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

Yaktrax Ski

My wife and I have been using the Yaktrax Ski (previously known as Skitrax) for about 2 years now. We just got back from a skiing trip in Utah, and it reminded me how much I absolutely love using these things.

The product is a rubber sole that slips over the binding clips at the front and back of ski boots. They come in four sizes, each corresponding to a “Mondo” range that you can read off your boot. If they are just a little too tight at first, they can be stretched slightly. If they are a little too loose, putting a twist in the middle can shorten them slightly. Better to err on the tight side, so they don’t come off while walking.

The basic function of the Yaktrax is to protect the plastic binding clips on your boots from getting ground down and distorted from walking in parking lots and on concrete. From that perspective, a $20 investment to protect boots that easily cost $600 makes a lot of sense.

The real benefit, though, it the ease of walking you get with these things. Ever try walking in ski boots? It’s awkward, precarious, and unpleasant. I’ve fallen on slick surfaces in a ski cafe (a little kid’s spilled Coke), sending lunch flying across the room. Getting up and down stairs in ski boots is even worse.

With the Yaktrax, all of these things become pretty easy. They grip really well, so you feel sure-footed. With the Yaktrax on, I can almost jog in ski boots, and I can get up and down stairs with lunch trays and skis in total confidence. They actually make walking in ski boots somewhat fun, mostly because I take a cruel pleasure in how much harder it is for everyone else!

There are a few different flavors of ski boot protectors, and the most common one seem to be the Serius “Cat Tracks” product. I’ve never used those, but I’ve tried them out in stores — they are much flimsier and looser fitting than Yaktrax, and I can’t see any advantage of them other that that they are trivially smaller in size when folded.

Which brings up the Achilles heel of these products — you have to carry them in your pockets while you ski. Each one folds into itself to form a little packet, and each packet pretty much takes up a jacket pocket. That doesn’t bother me, as I have big pockets in my ski jacket and pants. My wife’s clothing is more fitted, and she gets annoyed carrying them. An instructor in Utah had a good solution for this, which was to use the much-maligned retractable Master cable lock to lock the Yaktrax to a convenient ski rack with a small, tight loop of cable. They are so inexpensive that no one would steal them, and even if they did you wouldn’t lose sleep over it.

-- Ash Ranpura  

Yaktrax Ski
$13 – $19

Available from Amazon

Timbuk2 Bifold Wallet

Timbuk2 has had this wallet in their line in some variation for eight years and I bought one from the very first season. Timbuk2 is a name synonymous with bicycle messenger bags and their use of Ballistic Nylon materials. The first batch of Bifold Wallet colors were heavy on the pastels, but I chose the manliest version and stuffed it in my back pocket. In hot climates, leather wallets rot. They add bulk, pick up grit and “character,” and generally are expensive for something designed to hold money. What I really like about this wallet, is that it’s made of modern, manly materials, is more durable, and cheap. Thankfully Timbuk2 in revisions of this wallet has used a less girly color palette.

My original, and the one I bought to replace it last year, both have a divided bill pocket. I’m not sure if the newest version has this feature, but I like keeping money in one slot and receipts in the other. The wallet is slim on pockets with only an ID sleeve and three additional pockets. I’ve stuffed up to four credit cards in each slot plus 10 business cards in half the bill compartment sharing space with various receipts. I definitely prefer carrying less, but the wallet can carry a bunch if you’re willing to do without the compartmentalization of a larger wallet. My original wallet had a grippy edge to the wallet and interior. I’m glad that’s omitted on my second wallet and the new design. It showed a lot of wear after 6 years while the rest of the wallet was fine. There is an elastic band that can keep the wallet closed, but most days I keep it folded over the backside. Eventually on my original wallet the band lost its stretch and I cut it off. The wallet looks and functions great without it.

I love that if I’m caught in the rain, sit on a wet chair, or drop my wallet in salty road slush I’m not worried about ruining it. The materially is quite water resistant and even when completely drenched, it won’t absorb and hold water. I’ve even tossed mine in the washing machine (on purpose without its contents). I’m happy to have a synthetic wallet that doesn’t have velcro and looks as good as a traditional leather wallet. If you’re not a bifold sort of person, Timbuk2 makes a few other styles some of which I’ve tried, but it is the bifold that lives on my hip everyday.

-- Jon Stackpole  

Timbuk2 Bifold Wallet
$20 – $40

Available from Amazon

Grease Monkey Gorilla Grip Gloves

I ran across these gloves when I did a bathroom remodel around 2 years ago. Basically, they are a thin synthetic knit glove that has a palm and fingertip area that’s coated in a “polymer.” Traditionally, I’ve worn those cheap rubber dipped gloves when working with tile, but these gloves are far superior. The best part of these gloves is that they are really thin and allow for all the manual dexterity that you would have in a nitrile glove, but the Gorilla Grip gloves are much more durable. They’re great for wet work because they let the back of your hand breathe and dry out.

When I did tile work with them, they were really great for using with the wet tile saw. Even though they were wet, they didn’t slide around, get soggy, or come apart – even when soaked in water. I’ve used them as a go to general purpose glove for most home improvements. Just this past week, I used them on a drop ceiling project and an attic insulation project. They were great in that they protected my hands from the ceiling tiles and insulation while allowing me to switch tools and do fine motor tasks while wearing the gloves.

These gloves are the perfect medium between a disposable rubber or nitrile glove and a heavier work glove while being better than other rubber/vinyl dipped gloves.

-- Chuck Balog  

Grease Monkey Gorilla Grip Gloves

Available from Amazon