A few of my favourite things…
I’m lucky, I get to spend a lot of time outdoors. From the simple walks in the neighbourhood to backcountry ski days in the mountains, or remote fly-in canoe trips in the north, I get to use a lot of gear. Over the years I have grown very particular to great gear, and very weary of new gear.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the best gear tester. Selfishly I don’t like to be outdoors with gear that doesn’t cut it, especially when I know when there is something in my closet at home that would perform better. Thankfully I have not had test gear fail me too often, and for the most part new technology is an improvement over past.
Before I go on too much I should define that the term “gear” in the outdoor sense refers to clothing, outerwear, and equipment. A jacket that you wear in town because you like the style, colour, and fit, becomes “gear” when you pack it up on a canoe trip, or head out into the back country.
Early in my career as an outdoor store owner, we had the opportunity to test out some sleeping bags from a new company. It was exciting to have them ship us some winter rated sleeping bags to sleep in and give them our feedback. They were a type of thermoLoft, a lightweight synthetic that was supposed to be warm like down but light weight. One of my staff and I eagerly headed out for a winter camp, grabbing some non-therm-a-rest mats to test as well. I won’t give you all the details from the trip but the bags were not even close to being warm enough, the mats felt like we were sleeping on “3 dimes” of thickness and the trip was a bust. Lesson – when personal safety is on the line, bring your back up gear that works.
The bad tests made for some great stories over the years, usually best told around a campfire or gear session with a group. This blog, as titled above, is about my favourite things, and here they are:
ThermoBall from The North Face.
ThermoBall is a synthetic insulation that The North Face worked in collaboration with Primaloft to create. It mimics the properties of down, without the moisture management concerns. With its baffle-like, “balled” construction, it is way lighter than other synthetics, super packable and wonderful to wear as a layer or as outerwear. I love ThermoBall(TB) every time I wear it. A couple weeks ago I put my TB to the test again. In the morning, while on a holiday skiing in Fernie, I went out for a few backcountry ski runs. It was a cooler morning, -15C to start. TB layered under my ski jacket, then for skinning up, TB as the outer layer. As noon was drawing near, and my lunch date with my wife and daughter coming up, I trekked up for one last run, then stuffed my TB in my pack for the ski down, and out, back to the lunch spot. (Big Bang Bagels on the hill at Rusty Edge, love my bangers!) After lunch we got dressed back up for some afternoon runs. I wanted my layer again to be warm on the chair lift rides, so I pulled my TB from my pack to discover the frost and moisture from me trekking up, made it a wet mess! Laughing to my 5 year olds comment, “are you going to wear that wet jacket daddy?” I put it on, zipped up my ski jacket over top and we headed out for some skiing. It pretty much dried instantly from my body heat, I was warm, comfortable, and dry all afternoon. I should clarify that the TB didn’t work all on its own, some credit to a good base-layer, and a jacket that IS breathable. (I mean ACTUALLY breathable and not just something written on a sales data sheet somewhere.) Needless to say I love ThermoBall, and its my favourite jacket for so many different activities.
ThermoBall came from Primaloft, and Primaloft is still an amazing synthetic fill for colder weather. Primaloft is a sheet of insulation, lofty yet packable, and because of its sheet construction it does not have cold spots. Even when you stitch through it, there is R value in the stitch line, nice! Living in colder climates I feel the need for a Primaloft product, and I hope that The North Face starts to build a little more of its collection with Canada and cold in mind. Primaloft is water resistant so the insulation does not soak up moisture and get wet and heavy. It’s wonderful in footwear and handwear as those extremities sweat a lot, even in the cold. My favourite Primaloft item would be my Patrol Gloves from The North Face. Mine are about 5-6 years old but they still make the same glove today, although the gauntlet has changed a little. Good thing because mine are starting to wear out a little, and it may be time for a replacement pair. I have cold hands so I am always shocked that the glove works for me up to -20 or so. Skiing with a 5 year old I have to take my gloves off a lot to adjust her mitts, or ski pants, or dig snacks from my pockets. Sliding my hands back in the gloves they are dry each time and always warm back up with some movement or hand clapping (“I can make your hands clap”). Try out some Primaloft in gloves as mentioned, outerwear, or footwear, and you will not be disappointed.
My last favourite thing, for the sake of this blog, would have to be Gore-Tex. Gore is great! If your reading this and say Gore doesn’t work, chances are you have a rogue layer in the works, a less then reputable brand using Gore, or you haven’t cared for it properly, ie. washing and re-treating for water repellancy. Or perhaps the activity you are using it for is too intense, and creates too much body perspiration. But Gore works, and it works the best for being a waterproof and breathable garment. My favourite outdoor test, and it happens a lot, is to layer up with a Gore-Tex shell on top, have your fun with your outdoor activity, and if/when you get a little warm/sweaty/wet, lower your activity and feel your body and layers dry from the inside out. A breathable garment like Gore is your best friend on long days or multi-day trips where a warm dry place to dry out is not an option. Winter campers take note! Gore needs to be washed properly in a wash that won’t strip the DWR off the jacket or clog up the pores slowing your breathability. And if you start to notice your Gore jacket wetting out, give it a DWR treatment wash and it’ll be fixed up and ready for your next trip. Products from Nikwax do the trick nicely. Gore-Tex is still pricey, but the best gear is, and it will far outlast other waterproof/breathable brands in time and function making it the better deal over time.
The best outdoor brands will all use great fabrics, fills, and components to make great gear. Lots of brands use Primaloft and Gore-Tex. The North Face has the exclusive rights to ThermoBall so you will only see those jackets from them. Colours change from year to year, style and fit will change as well, but it’s nice to know the guts of the good stuff will protect you in the outdoors and on all your adventures.
Buy good gear, take good care of it, and marvel at the performance trip after trip.