For practical gear advice, our Zach Roberts is your man

gear advice

Zach Roberts at play with his kids!

You walk into our store, you see something really cool. Cool, yes, but the practical side of you isn’t sure how vital it might be to your recreational mission.

If you happen to be in our Virginia Beach shop and you’re fortunate enough, store manager Zach Roberts might notice your look of wonder and perplexity, sidle up, and say something like, “I love that thing. I wouldn’t go camping with out it.”

What you’re holding is the Soto Pocket Torch XT. It’s $24.95, not a bad price, you think.Of course, you can buy a lighter at the convenience store for a tenth that. Why do I need the Pocket Torch? you wonder.

“You get a sustained flame with the Pocket Torch,” Zach explains. “Coupled with the fact that it burns hot and does great in the wind, and you can start a fire without tinder in about 30 seconds.” Another plus: the extender means you’re hand isn’t immersed in the inferno, that no knuckle hair is harmed in the making of this fire. And the gas cartridge it uses? The very same convenience store lighter.

gear advice

For Zach, what works on the trail needs to also work on the bike and in the boat

Zach knows versatile gear

Say the practical side of you also likes your gear to do double, even triple duty. Zach, again, is your man. For the past 20 years, Zach and his cousins and uncles make annual pilgrimages into the woods, sometimes to backpack, sometimes on bike tours, sometimes on river trips. Zach appreciates gear that’s not a one-trick pony.

“My tent, for example, is the Nemo Hornet one-person,” says Zach. “It’s super, super lightweight (26 ounces) and it’s got great ventilation, good cross-flow, which is especially good for the humidity of the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. It’s great for backpacking and really good for bike touring — it packs down really small so I can get it into my handlebar pack.”

Bike touring: that’s where Zach’s family adventures have focused of late. In September, he and some uncles did 150 miles on the Great Allegheny Passage, which wends through Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia on its way from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md. It was a four-day trip, covering 40 to 45 miles a day. At the end of a long day of pedaling, Zach was ready for a good night’s sleep. Again, he was able to borrow from his backpacking gear closet.

“I used the Nemo Astro sleeping pad,” says Zach. “It’s one of their mid-range pads, not super light like the Tensor” — the Astro weighs 24 ounces vs. the Tensor’s 21 ounces — and it doesn’t have a foot pump like the Cosmo. “But it is super comfortable — it’s 3.5 inches thick. And they have an insulated version that’s good down to 15 degrees.”

Speaking of practicality, what’s more practical, whether your bike touring or backpacking, than having that first cup of coffee in the morning, and having it now!

Coffee in 3 minutes

gear advice

Zach’s time machine, the MSR WindBurner stove: French press coffee in just 3 minutes.

“I use the MSR WindBurner stove — it boils water in just 90 seconds,” Zach says. It takes another 90 seconds or so to run his fresh-ground coffee through the MSR WindBurner Coffee Press Kit, but within three minutes he’s got a piping hot mug of the best coffee in camp.

Perhaps nothing in Zach’s gear closet is more versatile than his beloved Patagonia R1 fleece.

“I preach this to customers almost every day,” says Zach. “I never go out to do anything — camping, biking, hiking — without my Patagonia R1. It’s part of their Regulator series, the whole goal of which is to effectively regulate your temperature. I liken it to Goldilocks and the Three Bears: it’s just right, all the time. It does such a good job regulating temperature.

“I’ve been using the R1 for 20 years,” Zach adds. “In fact, my oldest, which is about 10 years old, I just handed down to my son.

“I will go to the great beyond in that fleece.”

gear advice

Why have just one Smartwool Cuffed Beanie when you can have three?

Shoes, chapeaus, gloves

Another versatile performer for Zach: his Salewa Ultra Train 2 trail shoes. “They have good support, and they’re a little beefier than standard running shoe. The outsole is from Michelin’s two most popular mountain bike tire treads, so it’s especially good if you don’t have clipless pedals on your bike. They have a quick lacing system, the tread doesn’t hold mud — they’re great!”

As for this recent spate of especially cold weather, Zach has some practical advice for keeping your two most important heat regulation areas — your hands and head — warm.

“I love the Smartwool Cuffed Beanie. I can fit it under my bike helmet, and it cuts the wind but doesn’t cook your head. And it stretches nicely: it doesn’t squeeze your head and give you a headache. And it’s great to sleep in on a backpack trip.”

As for gloves, it’s hard to beat the Outdoor Research Backstop Sensor Gloves. They protect well against the wind, they’re breathable, and you needn’t take them off to operate your phone — they have a touch-screen friendly Sensor index finger and thumb tip.

Before you go, Zach has one last practical suggestion for keeping your stuff dry: the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sack. It’s ultra light and ultra waterproof, adding that extra bit of insurance your gear needs in rainy conditions.

“I keep my down bag in one — the Large is just right for my zero degree bag,” says Zach. “These are great: even with a rainfly on the pack there’s always a chance of seepage.”

Practical advice on practically everything in the store. You’ll get that from Zach.