Ski/snowboard mountaineering is a progression, a methodical accumulation of necessary skills and gear. I have truly enjoyed accumulating both for years and I hope to keep doing it for many more. Skills are definitely fun to acquire, however, you have to be prepared to commit a lot more time and a lot more energy to learn about the mountain environment comparatively to the amount of time and knowledge required to shop. Have you heard the expression ”all the gear, no idea”? I love it. My friends and I always used to say that the board doesn’t make you a pro.
A part from the obvious grocery shopping, books and some music, I believe this is the only other type of shopping currently present in my life. Every time I buy a new piece of equipment, big or small, cheap or expensive.. I am often questioned by family and friends (mainly the ones less familiar with mountain activities) whether I really needed it. Whilst I don’t expect them to entirely understand my reasons for adding a new piece of equipment to my already reasonably varied collection, at the same time I don’t blame them – they have seen me buying mountain gear for 20 years.
To be completely honest, I have to confess that the only times I find myself indulging for something I know I don’t desperately need – meaning, I could carry on using the equipment I already have – are the times when I am in an outdoor shop, surrounded by a vast and good selection of articles for skiing, climbing, camping, etc. The good news, especially for my personal finances, is that with the time I have learned how to buy less and better, which led me to narrow down the numerous brands available on the market and focus on the best, more reliable ones.
Full disclosure here – I am not sponsored by any of the brands on this page. A part from the odd free bit here and there, I always buy what I need. So if I say that these are the best brands I don’t say it because I have an agreement with them and they pay me, but because I have used so many different types of clothes and technical gear for years and the experience tells me it’s true. Like many other sports normally performed in the outdoors, climbing and backcountry snowboarding/skiing are gear intensive activities that teach you to treat every single piece of your equipment with attention and care. You learn soon enough that they are all very important, regardless their size, shape or cost. Have you ever tried to skin without poles? Or traverse a steep icy slope without crampons on? Or using gloves which when wet don’t keep your hands warm enough? The list is long.
Both mountain clothes and technical gear have come a long way over the past 30 years. Try to walk in any decent outdoor shop to buy a technical jacket and you’ll find yourself having to choose among at least 5 different very good brands. The same will happen when you need a rucksack, a pair of walking boots, waterproof trousers, harness, ice axe.. another long list for you. Let’s face it, the average materials are pretty good, a good part of them look cool, they all have a model which you like and is more or less in your price range. On top of that, they all come in your size, so how are you going to choose you jacket, rucksack, walking boots or even a snowboard? This is the question I kept asking myself a few years ago when I started to change my approach to shopping and started to buying less by buying better.
These days, my search starts on line. Where else? What I am most interested in is not the material as these days the great majority of the brands use Gore-Tex for the best models, or the color, they all have a very good variety of colors. The information I need to find in order to decide from which company I am going to buy is how responsible their business is. Are they doing anything for the environment? Can they recycle what they make? Where are they sourcing the raw materials? Assuming I am buying cotton, do they use organic one? Where does the energy they use in their factories and offices come from? It’s usually a not very long process as given the current concerns and general attention and interest for climate change and renewable energy sources, any information of this kind is often well explained on the company website in an attempt to use it as a powerful marketing tool.
Below I have selected a few brands not just because I think they make the best products in their field, but because all of them are very responsible companies which do try to reduce their impact on the environment by carefully choosing and sourcing the raw materials and by supporting a number of non-profit organizations which have been set up to protect the natural environment, increase the awareness of climate change and do something about it. In terms of durability, responsibility and sustainability, the company which can be considered a benchmark for the rest of the market, and not just the outdoor clothing and equipment one, is Patagonia®.
An excellent example of how to use renewable energy to run a business is the Italian company Grivel, based in Courmayeur, on the Italian side on Mont Blanc. In 1818 the Grivel family of blacksmiths started to transform their production of agricultural tools and made the first ice axes. They have been making some of the best rock and ice climbing gear for the past 190 years! If you are curious to read about their solar energy policy and projects, this is the link where you’ll find the information:
Although I don’t reckon Yvon Chouinard and his company need an introduction, if you don’t know much about him and his business, please read one of my previous posts for more details:
I also suggest you watch this short but super inspiring video on youtube:
One of the top 3 brands in the world for climbing, mountaineering and backcountry skiing equipment. Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, it was originally founded by Yvon Chouinard with the name of Chouinard Equipment
Did the world need another snowboard company? Yes, if the owner and shaper/designer is Jeremy Jones. Over 20 years of snowboarding I have used many different boards made by different brands and never have I found a brand able to combine performance, durability and sustainability better than Jones’s. If you buy one board next winter, do yourself and your riding a favor – buy a Jones board. I guarantee you it will be the best board you have ever stepped on:
Spark R&D has played a major role in the development and progression of bindings for Splitboards. Splitboarding wouldn’t be where is now if it wasn’t for these guys.
Based in Boulder, Colorado, they are famous for making some of the best safety and easy to use gear to access the backcountry. Their avalanche transceiver, the “Tracker”, is the most popular and easy to use transceiver available in the market. I have used it for many years. From their website:
“At BCA, our mission is to save lives, not just pump products. As a leader in our industry, we need to be responsible about sending people into the backcountry. They need to be equipped not just with products, but with education. That’s why we’ve invested so much in research and education.”
MSR stands for Mountain Safety Research. It’s one of the companies owned by Cascade Designs, Inc. These people spent the last 30 years trying to improve their products in a constant effort to provide a more comfortable night outdoors. Over the years they have grown and are now the parent company of some of the most respected brands in the outdoor industry, including MSR and Thermarest. MSR is famous for the durability and performance of their tents, stoves and snowshoes. Thermarest make the best camping mattresses and sleeping systems. For more info this is their website:
When you are on expeditions or simply go out climbing or snowboarding/skiing for a few days away from people and ski resorts, there is only a limited amount and type of food you can bring with you and it has to be very good and nutritious food. You don’t want to get hungry and run out of energy as you are skinning half the way to the top, do you?! It’s not ideal and more importantly it’s not safe. If you try to buy an energy bar, you soon realize that exactly like what happens with technical clothing and gear, even when it comes to food, the choice is endless. Again, how do you choose the best product? Do some research. This is what I did when years ago I heard about the American brand CLIF Bar.
The majority of the ingredients they use are organic and like Patagonia and Jonessnowboards are members of the association 1% For the Planet. Have you even seen this logo?
One Percent for the Planet is an international organization whose members contribute at least one percent of their annual sales, before tax, to environmental causes. Their mission is to “use market forces to drive positive environmental change by inspiring companies to give“. Envisioned in 2001 by Yvon Chouinard, founder of the Patagonia clothing company, and Craig Mathews, founder of Blue Ribbon Flies, the organization now has over 1,200 members worldwide.
If you are considering buying a piece of equipment and wish to have more detailed information on any of the products available from my favorite brands above, or even from another brand I don’t mention here, I would be happy to help. We as consumers have the freedom to choose which are the businesses and the brands we want to support. Please remember though, that with that tremendous freedom and power comes also a big responsibility. Using Yvon Chouinard words, try to lead an examined life, focusing on being part of the solution, instead of being part of the problem. Buy less, buy better.