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Giving thanks to our gear

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We are gathered here today to give thanks to our gear, which cares for us through sleet and snow.

To you, dear mountaineering pants, thank you for no longer being woolen knickers. Sure, those trousers of yore had a certain panache, but why so stingy in the calf protection department? Calves need protection, too.

To you, sweet, sweet polypro:  We’ve had some touch-and-go moments with stink, but those are so far overshadowed by how you tenderly keep me dry even when I’m soaking you to the core. Pay no mind to the shade thrown at you by my old cotton T-shirts. They’ll learn to forgive… in time.

To you, my fat, semi-rockered skis, god bless. I used to fake my joy of skiing powder. I couldn’t get the balance right; I sat back; my thighs burned; my toes turned black. Then you entered my life in one, portly, waterski-like wave. You’ve taught me how to love again, fatties. You are my new truth.

To you, my itsy-bitsy bundle of feathered joy: my utmost gratitude. Dearest down vest, thank you. I used to run through down vests like a one legged man in an alligator swamp: fast and not looking back. Then I discovered I could wash down, and it was like the sun rose for the first time ever. Thank you for always bouncing back to your lofty and fluff-filled self.

To you, my new soft-as-a-baby’s butt Merino wool base layer: a hearty huzzah! I slighted your kind for years. Memories of scratchy, hot, heavy sweaters fueled my crusade against your goodness. Boy what a difference a century makes! You’re warm. You’re cool. You’re warm when I’m wet. I’m so happy you’ve got my back.

And last, but not least, to you: my beloved partners in crime, leather boots: my sincerest thanks. You’ve not changed much over the years, because you haven’t needed to. You were my first significant outdoor purchase. I knew that we could have a long, happy life together once you gave in a little, and I vowed to take good care of you. Season after season, year after year, together we’ve traveled untold miles of trails, mountains and deserts. Thank you for never changing. You’re living proof that the best gear can last a lifetime, with a little care and a lot of love.

Thank you for the adventures!  —Brook Sutton

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Winter Fun With Kids

Who cares if they'd rather eat snow than slide on it? Just dress 'em warm and send them out.

Who cares if they’d rather eat snow than slide on it? Just dress ’em warm and send them out.

Few things in life are as inspiring as the anticipation of the first snowfall, especially for parents. You know who you are. You’ve watched your child’s eyes light up at the first snow of the season, and shared the same purity of spirit. Hot chocolate steaming in a mug, you gather by the window planning snowmen and skiing and sledding galore.

Then Spongebob comes on and you all return to the couch or to your book or the dishes. Ehh. It’s cold out there.

If your kids are only playing outside in three seasons, they’re missing out on one quarter of life’s fun and a lot of more of nature’s beauty. We’ve gathered a few ideas to keep your kids warm, happy and begging for more outside time this winter.

Create a winter dressing checklist. There’s a lot to remember in winter dressing, especially when you’re anxious to get outside to go sledding. Since one missing mitten can ruin a good time, make a list (with pictures if you’re kid is still learning to read) of head to toe gear for both you and your little one to reference.

Let your child select their own super cool hat. If they hate it, they won’t wear it. If they love it, good luck removing it, which is exactly what you want when it comes to hats and winter.

Splurge on the technical gear to avoid unhappy, cold little ones.

Splurge on the technical gear to avoid unhappy, cold little ones.

Focus on fun, even if the activity is serious or expensive. The fastest way to end your ski or snowboarding vacations is to pressure your kid into loving them. The younger the kid, the more the experience should be purely associated with fun. This may mean that your four year old is more interested in eating the snow than sliding on it. Fine! Eventually, they’ll understand what it’s all about. Until then, give them time to adjust to bulky clothes, heavy boots and a near frictionless gravity. Trust us. They’ll out-ski you before you’re ready.

Don’t skimp on quality gear. Easier said than done when we’re all on a budget, but think of it this way: dress your kid as you dress yourself. You would never go on a ski tour with cotton knit mittens, yet that’s what gets pushed to kids whose hands will inevitably be buried in snow. Eschew cotton under-layers and invest in quick dry, insulating pieces. The good news is that since kids grow fast most thrift stores have a decent selection of children’s technical gear. Also, connect with other outdoor-oriented parents to organize a hand-me-down collective.

Doing laundry may be the secret to warm, outdoor play. Kids’ gear can get an undeserved bad rap for low performance. But the truth is that technical gear needs to be free from dirt and grime to perform at its peak. Since dirt, grime and kids go hand in hand, try to stay on top of cleaning your kids’ winter wear.

Couldn’t be easier, right? OK, we hear all you parents laughing out there. We understand that it can be tough to get the kids outside, but we know from experience that once they’re there, they probably won’t want to come inside. That’s where our final tip comes in: bribe ‘em with hot cocoa. Works every time.


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Soft Shell 101

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In the late 1990’s, soft shell (also spelled “softshell”) outerwear hit the marketplace with a bang. Almost overnight, the stretchy fabric became the telltale mark of “serious” outdoorspeople. Soft shells continue to excel as a go-to piece for outdoor play. Today we present: everything you’ve always wanted to know about soft shell fabrics…

1. What exactly is a “soft shell” anyway?

Any synthetic outerwear with stretch, moderate water- and wind-resistance, and high breathability can be considered a soft shell. As fabric technology evolves, the line between hard shell and soft shell gets murkier. Today, there are hard shells that feel a bit like traditional soft shells with high breathability and stretch. There are also membrane soft shells, which will feel like a hard shell with a bit more stretch.

Recognizable ingredient brand names: Polartec, Shoeller and Gore-Tex Soft Shell, plus many branded options from manufacturers.

2. What are the pros and cons soft shells?

  • Pros
    • Breathability. Soft shells provide plenty of protection from (most of) the elements with greater breathability than hard shells. Excellent for aerobic activities like running and ski touring.
    • Stretch. When you need to have greater freedom of movement, such as with climbing or Nordic skiing, added stretch is a huge bonus.
    • Warmth. Soft shells are not sold as insulators, per se, but in moderate temperatures one soft shell can do the job of a hard shell and a fleece combo.
  • Cons
    • Resistance. Soft shells can be slightly less wind and water resistant than hard shells.
    • Weight. If you require super light gear for your latest epic, soft shells generally aren’t as light as hard shells.

3. Do soft shells require special care?

Nothing beyond proper cleaning and occasional waterproofing! The vast majority of soft shells can and should be washed in the home washing machine (always double check the label). Wash with Nikwax Tech Wash – alone or with other gear for which Tech Wash is appropriate. As needed, do a secondary wash with Nikwax SoftShell Proof to revive your soft shell’s water-resistance back to original levels.

4. Do I need soft shell gear?

If you can answer yes to either of the following questions it may be time to add soft shell gear to your performance wardrobe.

  • Do I participate in sports where I’m likely to sweat a lot?
  • When I’m outside, is it usually snowy or clear, as opposed to rainy or sleety?

Here’s to fun, warm, safe and dry outdoor play!