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How to Save Money on Outdoor Gear

September 12, 2015

One of the benefits of my” normal” job, back when I had it, was access to some pretty amazing pro deals. Because I worked for an outdoor/conservation focused organization I was able to score killer discounts from some of my favorite companies. It was a perk that was hard to give up (and yes, it was something I weighed when I was making the decision to jump ship!) but, at the end of the day, a good pro deal is not a reason to stay in a job that makes you unhappy.

When I struck out on my own and had to start paying full retail (what?! who does that?!) for gear, I realized I was going to have to be a lot smarter about how I spent my money. Needless to say, I’ve learned a few tricks along the way.

Let’s face it, outdoor sports can be expensive. Like, really expensive. And if there is a way to minimize that cost, I’m all for it. Because buying good gear for less money means there’s more cash leftover to do things like travel or, yanno, feed the dogs and pay the mortgage.

So with all that in mind, here are some things that I’ve learned about how to buy the stuff that I need to do the things that I love …. while also still being able to feed my family:

Contact your local bike/ski/paddle shop. If you’re looking to buy a big ticket item (bike, paddleboard, snowboard …) and are ok with getting something gently used, it’s always a great idea to check with your local gear or guide shop to see if they have demo or rental equipment that they are looking to unload. I got a great deal on my paddleboard this way! And while some shops only sell stuff at certain times of the year, others are happy to move old inventory all year long. It never hurts to ask! Plus, supporting local businesses is always a good thing.

Not all technical clothing needs to be expensive. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of pricey gear and I love it all but not every adventure or workout requires expensive stuff. When it comes to fair weather runs, hikes, paddles, and just about anything else, I often get by with tops from Target or Costco. Glamorous, right? Seriously though, if we’re talking basic wicking tops, theirs get the job done well for a very reasonable price. If you can wait until Target’s workout clothes go on sale, you’re even more likely to score a deal. I bought my very favorite cold weather running jacket on sale at Target for something like $25 and it has served me very well.

Check out Sierra Trading PostIf I am looking to order stuff online (this goes for both casual and technical clothes and shoes as well as things like ski goggles, snowshoes, backpacks, etc.) I always check Sierra Trading Post first. They carry gear from most of the major manufacturers at deeply discounted prices. Selection may be limited but sometimes you can score – and when you do, you score big! STP has also been a great place to get stuff for the kid because, again, the prices are just SO good. Pro Tip: It’s always worth looking to see if they have a promo going (Like right now! The code AVFRESH5 will get you 25% off your order plus half off shipping – you’re welcome!).

Hit up T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. I discovered several years ago that discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls can be really great places to find name brand outdoor apparel for super cheap. T.J. Maxx actually owns Sierra Trading Post which means that they stock a lot of the same stuff. I regularly find clothes from companies like Patagonia, Prana, and Pearl Izumi there and it’s always at a MUCH lower price than you’d pay pretty much anywhere else. Shopping at those places definitely requires some patience (which I, admittedly, don’t always have …) but there are certainly some killer deals to be found.

Consider renting! I know that we all want our own gear but sometimes renting can be a really good deal. If you are only going to use your equipment for one trip or even one season it might make sense to rent rather than buy. I did a season long ski rental with Christy Sports my first year of skiing and it cost all of $100 for the whole winter! It was a great way to see if I even liked skiing before making a big investment on equipment. The downside of this is that your options are limited and you may find that the rental equipment doesn’t work for you (this happened to me when I did a snowboard rental – the boots were no bueno for my feet). But it’s always worth a shot! As a side note, renting camera lenses is also really easy and REALLY fun. I use Pro Photo Rental.

Get an REI credit card. You guys. REI credit cards are the bomb diggity for people who like to spend money on gear. They won’t save you money up front but they will pay dividends (literally!) down the road! Our REI dividend skyrocketed after we started using an REI card as our primary credit card. I’m not going to say how much our dividend was this year because it’s a little embarrassing (seriously …) but I will say that I was VERY happy to have it when we were gearing up for our Kalalau trip.

Join a club or team! Getting discounts on everything from gear to beer probably shouldn’t be the main reason you join a team but it’s definitely a perk! Most outdoor sports teams and clubs have sponsors who happily give discounts to members. Plus, meeting other people who love to do the things you do is just plain fun!

Got any other tips? Drop ’em in the comments! 

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for supporting Peak & Pixel!  

Live, Play

How to Adventure with your Significant Other (And Still Like Each Other Afterward)

August 28, 2015

[First let me say that I am overwhelmed by the response to my post about how trails have changed my life. Thanks to all of you that shared your stories. Knowing that I’m among kindred spirits feels pretty darn good! XO, Jen]

A video came across my Facebook feed this morning from the folks at Dakine that had me crying tears of laughter right into my coffee. The video follows the exploits of a young couple, stereotypical gender roles reversed, out “enjoying” a day on mountain bikes. If you haven’t seen the video, you can watch it here:

If you have spent any amount of time in the outdoors with a significant other, a lot of this probably looks pretty familiar.

The meltdown this guy has at 1:20 looks a whole lot like when I threw down my camera gear and cried at Kalalau and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “your hands wouldn’t hurt if you didn’t brake so much!” while out on the bike. I don’t think I’m nearly as whiney as this guy (dear god, I hope I’m not!) but there is a whole lot of truth in this video.

At first I thought it was just us. I thought that every other couple was surely out having blissful adventures together and then recounting the day’s shenanigans over beers, just like in those Mich Ultra commercials that they show during the Tour de France. You know what I’m talking about, right? The commercials that show smiling, fit-looking people out recreating with members of the opposite sex who are presumably their significant others and then happily celebrating with a cold Mich Ultra afterwards? I can tell you from experience that those are not an accurate depiction of reality (and we know this is true because no one looks that happy while drinking Mich Ultra).

Anyway, the point that I’m trying to make is that adventuring with your significant other is hard. And while I know many couples that seem to have it figured out, I know just as many that say yeah, not us. And that’s ok. What matters isn’t that you’re out riding or hiking or skiing with your partner. What matters is that you’re out riding or hiking or skiing at all. And that what you’re doing is working for everyone. And that everyone is happy.

But just because I think it’s totally ok to do your own thing doesn’t mean that I don’t have some advice for those of you who are hellbent on hitting the trail with your significant other. Want some unsolicited advice on how to keep everyone happy? Read on!

Be honest about what you’re getting them into. This is a big one. Don’t try to trick your spouse/domestic partner/girlfriend/boyfriend/friend-with-benefits into thinking that your adventure is going to be something that it isn’t. Don’t tell them that the ride will be easy if you know it is going to be hard and don’t, for the love of god, tell them that something won’t be technical if it will. A little bit of warning goes a long way. And keep in mind that what is easy for you might not be easy for them. And vice versa.

Set all expectations early. Are you going to wait for them? Do they want you to wait for them? How far apart is too far apart? Talk about all this stuff before you go. Some people desperately want their riding partners to wait for them at regular intervals. For me, it’s demoralizing and makes me feel bad. I’d rather you go ahead and do your own thing so I can focus on doing mine. Figure out what your partner wants and then do that.

Don’t do the “bitch stop”. You know when you’re riding with someone and they stop and wait as you huff and puff your way up the hill only to take off down the trail the very second you roll up? My husband and I call this the “bitch stop”. Don’t do it! Just because you are fully recovered does not mean that the person behind you is ready to roll. Give them a second to catch their breath.

Stop doubting yourself. Stop apologizing. If someone is riding (or hiking or climbing or whatever) with you, especially if they are doing it for a second (or third or fourth or hundredth) time, it’s because they want to be out there with you. Stop doubting that you are good enough. And stop apologizing. Stop apologizing for being too slow or too fast (unless you broke the aforementioned agreed upon expectations) or for riding too well or too poorly. Just stop! And yes, this is something that I have to remind myself of all the time.

Go it alone. It may seem strange to see “don’t ride/hike/run/ski together” on a list of suggestions for how TO do all those things but, let’s be honest, it’s a pretty good piece of advice. Just because you and your significant other enjoy the same hobbies doesn’t mean that you have to do those same hobbies together all the time. Set off on your own or grab a friend and hit the trail. Doing things at your own pace and in your own way doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with your relationship. It means that you’re healthy, happy, and independent. And you’ll have more to talk about when you meet up over drinks later!

I will be honest and tell you that we don’t adventure together much these days. Throwing a kid into the mix made getting out at the same time infinitely harder. But someday, I hope, we can hit the trail together again. And when we do, I hope we can be an actual old married couple … not just people who bicker like one!

Happy trails, y’all!

Got any advice for those brave enough to hit the trail with their significant other? Any funny war stories to share? Drop me a line in the comments!



Live, Play, Travel

Nature’s Classroom

August 26, 2015
Colorado Trail, Kenosha Pass, Colorado

I am thrilled to be partnering with REI on their #everytrailconnects project. Talking about trails and what they mean to me? Yeah, sign me up! Thanks to the good folks at REI for this opportunity!

I was several hours into my ride over Rollins Pass when I realized how far I was from where I started.

I wasn’t thinking about the miles I had ridden, the feet I had climbed, or the fact that I was halfway over a freaking mountain en route to a town on the other side of the Continental Divide.

I was thinking about how far I had come since I first stepped foot on a trail.

401 Trail, Crested Butte, Colorado

Hoosier Pass, Colorado

I was somewhat of a late bloomer in the outdoor world, if you consider being a freshman in college as being “late”. I had always loved the outdoors and always been a tomboy but it wasn’t until the ripe old age of 18 that I fell in love with skinny strips of dirt and the rush that you get from facing your fears.

As with many outdoorsy women of my generation, it was a boy that got me out on the trail. He was a mountain biker and I was smitten. I was also scared. As we cruised the easy riverside trails near my university town, tears welled in my eyes and my arms shook with fear. It was the easiest, least threatening mountain bike ride imaginable … and I was terrified.

A lot has changed since then. I lost the boyfriend, kept the bike, and got way more comfortable in the outdoors. And I owe it all to time spent on the trail.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Trails have been a path to freedom and a way to push my limits. They have taught me patience, perseverance, and self-reliance. They turned a little girl that was afraid of everything into a woman that has no qualms about setting out by herself on long backcountry adventures with nary another human in sight.

Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii

Horsethief Bench Trail, Fruita, Colorado

The adventures have gotten bigger since those early days and the trails have gotten harder, higher, and infinitely longer. The obstacles that once made me quake with fear go unnoticed and new challenges present themselves. It is on narrow ribbons of rock and dirt that I have learned how strong I am and how brave I can be. The trails have taught me to focus on what I’m doing, to not look down, and to never look back.

Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii

Few things bring about personal growth like a heaping dose of discomfort and my days on the trails have provided it in spades. The experiences I have had – the joy, fear, pain, elation – have been the catalysts that made me who I am today.

I don’t have it all figured out, and sometimes I still stumble and shake, but it happens less often now and in places that I’d never have imagined I’d be. And I owe it all to time spent on tiny slivers of dirt.

Have trails made a difference in your life? I want to hear about it! Leave me a comment below and let me know what trails mean to you.

This post was created in partnership with and sponsored by REI. 

Live, Play, Travel

Hiking Hope Pass

August 17, 2015

It’s mid-August which means that things are about to get really real up in Leadville. In honor of the bunch of badasses that are getting ready to take on the beast that is the Leadville Trail 100 run, here is a write up about a little run (that term may be a bit generous …) I did last summer on Hope Pass. Good luck to all the runners racing next weekend and congrats to those who raced the bike a few days ago! 

One weekend last summer I found myself up in the mountains and in need of a long run. I was training for Imogene Pass (which never happened due to a slew of injuries) and wanted to do something long, hard, and high. Being somewhat of an ultrarunning groupie, I decided that I’d go check out Hope Pass. And that I’d take my furry dog with me.

For those of you that aren’t ultra running fangirls, I’ll tell you that Hope Pass is the crux of the infamous Leadville Trail 100 run. It comes smack dab in the middle of the day, when storms are rolling in and runners are getting tired, and as far as I can tell it’s 20 miles of hell. Runners hit the Twin Lakes aid station at around 40 miles into the race, climb to the sky, top out at 12,600 feet, and cruise down a steep and slippery hill to the ghost town of Winfield and the turnaround point at Mile 50.

And then they repeat the whole thing in the other direction.

Sounds hard, right? It is.

I had been wanting to get up there for a while to see what the buzz was about and with a long run on the schedule, I figured it was a perfect time to do it. On the advice of a friend who has done this thing a few times, I started on the Winfield side. The furry dog and I made quick work of the easy, gently rolling section of the Continental Divide Trail that leads to the base of the climb. And then the trail turned skyward and the real hike began.

It was hard, you guys. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this thing was freaking steep. And if it was kicking my butt on fresh legs (um, it was), I can’t imagine doing it 50+ miles into a 100-mile race. The people that do this for real? They have my utmost respect.

While I was huffing and puffing my way to the top, the Spotty dog was running laps around me. She was doing the infuriating and endearing thing that dogs (and sometimes husbands) do, where they run ahead and look back at you like well, aren’t you coming? I was coming, just not at her pace.

We reached the top of the pass, where it was cold and windy, took a few shots, and headed back down the trail. We made quick and easy work of the top section but slowed considerably near the bottom where things got steep and rocky. By the time we hit the road to Winfield, we were both ready to be done. I was beat and the furry dog had blisters forming on her pads from the hot rocks (this was a hike I wished I had brought booties for). We were beat.

The thought that was stuck in my mind the entire time we were out was that I can’t even imagine doing this twice in the middle of a hundred mile race.

Leadville, for me, is a bucket list race. It’s the race that would easily be my answer if you asked me “If you could finish one stupidly hard event in your life, what would it be?”. I’m not an ultrarunner. Most days I’m barely a runner at all. I’m painfully slow and tend to get injured if I so much as look at my running shoes. My body and heart love the bike more … but there’s just something about Leadville.

Good luck this weekend to all the LT100 racers. You’re all a special kind of crazy!


Live, Play, Travel

Packing for Kalalau: the Gear

August 10, 2015

Back in the spring, when we were planning our Kalalau Trail hike, I joined a Facebook group for the trail. In the months before the trip it was a perfect way to get advice on things like parking and packing and after the trip it became a great way to stay up to date on a place that is now near and dear to my heart.

I have noticed that a few of the same questions come up all the time. What should I pack? Should I take a tent or a hammock? What type of shoes should I wear? I will admit that I asked all these questions myself. While we have done a ton of hiking and camping, rarely have we combined the two. Backpacking was fairly new to us, as was doing anything in a tropical climate.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of what we took (you presumably know about things like headlamps, cookware, sunscreen, etc.!) and, obviously, your needs may be different than ours. Only you know how warm you sleep, how much you eat, and whether one bottle of wine will last you through your whole trip!  This list covers some of the basic things that made our lives easier and better while on the trail and at the beach.

So with all that in mind, let’s get started!

Osprey Aura 65 Liter Pack – I think I tried on every pack in every size in every store in Boulder before I settled on the Osprey Aura 65. I was unsure of how much stuff we would need and had a hard time imagining going hiking without all the things I usually take to stay warm here in the mountains! This bag was very comfortable and 65 liters was perfect. Keep in mind that I carried a crapload of photography gear with me. Without all that gear, a smaller bag may have been plenty.

2-Person Backpacking Tent – Our normal camping tent is this one (keep in mind that we typically camp with a kid and two dogs!) but we didn’t need all that space for this trip since it was just my husband and I. We borrowed a two-person tent from a friend (it was REI brand but several years old so I’m not sure of the model) and it worked perfectly. There seems to be some debate about whether a tent or hammock is the way to go for this trail but I say tent all the way! Keep in mind that it rains a LOT at Kalalau. We were happy to have the shelter.

Shoes – Shoes are the other thing that seems to be hotly debated in terms of what works best for this trail (which is narrow and slippery). I hemmed and hawed over it for a while and ended up going with my favorite trail runners, my Brooks Cascadias (with custom inserts). They were perfect – they have great traction and they dried very quickly when they got wet (which happened a lot). I also took a pair of Chacos which I threw on pretty much as soon as we got to the campground.

Jetboil + Aeropress – I will go ahead and tell you right now that this little combo of tools has changed our camping lives. Honest to god, you guys. My love for the Jetboil + Aeropress combo is probably worth a post in itself but for now I’ll just saw that I am a huge coffee snob and this is, by far, the best and easiest way to make good coffee when you’re camping. Please believe me when I tell you that drinking good coffee on that insanely beautiful beach in the morning is the absolute best way to start your day.

This is what morning at Kalalau looks like. I guarantee that having a cup of good coffee here will be one of the highlights of your day.

Mummy Bag Liner – This was another thing that caused a lot of angst while we were making our packing list. Where we camp it is usually cold at night, even in the summer. I don’t think I have ever gone camping with anything less than a 15 degree sleeping bag. The idea of not taking anything warm to sleep in was really hard to wrap my brain around. But we decided to go for it and these liners (which we use in our down bags at home) worked perfectly. A word of advice: if you plan to sleep on the beach itself, you will probably want another layer of insulation. A light fleece blanket to throw on top would have been perfect.

Trekking Poles – Whether or not trekking poles are necessary is another thing that is hotly debated. As far as I’m concerned, they are not optional for Kalalau. Have I mentioned that this hike is slippery and narrow? And that you’ll have 30-some pounds on your back? Take poles. Just trust me on this one!

Water/Steripen – Knowing that we were in for a long, hot day we started our hike with a lot of water, just like we would if we were going to be out all day in Colorado. We quickly realized that, unlike at home, there are water sources everywhere on this trail. We ended up dumping out all but one liter each and refilling our bottles at the various streams and waterfalls when our supplies ran low. The Steripen made this quick and easy. Water is heavy, you guys. Don’t carry more than you need. We also had iodine tablets in case the Steripen died on us.

Thermarest – I took my itty bitty backpacking Thermarest. It was perfect for sleeping on (obviously!) but it also came in handy for lounging around on the beach. Like this:

Clothes – I am not going to go through a detailed list of clothes that I packed because you know what you need. I will say that I took a few short sleeve technical shirts, one cotton tank top, two pairs of shorts, a cheap cotton skirt, and a long-sleeve rash guard. And socks and underwear and things. I also took a rain jacket but I don’t think I ever used it. It’s hot there – the rain feels good!

We stressed quite a bit over what to pack for this trip but, all in all, I think we did pretty well and don’t have any major regrets.

If you stumbled on this post because you are planning a Kalalau trip of your own and trying to figure out what to take with you, I hope this list helped you out. Any questions about what to take? Leave me a note in the comments and I’ll give you my opinion (for whatever it is worth …!)

Also, you should know that I’m totally jealous, fairly small, and can easily fit in your luggage …

Happy travels, friends!

This post contains affiliate links. All gear was purchased with my own dough. Thank you for supporting Peak & Pixel!