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

Finn Wallet

Carrying an iPhone or an iPod Touch around is always a delicate matter. There are many cases designed to offer protection as you transport these iDevices. We tend to keep them in our pockets or in purses. While cases do protect the sides for the most part, I want protection for the Gorilla Glass face. With this in mind, Waterfield Designs now has a wallet that will handle and protect these important iDevices. Waterfield Designs, based in San Francisco, has been making computer accessories for over twenty years and is continually coming up with innovative products.

The Size 27 Finn Wallet is a fine leather container that can comfortably hold your iDevice as well as credit cards and money. It has been set up in two side compartments, with the iPhone residing in the central section in between. The full-grain cowhide leather has a deer-tan finish that looks and feels great. To ensure that its contents don’t fall out, it zips and locks shut. Since the leather is naturally-tanned, each finish will be unique. This wallet is made in San Francisco not like many others companies that make products overseas. The quality of the wallet is the first thing I noticed. It just felt and looked expensive. The WaterField Designs Finn Wallet is a light cover that will serve to protect your iDevice from smudges, scratches and minor dings.

I like to keep my wallet in my back pocket. I put my iPod Touch in the wallet and I hardly noticed that it was there. The Finn Wallet is a bit longer than a conventional wallet but it is narrower. When filled with credit cards and the iPod, it was the same thickness as my old wallet. The zipper was also of superior quality, closing and opening easily and able to be locked when the top was placed flat. Because it only opens through two sides instead of three, nothing spills out.

The Finn Wallet comes in two sizes. The Size 25 is the conventional wallet size. Its two compartments can hold 20+ credit cards, and money can be kept in the central section. It measures 4.5″ x 2.8″ and weighs only 1.4 oz. It is the same length and thickness as my old wallet but a bit skinnier. I found it to be lighter and noticeably less bulky. I had to keep checking that it was still there. The size 27 is the one made to hold the iPhone/iPod Touch. It measures 5.1″ x 2.9″, weighs 1.7 oz and can hold up to 15 credit cards and money in addition to the phone. It is slightly longer than my wallet and as such I do notice that it is there, but all new wallets take some getting used to.

Not only are the Waterfield Designs wallets available in two sizes, but both come in a choice of six colors to match your taste. If you want some fairly inexpensive protection for your iDevice, but do not want to sacrifice bulk, the Finn Wallet is perfect. My new Finn Wallet has quickly replaced my older wallet. It is so light weight, and I can get to all my cards and money quickly.

-- Marcel Dufresne  

Finn Wallet

Available from Waterfield Products

Delli Aldo Shoes

Delli Aldo and Ferro Aldo shoes are dirt cheap vegan shoes made of fake leather. However, they look exactly like leather shoes costing hundreds of dollars while a pair of Delli/Ferro Aldo shoes cost about $30 on Amazon. What’s more, in my experience, they require no polishing whatsoever, and are very rain resistant. They come in a ton of colors and sizes and styles.

There are 2 downsides: 1) they run large. My normal shoe size is a 10. In Delli/Ferro Aldo, this works out to 8 and a half. So do heed theAamazon warnings to order at least one size down. 2) They smell awful, like plastic, right out of the box. The smell goes away in a few days.

-- Ed Brown  

[Cool Tools reader Michael Rostagno-Lasky points out, "Going to the link provided to Amazon, the lining is described as 'leather,' so these are not vegan."]

Delli Aldo Shoes

Available from Amazon

Seam Ripper

I recently realized that many people are unaware of seam rippers. You can buy one for under 5 bucks. Use it to remove an old hem before sewing a new one, removing scratchy labels, dis-assembling thrift shop clothing to re-purpose the fabric, opening a seam to tailor clothing. Easier and faster than nail scissors. I don’t sew a lot, but I use a seam ripper pretty often.

-- MB Davidson  

Seam Ripper

Available from Amazon

Rowenta garment steamer

I’ve used the steamer for four years, and it’s a godsend for anyone who wants to wear unwrinkled garments and not have to deal with an iron. Eighty percent of the time, the steamer is good enough to keep the iron in the closet, and it has the added benefit of adding some humidity to whatever room you’re using it in.

It helps to de-scale the steamer once in a while. I haven’t found anything else that comes close to matching the convenience and ease of use that this provides.

-- Atul Joshi  

Rowenta IS6200 Compact Valet Full Size Garment Steamer

Available from Amazon

Long Handle Shoe Horn

You can get a long bamboo shoe horn at any Asian market for $3, or the previously reviewed one from IKEA, but I have one I really like that is sturdy and long-lasting and expensive. But it is SO worth it. Because of the spring at the bottom it is more maneuverable than regular long shoe horns, ending a lot of frustration. Over the lifetime of the shoe horn, the price is justified in my book.

-- Olivia M. Brown  

21″ Shoe Horn

Available from Amazon

Architect’s Wallet

Over the past 10 years I have slowly converted to the “small wallet in my front pocket” club. My last was minimal but it fell apart quickly as my other everyday carry items, like my pen, rubbed against the apparently cheaply made wallets I was getting. Four months ago I purchased this Architect’s Wallet after looking at other slim models. The combination of three items I always carry into one package sold me. This wallet holds a Fisher Space Pen (another Cool Tool), a small Moleskine Volant notebook, and about 10 or 11 credit cards, which is more than I carried before I owned this.

The leather is handsome and sturdy and has worn in so that it mimics the shape of my thigh, making it all but invisible in my front pants pocket. The perfect EDC (everyday carry) pocket organizer.

-- Matthew A. Walker  

Manufactured by Form Function Form