The Gear I Love (2016 edition)

Who doesn’t love gear? But maybe more appropriately, to my female readers, who doesn’t love gear and clothes? I LOVE clothes! As a climber and skier my obsession with clothing is two-fold; I love clothes because of they way they look and how they make me feel when I wear them, but I also love how they function and help me perform at my best. This will be my third “The Gear I Love” blog post and for those of you who have read my previous posts here, and here you’ll know that I’m unabashedly feminine in my approach to mountain clothing. It’s got to look good, or I won’t wear it. I spend more time in smelly mountain clothes than anything else and if it makes me feel fat, or my butt look saggy then I’m having none of it.

My previous posts have been directed towards my female audience, and this post is no different. So anyone who gets squirmy at the thought of talking about how a pair of skinny pants makes your butt look good, then please scroll on through to the next blog post. As with my previous posts I like to focus on clothing and gear “systems” rather than simply listing off a bunch of random pieces that I like. As summer is approaching, I’ve decided to present three of my favourite clothing systems for the activities that occupied most of my time last summer, alpine running, alpine rock climbing, and rock climbing.

As a slight upgrade from my last gear post, MEC’s photo team offered to take some artsy images of my clothing systems, as opposed to the images I’ve previously taken on my kitchen floor. Though the kitchen floor idea helps to keep things authentic, it really does a disservice to the clothing when it’s displayed next to my dirty stove.

Full disclosure here, MEC is my clothing sponsor, and has been for five years now. I feel incredibly lucky to have the support of my beloved Co-op. My roots with MEC run deep. Prior to becoming MEC’s first Athlete Ambassador I worked in the Head Office as an Assistant to MEC’s then, Chief Information Officer, Georgette Parsons. Coincidentally, Georgette was a role model in my working life, but also a style role model. She always wore the perfect blend of business classic and outdoor casual. The MEC team feels more family than business partner, and for that I am very grateful. So much has changed for the Co-op since I began as Ambassador. MEC apparel has always been well made and tough, but now, it’s also has some serious street appeal.

Continuing with full-disclosure, I’ve included some key pieces of gear from some of my other awesome sponsors, Petzl, Scarpa Footwear, and Julbo Eyewear as well. I worked hard to establish a relationship with each of these sponsors, and chose to pursue their support because I love the gear they make. I feel fortunate to partner with them because I’d be buying their gear regardless.

Alpine Running System

Let’s dig into it. First up, check out this most adorable image of my alpine running clothing and gear system. I’m a big fan of in-a-day backcountry scrambling missions that might otherwise take two or even three days. For these missions when speed is paramount I don’t want to carry around any extraneous weight. I’ve narrowed the ideal system down to the very basics, the Agility Tight, Y Not Bra, Sparrowgrass Short-Sleeved Top, Farpoint Jacket, Spicy Jacket, and Waterproof Enough Glove.

When attempting to run for much of the day, but also scrambling around on course rock I prefer tights. It allows for moisture wicking while I sweat and unrestricted movement while I scramble fast. The best feature of the Agility Tight might just be the waistband. It’s wide, with a little extra detailing that is just so flattering on us girls. I’m also partial to the fabric gathering around the ankle, which makes the tights pretty cute when you’re wearing them to Pure Bread after your big day.

On top, I pair the Y Not Bra under the loose fitting Sparrowgrass Short-Sleeved top. The Sparrowgrass is probably my all-time favorite MEC active t-shirt. I have, get ready for it, 5 of them in 5 different colors! It’s fabricated from a combination of polyester, wool, and spandex so it’s kind of the best of all worlds. The Sparrowgrass never has “memory stink” (for those of you who are unfamiliar with memory stink, it’s a shirt that you take into the mountains one too many times and it doesn’t matter how many times you wash it, it always remembers that stink). The loose fitting silhouette is always flattering no matter how many Pure Bread Lemon Basil scones I’ve downed before starting my mission and it stays well ventilated while I sweat. I should add I also like how you can see the spaghetti straps of the Y Not Bra under the loose scalloped neck of the Sparrowgrass. It’s all in the details ladies!

I am generally a very warm person, so I only need a simple wind layer to help keep me warm as I sprint through the mountains. I throw on the Farpoint Jacket (it packs into a tiny little pocket so you barely even notice it when you’ve got it stowed in your equally tiny day pack for this mission) to help block the wind and usually that’s all I need to stay happy. In my experience, during summing alpine missions the coldest element is always the wind. If you can put a barrier between your skin and the wind, you’ll stay reasonably warm while you move. When I stop for a quick bite, or a summit photo I throw on the Spicy Jacket. This jacket might be the single most important piece of gear in my whole kit. I think the Spicy is one of the most cutting edge pieces that MEC has made. Why? Because it weighs 210 grams and is made of 850 fill down. It’s ridiculously light, and ridiculously warm for it’s weight based on the high quality down that it’s filled with. For some perspective, Patagonia’s Ultralight Down Hoody weighs 269 grams and is made of 800 fill down. The Spicy Jacket is one of the lightest down jackets on the market right now. No joke!

Like I said, I’m generally a very warm person except for my extremities. I struggle to keep my hands and nose warm so I always travel in the mountains with a lightweight pair of gloves and headband. The Waterproof-Enough gloves are simple and “waterproof enough” that I can scramble around on a glacier without turning my hands into wet, cold prunes. I’m also a big fan of headbands, which double as a sweatband when I’m burning calories and a nose warmer when my nose is frosty early in the morning.

This is probably old news to most of you out there now, but the MEC Travel Light Pack series is incredible. I use these packs for alpine running, alpine climbing, and everything in between. They’re light, and simple. The pack displayed in the image here is the newer version of the Travel Light Daypack. It’s made of a lightweight 40-denier nylon which means it’s not super durable, but for the price and weight savings you can afford to have a couple waiting in the wings for when you tear through one. Buy these things in bulk people.

For alpine running missions I never really carry much water at one time. Why carry two litres of water when you will be jumping across pristine mountain creeks all day. I recommend traveling with a 750 ml HyraPak Stash, or maybe even less volume than that. Depends how long you can comfortably go between rehydrating. The HydraPak bottles are all designed to compress and a 750 ml Stash weighs less than a 1L Nalgene. Even if you decide to forego a backpack altogether during your mission, you can easily compress the HydraPak bottles to either carry in your hand while you run, or stuff into your pants or bra while you scramble.

I am a huge fan of Julbo glasses. I feel like a superstar wearing them, maybe it’s because they’re all designed in France and have that certain “je ne sais quoi”. The Julbo Breeze are my glasses of choice for mountain activities as they have a small frame for small heads but wide lenses to ensure maximum coverage of your sensitive eyes. They’re also made with photo chromatic lenses, which I am not going to try and explain here, but if you follow this link the fine folks at Julbo do a much better job of explaining the technology. Simply put, the lenses change from dark to light depending on the environment your in. So, if you’re in the trees, the lenses are light for better visibility in low light conditions. If you’re on a glacier the lenses are darker for better protection from the strong reflection.

I do most mountain running missions wearing my Scarpa Rapid LT’s. They’re a hybrid running shoe and approach shoe that incorporates the elements of approach shoes we love, sticky rubber, high traction treads, and durable composition, but also are made to be worn all day with a running shoe last. I wore my current pair for the whole season of mountain missions last year, and have still not worn them out.

No mountain running “system” would be complete without my most cherished and necessary piece of equipment, my iPod Shuffle. I don’t go on any adventure where a little suffering is anticipated without my Shuffle and the ability to blast Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber to help get me through the pain.

Alpine Rock Climbing System

My alpine rock climbing system incorporates many of the same elements of my alpine running system but adds a few more pieces. The commitment factor increases when you’re 10 pitches up an alpine route with 10 more to go and having the ability to hunker down, should weather come in or you find yourself getting benighted, is paramount.
The Constantia Pant is about as light as I’d go for alpine rock climbing, I can’t layer a long john under these, so I’d want to be sure of a warm forecast. The Constantia is another cutting edge, no-one-else-is-doing-it, kind of pieces from MEC. It’s a technical softshell pant, but made in a skinny silhouette. They are fabricated from Schoeller, one of the most widely recognized and respected soft-shell textiles available. The fabrication makes them extra bombproof, with incredible 4-way stretch. Wearing these pants is kind of like wearing tear resistant tights into the mountains. All these features make them quite versatile for alpine rock climbing, cragging, or even bouldering.

The Constantia Pant goes to Skaha. Photo, Robb Thompson.
I pair the Intensity Bra with the T1 Long Sleeved Shirt. The MEC T1 series is my perennial go-to for colder weather high-output activities like alpine climbing and skiing because no matter how much I sweat, once I stop moving the fabrication dries out super fast meaning I stay warmer. And, I should add, the adorable floral print really gets me. I always wear the simple long-sleeved crew because I hate having too much “stuff” around my neck when I add additional layers. So, if I wear the long-sleeved crew, I can easily pair it with a mid-layer without choking myself from too much bulk around my neck.

My mid-layer actually does double duty as a mid and outer layer. As an outer-layer, the Obsession Hoodie is lightly insulated and made of stretchy weather-protecting Schoeller. It has mapped insulation along the upper arms and chest to help keep warmth in while sitting at belays, and unlined stretch Schoeller around the forearms and shoulders where your jacket generally makes direct contact with the rock while climbing. As a mid-layer, the breathability of Schoeller makes the Obsession Hoodie effective during cold pre-dawn starts when I wear my down layer on top. As extra safety I carry the Spicy Jacket, because it weighs next to nothing, and can easily be added on top of everything should I get cold at belays or heaven forbid we get benighted. A small side note, I recommend having a Spicy Jacket in both a body hugging and lose fitting size. The body hugging size will be great for adventures wear you’ll be throwing it on over a t-shirt and the lose fitting size will be great for wearing over a base and mid-layer at belays.

I’ve also included in here a pair of Atlas 370 Nitrile Gloves. My good buddy Dan, who’s kind of like the mad scientist of alpine gear, discovered these gloves that were originally made for fisherman types. They have an extra grippy coating on the palm of the hand making them great for climbing easy rock pitches if you’re hands are super cold at the beginning of the day. They also weigh next to nothing, and are cheap enough that you can trash a pair in one trip and not feel guilty about it.

Even though it looks funny, and let’s be honest, it does look funny, the Petzl Sirocco Helmet is the best climbing helmet I’ve ever owned. It’s incredibly light, 165 grams as opposed to 300 grams of the Petzl Elios helmet. I’ve even seen the Petzl rep step directly on the top of this helmet and watch it bounce back up. For fast and light climbing, there is no helmet better and more durable than this one. So, just get over the fact that it looks funny, and wear it.

I have been a huge fan of the Petzl Hirundos harness and use it for all applications of climbing, sport, trad, and alpine. It’s the perfect combination of comfort, weight and functionality as it’s light but still maintains two gear loops on each side.

For alpine rock climbing I typically wear the Scarpa Reflex Velcro shoe. It’s flat last makes it super comfortable for wearing all day. When buying shoes for the mountains always keep top of mind that you’ll be wearing them all day, stuffing your feet in all kind of cracks, and by the time you’re halfway through the day your feet will have swollen to twice their size from all the beating up. The Reflex is also a super light and simple shoe, weighing 216 grams as opposed to the TC Pro at 494 grams. Weight matters people, especially for us girls, so pare it down where you can!

Rock Climbing System 
(though not really a system, so much as just a cool looking outfit) 

What I wear when I go rock climbing around my home here in Squamish really comes down to pure aesthetics, but if I really think about it, there are some important elements of function in there as well. My absolutely favorite climbing pant right now is the Sanchalia Pant. When I was in Chamonix several years ago I fell in love with the Alps, but I also fell in love with the French climbing jeans made by Simond. These jeans were articulated for climbing, had 4-way stretch, and an elasticized cuff. All the important elements of a climbing pant, and they were totally flattering too. At the time, I just couldn’t convince myself to buy a pair, probably because I’d already blown my budget on pastries. When I caught wind that the MEC team was briefing a similar idea, I was stoked. Behold Ladies, a pair of jeans that look great on, but also perform well on the rock. This is the epitome of peak to street fashion. I should add, an important component of any rock climbing or bouldering pant for me is an elasticized cuff. There is nothing more annoying than trying to heel hock, or find a small foothold while you’re pumped but being unable to do so because the cuffs of your pants keep getting in the way.

I keep repeating myself but, I sweat a lot so I almost always climb around in a tank top. This season I discovered the Sequence collection, which is made of performance polyester but includes a spandex jersey fabrication making the tank feel soft like cotton. The Atlantis color that I have displayed here is my favorite because the material is slightly perforated giving it some texture.

For belaying in the trees, or warming up I wear my Campfire Hoodie which my friend Sheri calls a “snuggie” and she’s kind of right, it’s like being swaddled in a million puppies. This hoodie is so pretty, look at the colors. They’re incredible! I like this outfit a lot, not only because it includes all the important elements of stretch, technical fabrication, and versatility, but it’s also something I’d wear around town. And that’s important to me.

Thanks to MEC for the swanky gear "systems" images. And naturally, thanks for my buddies, climbing partners, and incredible photographers Robb Thompson, Jamie Finlayson, and Rich So for all the other pretty images. MEC posted a condensed version of this blog post on their own blog, here. That was fun, let's do it again next year!