Q&A with So iLL founder Daniel Chancellor: Redefining the look of climbing

I’ve been geeking out over So iLL since I started climbing back in 2009. Back in those days, the love affair centered around their killer holds. The first route I ever put up that I was actually proud of was a V4 set with So iLL’s Appendage holds on the lead wall at Tally Rock Gym. Since then, they’ve impressed me with their bold colors, clean aesthetic, commitment to their brand’s style + community–and of course, these kickass leggings.

A few weeks ago, they once again caught my attention by launching a crowdfunding campaign to support a new journey: retro-inspired climbing shoes. Say whaaaaaaat? The goal was to offer the climbing community a shoe that combines functionality with a focus on fashion. The urban outdoorist and the rise of outdoor millennial consumers is a hot topic at my day-job running social for OIA, so I instantly knew it was going to be a success–and it was. So iLL reached 100% funding in only 5 hours.

This weekend I sat down with founder Daniel Chancellor to chat about this ambitious project, his vision for the climbing community, and what So iLL is going to dream up next:

So iLL climbing shoes (photo: So iLL)

*All photos in this post courtesy of So iLL

It’s hard to put a finger on So iLL. You’ve got climbing holds (some of my favorites from my route-setting days), crash pads, bold leggings, chalk, training tools, and now, shoes. What inspired the dream to add climbing footwear to the diverse line-up?

Climbing footwear, along with our clothing, is a direction we have been working on for years.  We aren’t trying to create the next lightest carabiner technical piece of gear.  Instead, we delivery highly designed clothing, footwear and training products.  Things that our crew can use, wear, and be proud of.

Our goal to create products that help our climbing community succeed.  Keeping climbers fashionable, and encouraging them on their journey through media, and well designed products, will be our focus as we look towards the future.

Climbing with So iLL and their new line of retro inspired performance climbing shoes. (Photo: So iLL)

Within the first 10 seconds of your promo video, we hear this: “there needs to be a fashionable alternative for the climbing community.” In the outdoor industry, there’s a growing trend of urban climbers getting outdoors for the first time, but there is also a large pre-existing climber group who simply never had fashion-forward options before–who are you making this shoe for? 

The success of this campaign has put a lot of attention toward the brand. This is great for the project, but this entire creation is not for us.  We created these products for others.  The success is motivating and reinforces us that we made quality decisions during the journey, but in the end, these shoes are for you!

We opened our first flagship retail location and climbing gym in Saint Louis, MO a few years ago.  At Climb So iLL , we are deeply connected with our community there.  We have been able to learn the needs of urban rock climbers, and deliver them both an experience, and products, that make sense.  These climbers eventually move outside (like we did), and the product was designed to transition with them.

Our lifestyle products can be used by all outdoor enthusiasts, but it stars within our niche. Our hearts are with the urban climbers around the country, and the communities in which they exist.  The sport is growing exponentially, but the fire seems to start here.   

So iLL's line of climbing shoes is the first to dye high performance rubber this way. (Photo: So iLL)

Aside from their stellar looks, what makes these shoes a unique addition to an already booming climbing shoe market?

The rubber on our climbing shoes has a special story.  It was developed for the U.S military.  The Navy Seals needed an outsole rubber that was both sticky, and would retain color.  They were building an approach shoe, and were in need of this technology.  When we heard about this new “Dark Matter” rubber, we immediately were drawn towards it’s properties.  Putting color on the outsole of a climbing shoe (with real sticky rubber) has not been done before.  There is a first time for everything, and this is what we are most proud of.

So iLL’s Kickstarter campaign has been a phenomenal success–the original goal was $10k, but you’re currently sitting at well over $100,000 in pledges. What drove the decision to use crowdfunding for this project?

We wanted to accomplish two things with the Kickstarter Platform.  1) We really do believe in these shoes, and wanted to give climbers the opportunity to try them at a discount as early supports.  2) The kickstarter has helped us with production minimums.  Being such a small company, it has been difficult to build 6 models, in so many sizes, with so much inventory to start.  We needed help, and our community delivered.

So iLL founder Daniel Chancellor and his new line of climbing shoes. (Photo: So iLL)

While So iLL has a big digital presence and strong community, it’s still a fairly small operation. How big is the team, and how do you manage to build so much hype and energy while still remaining true to your grassroots values? 

Great question.  I know that we appear massive online!  People think that the company is huge, but we are TINY in the outdoor space.  We have 5 employees in the office, and interns, that’s it.  There is a blog on our site that talks about us just now moving out of my basement (a few months ago).  We finally rented a loft apartment.

We do all of our own sales, we do all of our own marketing, and we do all of our own branding.  Our entire team pulled together on this one and made it happen.  Evan packs boxes in our warehouse and also does all of our product photography.  Ryan answers the phone and does service, but shoots all of our lifestyle photography.  Paul works in house as our marketing guy.  Lisa answers all of our kickstarter questions online and has been working behind the scenes.  It’s really been a team effort.  My friends Daniel Wilson and Tennyson Tanner both helped us with the videos.  They are both local guys.

The team is small, but we are all very proud of what we are doing.  We really actually do the work of 10-15 people, and I”m very proud of what we have accomplished as such a small operation.

The shoes aren’t even in full production yet, and they’re already a success. What’s next on the horizon for So iLL? 

We are going to continue designing and producing high quality, innovative and fashionable products for rock climbers.  We are going to continue encouraging others to stay positive and to take hold.

Big thank you to So iLL founder Daniel Chancellor for taking the time to sit down with me and do this interview in between a hectic travel schedule, snapchatting the brand’s adventures (follow ’em: soillinc), and trying to change the industry with climbing shoes that look just as great as they perform. You’ve got until Tuesday evening to support the Kickstarter and get your hands on a pair of these shoes at the insane backer rate before the price goes up when they hit the broader market this summer!

Stay tuned for a full review of the shoes when I get my pair of So iLL beauties
and put them to the test in California this summer. 

Outdoor Essentials for an Endless Summer

Spring is swell, and autumn is amusing (and winter, well, it’s woeful if you ask me) – but summer is forever. My mission this season has been to embrace the idea of microadventures, and just get outdoors as often as possible. Whether it’s camping in the backcountry, hiking after work, or just going for a lazy Sunday drive in the foothills, this summer is all about being outside.

In fact, I’m writing this guide to the essential gear for an endless summer while swinging in my hammock out in my backyard. For the record: It’s 73º, breezy, and full of sunshine out here. And I just reached over to pluck a golden cherry tomato from my garden and plop it into my mouth. Like I said, summer forever. 

After months of testing, wearing, and munching, here’s a guide to my favorite summertime outdoor products:
Camping in Cottonwood Pass while snacking on a meal from Fireside Provisions

Camp food from Fireside Provisions

Ultra light backpacking is fine and dandy – but most of the time, I’m way more into convenient camping. I’m all about picking a random forest road, driving down it until I find a suitable dispersed campsite in the woods, and setting up a cozy nook in nature while snacking and soaking up fresh air. Have I become a lazy camper? Perhaps. But I dig it – sometimes you have to ditch the complications of getting outdoors and embrace the easy route. Cue the simple solution provided by the folks at Fireside Provisions. [Read more…]

Gear Review: SportRx Prescription Active Eyewear

I’ve never been blind – but I definitely don’t see as well as I should. In fact, my vision seems to be getting worse and worse. Throughout the years, I’ve amassed a collection of Ray-Bans eyeglasses that I wear whenever I’m going to be spending hours sitting in front of my computer meeting deadlines and writing stories.

But I never thought about expanding that to the world of sunglasses.

A shot from the top of the First Flat Iron in Boulder, CO with my SportRx Sunglasses

Admittedly, wearing prescription lenses helps quite a bit with my vision when I’m driving, but that’s mostly at night. Plus, I have about a dozen cheap-o sunglasses from Outdoor Retailer swag bags and press trips – why invest in a pair of prescription sunglasses?

As Rob from SportRx puts it: “If you had to pick a sense to lose forever, it wouldn’t be vision – but it’s the first one people choose to compromise.[Read more…]

Bamboo Black Magic Leggings: tasc performance review

For the adventurous, sometimes dirtbagging, sometimes ladylike woman, there is one wardrobe staple that is a non-negotiable must: black leggings. It’s the one item in your closet (or dirty hamper in your van) that can effortlessly go from boulder fields to a downtown speakeasy. I’ve put holes in more pairs of cheap cotton leggings than I can count, so when tasc Performance contacted me with a challenge to test out their women’s apparel, I responded with an eager “game on!tasc Performance leggings.

Here’s the thing about tasc: Everything is made with bamboo. My NOLA crop leggings are made with fabric concocted from 55% organic cotton, 35% viscose from bamboo, and 10% elastane. In normal people terms, that translates to: insanely soft, ridiculously comfortable, and impossibly form-fitting. The design strikes a perfect balance between athletic performance and stylishness.

As a gal who often wears leggings for days (really, weeks) on end without washing them, my first priority was to see how long I could go wearing tasc leggings before the butt area fell victim to the dreaded saggy-butt syndrome. My typical leggings will last a maximum of three days before they lose their hip-hugging shape.

These. leggings. will. not. get. saggy.  Out on a hike with my tasc performance leggings.

During my first test, I wore the leggings for four days straight, then took a few days off before wearing them for two more days before they needed to be washed (because I use my pants as napkins). Then, I just started wearing them with reckless abandon – from hikes around Colorado to airport hopping in San Diego. Ten+ days of wearing these leggings and they fit as snug as they did when I first put them on.

Excerpts from my e-mails to tasc about the leggings include snippets like, “HOW DO THESE LEGGINGS NOT STRETCH OUT IN THE BUTT? It almost makes me mad that I can’t get them to get saggy.” Also, “y’all crafted up some black magic.” Ladies, it just doesn’t make sense.

What makes tasc Performance apparel seem like a voodoo trick is the bamboo technology they perfected. By ditching the usual polyester material used in athletic clothing, they solved major issues like skin irritation, breathability, odor, and that whole sagging issue I keep bringing up. The bamboo also offers UPF 50+ protection from the sun and moisture wicking.Rocking my tasc performance gear on a press trip to San Diego.

While I usually pay around $10 for leggings, the tasc leggings proved themselves worthy of the ~$50 investment. Their durability has taken me from climbing trips to city slicking without a single snag, and I am confident that I’ll have them in my closet for years.

Bonus points: tasc Performance make everything you need to stay cozy (and looking good) while adventuring. I also have the Intensity Sports Bra – which I liked, but didn’t totally love the style of, a pair of well-fitted socks that magically don’t make my feet stink, and a tank top (pictured above) that feels like I’m wrapped in a cloud every time I wear it. I’m currently coveting their grey Contour Fleece.

Disclosure: tasc Performance provided me with a complimentary package of clothing for gear-testing purposes – but as always, the opinions expressed here are 100% my own.

What’s in my Pack? | roadtrip to miami

One of the best things about living in a van? Everything you own (and ever need) is always with you. Transitioning to life out of my big yellow van has brought along a lot of interesting changes – and accessibility to my “things” has been so hard to adjust to. Now when I’m getting ready for an adventure, I have to pack smart – which I learned after a few weeks of forgetting everything all the time.

Visiting Miami is always pleasant. I’m heading to a land of palm trees, freshly fried empanadas, my mama’s homecooking, and more sunshine that I can possibly soak up in one sitting. Spoiler alert: my favorite thing to pack was my bikini – that poor thing hasn’t been worn in ages!

So what’s in my pack?

Processed with VSCOcam with m3 preset+ the pack: Returning to Miami always puts me under a bit of pressure to return to my former fashionable self. My stinky, mud-caked camping packs are just not going to cut it – so I turned to the best looking bag in my arsenal: the Topo Designs Klettersack. It’s undoubtedly stylish, but I was really impressed with it’s functionality once I realized I’d be easily able to stuff everything I needed in just this single pack!

+ sunshine state gear: If there’s one thing I can count on Miami to provide, it’s sunshine. The most important thing to bring for that? My favorite pair of Rayban sunglasses – to protect my little eyes! And while my body might need sheilding from those bright rays, my Goal Zero solar pack will be perfect for soaking up the energy from the sun and keeping my iPhone charged while I’m out on the boat all day. Toss in my ENO singlenest hammock for shady naps between palm trees, and I’m set.

+ reading & writing: This trip down south is somewhat of a retreat for me – I’m using this little adventure to refresh myself after transitioning from van life to “regular” life, and it’s prime time for words (both written and read). While continuing to write my own story, I’ve been seeking inspiration and getting schooled in the art of adventure writing as I read Brendan Leonard’s “The New American Road Trip Mixtape.” It’s the best book I’ve read in years. And of course, my little Moleskine planner and laptop (in that sweet Colcasac case) provide material for scribbling down random van thoughts. 

+ the boots: Ladies, take note: Steve Madden’s Troopa boot is the only boot you’ll ever need for day-to-day wear. These certainly aren’t hike-worthy footwear, but they’re the most trusty everyday shoe I’ve ever owned. Buy yourself a pair. Does this make me a hipster? I don’t even care.

+ what to wear: I’m somewhat cheating here – I have an entire closet full of clothes in Miami, so I didn’t need to pack much. The two things I insisted on bringing were my tasc performance sports bra and leggings (not pictured). I’m gear testing them, and after over a week total of wearing the leggings and not seeing any loosening of the fabric, I’m fairly sure the folks at Tasc are up to some bamboo black magic. And I like it. Plus, Miami is the perfect place to test the matieral’s breathability.

+ sustenance: To survive a 10-hour bus ride from Tallahassee to Miami, I need snackage. I have been mega crushing on PROBAR lately, especially their blueberry fuel bars and the cookie dough protien bars. Yeah, that’s right – cookie dough protien bars. Toss a packet of Skratch Labs hydration powder into my Nalgene, and I’m ready to roll.

PS: Notice all those little balms? I’m working on a head-to-head(-to-head) review of climbing’s three best hand salves: ClimbOn!, Joshua Tree, and Giddy. Keep your eye out for the full review in a few weeks!

Are you heading out on an adventure soon?
What’s in YOUR pack?

A Holiday Gift Guide for Dirtbag Climbers

So, what do you buy for that dirt-caked, vagabond person on your shopping list who responds “I want to live in a van” when you ask them what they want to do when they grow up? You could waste your money and purchase a gift that encourages them to get a real job and start planning for the future – or you could embrace their dirtbag lifestyle, which is totally what you ought to do.

These items have all been put through my yearlong adventure living in a van to climb across the country, so they’re 100% dirtbag approved. Give this guide a gander, and spoil the dirtbag in your life with a thoughtful and practical holiday gift:

Kendal Jackson BagsA Homemade, One-of-a-Kind Chalk Bag

Since the beginning of my climbing career, I’ve had one chalk bag – a Kendal Jackson Bags original, a beige canvas sack with little earth-colored mushroom fabric accents. It’s my lucky charm when I climb. Kendal Jackson is a wonderful friend of mine from Tampa, who makes beautifully crafted bags that are sold everywhere from Four Bridges Outfitters in Tennessee to Rock Ventures in New York. You can order one of his already made creations, or you can make a request for custom work. With so many generic chalk bags dangling from harnesses, climbing with a one-of-a-kind is something to be proud of – and you’re supporting a small, family-owned, made-with-love business. Win-win, all around. (And stay tuned for a Kendal Jackson Bags giveaway soon!)

Climbing at Red River Gorge with my Yellow 108 Travis Beanie.Something to Keep Your Noggin Warm

Climbers spend a lot of time exposed to the elements. We all claim to love cold weather for prime sending conditions – but life in freezing temperatures can get pretty miserable. I was gifted a Yellow 108’s Travis Beanie at the beginning of my yearlong climbing trip, and I’ve been wearing it religiously ever since. Made with 30% hemp and 70% recycled organic cotton/hemp, this beanie is as cozy as it is stylish – and when you live in a van, you need all the style points you can muster. Keep your ears warm while covering hair that hasn’t been washed in over a week? Yes, please!

Bonus points: The products made by Yellow 108 use either recycled or salvaged.

 

A Way to Stay Charged – For Free

Goal Zero Nomad 7 solar charging kit.Here’s the thing about dirtbags: We’re really cheap, and usually broke. Spending money on anything is just not on our to-do list, which makes solar power quite enticing – the sun is free! Goal Zero makes a huge selection of products that help you harness the sun’s rays and turn them into energy that can power everything from phones and laptops to blenders and electric razors (both true stories, Niko loves making fruit smoothies in the van, and our buddy Spenser from The RV Project once used our solar battery to power a haircut in Squamish). Our entire van is powered by Goal Zero products, and we absolutely adore it all. For a first-time solar user, I would highly recommend the Nomad 7 Solar Panel. Solar power is the gift that keeps on giving!

Hiking the Annie U White trail in Boulder with the Topo Designs Klettersack.A Sack for All Your Gear

Again, I’ll reiterate something about dirtbags: We don’t always look too good. We’ll wear the same tatter tank tops for years, refuse to buy new gear, and rarely even register how disheveled we often look. Topo Designs creates the perfect products to sneakily offer climbers a way to combine style with functionality. My favorite pack is the Klettersack, a sleek piece that takes aesthetic cues from vintage design while providing durable portable storage for everything from laptops and electronics to camping supplies and climbing shoes.

My favorite part about Topo Designs? The products are proudly made in the USA – right in beautiful Colorado – and the folks behind the brand are all wonderful.

 

Billabong Brady Slippers.Cozy Non-Hiking Shoes to Warm Your Toes

If you hear a climber mention “prime sending conditions,” it probably means that the temperatures are dipping far below what normal folks would consider pleasant. After jamming frozen toes into down-sized climbing shoes all day, there’s nothing like relaxing and restoring blood flow to your feet with a pair of cozy boots. Surfdome recently sent me a pair of Billabong Brady Slippers, and these comfy slippers make my toes feel like royalty. They admittedly aren’t the most durable pair of fluffy boots, but check out this collection of boots for some snug inspiration from brands like The North Face and Sorel. Bonus points if you spoil the dirtbag in your life with one of those pairs of boots that have battery-powered heaters built in!

Something to Sip by the Fire

This gift suggestion is something that won’t be accompanied by a specific product endorsement – but the overall message here is this: dirtbags love campfires, and dirtbags really love sipping booze by that fire. The most obvious choice here is whiskey, but a six-pack of quality craft beer is just as enjoyable. Bonus points if you get something brewed or distilled locally!

Stocking Stuffers:

ClimbOn Lip Balm – For the climber that already uses a hand balm, step up their game with a little lovin’ for their lips.
PROBAR – Cookie dough flavored nutrition bar that packs 20 grams of protein (and it’s organic and vegan), need I say more? Probar is currently my favorite energizing snack on the trail.
Action Wipes – No words needed. Dirtbags are, well, dirty. Help ‘em stay somewhat presentable for those rare occasions when we need to interact with the rest of society.

What are you buying for the dirtbag on your shopping list?
Dirtbags, what do YOU want for the holidays?

A Few of My Favorite Things | the first edition

For a few weeks, I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a bi-weekly post sharing some of my favorite finds – in life, in my belly, online, and on the trail. The plan is to write these with a Friday Favorites theme, if you will, but I ended up so tormented by the idea of creating the perfect inaugural post that I couldn’t bring myself to finish it until today. We’ll call it a mulligan. 

This inaugural “A Few of My Favorite Things” post explores some of my new favorite gear finds, sweet treats, and social media musings. It’s a summation of all the good stuff I’m currently into. I’m excited to watch this evolve as the weeks go on – so feel free to comment with any suggestions of things you’d like to see more of, thing you’re not diggin’, etc. Without further adieu, here’s what has been tickling my fancy lately: 

EATS & EDIBLES

Jaipur Avenue Chai Tea Mix Variety PackJaipur Avenue Chai Tea Mix

Here’s the thing: I always hated chai tea. When my hitchhiking gal pal Josephine gifted us a few packets of Jaipur Avenue Chai Tea Mix, I relinquished them to Niko – and immediately regretted it when he made the first batch. Where most chai tea I’ve tasted is painfully spiced, overwhelming, and irritating to my taste buds, Jaipur Avenue’s product is smooth, creamy, and sweetly flavorful. I’ve been on a major chai tea kick ever since, and have yet to find anything as delicious as Jaipur Avenue’s varieties.

The best part? These chai tea mix packets are perfect for life on the road. All you have to do is add hot water, and you’ll have a steamy mug full of milky chai goodness. The worst part? Choosing between flavors like cardamom, saffron, and vanilla. The fact that Jaipur Avenue is only distributed in Washington and a handful of shops in the northeast is quite troubling too – I’ve just run out, and am getting desperate!

Good Future bars

Good Future Bars out on the trail in Rocky Mountain National Park.I’ve never followed dietary trends like veganism, raw food culture, or the currently booming gluten-free movement, but Good Future bars hits the nail on the head by offering a healthy energy bar that any adventurer can enjoy. I probably wouldn’t have thought to try a raw, vegan, paleo bar on my own – but when my old friend Shunit told me about her new company, I had to have a taste. The bars come in enticing flavors like chocolate coconut, cashew fruit crunch, and apple cinnamon (which has big chunks of dried apple, my favorite).

I brought a few bars with me on my recent trip to climb at Rocky Mountain National Park, and totally wish I had an entire box with me – they’re such a refreshing take on the usual dense energy bars. They’re a bit smaller than the usual energy bar I’m used to, but I like that, because it gives me the opportunity to pack two different flavors in my pack instead of just one.

Pinterest Picks for the Kitchen:

Thai Chicken and Coconut Soup | Oreo Rice Krispie Treats
Healthy Homemade Tortillas | Cheesy Quinoa Bowls
Six Clean Eating Homemade Dressings

For more edible temptations, healthy recipes, and tasty lookin’ food, follow my For The Foodies board on Pinterest!

GEAR & GOODS

Kühl women's Java Dress, made from recycled coffee!Kühl Java dress

I recently started partnering with Kühl to do a few gear reviews and contribute content to their blog – and the first pieces of apparel I wanted to test out were their more feminine products. The Java Dress is cute with crossed back straps, but suitable for my outdoor lifestyle with UPF 50 sun protection and a hardy fabric – which is made from recycled coffee grounds!

The not-so-deep v-neck left me feeling a little self-conscious at first, but when Niko came home after a day of climbing, he looked at me and said “Whoa, where did you get that? I really like that, it looks great on you!” And if you know Niko, you know he doesn’t just dish out compliments for no reason.

Topo Designs Klettersack Pack

My sweet new kelly green Klettersack from Topo Designs USA!When you live in a van, in the dirt, outside all the time, it’s easy to lose your sense of style. My van is loaded with fantastic packs, but they’re all technical and built for the outdoors – I got some pretty funny looks while walking through downtown New York City with my fresh-off-the-mountain hiking pack. There was a big void in my city slickin’ wardrobe, until Topo Designs stepped in with a backpack that combines function with fashion.

Topo Designs is an all-American based out of Denver, Colorado. I’ve been following them on social media since Colin from Wicked+ gifted me a few of their accessory bags. I just got my hands on a Kelly green Klettersack, and can’t wait to give it a proper review once I’ve put it through the dirtbag ringer for a few weeks.

 

READING LIST

  • Are wi-fi hotspots, boosted cell signal, and improved RV amenities the key to helping National Parks stay afloat? This article from Outside Magazine explores the issue.
  • This post from Idaho Pursuit gives a good review, about reviews. The piece, along with a recent question posed by a company about how I operate my gear reviews, has sparked a post that I’ll share next week.
  • Looking for some new gear? The Active Junky rounds up the best innovative packs coming out in 2014. I’m really into the Outdoor Research Rangefinder series. I’m all about gear that achieves outdoor function while still being able to transition into city life.

There you have it folks, a condensed version of the stuff that’s jiving well with me. Pausing for a few weeks in Denver has been a great experience thus far, letting me unwind and catch up on writing while taking a little break from van life. There’s so much to love about this city, like climbing sessions at the Denver Boulder Club, salted butterscotch ice cream from Sweet Action, walking to Washington Park, and driving out to the mountains. What’s on YOUR favorites list this week? 

Gear Review: Columbia Sportswear’s Powerdrain Cool hybrid shoes with Omni-Freeze Zero technology

After surviving my first backpacking trip up and down the Grand Canyon to Havasu Falls wearing only last year’s Powerdrain shoes from Columbia Sportswear last summer, I feel in love with the sneakers – and wore them to death.

By the time Columbia came out with their new generation of Powerdrains, my original pair had been through the ultimate test: three months as my sole go-to hiking shoes during life on the road. The only real visible wear were two holes – two soft spots on the toe area. Fittingly, this was one of the major improvements made to the new Powerdrain Cools, making me a very happy camper.

The Powerdrain Cool is a hybrid shoe that features the epic Omni-Freeze Zero sweat-activated cooling technology, which earned the Gear of the Year 2013 award from National Geographic Adventure. From the moment I unwrapped mine, they have been put through a gauntlet of outdoor tests, which they passed with flying colors.

Columbia Sportswear's Powerdrain Cool shoe with OmniFreeze Zero Technology.

On our first day together, I took my new purple shoes out for a trek up a chossy hillside where I was helping build a trail across a frigid creek crossing. I was immediately smug with the product when I watched the rest of my crew struggle to delicately balance from slippery rock to slippery rock while I just stomped right in and waded across. Omni-Grip “holds tight on any terrain”? Check.

As the product description promises, the Powerdrains moved seamlessly from the water crossing to the crumbly “trail.” I dug my way up a sandy wash, tromped across rocky piles, and admired the shoes as they collected a healthy layer of outdoor dirtiness. I’ve been wearing them nearly every day since, and they continue to perform.

This new version offers a few improvements over the old design – some of which I remember actually discussing with the head of design during my trip to Sedona last year, earning Columbia bonus points for really listening to user feedback. They beefed up the ankle padding at the back of the shoe, reinforced a few hot spots where the shoes often saw quick deterioration, and slimmed down the overall design for a sleeker (and for ladies, more feminine) look. Two thumbs up all around.Lounging in my ENO hammock at Joe's Valley.

The only issue with the new Powerdrain Cools has been a seemingly irreversible staining of the inner Omni-Freeze Zero lining due to my latest habit of spending weeks on end playing in red sanded deserts. Oops. I also made a slight mistake in wearing the Powerdrain Cool shoes while hiking in Great Sand Dunes National Park – the deep sand dunes kept relentlessly filling the drains in my shoes, leaving my feet surrounded by piles of sand. Double oops!

Want to get your hands on a pair of Columbia Sportswear’s Powerdrain Cool hybrid shoes? You can scoop all three colors on their official website, or you can head to a local retailer to get your hands on these versatile and reliable sneakers. I would highly recommend the Powerdrain Cools for folks who usually experience a variety of terrains during an adventure, or for someone who is into those wild mud races – I’ve heard nothing but good things from many users who wear them to those events.

Dirtbag Beta: 5 Essential Items for Life on the Road

I must admit, adjusting to living in a van has been a much easier process than I ever imagined. Reducing my belongings to fit within a Sprinter wasn’t nearly as painful as expected, and falling into a daily groove happened practically overnight. After nearly three months of living on the road, I’ve discovered a handful of products that have made my day-to-day van life musings much easier. From solar-powered speakers to a cozy sleeping pad, here are five items I’m currently digging, and would highly suggest for anyone planning extended adventures:

The GSI Camp Kitchen Set, provided to us by our sponsor, TheGearHouse.1. GSI Kitchen Set

When packing for my yearlong trip, I set aside many of my used kitchen utensils to sacrifice for van cooking – which seemed like a great idea until TheGearHouse sent me the GSI Camp Kitchen Set, and totally rocked my world. The hard-sided zip-case includes an expandable plastic spatula and ladle spoon, a miniature metal grater, one plastic cutting board, two travel sized containers (ideal for something like olive oil), a dual salt-and-pepper container, a felt dish towel, and a small sponge.

The retractable spatula, ladle, and small cutting boards proved to be useful tools we now use on a daily basis, which all earn bonus points for not taking up a lot of space in the van. My favorite item by far is the small grater – Niko and I have used it for everything from carrots to cheddar cheese. My only complaint about the GSI Kitchen Set is that the sponge is rather flimsy. Without ever using it, the scrubber top totally came off from the soft sponge piece – but a sponge is the kind of item you’d only use a few times before replacing anyways.

Overall, I would recommend the GSI Kitchen Set for anyone planning on spending a lot of time cooking without a kitchen. Ideal for the camper who likes to eat more than just canned spaghetti, this compact case full of practical utensils allows adventurers to whip up nearly any meal your appetite desires. We’ve made cauliflower and pepper omelets, salmon with roasted pears, steak and egg breakfast burritos, and countless other meals in our van using our GSI Kitchen Set. This specific kitchen set is no longer available from TheGearHouse, but you can check out a variety of similar camp cooking utensils here.

2. Goal Zero Rock Out Speakers

The Goal Zero Rock Out speakers, jammin' in the van.When we bought our big yellow van, there was one “small” issue that ended up being a pretty critical problem for long nights of driving: all of the speakers are blown. Fortunately, Goal Zero solved our silent drives by providing us with two Rock Out speakers – which can be tethered together for optimal sound. Our two speakers have become our primary source of entertainment while traversing the great American roads, and we’ve encountered many folks out at climbing areas who love their Rock Out speakers. Remember that these speakers are quite small, so there’s a limit on what they can do. Blasting dubstep on full blast in the woods won’t work out very well – but that’s 100% unnecessary to begin with.

I’m not a fan of the zipped style of the speaker – you have to unzip it to turn it on/off, and also to connect it to your iPod – but y’all ought to keep an eye out for Goal Zero’s upcoming new solar speaker that totally squashes that issue. I got a sneak peak of the new speakers while visiting the Goal Zero headquarters a few weeks ago, and the sound quality of the new speakers is incredible.

3. ClimbOn’s Bast Apotheke Deodorant

Let’s face it: living in a van is an undeniably stinky affair. Unless you’re shacked up in an RV with a sweet shower set-up, you’ll likely be going long stretches between proper bathing. Niko and I can get a particularly foul funk going when we’ve been out adventuring for too long, and the Old Spice deodorant we previously used just wasn’t getting the job done – but to be honest, I had doubts that the dainty-looking natural deodorant ClimbOn sent me from their Bast Apotheke line would cure my stank either. (I was so wrong.)

ClimbOn's Bast Apotheke deodorant is my FAVORITE.We received two varieties of the Bast Apotheka deodorant, jasmine and eucalyptus. Frankly, they both smell like jasmine to me, but it’s my favorite scent so I was thrilled. We slathered our pits with the creamy bar, and put it straight to the test during a week of climbing at Hueco Tanks. To my surprise, it worked – not just well, but fantastically. This stuff keeps your pits smelling like flowers all day, and it’s made from nothing but the good stuff. No worries about funky cancer-causing metals or chemicals seeping through your sweat – ClimbOn’s deodorant is climber-tested, hippie-approved perfectionNiko and I are about to run out, and we are seriously in panic mode.

4. Teton Sports Sleeping Pad

Teton Sports velcro sleeping pads.While constructing the bed in our van, we planned to simply use a big of leftover foam from our local rock gym to provide us with a good night’s sleep. However, we quickly realized that the three-inch foam was not enough to cushion our aching climber bodies. We considered splurging on Tempurpedic memory foam – but decided to try out our Teton Sports sleeping pads first. The pads served us well while camping in a tent, and became a permanent fixture of our van bedding.

I love my Teton Sports ComfortLite sleeping pad, period. They’re the perfect size for Niko and I (and come in multiple lengths for campers of all shapes), inflate relatively easily, provide plentiful support while sleeping, and stay inflated. I haven’t re-inflated mine in weeks, and it still provides me with a sturdy yet cozy sleep every night.

Whether you’re snoozing in a tent, on a cot, or in the comfort of a big yellow Sprinter van, the Teton Sports sleeping pads will keep your body warm and cushioned throughout the night.

5. Joby GorillaTorch Tripod Light

The Joby Gorilla light, a wonderful accessory for living on the road.You’ve already heard me rave about my preferred method of illuminating the van, Goal Zero’s Light-A-Life lanterns – but sometimes we find ourselves needing a more versatile light source that’s easier to move around. Niko received the Joby GorillaTorch Tripod Light as a graduation gift, and it ended up being a fantastic tool for the van. Three magnetic feet at the bottom of each leg easily stick to any metal surface on the van interior, and the light’s swivel head and adjustable dimmer enable us to get light in hard to reach places. We’ve even stuck it out on the exterior of the van while cooking or rearranging gear.

Really, I wish Goal Zero made a solar-powered version of this product, but the Joby Tripod Light uses AA batteries, so I can just power it from my Goal Zero Guide 10 battery pack anyways.

There you have it, folks. Five items I’d be a rather unsatisfied van-dweller without. Living in a van comes with a few basic requirements: facilitation for proper cooking, good jams during stretches between climbing destinations, tools for addressing our unbearable stench, and a cozy place to rest after a long day of adventuring – and these five products satisfy all of the above.

Stay tuned for next month’s gear round up,
which will spotlight five of my favorite pieces of climbing gear!

Partnering with TheGearHouse and a sweet Klymit GIVEAWAY!

TheGearHouse is now an official sponsor of Simply Adventure!

It’s been in the works for months, and I am delighted to finally be able to announce:

TheGearHouse is an official sponsor
of the Simply Adventure trip!

Run by gear enthusiast Chris Pund, TheGearHouse.com is what I’d like to think of as the small-town version of Backcountry. His online retail shop helps adventurers outfit themselves with everything from camping cookware to quality climbing ropes – you get the same pristine gear, but with a community-minded attitude and a truly personal customer experience. Niko and I are stoked to have TheGearHouse onboard for our adventure.

To celebrate our new partnership, we’ve got two gear giveaways to get you stoked on new gear for new adventures in the new year. In addition, you can head over to TheGearHouse’s sale section to snag sweet deals on products like the Jet Boil cooking stove, an ultralight Big Agnes Fly Creek tent, Thermarest sleeping pads, and more.

The Klymit Cush Pillow and Seat is a sweet inflatable camping tool. The first giveaway will be running all week long on the blog, with your chance to win a sweet Klymit Cush Ultralight Pillow/Seat! This nifty cushion compresses to a pocket-sized ball, and easily blows up into a customizable seat and/or pillow.

How can you get your hands on this versatile camping product?

First, leave a comment below, telling us what adventure you are most looking forward to in 2013 – it can be anything from summiting Mount Whitney to camping out in your backyard.

To log your entries, head over to the Rafflecopter widget for six different ways to increase your chances of winning this Klymit gear giveaway. The contest ends on Monday, January 14th at midnight, and a winner will be chosen at random, then announced here on the blog!

Click here to enter to win the Kylmit Cush Pillow!

Good luck everyone, and be sure to keep an eye on The Morning Fresh Facebook page for an additional giveaway we’ll be posting on Thursday. Big thanks to TheGearHouse for supporting Simply Adventure through this wonderful sponsorship. 

UPDATE:

Folks, we have ourselves a winner! It was a pleasure to read about all of your wonderful adventures planned for 2013, but Rafflecopter could choose only one winner, and that winner is:

Nicole Dzuba!

Congrats on scoring a sweet new Klymit Cush, Nicole!
Send an e-mail to katieboue (at) gmail (dot) com to claim your winnings.