Welcome to the first installment of TheFind’s 12 Days of Christmas Q&A series with industry leaders of all trades. Climbing Magazine’s Senior Editor, Julie Ellison, shares with us this season’s top outdoor and climbing gear as well her favorite gift ideas and holiday must-haves.
What are some of your favorite gear trends/products this holiday season?
One trend I’ve been loving for a while is crossover lifestyle apparel, meaning stuff you can wear out climbing or hiking and then rock at the office or the bar without looking too teched-out. More companies have gear that is comfy to wear all day, with features taken from other sports (hello, soft wide waistband of yoga pants!), that can also be worn for a quick hike after work or a lunchtime climbing session—I love it! Part of this is using more natural fibers in pants and tops—cotton and merino wool instead of polyester—which makes the clothes soft next to skin and easy to wear all day. A few brands that are killing it are Kavu and La Sportiva—both companies have clothes that are great for anybody who loves the outdoors, with fun colors and cool designs.
I’m not a huge technology and electronics person, but I do appreciate all the new options out there for keeping your gadgets going in the great outdoors. When you go outside, you should unplug from social media and the constant communication of today’s world, but that said, I use my phone as a camera and a music player all the time (maybe more than I should!). There are tons of companies out there making products like lanterns, small rechargeable batteries, and even a tea kettle that provide enough energy so you can charge your phone, mp3 player, or other small electronics. Along with that, solar power is becoming a mainstay in the outdoor community: Set up your solar panels at basecamp or even on your pack, and you’ll be harnessing power all day to then use at night—it’s amazing for people who want to be out for a few weeks at a time but still need to get work done!
This isn’t a brand-new trend in the gear world, but I’m a huge fan of companies that are making a big effort to be more sustainable in their practices. The North Face and Patagonia have both created an audit system for their down sourcing to certify that the down-producing animals were treated humanely (no live-plucking or force-feeding). This allows consumers to know that the product they’re buying didn’t cause any harm to animals and that it was manufactured ethically.
What items are on your holiday wish list? What would you be your holiday “must have” and why?
Hm, I don’t know if I can pick just one, that’s a toughie! A few items that I am loving though are…
I do some freelance photography on the side and I’m obsessed with my Canon G16 camera. This point and shoot rivals my big, heavy DSLR in features and quality of photos, but the best part is that it’s super-lightweight and fits in my pocket! I carry it up climbs and on long hikes because it barely weighs anything, and it’s proven really durable after banging against the rock (and being dropped, whoops!) countless times. It shoots RAW, has full manual mode, and a 5x optical zoom that is the best I’ve seen from a point and shoot!
Puffy season is my favorite, and since temps are quickly dropping, the Patagonia Nano Air Hoody is my must-have insulation piece that I can wear from work to climbing to grabbing dinner afterward and I never have to take it off! It is soft and cozy to wear, with a stretchy, burly outer material that’s not as delicate as other puffies, and it doesn’t look so techy that I feel silly in a nice restaurant. Patagonia developed a proprietary new synthetic insulation (called FullRange) that’s designed to be warm and breathable at the same time, so wear it when you’re working hard, but then when you stop you won’t overheat. Plus, I love the women’s blue and teal colors!
Check out My Outdoor Alphabet, they’re art prints made by a Bozeman, Montana, artist using letters with subjects that are specific to climbers, skiers, backpackers, and cyclists (think B is for boot, T is for tent). Super fun and cute for anyone who loves the outdoors. I bought several last year and gave them out to a lot of my friends who I was stumped on buying a gift for—they were unanimously loved!
Bronwen Jewelry (bronwenonline.com) active jewelry is my latest obsession. Made by a Bend, Oregon, artisan (Bronwen Lodato), they’re beautiful, simple necklaces, earrings, and bracelets that are designed to be worn all the time, whether you’re running, climbing, or even swimming. (Tag line is Sweat, Shower, Swim I think.) They have really strong cords so they won’t break easily, and many styles are low-profile so you can wear it all the time without worrying about it getting in the way.
Great women’s climbing and hiking pants are sort of hard to come by since we’re all such different shapes and sizes, but my two hands-down favorites are the Mountain Hardwear Dynama Pant and Prana Kara Jean. The Dynama are a bit more techy, but they have a wide waistband (no zipper or button) that’s ridiculously soft, with an athletic fit that makes them appropriate to wear even to an important meeting. The Kara Jean is a slim-fitting jean that has so much stretch you won’t feel like you’re wearing jeans. I pretty much only wear these two pants from fall to spring: Dynama if I need more protection from elements, the Kara when I’m just getting outside for a few hours and am running around town or at work the rest of the day.
What are Climbing readers interested in this holiday season?
Climbers always want climbing gear! New climbing shoes, ropes, harnesses, crashpads, helmets—a lot of it is very specific to what type of climbing someone does, and if you’re not a climber it can be challenging to figure out what exactly is the right product. Climbers are really getting into lifestyle-oriented products that enhance the outdoor experience, like outdoor speakers (EcoXGear speakers are burly and great), solar kits, packable camping chairs (check out Alite or Helinox), and water bottles that keep your drink hot or cold for a full day (Hydro Flasks are amazing!). Our readers really love functional gear that actually looks cool, too, and companies like Topo Designs and Fjallraven are doing a great job at creating gear that has good performance but looks stylish and modern.
What top climbing/outdoor gear should readers be on the lookout for this holiday season?
Where do I start?! 2014 has been a great year for innovative and just-plain-cool gear! Here’s a quick list of some of my favorites:
Petzl Tikka RXP. Reactive lighting that changes based on how much brightness you need. Look down at a map, the beam lessens so the reflecting light doesn’t blind you, then look back up at the trail and the beam gets brighter so you can see farther. Brilliant technology, not sure I can go back to a regular headlamp now!
Tenaya Oasi climbing shoes. High-performance, do-it-all shoes in an easy-to-wear package. Whether you’re sport climbing, bouldering, or on a long trad route, these are the kicks to wear.
Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed. A down sleeping bag that let’s you move around, sleep on your side, and generally toss and turn all night without restriction. Plus, it feels like an actual bed because instead of a typical mummy design, it’s got an opening in the front with a big blanket that you then pull up and tuck in around you. Once again, I’ll never go back to a regular sleeping bag!
Salewa Capsico Insulated. Climbers are constantly changing in and out of climbing shoes, and these light hikers are burly enough to get you to the crag, but have some special features that make them easy to slide on and off. Tighten ‘em down for the hike in, then fold down the back and move the rubber strap to the front and you have an easy on-easy off clog. Plus, these are insulated with micro-fleece, so they’re super comfy for cold conditions, and they make great around-camp shoes.
Goal Zero Solar Kits. There are a variety of combinations for charging a variety of electronics, but my favorite is the Sherpa 50, with the large battery pack, Nomad 13 panels, and inverter so you can plug your laptop right into the battery. Charge your phone, laptop, tablet, mp3 player, or even your electric toothbrush!
What is your holiday shopping routine and what holiday shopping tips do you have for readers to get the best gear picks?
I’m hot and cold when it comes to holiday shopping. Sometimes I’ll get gifts 3 months early and sometimes I’m the one at the store at midnight on Christmas Eve hoping I can find something great! That said, giving gifts is one of my greatest joys, so I do take it pretty seriously. I try to shop in stores as much as possible, but online shopping is so convenient! I read tons of online reviews from consumers on the manufacturer’s sites, as well as trusted sources (hello, climbing.com and backpacker.com!) to figure out how good the gear really is. Beware of some blogs, though, because a lot of bloggers are given gear from companies and then automatically write glowing reviews because they just scored free gear. Sources like Climbing and Backpacker (and other mags and comprehensive gear-review sites—I’m not totally biased!) are more trustworthy because we test everything available (literally thousands of products a year), and only publish (print and online) the best of the best! You can trust that the items that show up on those pages and sites are legitimately field-tested, high-quality products that you’ll love!
For readers to get the best gear picks, shop as early as possible! Especially when it comes to must-have products like rock shoes and climbing/camping gear, some companies will actually sell out of popular items shortly after they become available (which is usually early fall). I also love sites like GearTrade.com and The Clymb. GearTrade has tons of used gear and apparel, and depending on what it is, you can get semi-new stuff for super-cheap. The Clymb has brand-new gear and apparel for a variety of outdoor sports from yoga to kayaking for bargain-basement prices, but they’re very limited for sizes and colors, so you gotta act fast. Become a member and get on their mailing list so you can know what will be available in the coming weeks.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
My daily life! I’m lucky to live in one of the most beautiful states that has more than a lifetime of climbing and outdoor adventure—Colorado is where it’s at! And I also get to regularly travel to some of the most beautiful places and mountain ranges on Earth, so I’m always seeing new places, meeting new people, and adventuring. I also love Instagram for a daily dose of photography and outdoor inspiration; seeing what other people are out there doing gets me psyched to go out there and do cool stuff myself! Plus, working for Climbing magazine means I get to write about, talk about, look at pictures of, and think about climbing—not to mention go out climbing—all day and call it work!
Julie Ellison is currently the Senior Editor at Climbing magazine in Boulder, Colorado, where she writes and edits several stories a month, assists with online content, and handles all the photo editor duties. Before that she served as Gear Editor of Climbing for several years, tested outdoor gear and wrote for Backpacker and Consumers Digest, as well as worked as a freelance photographer. Check out her website and follow her on Instagram.