by Ronnie Charrier
I’ve heard it said that even a bad day in the mountains is better than a perfect day in the office. Imagine, for a moment, being soaked through, trudging up a rocky slope in the rain with blisters on each foot, while the thin straps of your backpack dig into your shoulders, knowing you have miles to go before you reach shelter. While we certainly love being outdoors, we are the first to admit that when you have a bad day in nature, it really sucks! Heading to the climbing crag or on a hike with sub-par gear can make for a frustrating day at best, and a dangerous one at worst.
To help make sure that you can experience the outdoors in all its natural splendor, here are five outdoor gear companies that you should definitely get familiar with.
So iLL originally came onto the climbing scene as an artificial hold manufacturer, but really started making noise when they launched their first line of climbing shoes via Kickstarter, raising more than $100,000 in a few short weeks with their retro bowling shoes and soccer cleats-inspired designs.
While they definitely seemed “cool”, I wasn’t in a hurry to purchase a pair of shoes from a company that I hadn’t read many reviews about. But then I got a chance to try on a pair at a climbing gym in Chicago and realized they had a lot more going for them than just cool designs and good marketing. I was quickly intrigued by their sole compound, “Dark Matter Rubber,” that is not only sticky, but also can be dyed to take color.
So I bought I pair.
Then I bought another pair.
And all of a sudden, I realized that they were the only shoes I was using. While I had enjoyed shoes from other, better known brands previously, I now spend most of my time at the crags wearing my So Ill New Zero’s on the majority of climbs (they are the most comfortable aggressive shoes I’ve ever worn!) and the 2020 Gold’s when I need a stiffer, more aggressive shoe.
They were always going to pique my interest with their bold design, but it’s their top of the line performance that has made them my go-to for shoes. Phoebe has already requested a pair of their new Free Range LV’s for Christmas.
Considered by many to be the “Lexus of climbing ropes”, Maxim is the standard for sport climbers. Typically they sit on the higher end of the price range, we prefer not to mess around when it comes to something so impactful as gravity.
We use both the Pinnacle Cobalt STD-Dry 70m and the MAXIM Platinum 9.8 mm 70m, the latter of which just began shipping this summer. The super tight weave of the sheath gives these ropes their incredible handling and the stiffness provides for easier clipping.
A rope is your strongest piece of equipment, and in some ways, your most vulnerable. When you decide to buy a climbing rope, keep in mind that no other single piece of equipment will be as important, which is why we recommend Maxim.
Finding clothing that is functional isn’t that hard. Finding ones that are functional AND stylish? That can be another challenge altogether. I came across Fisher + Baker not too long ago and I was drawn to their purpose of balance. They wanted to create clothing for work and play; that was durable, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. It's an added bonus that they use sustainably sourced materials in their products.
We always try to pack light, especially when we're lugging backpacks full of all our ropes and shoes (see above), but I always find myself throwing a Fisher + Baker shirts in my bag, on the off chance that there's a nice restaurant or pub where we can relax after a long day at the crag. Their Camden shirt (my favorite) is a blend of merino wool (which, if you've read our previous articles, is basically our religion) and cotton. The Bastille shirt uses hemp in its construction, keeping you even cooler if you’re somewhere warm. They’ve even designed a cashmere t-shirt, which I've put on my Christmas list, which looks super soft, is machine washable, and, like all their products, comes with a lifetime warranty.
Guys. We LOVE our ZenBivy. We use it so much, we wrote a whole article on it - you can also read our first review here. The Zenbivy Bed sleeping system concept comes from designer Michael Glavin, who has been working in the outdoor industry for the last twenty years. His creation was born from a desire to answer the age old question for outdoorsmen: “Why isn’t there a more comfortable solution for sleeping outdoors that’s still lightweight enough to pack into the backcountry?”
Speaking as someone who once slept on the ground for four days on a climbing trip, I can tell you that a good night's sleep will do wonders for your performance on the mountain the next day.
I was lucky enough to get a demo unit to test out over the summer, while hiking in Glacier National Park. It completely changed the way I thought about sleeping outdoors (previously I dreaded it, now I look forward to it), and I immediately had to purchase one to keep for myself, as well as one for Phoebe too.
The design has been meticulously thought-out; the quilt zips away, and provides nice warmth when just waking up from camping or if an extra layer by the crag is needed. I whole-heartedly recommend this for your next overnight trip.
Before Fisher + Baker, there was PrAna. Sustainably sourced, functional, fun, and with new lines every season, PrAna has always been our go-to for outdoor clothing. As far as rock climbing pants go, the Stretch Zion Pant is it for me. It offers superb functionality and is great for climbing, bouldering, hiking, travel, yoga, and even casual wear. The stretchy material doesn’t restrict movement and keeps me cool when it’s warm, and warm when it’s cool.
More than that though, it’s also important to us that companies are socially aware of the lives they impact. PrAna is part of a number of environmental initiatives, and most importantly, is a major player and mover of Fair Trade Certified apparel in North America.
For us, it’s not just about looking good or wearing the latest trends. We want to support companies and brands that we believe in their company cultures, share some of the same values that we have, and help to make the world a better place.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this list and please feel free to comment below if there are other companies we should be aware of.