gearing up #5

This is number five.  Sort of anti-climactic.  I probably should have counted down from #5 to #1.  Lots more suspense that way.  Dang.

Nonetheless, here it is.  The final thing to round out “the essentials.”  Drum roll…

A rain jacket.

This does exactly what you think it might.  Keep you dry in the rain.

Now, knowing what kind of rain jacket to get is – as always – a bit of a guessing game.  If you are going to be out there a lot, meaning weeks every year, then something like what is pictured above is probably the ticket.

For the rest of us, there are lots of sub-$100 options.

And then there is always this.

For real.  If you are just looking to keep the rain off you and don’t care how you look or getting clammy, this will work just fine.

Ok, we’re done here, but one final word.  I hope one isn’t left with the impression that they can’t go play outside unless they have all the right stuff.  If you add up a “middle of the road” collection of gear, you could easily find yourself dropping $500 or more.  Not sounding all that middle of the road.

The best strategy I can recommend for getting the gear you need is borrowing someone else’s stuff.  That way you get to try things out.  Figure out if you are really going to be spending much time outdoors.  What stuff is going to work for you.  And so on.  Who knows, I might even let you borrow some of my stuff…  might.

gearing up #4

After you’ve gotten your super nice and warm sleeping bag, what’s next?  A sleeping pad, of course! It is the thing that goes between your sleeping bag and the ground and selecting the right pad can be the difference between a great night of sleep or a less-than-average night of sleep.

Pictured below is what I would consider to be the current Cadillac of sleeping pads.  It is the perfect combination of everything you want out of a pad… thickness, lightweight, small rolled up size, and insulating power (the ground can get cold).  Of course, the perfect sleeping pad comes with a hefty sticker price…  $15o!

While I don’t think I could bring myself to drop that kind of coin on a pad, I would stay away from what many of us started out on.  Thin strips of foam.  Some people still swear by them.  They are lightweight and don’t get holes poked in them.  But they just can’t deliver when it comes to sleeping comfort.  If I were looking to get one right now, I’d probably pick up something like this…

Therm-a-rest has been making these things for years, and has a reputation for putting out a quality product.  Get one, take care of it and it will take care of you for years to come.

As a bonus…  if you go backpacking at all, then you can get a “chair kit” that converts your sleeping pad into a downright comfy chair.  Not a top-five, but nice little creature comfort for out in the middle of nowhere.

gearing up #3

So we’re back with the top five essential outdoor gear items.  Number three is sort of a no-brainer.  However, it is only required if one ever plans to actually sleep in the outdoors.

You guessed it…

a sleeping bag.

Again, the choices are mind blowing.  And the Zen like mantra of “middle-of-the-road” applies here too.  However, lot here depends on what sort of outdoor sleeping you are going to end up doing.  If you aren’t going to ever be more than 50 feet from your car, then just about any old bag will do.  If you are interested in making an investment in a decent bag that will do pretty much all you could want it to do, then follow these guidelines.

1)  Mummy instead of rectangular.  Less space to heat.  Less weight to carry.  Some would say less room to maneuver.  I would say to check-in to a Motel 6.

2)  I generally favor down over synthetic.  Lighter.  Packs smaller.  Lasts longer.  But not that big a deal.

3)  Temperature rating of 20 degrees or lower.  There’s some confusion about this.  Some think if it rated to 20 degrees, then that’s the temperature you’ll be comfortable in.  In my opinion, that’s the temperature you can encounter inside your bag in which you’ll survive. Comfort depends lots on how you sleep…  hot, cold, fully zipped-up, arms and legs hanging out.  In my opinion, if you add 20 degrees to the bag’s rating, then you’ll discover what the coldest temperature you’ll be comfortable at.  So, you’d be fine in a 20 degree bag until the thermometer gets into the mid-thirties.  If you’ll encounter below freezing weather, start looking at a zero degree bag.

4)  Don’t choose a bag because of its color.  That’s silly.

Sleep is pretty important to me.  I’m sure it is to you.  Get a decent bag.  Here are some to consider.

gearing up #2

So yesterday, I got started on a series of posts on top five outdoor gear essentials.

Number two is sort of hard to nail down.  I could make a pretty good case for a number of things to fill this spot.  However, after a sleepless night, I’ve come to the conclusion that boots are next.  If you are going to venture into the wild once a year or less, then maybe you can get by on borrowing when necessary.  Much more than that though, and you are going to want your own pair of kicks.

Problem is that outdoor footwear makers are no dummies and so they manufacture and market a dizzying array of boots and shoes.  Of course, they would have you believe that you should probably own one pair of each type of boot so that you will have footwear exactly suited for whatever activity you’ll be engaged in.

Again, I’m a middle-of-the-road value-minded guy, so I would recommend getting something that is going to suit a wide range of activities.  Nearly anything on this page is going to be safe bet.  Or here for the ladies.

Few quick tips…

1) There is some debate over whether to get a boot with ankle support or low cut hiking shoes.  I’ve used both with satisfaction, but I lean towards getting something with ankle support.  I think it gives a wider range of possibilities.  Also, trail runners aren’t hiking shoes.  They look a lot the same, but do function differently.

2) Whatever shoe you end up with, wear it around town for a few days before heading out on a long backcountry excursion.  This does a couple of things… Breaks the shoe in a bit and helps it adjust to the shape of your foot.  Also, lets you figure out if there are going to be problem areas (read “big nasty blisters”) before you find yourself fifteen miles in.

3) Chacos and Keen sandals aren’t really meant for hiking.  They work ok around town, on paved walking trails, strolling along nature trail, or post hiking relief.  But anything with an ounce of ruggedness is going to pose some problems.

4) And last but not least…  just say “no” to these…

I just don’t get them.

Check back tomorrow for Number Three!

gearing up #1

I have something of a reputation for being an outdoor gear maven.  So I thought I’d share my top five essentials.  This list is up for debate, but I’m pretty convinced.  It is also in order of importance, so if you are slowly building your inventory for yourself or someone else, start with number one.

Can you tell that I’m running out of things to talk about on the thirty day challenge?

1) Headlamp

Really, if you don’t have one of these, you should probably quit reading and go buy one right now.  This isn’t just for outdoors.  It’s for everything.  I probably use it weekly, and if you count reading to the kids in bed, then almost daily.  Outdoors, the value of this over a standard flashlight… no comparison.  As with all things, you can spend next to nothing or ridiculous amounts.  I generally hit some middle ground that I’m comfortable with.

Genius just struck.  By sharing one item a day, I just turned one post into five.  My work here is done for today.

finding the goods


Yesterday, I shared what must be the definitive word to date on how to “layer-up” for a day in the outdoors. However, I realized that I didn’t provide much guidance on where one might actually pick up said layers. So, here’s a look behind the curtain to see how Minimal Gear stays not so minimal. – Until recently, this “one-deal-at-time” site was my go to for picking up all things gear. They didn’t appreciate that I was buying their deeply discounted items by the tens of thousands of dollars and sharing it with my very broad network of friends through the magic of the world wide web. At any rate, still a great place to pick up stuff. They have an alert that you can download to let you know when a new “deal” is up. It was so popular that they have spun off several sister sites. is devoted to ski gear. is for mountain biking. is for roadies. for snowboarders. And is for I don’t know what.

All these “one-deal-at-a-time” sites are owned by, which is a fine e-tailer in its own right. is the place to pick up better deals.

However, my longtime favorite has been and their outlet site While the online shopping experience is fine, nothing beats walking into the massive Denver store or the equally impressive flagship store in Seattle and seeing rack upon rack of over-priced merchandise.

Happy shopping!


In a few days, I’ll be heading out west to enjoy Spring Break in the magical winter wonderland that is the Colorado Rockies. I’ve been spending some portion of time in the mountains nearly every winter for going on three decades. It is funny to see how the ski-scene has changed over time. Resorts have gradually (d)evolved from quaint mountain towns to something more akin to Disneyland. The change has also meant that all things skiing are more expensive… lift tickets, lodging, food, and most importantly… clothing.

I don’t actually remember having worn scotch-guarded jeans, but I’m certain that some point in my years of skiing that I did, and did so unashamedly. These days, it would be beyond unfathomable that I would don denim to spend a day on the slopes.  I know full well that the problem is with me, not the jeans. Nevertheless, over the years, gear-snobbery has gotten the best of me, and so now my clothing must have a water-proof breathable membrane in order to spend a sunny afternoon at my ski resort of choice.  Never you mind that the mountain is largely a manicured playground with scores of lodges, restaurants, and warming huts to find shelter.  That doesn’t keep me from wearing clothing that is more suited for Everest than Winter Park.

Ok, having recognized the ridiculousness of the outerwear obsession, I think there is a simple clothing guideline that can help to insure a comfortable day in the mountains.  It is called layers.  I live by a pretty strict “three layer rule.”  Rarely more or less.  I know that other people do it differently.  Alison is more like four layers.  Her mother is more like six.  But I’m convinced that any temperature and conditions can be met with the right three layers.

Layer 1 – THE BASELAYER – Fitted, but not restricting.  Comes in a variety of thicknesses.  Either in synthetic materials (every company has a different name for their polyester top, but in the end it is all polyester) or wool.  Synthetics move moisture quicker and dry out faster than wool.  Wool retains warmth even when wet and is less likely to hold stink.  I prefer wool.

Layer 2 – THE MIDLAYER – The bulk of your warmth comes from this layer.  In cool conditions, it might be a light fleece or sweater.  In bitter cold, a thicker fleece or even down jacket.

Layer 3 – THE SHELL – This is the one that typically blocks wind and water.  While Gore-tex remains the reigning champ, other materials are becoming more popular.  eVent is similar to Gore-tex (some say better) and is for the moment, slightly cheaper.  But it is softshells that are all the rage.  Less stiff and noisy.  More breathable.  And stretchy.  I wouldn’t take a softshell for a three month trek on the notoriously wet Appalachian trail, but honestly there is no danger of that happening anytime soon.  For the typical snow conditions found in the Rockies, most any jacket will do.

So that’s it…  the “three-layer-rule.”  N.B. The bottom half doesn’t need as much.  Two layers will typically do here.

But to answer the question, “does cotton really kill?”  Of course, the answer is “no.”  Not really.  However, cotton absorbs moisture easily (read “soaked with sweat and snow”) and wet translates into cold.  In Park City, not that big a deal.  On Denali, not a good idea.  For the average skiier, the only thing cotton kills is our sense of fashion.  While you may think blue jeans and a hoody from your alma mater is cool out on the slopes…  it’s not.