upgraded to the 6S was the bigger size of the phone. My running belt wasn’t meant to hold the bigger phone. I was able to make my old belt and new phone combo work, but after awhile and probably 2000 miles the belt broke and I needed to upgrade. I was delighted to find that Amphipod didn’t just increase the size when they refreshed their lineup of running belts, but completely reengineered the belt. The AirFlow MicroStretch Plus Belt is bigger and easy holds my phone but also the pocket is made out of a lighter and more durable material and the stretchy belt is wider but still comfortable. It’s a simple and yet necessary staple I use 4-6 times a week and it never lets me down.
Like having the power of Ra strapped to your skull, this underrated headlamp is all powerful and able to light the way on the darkest days. I bought this headlamp years ago, before i one what I was doing and figured it would be a placeholder until I found something really awesome to use before sunrise and after sunset while walking the trails. Who would have known that this purchase would turn out to be one of my favorite outdoor purchases of all time. This headlamp is powerful, awesome and bright enough to light up an entire street or forests with the click of a button. Offering two settings, the headlamp lets you have a direct beam or a more spread out light, which both come in handy. My first trek with this light as out to the Enchanted Valley of the Quinault Rainforest of Olympic National Park. We left the trailhead at 4am, a few hours before the sun would finally rise and bring warmth and light to the area. I figured my headlamp would be ok along the rainforest trails. Instead, it blasted such a large beam of light that my friends behind me turned off their lamps and we all just used mine. Everyone loved it and was somewhat jealous of my amazing discovery. The headlamp does require a bit of battery power, but the three double A batteries it requires tend to last 10 hours or so of constant use. Not bad for a quick purchase. The only downside of this light is that it is almost too bright, easily causing a moment of blindness when used in a tent or when talking to someone at night and trying to maintain eye contact.
I am obsessed with backpacks. My closet at home is full of them, with numerous sizes and colors of packs lined up, waiting for their chance to join me on a perfect adventure. Some say I have too many backpacks, which is why I was hesitant to purchase a new one this past year. The Osprey REV 12 actually filled a niche I needed, providing me with a pack actually designed for quick day hikes and trail runs, something drastically needed when trying to hike or run 20+ miles in a handful of hours. I ran The Rut Race in Montana wearing this pack and had it full of snacks, water, a GoPro and extra clothes. While it was full to the brim, it remained comfortable and light, letting me focus on the run instead of an awkwardly sitting, bulky pack. One of the many features I enjoy on this pack is the area to place your cellphone in a waterproof pocket. Most of us take pictures with are phones often, but hate carrying around the thing in our pocket or in our hands. This side pocket gave me another option that was easy to access and dry. I have used this pack during torrential rains and my gear remains dry, including my phone. I honestly couldn’t ask for a better running pack for me. Keep in mind that this pack isn’t the sleekest running pack. In fact, it looks more like a daypack than a running pack. Don’t be fooled though, this is quickly becoming a favorite backpack to grab for quick day hikes or even a long job around my favorite local trails.
For those of you that know me, you know I am not a huge fan of backpacking. For everyone else, let me tell you how I am. I love hiking and exploring, but still like the comforts of my bed each night and a warm shower every morning. I know it is weird, but I am a creature of habit. However, some days I am out in the wilderness, staying a few nights in a place where I need quality gear. That is why I picked up the MSR PocketRocket camp stove. Small, compact and light weight, this stove has made life amazing and heating water a breeze. Combined with a canister of gas, the PocketRocket screws on to the top and makes for a powerful and fast way to hear up water in any location. I most commonly use this stove before early morning adventures, heating up a few cups of water to mix with cocoa or coffee, giving me a warm start to a cold morning. In Yellowstone, when we drive around looking for wolves, I use this at pullouts to make instant oatmeal or another cup of the aforementioned deliciousness. Most everyone who parks next to us is jealous, asking what stove it is and where they can get one. This stove is perfect for nearly all uses, though is small and may have problems boiling larger pots of water. That being said, I have this stove with me on most every trip I take. It provides a way to sanitize water or boil a small pot to mix with my favorite dehydrated meals, all without having to carry around a large, bulky stove. The small case fits perfectly in any small compartment, saving me precious space for more important things in my pack.
Did you know you can buy a dozen cowbells on Amazon for just $10. Yeah, amazing right?
My kids have been part of a cross country running team this year and I needed a cowbell. I mean, what self-respecting parent wouldn’t have a cowbell or three or five with them when cheering on their kids on their meets? So yeah, I wanted to buy a cowbell and found twelve. So now everyone gets a cowbell for Christmas. Because, of course I would.
We skipped the early morning lines at the REI garage sales and instead we opted for some incredible adventures this past year. Gear is not the reason why we’re out there. The love for the outdoors makes us look for gear that enables us to climb higher, run faster, hike further, and live our life to the fullest.