This summer marks my third anniversary as your loyal WYG columnist, and though I’ve enjoyed interviewing our local gearheads to share their tips, I will now be moving on to other OTM features.

I could lie and say I wrote the column for so long in order to gain interviewing experience, or purely for the joy of sharing other people’s knowledge with the world, but mostly, I did it because I was searching for tips to improve my own gear closet.

Lest you forget what we have learned, I have condensed my favorite tips from our local gearheads into these seven points to pass on:

  1. Cotton Kills. No joke—when cotton gets wet, whether from sweat, snow, or a dunk in the river, it actually steals heat energy from your body, which is bad news if you’re trying to exert energy for any other purpose, like winning a race. Synthetic wicking materials are the default workout attire these days, but you can also go au naturel with wool or silk. “I tried to ski in silk once, and I thought I was going to die, I got so hot I almost hyperventilated and keeled over, so for people who really get cold, I always recommend silk,” said ski instructor Lisa Denker.

    I’ll never forget marathoner Carol Dellinger’s reproach: “you don’t still run in cotton socks, do you?” At the time I did—sometimes. Since then, I’ve discovered that Nordtrom’s Rack is a great place to pick up affordable performance fabric socks.

  2. You can find it at Army Surplus. Let Uncle Sam be your supply outfitter. You can find wool blankets, poly pro for layering or more aerobic exercise, technical outerwear, and even MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) at your local Army Surplus store. And hey, who doesn’t look good in green?
  3. Discomfort is optional. I’m not going to tell you that climbing a glacier in Alaska is easy; nor is biking the entire length of the great divide. But these days, the options we have to suit the gear to the trip can make things much more comfortable.

    For example, several WYG athletes praised freeze-dried food—add boiling water, and voila: chocolate cake, or even “fresh” strawberries. Or, like snow camper Eddie Isakson, you could cut weight in your pack by scavenging pine boughs for your sleeping pad. Better yet, add just a few ounces and take the Outdoor Research “doubler” pad and single sleeping bag that allow Helen Biggs to snuggle with her honey in a double bed, in a tent, in the middle of the Beartooth wilderness.

    Who says working your a** off in the outdoors has to be a pain in the butt?

  4. Improvise. Mountain Gear owner Paul Fish made his own backpack. Climber Sylvia Oliver has a home-made “stick clip” to help her secure anchors. Hyperspud Sports owner John Crock improvised belay anchors with sticks and bits of netting. And more than one WYG winter sports enthusiast admitted to using a “plastic kids’ sled from the General Store.”
  5. If it doesn’t fit, it won’t work. A good fit is essential in so many sports: ill-fitting ski boots can allow frostbite; a bike that doesn’t fit your frame can lead to knee problems; a kayak paddle too large or too heavy can cause carpal tunnel. Poorly-fit performance gear is the number one saboteur of performance athletes because it’s inefficient.

    Sometimes, though, as cyclist Brian Nelson admitted, when it comes to long-distance riding, fit has nothing to do with it. “I don’t think it matters much what seat you use. There’s no way around it, you’re gonna get sore.”

  6. Be distinctive. Devon Barker, a world champion kayaker, wears a glittery helmet by Grateful Heads and says of her Jackson Star kayak, “It’s pink, to make sure people know I’m a girl while I’m out there.” It’s no longer the nineties—we don’t all have to look like gore-tex skinned, Oakley-eyed, slicked-back hair washed up ski racers.
  7. It’s never too late to try something new. Masters cyclocross racer Shawn Letson, champion downhill mountain biker Doug Minor, and former president of the Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club, Terry Miller, took up their sports later in life, but you’d never guess it from their accomplishments. Minor took up downhill mountain bike racing to keep up with his teenaged son. The son went to college; Minor got sponsored.

With outdoor recreation galore, specialty gear stores owned or patronized by our WYG subjects, expert boot fitters and retail staff, the Inland Northwest is a great place for gearheads, so, seriously, go outside and play.