The Gear We Can't Live Without

Staff Picks: Tanner Bowden, Editorial Apprentice


October 17, 2017 Buying Guides By
Editor’s Note: As a collective, the Gear Patrol staff is a wealth of knowledge about products — everyone is an expert in his or her own right. Of course, every story we publish is a testament to that. In our personal lives, we pursue our product passion too. This series is our way of showcasing and sharing our insights on products we individually endorse and love and own. Our hope is that you enjoy it all — and perhaps discover something new as you meet our staff over the next few weeks.

My personal philosophy towards products is complicated. It’s the result of an internal conflict between my own unavoidable 21st-century desire for things, and a conscience that pulls me away from rampant consumerism and tells me to simplify my life. The square footage of my tiny New York apartment also comes into play. Consequently, the items that do inhabit my life are subject to much scrutiny.

Quality is essential, but what does “quality” even mean? According to the late Robert M. Pirsig, who has done much thinking on the subject, quality is “not just ‘intuition,’ not just unexplainable ‘skill’ or ‘talent.’ It’s the direct result of contact with basic reality.” It’s both inherent and learned, and definitely not a result of cost. It is, in his words, “a sense of what’s good.” I like to think I’ve got that sense nailed down pretty well.

Pilot Fineliner Pen

Most of my words are transported from thought to page through a wireless keyboard, but I haven’t lost my strong affinity for writing by hand. I prefer pens to pencils — the eraser is a way to hide mistakes; a scratched-out word proves acceptance of them — and this has become my favorite. Its simple plastic body is comfortable in the hand, and its felt tip is perfect for writing paragraphs in all capital letters.

Electric Stacker Sunglasses

When viewed head-on, the Stacker reveals a contemporary profile even Kanye could appreciate. But when turned to the side, the removable face mask is revealed, along with its potential for outdoor utility. I’ve worn these mountain biking, ski touring and glacier climbing. I don’t know if a more versatile pair of shades exists.

Brazyn Morph Foam Roller

In lieu of a personal masseuse, the foam roller is a traveler’s best friend. Its worst quality, however, is an odd shape that’s never compatible with the typical carry-on. Brazyn figured that out with its collapsible Morph. It’s still not tiny, per se, but it is exponentially more packable — and for that reason, it’s found a permanent place in my travel kit.

Best Made Co. Guide Sweater

Before polyester fleece and synthetic insulation, explorers relied on wool. It’s still an exceptional material to guard against the elements with, and while I might not necessarily don this sweater on a four-night journey into the backcountry, it’s a suitable choice for both the woods of Vermont where I grew up and the streets of Manhattan where I currently reside.

Salomon Sense Ride Trail Running Shoes

As a kid, I was periodically dragged — yes, against my will — on hikes. This was before I learned to enjoy and appreciate time spent in the wilderness, when the physical effort of ascending a mountain wasn’t justified by a lovely view. Now I know better. But even back then, the descent was always fun, and it was always approached with speed. Running down mountains (and up them, too) is just as fun as an adult, especially with a solid pair of shoes designed specifically for that purpose.

Nemo Dagger Tent

I bought this tent a couple of years ago before embarking on a one-way trip to South America. It took up a lot of space in my backpack, but over the course of the four months it took me to travel from the continent’s southern tip to its northern coast, the tent proved to be worth the weight (which isn’t that much). It survived the battering winds of Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park and the humidity of Colombia’s Caribbean coast — and it made a perfect star-gazing observatory on Easter Island.

Cuisinart Smart Stick Hand Blender

Both of my parents love cooking. I was raised in an environment where dishes like elk tenderloin (hunted by my father), coq au vin and paella were frequent features on the weekly dinner menu. I suppose my own love for cooking is a result of that. I’m still learning the basics, and this tool has singularly elevated my repertoire more than any other. I use it for everything: soups, smoothies, homemade salad dressing, sauces, salsas — the list goes on.

Dakine Baron Gore-Tex Mittens

Given how quickly my hands go from warm to numb, it’s amazing I love winter as much as I do. A good pair of mittens — no, not gloves — is essential. I’ve tried many, and one thing I’ve learned is that a price doesn’t always reflect warmth, and an expensive pair of mittens that doesn’t keep your hands warm isn’t a good pair of mittens. Dakine’s leather mitts provide warmth without bulk, and they’re equipped with a soft panel on the thumb that’s perfect for wiping the nose on a frigid chairlift.

‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ by Robert M. Pirsig

I couldn’t quote the man without including his most notable work. Zen is part father-son cross-country motorcycle travelogue, part philosophical inquiry into why we care about anything at all. To examine motorcycles — riding them, repairing them — through the lens of Plato and Aristotle and succeed in doing so shows a mastery of thought and writing. But Pirsig examines much more than that. One of my favorite lines: “Degeneracy can be fun but it’s hard to keep up as a serious lifetime occupation.”

The Grail

Ural Gear Up Sidecar Motorcycle

Let me offer up one more Pirsig quote: “Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.” I’m not against spending time getting to know a new place, be it a town or mountain range, but I am totally opposed to the whole resort mentality of vacationing. My ideal vacation? Pick up one of Ural’s fully equipped, adventure-ready sidecar bikes at its home base in Seattle and drive it down to the Southern Hemisphere. There’d be plenty of roads, both dirt and paved, to explore along the way, and having company at hand would keep the loneliness of the open road well at bay.

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