There’s nothing better than some shit-hot new gear to spend your hard-earned dollars on, is there? Technological advances in apparel and outdoor hardgoods are fun and exciting, and we love to celebrate them. Like a lot of folks, I have my favorite pieces of tried-and-true gear, and here are my favorites for 2012:
There was a time in my life when I thought an outdoor jacket without a hood was useful. It was long ago, when I was younger and dumb. Or dumber, I guess. My friend Chris, who converted me to hooded jackets long ago, has said that if someone made a pair of underwear with a hood on it, he would buy it. I love hoods, but slightly less than Chris does. To me, a soft shell without a hood is probably OK for walking your dog, or cycling. But I don’t need one. I need hoods. I like to climb in a thin soft shell. Usually a couple pitches up, when the wind picks up, I most of the time need to do nothing more than reach behind my neck and pull the hood of my jacket over my helmet and I am instantly in my happy place. I mean, have you ever led a pitch with your hood on? I think it instantly makes you feel like a superhero. Try it sometime if you haven’t. On a recent, chilly fundraising climb on Mount Whitney, I simultaneously wore four hoods for the last 400 feet to the summit. It was nothing short of magnificent. Big shout out to hoods.
Pro Tip: If you wear helmets for a lot of activities and you’re buying a jacket, make sure the hood fits over a helmet. Otherwise, you end up with a kind-of belly shirt/jacket where the armpits are constantly pulling, and wind/snow get up the back of the jacket, negating any heat-preserving benefit of the hood.
2. Water bottles
Seriously, have you ever tried to go on a long hike without a vessel to carry water in? Pain. In. The. Ass. Drinking out of streams by cupping your hands is for suckers, and really unreliable. But also badass — the seven dudes in Slawomir Rawicz’s The Long Walk only had one cup for all of them for 4,000 miles. Which is hardcore. Without a water bottle, you must rely on water sources to travel in the backcountry. With a water bottle (or several water bottles), your ability to travel is almost limitless. Whenever you find a stream or alpine lake, you can be like, I’ll have two liters of water to go, please. Which is totally liberating.
Pro Tip: If you’re buying a water bottle, get one with a lid. Otherwise, you’re basically buying a glass, which is hard to keep from spilling. Most water bottles have lids. Also make sure they don’t leak (a fairly standard feature of most bottles today), because you want your sleeping bag to stay dry in your backpack so that when you get to wherever you’re going and you won’t freeze to death overnight.
Without a backpack it is really hard to get very far into the backcountry. You can only fit so much in the pockets of cargo pants and the chest pockets of your shirt. Also, you are not John Muir, who put up first ascents in the Sierras while carrying nothing but a sandwich and a stick. Sure, if you’re going climbing, you can sometimes skip wearing a backpack, because you can wear the rope in a backpack coil and then climb all your other stuff to your harness, but it’s kind of loud and tends to pull your pants down when you walk. Plus, there’s only a certain distance I’m willing to go with a No. 4 Camalot constantly whapping me in the ass. Are you sick of carrying all your shit in your hands when you go for a long walk in the mountains? Try a backpack today. A variety of models are available on the internet and at retailers.
Pro Tip: The number of pockets, zippers and daisy chains on a backpack is directly related to the amount of backcountry knowledge you have. Or inversely related — I actually can’t remember. Anyway, when shopping for a new backpack, get one that’s big enough to carry all your shit. If you like to carry six changes of clothes for a three-day trip, get a huge pack.
4. The Wheel (nominated by Jay Peery)
Sometimes I marvel at the early days of exploration, men and women on horseback navigating truly wild terrain in North America, when there were no roads. Lewis and Clark, Ponce de Leon, et cetera. Hell, even Fred Beckey’s first ascent of Liberty Bell in 1946 was done before the road to Washington Pass existed, meaning the original approach was 16 miles one way. But without the wheel? Please. With the wheel, my van can transport my gear and I from downtown Denver to the Lumpy Ridge parking lot in about 90 minutes. Without the wheel, that same trip would take me about four days. Wheels are obviously baller.
Pro Tip: Generally, the more round a wheel is, the better it works. When shopping for wheels for your bicycle or rollerblades, keep that in mind and try to do a visual inspection before you purchase one. Make sure it’s round — that goes for road and mountain bikes. I have seen bike wheels as expensive as $6,500, and I believe they are that expensive because they are the roundest.
Remember when everyone was so stoked about the Jetboil? It was rad, heat exchanger, super-efficient, fast boiling. Awesome. Revolutionary? Maybe. Know what was even more revolutionary? Fire. That Mountain House Chicken a la King would be hella crunchier without the ability to boil water, wouldn’t it? And that’s where fire comes in. Also useful for cooking meat, which prevents us from getting disgusting diseases like e. coli and trichinosis. Maybe you have built what is known as a “campfire” before, and experienced its warmth on an otherwise cold night. It’s pretty dope, especially if you get caught outside without a sleeping bag.
Pro Tip: Keep hands and pets out of it as much as possible. When anything alive falls into fire, it doesn’t take long before it becomes something called “meat.”
2012 Honorable Mention:
- Closed-toed shoes
- Boom boxes
- The Hammer