So thanks to REI’s basement of return goods, I’ve scored a few more outdoor products that I’ve been putting to the test. I’m not an advanced outdoorsman by any means but this simple, affordable gear has allowed me to get into some activities with both confidence and style… and that’s something worth writing about.

First we have something that I was lacking in my PNW wardrobe: a good rain shell.

The Mountain Hardwear Conduit DT jacket is a pretty basic model, but my goodness does this breathable rain proof 2.5 ply shell ever do a good job. It’s light, waterproof, packable, and has just enough features… the hood fits me well(though in its rain shielding it does inhibit forward visibility a bit much for walking in a city), the pit zips are generous, and the pockets are well placed and thought out.

I’m all in all very happy with this jacket- it was a steal at 26 dollars moderately used return(the velcro at the wrists has roughed up the fabric, otherwise only mildly worn… still v. waterproof and the zippers work great, contrary to the customer’s reason for the return)… and I don’t even mind the DUDE::ITSRAINING blue color.

Next up we have the Flash 18.

The Flash 18 is phenomenal.

Now, I don’t exactly love REI’s designs on their house brand clothes. The clothing, and Element jackets in particular, take a rather conservative approach to technical wear that I find uninspired. The design and look of their bikes, however, is beautiful and very competitive, while still attractively practical and muted. A Novara Safari next to, say, a Scott SUB10 is a veritable marathon of class, taste, and sophistication. Their jackets are like your sensible, work-a-day neighbor who never plays music loud and only washes his sports car after driving through mud puddles, instead of every other saturday just so you can see just how shiny the paint is. They’re great, and they’re fine, but they’re toeing the line of ‘unremarkable,’ insular in their bubble of ‘respectable.’

Not so with their backpacks. Their backpacks may not have the cool names or exotic looks and graphic assaults of similar bags from osprey, arc’teryx… nor the boldface design of one such mountain hardwear or north face, but what they lack in formidible recognition cues, they more than make up for in their sheer awesome-performance-for-versatility-to-feature-for-price chart ratiometer. Seriously… these packs pack a whallop.

The heavy, conquer the wild with massive hauling ability touring backpacks are sturdy and designed with an exacting hand. I have no experience backpacking but… they seem better equipped than my fifteen year old kelty external frame and more stylish than the oh-so-expensive-because-they-work-so-well Gregory packs they find themselves next to. Again, just a snap judgement without any experience, but they look great-

All the way down the range to the award winning flash lineup… which this, the 18L sack, rounds out the bottom of. Now a lot of people look at this and say “minimalist on a budget” but to that I say… “realist with a gumption.” ┬áThe material is light as all get out, and the design cuts no corners while taking a racing line through the material mass index. I have read reviews of the daisy chains breaking loose, but after a mild hike with a full nalgene and my climbing shoes carabiner’d to the tool loop, I’m going to say those were flukes and if these chains can’t handle your load, you’re asking too much of a minimal pack. More on that later, as I’ve ordered 12′ of quarter inch shock cord and three spring locks to make a compression mesh through the chains on the back. Will they hold up? I think so.

Speaking of minimalism, I also dropped 15 dollars on this 5 ounce “everything but the water” survival kit:

I’ve taken this pack climbing, hiking, grocery getting, and to friends houses. It’s appointed well. At 30 dollars, the flash 18 poses a ridiculous value for the style and performance delivered. All the colorways were beautiful and contemporary, making it hard to pick this slate/orange combo… but I’m happy. It blends exceptionally well with the Conduit DT shell, and only clashes a little bit with the Next Thing On The List.

The Scarpa Techno rock climbing shoes are very, very nicely crafted. I am extremely new to rock climbing but I will say, I wouldn’t be having near as much fun learning had I not scored these beautiful 135 dollar shoes for 67 dollars slightly worn with a single lace loop broken. They fit me great from what I can tell and the grip I find with these things blows me away every time I put my weight through them.

The Mad Rock chalk bag, new, $15, is by far my least favorite *looking* of my latest trappings… but while I don’t necessarily like the style or design of this bag, it does match the color scheme of the Scarpas well enough and when it comes down to it, a chalk bag is a chalk bag is a chalk bag. It even has a stash pocket that I’m using as a ziplock bag holder for the chalk sock I put in it.

Now while some might cringe at the thought of putting your foot into a used climbing shoe, I’m not really a germaphobe. Also, my sense of ‘fit’ is somewhat (extremely) undeveloped… so from what I can tell these are great shoes that are doing their part in my introduction to bouldering and climbing.

I may not be climbing with any authority yet, but I am utilizing some holds and smears and wedges to get some lines I can be overjoyed about… and I think these shoes will outhold my skill level for some time to come.

So in conclusion: I spent a little chunk of change over the last few weeks at REI, but damn if I didn’t get some nice gear for it.

This summer I plan on Day Hiking, Backpacking, Camping, Climbing and braving the rain like was previously unthinkable. I feel extremely Seattlite, and by gods does it feel good.


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