Gear I Swear By

This stuff works for me.  It might work for you too!

Garmont Syncro GTX Boot: I love these boots.  I’ve worn my pair on two 3-week long wilderness seminar expeditions, many shorter backpacking trips, and countless day hikes, and they are still the most comfortable pair of footwear (of any kind) that I own.  I’ve found that the leather needs some TLC once in awhile, but if you rub a little leather treatment goop into them once a season or so they are good as new!

I like the high ankle support.  I’ve never had a problem with turning ankles in these boots like I have had with my low top approach shoes.  Also, the Vibram sole is incredibly resilient, and I feel like I can stick to rocks with almost climbing shoe-like grip.  At around $194, they may seem a bit pricey, but when you figure that you’ll probably get 6-8 years of use out of them, it’s well worth it.

Petzl Elios: You can tell how much a rock climber values his or her head and brain by what they wear on it.  I won’t begin to say that I wear a climbing helmet every time I climb, but every time I guide, lead, or climb in areas with good amounts of loose rock I do.  When I do wear a helmet, I wear the Elios, made by Petzl.  I like how light it is compared to the helmets I grew up climbing in.  I also like the large air vents in the front, and the easy to tighten dial in the back (which works a bit like a bike helmet).

And at $66, frankly its a steal.  There isn’t any reason you should have a helmet at that price.  Just make sure you shave, because the chin strap has a tendency to catch on whiskers.  That sucks.

Arc’teryx Bora 40 Pack: I’m not sure if Arc’teryx is making this pack anymore, but I discovered that you can buy them online pretty easily.  The Bora 40 is a fairly lightweight internal frame pack that is rated around 2560 cubic inches.  I got mine back in 2005 and use it as a climbing pack, though the first time I used it was on a 3-day mountaineering trip.  I managed to stuff a sleeping bag, pad, and enough gear for the trip up a 10,200 foot Oregon volcano into the thing, and it worked like a champ.

Its kept working like a champ too.  I’m still using the pack, and I haven’t had to repair or replace anything.  I can easily fit two climbing ropes, my rack, harness, helmet, lunch, and 3 liters of water into it.  The shoulder straps and hip belt are very well padded and are ridiculously comfortable.  Plus, the Velcro ice axe holders on the back are incredible.  Mine is a nice dark green color.

I guess the only thing I’d change is that there isn’t really a place to put a hydration bladder; packs 6 odd years ago didn’t necessarily come with that like they do now.  Not that big a deal (I like Nalgene bottles better anyway–see below).

The Nalgene Bottle: Yes, the humble Nalgene water bottle.  But for this piece of gear, however, I would be dead out in the wilderness many times from heat stroke.

I got my first Nalgene bottle during my sophmore year of high school.  I still have it.  Back then, Nalgene’s major claim to fame was that the bottle was unbreakable by most human methods.  This led to a lot of people back then attempting to find out just what it took to break a Nalgene bottle.  The most reliable method I heard of was repeatedly smashing it between two VERY BIG ROCKS.  Luckily, Nalgene also had an almost unheard of replacement policy; if you sent them a broken Nalgene, they would replace it for free, no questions asked.

Then, it turned out that what made the Nalgene bottle unbreakable was called BPA, which also may build up in your system over time, and has been implicated in causing cancer (but then, what hasn’t?  I’m pretty sure my climbing helmet could be implicated in causing cancer if someone tried hard enough).  So, Nalgene took the BPA out of the bottle, which may make them safer, but they are no longer unbreakable.  Most of my bottles are still laced with BPA, so I can still wow client groups by casually dropping my water bottle off a cliff.  I figure I’ve been drinking water out of pre-BPA-less water bottles for so long, it can’t hurt me too much to keep using them.

They will eventually melt, but I’ve poured boiling water into them many times with no problem.  I like the widemouthed once so I can mix up drinks (like lemonade, cool aide, hot chocolate, coffee, soup, you name it), and because they pour more easily.

MSR Whisper Lite Internationale Stove: Quick question for extra points:  What does MSR stand for?  Any ideas?  The correct answer is Mountain Safety Research.  I love my Whisper Lite.  There is something comforting about the hissing sound it makes when it is running that lets me know I’ll soon have hot food, hot water for hot chocolate, and that everything will be ok, even though its 33 degrees out, with 4 inches of snow on the ground and raining.

MSR makes two versions of the Whispter Lite, the standard whisper lite and the Internationale.  My Whisper Lite is an Internationale model, which means that in addition to the standard white gas it can also run on kerosene and unleaded auto fuel.

I carry it with me a lot during the winter, primarily for emergency preparedness.  It’s the primary stove we use on wilderness seminar too.

The North Face Venture Jacket: I remember when my dad brought home one of the first waterproof-breathable rain jackets, back in the days when Gore Tex fabric was brand new technology.  It was made by Pac-Tec, and had a nylon shell with a mesh inner liner.  It was a solidly built, good quality jacket.  A year or so later, I got one very similar to it, which I used from my sophomore year in high school (around 2002-2003 or so) until about 4 months ago.

My dad still has his jacket (and uses it regularly).  Mine became steadily less waterproof, and I recently decided that it was time for a new one.  What you see here is exactly what I have; lighter green torso with darker green shoulders, sleeves, and hood.

I found the North Face Venture on sale, and bought one for myself and one for Melissa.  When I first got it, I thought that it seemed a little lightweight, and honestly wondered how well it would hold up.  It was pretty much just a shell, and didn’t have the mesh liner I was used to.  My questions have since been answered, and I love it.   I now wear it as a wind-shell when I’m just walking around or skiing, and as a raincoat by itself when it’s wet out.  I love the roomy hood, which I’m pretty sure could fit my head while I’m wearing a climbing helmet.  I also love the pit zips, which allow me to thermo-regulate more efficiently.  I got mine in size large so I could fit a fleece jacket underneath if need be.

Misty Mountain Cadillac Harness: Harnesses have the reputation of being uncomfortable, and for guys especially.  I’m a big guy, and I spend a lot of time in mine.  And for that reason, I went with the beefiest, most padded, most designed-for-ultimate-comfort harness I could find.

This just happens to be the Cadillac, made by Misty Mountain.  Heavily padded with 6 gear loops, and a waist belt that is 4.3″ wide at its widest point (mid-back, just in case your curious).

I love it.  At $100, it seemed expensive, but frankly I wouldn’t trade it for anything at this point.  As a guide who spends lots of time in the harness, that’s the most important thing.  For you ladies, they make a woman’s version too.

Katadyn Hiker Water Filter: There has been a lot of technology applied to making water drinkable in the outdoors, ranging from the simple (boiling) to the more complex (chemicals) to the downright high tech (UV light).  My favorite is still the pump filter.

And my favorite pump filter is the Katadyn Hiker.  It is compact and light, easy to use, and not all that expensive.  When the filter cartridge gets clogged, you can replace it easily, and the filter will go right on doing what it does best.  The cartridge will filter out pretty much any bacteria, fungi, and even viruses that are in the water.  Good news, since Giardia is no fun…

I like that I can have clean, drinkable water without the chemical taste and without having to wait for the water to cool.

North Face Blaze 3D Sleeping Bag: I got my sleeping bag as a graduation gift from high school.  Its rated at 20 degrees, which works  really well for this area (most evenings don’t get too far down below about 22 degrees around here).  Mine is filled with synthetic down, which deals with getting wet better.  Natural down gets clumpy and looses its insulating power when it gets wet.

I also like the fact that the drawstring is a bungee cord.  This means that when I cinch the hood down, go to sleep, and then wake up trapped in a closed sac with only a tennis ball sized hole (which is pretty startling in the middle of the night), I can stretch the draw string and get my head out.

There is only one thing I’d change; I think I’d put the zipper on the other side of the sleeping bag.

Mountainsmith Circuit 3.0: One of the guys at my local gear shop, Wilderness Voyagers, once told me that if you want to buy an ultralight backpacking pack, you have to buy all ultralight gear.  I don’t have all ultralight gear; additionally, while its nice stuff, I don’t have the budget for it.  For this reason, I didn’t want to get an ultralight pack.

The Mountainsmith Circuit 3.0 is not an ultralight pack; in fact, it is a honkin’ huge pack.  Well over 5500 cubic inches, and it easily swallows my sleeping bag, gear and food for the week.  I could probably carry a 12 year old in this pack, should I ever need to (not sure why I would need to do that, but I’m leaving the possibility open).  Additionally, the pack is made from recycled water bottles (something like 33 recycled 20 oz. filtered water bottles go into it), so I feel nice and ecologically friendly when I carry it.

Melissa loves her Mountainsmith!

The hipbelt is super comfy, and the shoulder straps make my shoulders happy too.  I carried this pack on the 2010 Wilderness Seminar when I was an instructor; during the major expedition, I carried two sleeping bags, more than the average load of group gear, and (for a bit) two food bags.  Even under the increased load, the pack was comfortable and I couldn’t feel the extra weight in the way the pack carried.

I was so impressed with the pack that when it was time to get Melissa a pack, we went with the women’s version of it; exactly the same in construction, just a bit smaller.  She loved it too.  And it’s even in a nice, girly, baby blue color.



5.10 Coyote Climbing Shoes:  Believe it or not, despite having climbed since I was 6 years old, I didn’t have my own pair of climbing shoes until May 2010.  No joke.  For my 25th birthday, my friends told me that they were going to buy me a pair of shoes, and that all I had to do was pick a pair.

I picked the Coyote, made by 5.10.  And I have to say, I’ve fallen in love.  These shoes are great.  I feel pretty strongly that climbing shoes should be comfortable; as a guide I have to spend a long time in them, and because I like long, multi-pitch trad routes, I can’t strip my uber-tight shoes off after each climb.  I also like the lace up versions as it allows me to loosen or tighten different parts of the shoe as I feel like it.  Additionally, these shoes retail for less than $100, so they won’t break the bank!

So far I’ve used my shoes for top roping and trad leading, for sandstone and granite, and on short climbs and multi-pitch.  They’ve been wonderful in all situations.

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