Bison Designs Last Chance Belt

Once you start gaining weight, certain forces of physics start to come into play. Your belly tends to push down on your pants and regular belts become ineffective. This is because it is hard to tell where your waist is and you end up tying the belt beneath the waist at your hips. The solution to this problem is a belt that does not have holes but can be tied off anywhere. There are those leather belts that have holes all along them but they are not exactly business wear.

Enter the Last Chance belt. I like the one in gunmetal. Although originally designed for outdoor types this belt is simple and elegant. It also lets you tie off your lower half like a tourniquet so some judgment is required. I’ve used it for two years now and am very satisfied.

-- Edward G Iglesias  

Bison Men’s Last Chance Heavy Duty Gunmetal Buckle 38mm Belt

Available from Amazon

Pendleton Board Shirt

I have been wearing a black Pendleton Board Shirt almost every day for the last two years. I can’t get over how perfect this 100% wool shirt is.

It’s truly a four season item. In the summer it works as a top layer for cool nights. In the winter, it’s a perfect extra layer for indoors, letting you lower the thermostat a few degrees.

What really sells me on this shirt is the button front. Pull-over sweaters are all or nothing – you are either hot or cold. And taking them on and off over your head is a hassle. Zip-ups are nice, but after a couple of washes the sweater inevitably shrinks a bit and the zipper gets all puckered, pulling the sweater out of shape.

I tried wearing cardigans, but they are a little too Mr. Rogers (sorry, Fred). And sweatshirts and chamois shirts don’t fly in settings where smart casual dress is required. The Board Shirt has a great look with a nice, roomy cut and a pajama collar. It can fit in at my office, at the gig or on the trail.

Even though it’s wool, I toss it in the wash with everything else. It shrinks a bit for the first dozen washes or so. You might want to buy once size big to allow full flexibility with layering. The felt is very soft and easy to wear on the skin.

It was stylish enough for Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and warm enough for Grandpa Max who sold newspapers on Boston sidewalks all winter. What more could you want?

-- Jeremy Fink  

Pendleton Men’s Classic Board Shirt

Available from Amazon

Rhino Laces

Tough boot laces are helpful in keeping your boots on your feet but also can be useful as a source of cordage in an emergency. Rhino Laces claim to be unbreakable and cannot be cut, burned, sawed, chopped or otherwise destroyed.

The Rhino Laces sites features testimonials of customers using the laces to fix broken brake lines on trucks, hang bear bags while camping & other difficult to believe situations. My use case was much more straight forward. The metal fittings on my motorcycle boots have always been rough on laces. Rubbing against the metal-reinforced eye holes as I tighten the boots caused the original laces to tear within the first 3 weeks. I bought a pair of Rhino Laces in hopes of finally finding boot laces that will last.

The high quality of construction is apparent right out of the package with heavy duty cordage with rugged metal tips. I’ve only been using them for a couple weeks now and I can’t confirm that they’re unbreakable but they seem to be holding up well so far and I’m hopefully that I’ve finally stopped the vicious cycle of broken boot laces.

Rhino laces are available in three colors (Spec Ops Black, Coyote Tan and Reflective Black) and come in nine different lengths. They seem like a good fit for military, first responders, hunters or anyone interested in a tough as nails set of laces they can trust. The only downside is the price. At $29 per pair, I’m hoping to see these outlive several pairs of boots.

-- Jeff Chun  

Rhino Laces – Unbreakable Shoelaces

Available from Amazon

Electric Boot Dryer

I’m an avid year-round hiker, and New England weather often leaves my boots wet at the end of the day from a combination of perspiration and the elements. Drying boots in the winter-time is less of an issue if you have heat source such as a stove, but it’s important to use only low heat. Recently a friend told me he had used an electric boot dryer for many years that worked over night. I looked on Amazon and settled on this one and have been very pleased with the results. The dryer is rated for 36 Watts and circulates warm air by convection, so there no noise and little to wear out – this unit came with a 30-year guarantee. It does not come with an On/Off switch, but a switchable power strip solves that problem.

-- Kevin Rooney  

MaxxDry SD Boot, Shoe and Glove Dryer

Available from Amazon

Kamik Men’s Dawson Waterproof Winter Boot

I moved to Washington state last summer from California. I knew the winter would be quite wet living in the Pacific Northwest. And my wife and I decided to have a “shoeless” house as many folks up here do to keep things cleaner. So I wanted boots that were warm, comfortable, and easy to get on and off. These fit the bill in all areas. I happen to think “duck boots” look pretty cool, so I liked the look myself. And they are incredibly comfortable and really easy to kick off when you get home. Driving in them is great. On long road-trips my feet stay feeling very relaxed.

I have fallen arches and wear orthotics, and I was able to replace the insole with those. I wore these nearly every day throughout the winter. And when we went sledding with the kids at the cabin the kept my feet toasty warm. The only thing about them is that they run 1 size too small. I wear an 11, and ordered a 12 and it was perfect.

I wouldn’t take them on any serious hikes with lots of grade, as they aren’t as supportive as hiking boots (I go back to my Vasque for that). But I’ve worn them on multi-mile walks with the family and felt totally comfortable the entire time.

Now that spring has sprung, some days are just too warm to wear them. But I find myself wearing them whenever I can tolerate it because they’re so comfortable.

-- Cameron Dawson  

Kamik Men’s Dawson Waterproof Winter Boot

Available from Amazon

Zippo Hand Warmer

This little baby has kept feeling in my fingers in an unheated workshop and kept my toes warm in a frigid tent more times than I can count by now. It’s a palm-sized aluminum oval. Inside there’s a chamber of absorbent foam and a reactor made of platinum-coated wire wool. You start the catalytic heating process by filling the chamber with lighter fluid and holding a flame to the burner for ten seconds or so. This done, it will keep producing heat for up to twenty-four hours or so. The temperature is something like a cup of Starbucks coffee, and it comes with a cloth pouch and a little filling/measuring cup.

This warmer stays far hotter, for far longer, than any of the chemical heat packs or microwaveable gel/bean bags I’ve tried, and its long reusability means the only long-term cost is dirt-cheap lighter fluid! The only downside is a very faint smell of lighter fluid while the little fella’s running.

I own two, and would recommend hem to anyone who’s ever spent longer than they’d like with numb fingers in wintertime!

-- Eli Treuherz  

Zippo Hand Warmer

Available from Amazon

Pre-Threaded Sewing Kits

When I find these as promotions or as hotel amenities, I nab them right away and keep them in my desk at work. It is awkward enough to try to stitch up a torn piece of clothing while in my office, but it is much worse if I have to spend the first few minutes bumbling around, attempting to guide thread through a needle with the help of my bad eyes. I save the needles for later home use.

-- Peter Harle  

Singer Sew-Quik Threaded Hand Needle Kit

Available from Amazon

Bombas Socks

When’s the last time you got excited about your socks? When’s the last time you messaged your friends to tell them about your socks? In addition to recently doing both of these, this is also the first time I’ve ever written about my socks.

The evangelism-inducing socks in question are called Bombas, a line of athletic socks that were launched last year after a successful crowdfunding campaign. Project creators David Heath and Randy Goldberg asked for $15,000 and ended up getting over $142,000.

The idea behind the Bombas sock project was two-fold: design an amazing pair of socks from the ground up and use the sales of said socks to subsidize the giving away of free socks to the homeless and other needy humans. Dave and Randy got the idea for the project after reading that socks are the number one item requested at homeless shelters. So now, for every pair of Bombas you buy ($9/pair), a pair is donated to a shelter or other suitable charity.

The do-gooder aspects are admirable enough, but what about the socks themselves? The first thing you need to know about me personally is that I have a painful history with socks. I have severe arthritis and resulting poor circulation. As a result, I have a devil of a time finding socks that don’t make my ankles swell. With probably 75% of the socks I buy, by the end of the day, I have a painful and unsightly sausaging effect above the top band of the socks. Sometimes this gets so bad that I develop painful blisters along the top band. The result of this is that I end up with a few pairs of socks that are comfortable enough and I wear those over and over again until they fall apart. And the trouble with these comfortable-enough socks is that, because they’re loose in the ankle, they tend to fall down. No fun, either. Bombas socks alleviate all these issues and are, hands down, the most comfortable, supportive, and physically-kind socks I’ve ever worn.

During the development process, the Bombas design team re-examined every aspect of the sock. They tested hundreds of tension levels around the ankle and came up with a stitching approach they dubbed “stay up technology.” They figured out how to create a toe that has no uncomfortable seams and a heel that forms a natural cup around the back of your foot. They also came up with a honeycomb stitching pattern for the midfoot that sort of gives your foot a comforting squeeze as you wear them. The soles of the socks are also slightly padded, which feels really good, especially to my always-aching dogs.

I was first introduced to Bombas in the fall of 2013 when I gave a talk at the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco. I was on a book tour, promoting my recent book, Borg Like Me. Some friends of mine had given me a collection of touring socks and challenged me to create some sort of “Socks on Tour” performance piece around them. So, I started introducing my socks before my readings and asking audience members to come up after the reading and have a photo taken, sock-to-sock. After the Long Now reading, a guy came up, took off his shoes, and began evangelizing about his Bombas socks (he’s been a backer of their Indiegogo campaign). I thought it was a little odd, but hey, I like odd. I went home, looked up the socks, ordered a pair, and about 20 minutes after wearing that first pair, I went back online and ordered a bunch more. I soon plan to replace all of the unwearable socks in my drawer.

My Stance-brand “Socks on Tour” meeting a pair of Bombas

My Stance-brand “Socks on Tour” meeting a pair of Bombas

As much as I love my Bombas, I have a few criticisms. I’m not really thrilled by the overly vibrant, busy design. I hope that, given the success of the socks (they’ve been having trouble keeping them in stock), they’ll offer other designs. This doesn’t bother me too much – whoever sees your socks? – but I’d prefer less over-the-top design. The other, more significant drawback, is that while the padded sole is really comfortable, the extra material (pima cotton, BTW) makes my feet sweat more than usual. But honestly, given everything else that I love about these socks, I can deal with a little damp-foot. When you’re really in love, you’re willing to turn a blind eye to a few faults. I’m in love.

-- Gareth Branwyn  

$9 and up

Darn Tough Socks

This is in response to the review of Smartwool socks in the new Cool Tools book.

Both are merino wool socks, but there is one important distinction that makes Darn Tough better: lifetime warranty, normal wear and tear included. If you are able to wear them out, they will replace them. You can bring the old pair into any store that carries Darn Tough sock and they take the old ones, and you can go pick out a replacement pair.
Darn Tough makes socks for just about every occasion, it’s the only sock I wear. Made in Vermont.

-- Blake Bolt  

Darn Tough Socks
$14 and up

Available from Amazon