My Favorite Gear, Tech, and Stuff of 2015

Just over a year ago, I wrote about my favorite gear when I travel. Even though I’m not traveling every day of the year, I still find myself optimizing anything I buy from this perspective: how compact, lightweight, easy to manage, and durable is a particular product?

So, I’m always experimenting with new products and found some cool things in 2015 that I’ll share here. Additionally, I’m always talking about other tech and stuff that excites me, so some of that makes it’s way in here too.

Wool

I was on a ski trip in Tahoe earlier this year and the weather was miserable. It wasn’t quite rain and it wasn’t quite snow. Anyway, my shirt was soaked (it was warm enough to not need a outer shell) so I went into one of the ski shops to look for a new shirt. Ideally, I’d find a base layer that I liked.

Turns out I had walked into an Icebreaker store. I had been peripherally aware of the brand but had no idea what they sold. Those who know are already nodding their heads but I still meet a lot of people who haven’t gotten into modern merino wool technology. It’s amazing. I’ve always preferred natural fibers and have some nice lightweight merino wool sweaters (see below), but never really imagined that wool clothing could be thinner or lighter than a very light sweater. Icebreaker (and a number of other companies) have perfected t-shirt weight wool clothing.

My purchase that day was an Icebreaker Long Sleeve Half-Zip shirt and it quickly became my favorite shirt. It does tend to run a bit large, because of the way it fits. I usually buy a medium and went with a small in this case, and it fits great.

I look cooler than this guy.

I liked it right away because I could ski all day and it would dry within an hour of coming off the slopes. It’s still relatively comfortable, even when wet. It doesn’t get smelly and you can just hang it out to dry if it starts to feel a little sticky.

Because it’s wool, you don’t want to wash it as often. When you do wash it, put it in a net and don’t put it in the dryer. It will dry on a hangar very quickly. It’s lightweight and folds down compactly. It looks equally good on the slopes, in the office, or onstage giving a speech. All of these make it ideal for travel gear.

Long story short, I decided to convert as much of my wardrobe as possible over to wool. The above advantages for travel are just one part of the story. As a result of paying more attention to the fabrics I was buying, I began to learn more about the issues of ethical fashion and, importantly for consumers, endocrine disruptors. It turns out that virtually all of the modern synthetic fabrics (and the dyes used in their production) come from sketchy supply chains.

There are toxic chemicals in these supply chains responsible for a whole host of endocrine and hormone-related issues. If that’s not something you care about, no big deal but it mattered to me. Your skin is your largest organ.

This guy too

In addition to the shirt above, I converted most of my hoodies, long-sleeve and short-sleeve t-shirts over to Icebreaker, along with underwear and socks. This thing is cool too.

Everything feels great.

One last wool comment. There is a Japanese retail chain called Muji. They’ve been around forever and are now, like Uniqlo, beginning to make their way into international markets. They are renowned for having beautiful retail stores with a focus on simplicity, cleanliness, and that airy Japanese, zen-like aesthetic.

A typically gorgeous Muji store.

Their clothes tend to reflect that ethos, using simple designs, muted colors, and organic fibers but, until recently, I always found the fit of their clothes to be…dumpy. They just didn’t fit well and they made one look like a retired salaryman returning from the bath house. That’s changed in the last couple of years. I’m starting to see much nicer clothes.

This last January, I was in Tokyo and had only worn a long sleeve t-shirt and my leather jacket, fooled in the morning by the bright winter sun coming through my window that it was going to be warmer. By lunchtime, I was freezing my ass off. I was having lunch at Ebisu station, so I ran upstairs while waiting for my food to arrive and ducked into the Muji store there.

They had these great black, lightweight Merino wool sweaters so I picked one up. I should have bought two. It’s amazing. It’s really light and far warmer than it has any right to be. It works really well in San Francisco’s unpredictable climate.

Ok, that was a lot about wool.

Liquids

Another thing I obsess about is water and liquids in general.

I don’t drink coffee if it comes in a styrofoam cup, because when you do, you are basically melting carcinogens into your stomach. I don’t drink hot liquids on airplanes because they come directly from the plane’s e-coli infested plumbing system. I filter my water at home. Et cetera, et cetera.

One of my favorite purchases this year has been the Zojirushi coffee mug. You can put hot coffee in this thing at 8am and it will still be pretty damn warm at 4pm. It’s also stainless steel so it makes a great water bottle as well. It’s sized perfectly and great for travel.

Another Chemical Obsession

Anyone who knows me will tell you I think a lot about chemicals. Another area that most people don’t think about is deodorant. You put it on your skin everyday but, unless you’re paying attention, you have no idea what you’re putting on an area of your body that is very close to your circulatory system.

For a long time, I used spray-on crystal-based deodorant, but they changed their formula and it started to make my t-shirts smell really weird. So, I looked around and found Lavilin. Lavilin is amazing. You only need to apply it every 4–5 days and you smell great. Highly recommended.

Lodging

This is no secret to anybody but Airbnb has become the best option for lodging in many cities around the world. This is particularly true for Tokyo. I end up paying half what I would at a decent hotel and get my own kitchen, laundry, and plenty of space.

Watches

I’m a watch guy and I, personally, don’t like smart watches. I like analog. I’m still saving up for another watch that I’ve got my eye on, but in the meantime, I’ve really enjoyed the Seiko Astron. I only wear black watches, so I had to do a lot of research before getting it. It looks great, it’s durable, and has some great features.

When I go to the gym, I still love my G Shock. I don’t worry about banging it on weight racks or scratching the surface.

Audio Gear

This has been a big year of me getting more into audio production. It’s still very small scale but I’ve been learning a lot and getting back into playing music. I’ve also started a podcast about AI, so I’ve been investing in some more audio equipment. Like everything else I buy, I optimize for travel.

For recording shows, I bought the Audio-Technica ATR2100 microphone and this pop filter. I got the microphone recommendation from a show put on by the great Tropical MBA podcast in their packing list recommendations. It’s small, plugs right into my computer, and sounds great.

When I’m at home, I have a couple of guitars that I love to play, but they are too big to bring with me. If I don’t play for a few days, my hands get itchy, so I just bought the Traveler Guitar.

This thing is tiny. When I sling it over my shoulder in the bag it comes with, it’s barely even visible from the front. It sounds great and plays very well.

Speaking of music, Rdio went out of business. It was the best music service out there. Now I’ve switched over to Spotify. It’s ok.

Outdoor Gear

Because I work in tech, I try to get outside as much as possible. I’ve always loved being outside. This year, I started exploring Marin county a lot more.

A buddy and I took a primitive survival skills course this fall. We learned how to build friction fires, debris shelters, filter water, identify plants, and more. It was great. The only gear we used really was a knife. I learned a lot about what makes a good knife while building the fire-making kit. I had brought a more expensive camp knife but it turned out that the $15 Mora knives they had at the camp outperformed my knife ridiculously well. So, I picked up a couple of these suckers. They are great.

For my Mossberg 500, I changed all of the furniture over to Magpul: stock and everything. It feels great and looks something like this:

Makes shooting it on the range far more enjoyable.

I’m also a flashlight geek. My favorite carry flashlight is the EagleTac Clicky CREE. I’ve tried a few others this year but keep coming back to this one.

If you’re looking for a good rail-mountable light, the LiteXpress X-Tactical has been good so far.

Fitness

Overall, I’ve been in better shape this last year than ever before. I’ve added about 10 pounds of muscle. This is a big deal for me because I’ve always been a really lean guy. I’ve formed some really good habits. The biggest motivating factor in lifting has been using the Stronglifts app. It focuses on the basics and helps you compete against yourself in a healthy way. And you get results that people notice.

I’ve also been trying to get into Yoga more. My schedule doesn’t let me stick to a normal class schedule, so I’ve signed up for YogaGlo. The classes are great and easy to follow along.

The main problem I had towards the end of the year was my lower back. It had been hurting for awhile and then I messed it up while doing squats, trying to go lower than I should have (below parallel for me). I could barely move for about two weeks. Finally I went to a chiropractor and within 3–4 sessions had me fully mobile again. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time learning more about hip flexors, mobility, and more. It’s important stuff as your lower back is really the root of all of your strength.

The other thing I figured out was that my bed sucked. So I got a bed that was “the firmest in the store” and it has solved the remaining aches and pains I had.

Energy Lessons

One of my biggest realizations of this year is that staying successful and productive is less about time management and more about energy management. I’ve gotten better at stripping out those things that steal my energy away. I never watched too much TV but I would get sucked into things like the Walking Dead, etc. I finally realized that every time you turn on a show, you’re volunteering your time for free to people with an agenda. And you get nothing in return for it.

I now have way more energy and am far more focused on things that make me feel productive.

It’s been a great year. I’ve learned a lot, read some amazing books, and interacted with wonderful people. If you’re reading this, Happy New Year to you. Have a great 2016.

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