SO BEGAN THE LETTER. Marc Ewing wanted to start a magazine–the magazine, actually, that I had always worried somebody else would start. The timing was good: my seven years with the American Alpine Journal had just come to an end. Shortly after receiving the letter, I called Marc on the phone.
I’d had my eye on a new mid-sized daypack for some time, so when I saw the Talon 33 first advertised, I took note. “The Talon 33 is the most versatile pack in its series, meeting the needs of everyone from the expert light and fast backpacker to hardcore do-it-in-a-day alpinists,” read the description on the website. The weight–one pound, 12 ounces–made it an instant contender for alpine climbs, and despite being so light, it sported numerous bells and whistles: hipbelt pockets, ax attachments, helmet pocket in back, sunglasses pocket in the top lid, hydration slot, haul loop, topo pocket inside the top lid, exotic buckles adorning most edges, and some loopy harness system that takes a university degree more advanced than mine to operate. And the design–all swoopy and sleek, with futuristic graphics showcased in colors such as Spicy Chili, Moonlight Blue, and Acid Green–was sexier than anything else on the market. Acid Green! My wife has an Osprey Switch 26 ski pack, and last winter she extolled the intelligence of its design: the top lid holds a ski helmet, an outer pocket houses shovel and skins, there’s place for probe pole and hydration bladder alike. Given her praise of the Switch, and the light weight, features and pure sex appeal of the Talon, I thought I had found my pack.
There may be other inflatable sleeping pads out there, but you know you’ve got a corner on the market when your brand name becomes the vernacular for your niche. For years, however, I avoided Therm-a-Rests, preferring the closed-cell pads that, while they might not offer quite the same insulation and comfort as an inflatable pad, had the distinct advantage of low-tech: you could be pretty sure they’d never fail in the field, regardless of how many times you flopped your crampon-laden pack down on them at inopportune moments.
My go-to approach shoe for three years has been the La Sportiva Exum Ridge. Sturdy yet nimble, stealthy enough for talus-hopping but rugged enough to endure all the missteps that result in abrasion, the shoe has held tough for me through three summers in the Tetons without blowing out or debilating the tread. It’s a tough benchmark to beat.