Guy Gear & Buying Guides
Old Man Winter is upon us! But that doesn’t mean you have to put away your camping and hiking gear until spring. Wintertime brings amazing scenery and its own set of fun adventures and challenges. Sure, it’s freezing, but as long as you’re prepared with the right kind of gear you’ll be toasty warm and having fun!
GEAR FOR YOUR BODY
When the temperature drops, layering is the key to staying warm and comfortable. Here’s how:
Base Layer. Also commonly known as long underwear, this layer is worn closest to your skin. Its main job is to wick away sweat and moisture so your skin stays dry. Wear it relatively tight to the skin and use only wool or synthetic base layers. Never use cotton because it will not keep you warm once it’s wet, whether from sweat or precipitation. These base layers come in various weights, from heavy for frigid conditions to lightweight for warmer temps and activities that cause a lot of sweating, such as strenuous hiking and cross-country skiing. It’s a good idea to have one extra pair of base layers to change into every night at camp.
- Cheap: REI Midweight MTS Crew Shirt and Long Underwear Bottoms ($14.93-$22.50; rei.com)
- Steep: Icebreaker Men’s 200 Lightweight Oasis Crewe and Legging ($80 each; icebreaker.com)
Insulation. This layer is worn atop the base layer and is designed to provide the majority of your insulation. It should be made of fleece, wool, down or synthetic insulation and can be a pullover, zip-up jacket or vest, depending on how much insulation you need.
- Cheap: Columbia Fast Trek II Half Zip Fleece ($45; columbia.com)
- Steep: Patagonia Nano Puff Pullover ($169; patagonia.com)
Shell. The outermost layer, the shell jacket and pants protect you from wind and wet conditions. There are two types of shells: the hard shell is a lightweight layer that’s windproof and waterproof, capable of handling heavy rain and very wet conditions; a soft shell is made of a more flexible, soft-faced material that’s windproof yet highly breathable, and water-resistant enough to protect you against everything except a heavy downpour.
- Cheap: L.L. Bean Trail Model Rain Jacket and Pants ($79 and $69; llbean.com)
- Steep: REI Centre Peak Jacket ($199; rei.com)
GEAR FOR YOUR HEAD
Hat. You’ve surely heard this before: If you’re cold, put on a hat. Just as with any exposed skin on your body, you can lose lots of heat through your bare head. So cover up with a wool or synthetic stocking cap. Those with earflaps can be especially handy. To trap the maximum body heat, pull your jacket’s hood over your head. And when the air is so cold it seems to take your breath away, try wearing something to cover your face such as a face mask, scarf, bandana, neck gaiter or balaclava (a pullover hat with a cutout for your face).
- Cheap: Cabela’s Polartec U.S. Marines Black Watch Cap ($10; cabelas.com)
- Steep: Cyclone Buff Balaclava ($39; buffusa.com)
Headlamp. During the winter, days are shorter so it’s always a good idea to carry a headlamp with you in case you need to find your way in the dark.
GEAR FOR YOUR FEET
Waterproof boots. Nothing can cause more misery than hiking around in soggy boots. If you want to keep your feet warm, keep them dry. Invest in a pair of waterproof boots, preferably those with warm insulation and removable liners so you can dry them out each night.
Socks. Many people underestimate the value of a quality pair of socks. For cold weather, go with wool (though synthetic blend works OK, too), and consider wearing a silk or neoprene sock liner under it to wick away sweat and minimize blistering. Also, if you’re expecting to be in very wet conditions, try wearing an old plastic grocery bag between your liner sock and your wool sock as a moisture barrier. For really cold conditions, try cutting up pieces of an old foam sleeping pad to make insoles for your boots that provide added insulation from the cold ground.
- Cheap: Woolrich Heritage Boot Sock ($8; woolrich.com)
- Steep: Smartwool Mountaineering Socks ($22.95; smartwool.com)
GEAR FOR YOUR HANDS
Waterproof gloves or mittens. Start with a thin pair of wool or synthetic liner gloves, then layer them with an outer waterproof glove or mitten. Mittens are often slightly warmer because they let you share warmth between fingers, but gloves give you better dexterity.
GEAR FOR YOUR TUMMY
Food. When you keep your body well fueled, it acts like an internal furnace that keeps you warm. Try to eat foods packed with slow-burning calories, like nuts, cheese, peanut butter and hard sausage.
Hydration. Even though you’re not hot and sweating, cold weather can still dehydrate you quickly. So drink plenty of water on the trail. If your pee is dark yellow, then you’re not drinking enough! For really cold climates, consider carrying an insulated water bottle or hydration bladder, or keep a small canteen of water close to your body to prevent it from freezing.
GEAR FOR YOUR BOTTOM
Foam pad. This may seem silly, but always pack a small square-shape scrap of foam pad to use for a sit cushion or kneeling pad. Besides providing a layer of insulation between your body and the cold ground, the pad can also help you avoid getting wet.
SLEEP RIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT
For winter camping, your best bet is to use a layered sleeping system.
Start with your standard sleeping bag. Assuming it’s not rated for freezing temps, you can up the warmth of your bag with a silk or fleece liner and by wearing warm clothes and a stocking cap to bed. You can also fill up space in your sleeping bag (thus keeping you warmer) with other pieces of clothing. Added bonus: Your clothes will be toasty warm in the morning.
For truly cold temps, layer your sleeping bag with an overbag, basically an oversized sleeping bag that provides an extra layer of insulation that can boost the temp rating of your sleeping bag by 20 degrees or more. Next, be sure to have a single or double layer of sleeping pads to insulate you from the cold ground. It’s great to have one pad in between your sleeping bag and your overbag. Finally, camping inside a structure like a quinzee (also called a snow dome), snow cave or igloo, or a four-season tent will keep you out of the wind and weather while you sleep.
You hop off the chairlift and slide over to the edge. It’s the steepest slope you’ve ever seen. Butterflies flutter in your stomach. But as you push yourself over the edge and into the fresh snow, fear is replaced by fun. Whether you’ll be going skiing or snowboarding, Gear Guy fills you in on all the gear you need, plus a couple of tips and tricks that’ll have you shredding in no time.
Cheap vs. Steep: “Cheap” gear listed here is great stuff. It has been studied and tested and ranks among the best offerings in its price range. When you’re ready to move up to higher-end gear, the “Steep” options provide room to grow. You can often find great deals online.
News flash: Wearing a helmet on the slopes is cool. It means you’re smart and that you’re charging hard enough to need a brain bucket. Wear only an ASTM- or CE-approved helmet. Some helmets come with added ventilation, removable earpads, even built-in headphones. But most important, pick one that fits comfortably snug.
Goggles are meant to keep blowing snow and wind out of your eyes so you can concentrate on shredding the hill. The fit should be snug with no big gaps between your face and goggle where air can enter. Also, make sure the top of the goggle frame meets the helmet as closely as possible. Different lens tints work better in different snow conditions. Pick a darker lens for very bright days; yellow or rose tints work well in lower light. Some goggles even come with interchangeable lenses.
If you’re wearing a regular cotton T-shirt as a base layer, you must be stuck in the 1980s! What you need next to your skin is a quick-drying fabric like a synthetic blend or wool, which wicks moisture away from your skin while keeping you warm. A zippered mock T gives you the maximum ability to regulate your body temp. Should fit snug, but not too snug.
- Cheap: Polarmax PMX Team Shirt and Tech Pant ($25 each; polarmax.com)
- Steep: Icebreaker Longsleeve Crewe and Legging ($60 each; icebreaker.com)
If you’ve learned anything from Gear Guy about dressing for the outdoors, it’s this: Wear layers! If you get hot, take a layer off. Get cold, put one on. Fleece or down pullovers and jackets make great mid layers. Should fit relatively close to the body but with enough room to move.
- Cheap: Eddie Bauer First Ascent Cloudlayer fleece pullover ($20; eddiebauer.com)
- Steep: The North Face Vesty Vest ($89; thenorthface.com)
This outer layer protects you from the wind, snow, sleet, etc. Look for a jacket that’s waterproof and breathable. Some come with built-in insulation or removable layers depending on the weather. A few zippered pockets are nice, but you don’t need too many gadgets. Should be roomy for mobility and to accommodate extra layers, but not so loose that it’ll get caught on the ski lift.
- Cheap: Columbia Rugged Peak Jacket ($115; columbia.com)
- Steep: Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot Jacket ($339; patagonia.com)
Eventually, you’re gonna fall. And when you do, you’ll need a good pair of waterproof/breathable pants to keep you dry and warm. Wear them loose, but not baggy, for mobility.
- Cheap: Columbia Bugaboo Tech Pant ($85; columbia.com)
- Steep: Sierra Designs Rad Pants ($199; sierradesigns.com)
Look for gloves that are warm and waterproof/breathable. They need to fit tight enough so you have plenty of dexterity with your fingers and no unnecessary bulk. Leather palms can help with better feel, too.
- Cheap: Kombi Gore Method Jr. ($50; kombisports.com)
- Steep: Outdoor Research HighCamp ($79; outdoorresearch.com)
Wear a pair of mid-weight synthetic or merino wool socks — never cotton tube socks because they won’t keep your feet warm once they’re sweaty and wet. Make sure your socks are close-fitting because if they’re too loose, they’ll bunch up and cause blisters.
- Cheap: Lorpen Kid’s Merino Ski ($15 for 2 pair; lorpen.com)
- Steep: Icebreaker Kids Snow Mid Over the Calf ($15; icebreaker.com)
You’ll spend somewhere between $350 to $900 for a pair of skis. In general, look for skis that come up to about your nose or forehead. For a variety of all-mountain type skiing, pick a ski with a waist of about 70 to 80 millimeters and a soft or medium flex, which is best for beginner and intermediate skiers.
Well-fitting boots are key to maintaining control of your skis. Look for four-buckle boots with customizable features for fine-tuning a better fit. The flex of your boots is also important. Beginners should look for a less stiff boot. Ski boots should fit one-half size to a full size smaller than street shoes.
Bindings are the connection between you and your skis. Step in and they click as they lock in. When you wipe out, the binding releases and tiny brakes pop down to stop your skis from skiing away from you! How easily they release can be adjusted; most beginners should choose a low-release setting. Most new skis are paired with bindings and will cost an extra $150 to $300.
Expect to spend between $250 and $500 for a new snowboard. Your board should come up to right around your chin. You also want to make sure the board is wide enough so that your feet don’t hang over the edge when you turn. The next thing to consider is board stiffness. Softer flex is best for beginners because it’s easier to ride. More stiffness helps advanced riders on steeper slopes.
Make sure your boots are comfortable from the first time you try them on. They should fit snug in the heel and forefoot with some wiggle room for your toes. For starters try a half-size smaller than your street shoes. In general, entry-level boots have traditional shoe lacing; higher-end boots use a tightening system that lets you easily dial in the tightness with a knob.
Your board is attached to your feet with bindings. There are two types: straps and step-in. Strap bindings are the most popular and are the best choice. They can be cinched down super-tight using the ratchet straps, while step-ins lock you in just by stepping down on the binding.
WINTER SPORTS TIPS
• Stay Hydrated. You might not be sweating and you might not feel thirsty, but your body probably is. Cold weather and active winter sports can dehydrate you quickly, so be sure to drink enough water while skiing or riding. Some guys even wear hydration packs to keep liquids close by.
• Take a Lesson. No question, the fastest way to get past the beginner blues is to take a ski or snowboard lesson or two. Most ski resorts offer lessons.
• Shop in Summer. One of the best ways to get a good deal on ski or snowboard gear is to shop during the off-season — most snow shops have good sales starting in March. You can sometimes find quality used gear in your local newspaper classified ads or online.
• Rent First. If you’re unsure about what type of skis or board would be best for you, rent your gear. Most shops have rentals and demo equipment, and some might even offer full season leasing of a whole setup for around $150 to $200.
You’re 50 feet off the ground, clinging to a near-vertical rock wall. Using your feet and hands to smoothly scale the rock, you feel a little bit like Spider-Man. And it feels good! Whether you’ll be trying climbing for the first time at Scout camp or practicing the sport indoors at a climbing gym, Gear Guy is here to fill you in on all the essential gear. You’ll also get a few tips and tricks that’ll have you climbing like Spider-Man from the start.
CHEEP VS. STEEP
Gear Guy knows you’re on a budget. But because everyone’s budget is different, he has provided multiple options. “Cheap” gear listed here is great stuff. It has been studied and tested and ranks among the best offerings in its price range. When you’re ready to move up to higher-end gear, the “Steep” options provide room to grow. You can often find great deals at online sites such as eBay, where there usually are lots of cheap, barely used climbing shoes.
The good ol’ brain bucket is one of the most important pieces of climbing gear because it protects your head from hitting something as well as from falling rocks and gear. Wear only a UIAA- or CEN-approved climbing helmet; bicycle and football helmets aren’t acceptable because they’re not designed to protect you from falling objects. If you’re warm-natured or climbing somewhere hot, look for a light-colored helmet with plenty of ventilation. But most important, pick one that fits comfortably snug.
Cheap: Petzl Elios ($66; www.petzl.com)
Steep: Black Diamond Tracer ($90; www.blackdiamondequipment.com)
Athletic shoes and light hikers are fine for beginning climbers. But if you want more performance, you’ll need climbing-specific shoes. There are several types, from tight-fitting sock-like climbing slippers, to flexible and super grippy friction shoes, to edging shoes, which provide performance with more comfort. Climbing shoes should be tight but not painfully so. You might size down a size or two from your street shoe when picking a climbing shoe. They are also usually available for rent at climbing gyms and are sometimes provided for use at Scout camps.
Cheap: La Sportiva Tarantula ($80; www.sportiva.com)
Steep: Scarpa Vapor Lace ($140; www.scarpa.com)
A harness comfortably distributes your weight and allows you to attach yourself to the belay rope. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on how to attach to the harness. Tie the belay rope directly to your harness rather than using a carabiner. The waist belt and loops distribute your weight in many directions for comfort and safety in the event of a fall. Though it’s possible to tie a seat harness from a single piece of webbing, a commercially made harness is more comfy. Pick a harness that is tight but not so much that it restricts your movement. When in doubt, choose the smaller size.
Cheap: Black Diamond Alpine Bod ($38; www.blackdiamondequipment.com)
Steep: Mammut Zephir ($100; www.mammut.ch)
A locking carabiner is used to attach the belay device to your harness. Carabiners are essential for rappelling and belaying other climbers. Good carabiners are made of aluminum alloy or high-grade steel, with spring-loaded gates that snap closed. They can be oval, D-shaped or pear-shaped and come in either locking or nonlocking options. Usually, the lighter and stronger a carabiner is, the more expensive it will be. Beware of look-alike carabiners — things like climbing key rings and accessory holders that are not designed for climbing, as they won’t be strong enough to support your body weight.
Cheap: Black Diamond Oval Carabiner ($5.50; www.blackdiamondequipment.com)
Steep: Omega Pacific ISO Locking Standard D Screwgate Carabiner
Belaying is a safety technique that provides friction to a climbing rope while your partner is climbing so he cannot fall very far if he slips. There are several types of belay devices, including a slotted plate and a tube device. The tube device is most popular because it provides friction with minimal heat. There are also specialized belay devices, like the GriGri, which automatically locks up the rope when loaded with tension (a lot like a seat belt in a car). These are commonly used at climbing gyms.
Cheap: Black Diamond ATC ($17; www.blackdiamondequipment.com)
Steep: Petzl GriGri 2 ($95; boyslife.org/links/petzl)*
*IMPORTANT NOTE: Early models of GriGri 2 have been recalled because of a potential problem in which the handle may become stuck open. Serial numbers between 10326 and 11136 are affected.
Your grip is super important while climbing. Chalk helps dry your hands (by removing sweat and moisture) and improves your hold on the rock. Most climbers use loose chalk in a bag or chalk balls (you can make your own by filling a cut-off stocking with chalk). Though it’s perfect for gyms and manmade climbing towers, chalk stays visible on rocks, making it look unnatural and conflicting with Leave No Trace principles. Always follow local regulations regarding chalk use when climbing in the wild.
• Metolius Super Chalk ($3.75 for 4.5 oz.; www.metoliusclimbing.com)
• Mad Rock Koala Chalkbag ($15; www.madrockclimbing.com)
You don’t have to be out in nature on a real rock or in a climbing gym to train for rock climbing. Many climbers use grip trainers to build the muscles of the hand and forearm. Others hang pull-up style training boards in their home to practice various climbing holds and moves.
Cheap: Power Putty Hand Strengthener ($8; www.powerputty.com)
Steep: DynaFlex Pro Gyro Ball Hand Exerciser ($25; www.mydfx.com)
Steeper: Metolius Project Training Board ($55; www.metoliusclimbing.com)
TIPS & TRICKS
Here’s how rock climbing works: While the climber works his way up the rock face (which can vary from a slight incline to vertical to an overhang) another guy belays him. The climber wears a harness that is attached to a rope held by the belayer, who uses a simple device to add friction to the rope when needed. As the climber climbs, the belayer maintains tension on the rope and takes in or feeds out rope as needed. If the climber slips and falls, the belayer can easily and safely stop his fall.
THREE POINTS ON THE ROCK
The most efficient way to climb is using the three-point stance — keeping two hands and one foot on the rock at all times while moving the free foot to a new location, or having both feet and one hand on holds as the free hand moves. Lean out from the wall slightly so your body weight rests on your feet. Your hands should be used primarily for balance so your stronger leg muscles can do the bulk of the climbing work.
BRAINS OVER BRAWN
Use your mind, not just your muscles, when climbing. Always look ahead up the rock thinking about where you should place your hands and feet next. Think several moves ahead of where you are and mentally create a route to follow. Also look sideways for other hand and foot placements.
LEARNING THE ROPES
One of the most important pieces of climbing gear is the rope. While beginners usually don’t own their own ropes, it’s good to know the different types. Dynamic rope stretches when put under load (like your body weight), so it can absorb some of the shock of a falling climber. Static ropes stretch less — they are best for things like hauling gear up the rock — and are not suitable for situations in which a climber may fall. (Keep in mind: Unless you’re climbing on your own, you’ll never have to provide your own ropes. In fact, Scout camps won’t even let you bring your own carabiners, ropes or belay devices because they have to ensure the history of all gear used.)
Most Boy Scout councils and summer camps will
not allow boys to participate in climbing until
they are at least 13. Even then, never go climbing
without a qualified BSA climbing instructor.
DRESS TO CLIMB
When climbing, always wear a comfortable shirt and pants to avoid scrapes and abrasions on the rock. Loose clothing is good, but stay away from baggy clothes because they may get caught on the rock
or interfere with your movement.
Don’t worry; the Gear Guy knows the deal with hiking boots. You need cool-looking boots that are comfortable and sturdy enough to tackle long days on tough trails. And your feet are growing fast, so your parents probably don’t want to keep spending a big wad of cash for boots you’ll soon outgrow. With that in mind, we did the shopping for you to find eight great boots that won’t break the bank.
Cabela’s Backcountry Hikers
These waterproof boots have leather uppers with nylon side panels and plenty of padding in the ankle and tongue for extra support. At $60, they’re also the most affordable waterproof boots in our roundup, and we even saw them on sale online for $40! Approx. 3 lbs. per pair.
Hi-Tec Mokala Mid
With a combo of suede leather and breathable mesh and a steel shank in the sole, the Mokalas provide good support, especially for a mid-ankle cut boot. While not waterproof, this boot has a moisture-wicking lining to pull sweat away and keep your feet dry. Approx. 2 lbs. 8 oz. per pair.
L.L. Bean Waterproof Trail Model Hikers
Though these boots are considered mid-cut hikers, they are cut quite high and offer enough ankle support for a multiday trip carrying a moderate load. They are made with a combo of nylon and suede leather and feature a waterproof, breathable membrane. If wet feet aren’t a concern, check out the nonwaterproof version of this same boot for just $59. Approx. 2 lbs. 12 oz. per pair.
Merrell Moab Ventilator
By far the lightest-weight true boots in our roundup, these mid-top Ventilators feel like a pair of comfy running shoes. The breathable mesh uppers have leather strapping that provides extra support without making the boots too heavy. They have nice Vibram-brand soles and are a good choice for summer hiking. Approx. 1 lb. 15 oz. per pair.
Columbia Coremic Ridge 2
The Coremic Ridge 2’s uppers are breathable mesh with suede leather overlays to give your foot more support. Though they aren’t waterproof, these boots are treated with Columbia’s Omni-Shield for water and stain resistance. We found them cheaper online and in stores, for around $50. Approx. 2 lbs. 10.5 oz. per pair.
Vasque Ranger GTX
An entry-level boot from well-respected boot maker Vasque, the mesh and suede leather Ranger has features, like waterproof, breathable Gore-Tex and a durable rubber rand around the toe, you usually find only on higher-priced boots. We saw the Ranger GTX discounted on Amazon.com for just 89 bucks. Approx. 2 lbs. 14 oz. per pair.
Timberland White Ledge Hiker
These waterproof boots have an almost entirely full-grain leather upper with fewer seams for greater durability. A mid-cut, well-padded nylon ankle provides support while a moisture-wicking interior does its best to keep your feet from getting wet with sweat on hot days. Approx.
2 lbs. 5 oz. per pair.
Helly Hansen Trackfinder
Low-cut hikers like these are a great option for those times when you’re not carrying a backpack and don’t need extra ankle support. They are comfortable like a sneaker but still provide enough shock absorption for rocky, rugged trails. Approx. 1 lb. 11.5 oz. per pair.
SHOP SMART … with these five smart boot-buying tips.
Try before you buy. Put them on and hike around the store for at least 10 minutes to check proper fit.
Bring socks. Always bring a pair of your own hiking socks to the store for trying on boots.
Lace ’em up. Make sure the boots are laced up correctly and snug for best fit.
Shop late. Your feet are largest in the afternoon, so shop then.
Fit right. Yes, your feet are still growing, but buy boots that fit right now; never buy them large so you’ll grow into them. Loose-fitting boots can be dangerous and uncomfortable on the trail.