Employee Gear Closet: Ben Sukow
Employee Gear Closet: Ben Sukowby Adam Riser
Ben Sukow doesn’t consider himself much of a mountaineer, but he seems to get talked into a lot of mountaineering-related activities by his friends. Such adventures include a backcountry ski trip in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, descents from the top of many Wasatch peaks, an attempt to ski from the summit of Mt. Rainier, and 10 days in the Bugaboos bagging the classics.
When he’s not in the mountains Ben works as a software support manager for Backcountry.com. Basically, Ben is the guy we go to when we have ideas about stuff that we really wish our site could do. He’s in charge of our new mind-reading feature that will soon fill your cart with all the gear you’ve been dreaming of and eliminate the need for searching. (Doesn’t work yet.)
Given the amount of time he spends in the mountains, Ben has tested a ton of gear. After putting everything from shoes to skis through the wringer, Ben picked a few of his favorite goodies to take into the mountains.
It's pretty hard to beat a well-built 5-degree sleeping bad that weighs only two pounds. I'm typically less concerned about weight that about warmth and packability, and this bag packs down small enough to enable 2-3 day winter exploits to be done with a small 45-liter pack. Western Mountaineering typically errors on the side of caution with their temperature ratings, meaning that this bag is really warm. The dry-loft fabric prevents snow and frost from dampening the bag, but unlike the so-called waterproof breathable shells plaguing so many bags today, will actually breathe and doesn't turn the interior of your bag into a down-soaking sauna.
A great all-around climbing shoe that is comfortable once broken in and climbs anything. Sized small and laced correctly, these shoes allow for all day comfort along with precision and sensitivity for more difficult moves, while not an edging shoe, they can be fitted and laced to edge acceptably, for smearing and crack climbing, they're great. Size them a bit larger and you lose a little precision, but you can climb all day in comfort.
I use this softshell jacket year round. The durable fabric holds up to years of abuse and the athletic fit allows it to fit like a shirt. It’s water repellant, so getting some snow on it is harmless, although you'll still need a hardshell for wet spring snow storms or rain. Most importantly, it's very breathable, making it possible to wear this jacket during periods of aerobic exertion without getting soaked from the inside.
A nice lightweight and very small bivy sack. It's less waterproof and more breathable than most, meaning it won't do much good in a rain storm but also won't soak a sleeping bag with trapped condensation. This is ideal for low-luxury winter camping, as it is more than adequate to protect a bag from light snow, and keeps a bag dry in a snow cave if the weather really gets nasty. It's also small and light enough that I carry it as part of any emergency bivy kit.
Black Diamond Whippet Pole:
A really nice tool to have for ski descents and snow climbs on slopes less steep that about 45-degrees. Paired with a lightweight ice axe, it makes movement fast and secure. Due to laziness and not wanting to carry an ice axe, I've learned the hard way that this can be less than ideal as the primary snow climbing tool. It will work for that, but is guaranteed to make chopping through cornices much more sporting, and may require some creativity in how it is used (such as the old sink-the-pole-in-handle-down-to-the-basket-and-pull-hard-on-the-tip-of-the-pole-to-pull-a-bulge technique).
The Trab Sint Aeros are incredible skis. While they possess the weight characteristics of a lightweight touring ski (only 4 ½ pounds for the pair), they ski far better than their weight due to the ridiculous amount of technology and engineering thrown at them. With their light weight, they fly up hills, and are not a burden when strapped to a backpack. They also have relatively straight side cut, which improves their behavior and predictability in steep terrain, and they have repeatedly amazed me with their performance in bad snow.