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It was one year ago this month that we launched TheGearJunkie.com. To celebrate, we're starting up a new weekly gear giveaway contest where you can win the likes of a Jetboil PCS Camp Stove; a GoPro Digital HERO 3 camera; Ahnu Footwear's SoMa travel shoes; the Kelty Lightyear 15 Sleeping Bag; Gregory's Z22 backpack; Osprey's Talon 11 pack; and much more. Sign up now to be entered into the weekly drawing: http://thegearjunkie.com/giveaway

 

 

 

 

 

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I don't actually know what "après anything" means, but with its new Terrasoles line of shoes R.G. Barry Corp. "targets the void many people face when transitioning from active footwear into something that is more comfortable and casual, yet remains functional." Right. . . like when I get done climbing a mountain, remove my boots, and think "dang, if there wasn't just a shoe perfect for this pub and the muddy lot I need to negotiate on my way inside. . . ."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorry, had to get that out of my system. The press material accompanying these new shoes from R.G. Barry Corporation was just full of gems. (Example: "Terrasoles, innovative hybrid footwear designed for thrill seekers whose hearts belong to the spirit of the great outdoors.")

 

 

In reality, these are interesting shoes. They're soft and comfy, made with thick fleece and flexible soles. Kind of stylish, too.

 

 

The company (www.terrasoles.com) is trying to market them as some kind of hybrid performance/style brand. But they'd be better just to stick with the style angle.

 

 

They sent the Gear Junkie crew two pairs: The women's Rainier and the men's Tuckerman, both of which go at $49.95.

The Rainier model passed our tests. It's a ballet flat of sorts made for "yoga, pilates or for just a walk in the park," as per the promo. It comes in lavender, persimmon, stone and espresso colors. Fit was fine on our female tester. She liked the look and feel, which was comfortable and low-profile.

 

 

 

 

I tried the Tuckerman model and was less impressed, mainly because they kept slipping off my feet. The heel area is too short. My foot comes out too easily back there. Maybe I need a larger size, but then I'd be swimming up in the forefoot.

 

 

 

 

In the end, Terrasoles is an interesting first try. Maybe a brand to watch for now, but probably not to buy.

 

 

Available: Now.

 

 

Pricing: $30 to $50

 

 

Contact: R.G. Barry Corporation, www.terrasoles.com

 

 

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I wrote about this unique pack system last winter in an OR Show round-up. Looks like the company, RMK Accessories of Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania (www.trailflex.com), will finally have a test pack for me to try this fall.

 

But here's the just of the system for now. . .

 

 

There are three steps to building a custom TrailFlex Modular Pack System: 1) Pick a base harness; 2) Add backpack; 3) Select your components.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This build-a-pack design lets you customize a backpack for your body type and your sport, from bird watching to adventure racing to geocaching.

 

 

The company offers more than 20 attachable accessories that snap on and off via little knobs. It's a patent-pending design that lets you attach pouches, pockets, and cases for a variety of gear -- from binocular holders to cell phone pouches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once connected, pouches can be positioned to eight different angles for accessibility to gear. With this "Advanced Modular Technology," users decide not only what they carry, but also where and in what easy-access position.

 

 

 

 

 

The TF Base Harness costs $99.95; accessories like a binocular pouch, bottle holder, cell phone pocket, knife/flashlight case, MP3 device pouch, GPS holder, and camera pouch start at $9.95 apiece. Pick and choose to make a custom pack for your adventure.

 

 

Company: RMK Accessories

 

 

Availability: Now.

 

 

Price: Base harness, $99.95; accessories, $9.95 to $19.95 apiece.

 

 

Contact: www.trailflex.com, 1-800-765-8688

 

 

 

 

 

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The Stick

Posted by Stephen Regenold Sep 21, 2007

The Stick, a therapeutic self-massage tool made for athletes, is a semi-flexible rod stacked with independent, one-inch-wide spindles that rotate as you rub. Kind of a therapeutic rolling pin for your legs, kneading muscles deep and thoroughly.

 

Debuted in 1991, The Stick has been around for a while. I've seen guys hawking it at those trade-fair venues set up before marathons and tris for years. Now I finally got one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I've been training for another marathon (my 8th one!), and for the first time I have a hamstring issue. Thus, I ordered The Stick. The company touts it as an athletic panacea, making "muscles feel better, work harder, last longer and recover faster."

 

 

For me, it's more of a recovery tool than anything. It loosens muscles up after a long run. Kind of like a good leg rub-down, though no need to recruit a spouse or friend to do the dirty work.

 

 

Instead, simply grip the Stick's handles and rub. Easy.

 

 

The company says The Stick works by compressing and stretching muscle; moving body fluid; and freeing circulation to allow muscles to regain "normal elasticity" before or after a workout.

 

 

I've found it to be effective for tight hamstrings and calves. While no miracle cure, it can loosen you up-and quick-with the same effectiveness of that massage you know your wife, husband, or friend really does not want to give.

 

 

Price: $32.95 (Sprinter Stick model)

 

 

Specs: 19 inches long; nine massage "spindles"

 

 

Contact: www.thestick.com

 

 

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Piezoelectric Pack

Posted by Stephen Regenold Sep 18, 2007

In a recently-published academic paper titled "Energy harvesting from a backpack instrumented with piezoelectric shoulder straps," mechanical engineers from Michigan Technological University and Arizona State demonstrate the potential of a backpack that makes its own energy via piezoelectric straps.

 

[http://thegearjunkie.com/dailydose]

 

 

 

 

 

According to a story on www.physorg.com, the piezoelectric backpack straps are the latest innovation in the area of "energy harvesting," where otherwise-wasted, ambient energy is converted into electrical energy to prolong the life of electronics.

 

 

 

 

 

Apparently, the rubbing of backpack straps on shoulders creates enough movement, heat and energy to create electric power that can be transferred to charge GPS devices, headlamps, a cell phone, or an iPod Nano while on the go.

 

 

"The strap would operate no differently than the strap on a traditional backpack," said Henry Sodano from Arizona State.

 

 

The theoretical backpack uses straps made of polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), a strong, flexible material that feels similar to nylon. But unlike nylon, PVDF is piezoelectric, meaning that an applied stress generates an electrical charge.

 

 

When carrying a 100-pound load -- a typical amount for a soldier's pack, according to the researchers -- and walking at 2-3 mph, simulations showed that the straps could generate 45.6 mW of power.

 

 

The researchers said that this output could be used to power small electronics.

 

 

The researchers hope that additional energy harvesting systems can be integrated into a user's other gear -- shoes maybe? -- based on the results of the to-be-created piezoelectric backpack straps.

 

 

See http://www.physorg.com/news108897656.html for the full story.

 

 

 

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Ultra Fit column

Posted by Stephen Regenold Aug 15, 2007

My new weekly column -- "Ultra Fit" -- debuted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today. (See here: http://www.startribune.com/1244/story/1362035.html)

 

This column will focus on fitness, the outdoors, and all things "ultra," including adventure racing, century rides, ultra running, etc.

 

 

I hope to syndicate this column nationally over the coming months a la The Gear Junkie.

 

 

[http://www.startribune.com/1244/story/1362035-a1362050-t3.html]

 

 

This week's story is on something I dubbed The Marathon Lifestyle, which is a way of being held by tens of thousands of Americans who are in a continual training regimen, a marathon always on the horizon, always there for motivation.

 

 

I'm one of them.

 

 

For me, the marathon experience makes most other things in life seem easy, physical or otherwise. It's a top reason why I love the sport.

 

 

Marathons have also propelled me into ultra racing, where competitors run, bike or trek for 24 hours straight or longer. To other (maybe more normal) runners, marathons can boost the ego and breed mental toughness or self-confidence.

 

 

Watch this blog for Ultra Fit updates over the coming weeks. . .

 

 

 

 

 

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What does it take to run the Badwater 135? Ask Blake Benke,

a 30-year-old athlete and ex-Marine from New York City who finished in eight

place during this year's event.

 

 

 

I wrote about Benke this week for the Minneapolis Star

Tribune, covering his Badwater epic -- blisters, sun burn, hallucinations,

fatigue, self-doubt, and all.

 

 

Billed as "the world's toughest footrace," the

Badwater Ultramarathon follows roads for 135 miles from Death Valley, through

three mountain ranges, and up and down thousands of feet of elevation to finish

at a trailhead on Mt. Whitney in California at 8,360 feet.

 

 

Runners go nonstop, tromping through the day and night past

tall dunes and over mountain passes.

 

 

 

Average finisher times during Badwater hover around 40 hours

of consistent pavement pounding and foot travel.

 

 

 

Benke's Badwater experience began on July 23, at 10 a.m.,

when he started jogging north in a white sun suit with about 85 other runners.

He kept a fast pace for the first 17 miles, pounding out consecutive 8.5-minute

miles to keep him near the front of the pack.

 

 

 

But by mile 45, Benke had hit his low point. About one-third

of the way through the course, stomach problems started to overwhelm.

 

 

 

"I puked in the sand," he said.

 

 

 

See my full story on Benke's Badwater epic here: http://www.startribune.com/outdoors/story/1338583.html

 

 

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It was one year ago this month that I went riverboarding

on the Green River in eastern Utah, where my view of the gorge was wet and half

submerged at face level with the whitewater.

 

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The sport of riverboarding -- a whitewater niche that

involves running rapids on your belly with a buoyant boogie-board-like shell --

has garnered a small following in the United States. Colorado, California, West

Virginia, and Oregon, notably, have riverboarding scenes; it's a rising fringe

with whitewater aficionados elsewhere.

 

 

 

In Utah, dressed head to toe for the sport in fins,

booties, a wetsuit, padding, a life vest, webbed neoprene gloves, and a helmet,

I had an absolute blast busting through waves and shooting the swift slots

between boulders, ominous and half submerged on a Class III section of the

river.

 

 

 

This story --

http://thegearjunkie.com/riverboarding-green-river-utah -- talks about my epic three-hour-long

downriver run, while hashing through some of the esoteric gear of the sport.

 

 

 

Plus, there's a slideshow of some pro riverboarders in

action. Click the main image at the top of the page here:

http://thegearjunkie.com/riverboarding-green-river-utah

 

 

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Foot Doctor

Posted by Stephen Regenold Jul 26, 2007

The pain in Mike Levad’s heel first pricked up after the Twin Cities Marathon last fall. “It felt like someone had whacked my heel with a hammer,” he said, describing a pain that shot through his foot and up the leg when he got out of bed in the morning.

 

In April, Levad ran the Boston Marathon.

 

“I finished in 3 hours, 5 minutes and 46 seconds,” he said. “But then the pain in my heel got worse.”

 

Levad is victim of an injury caused not by a one-time traumatic incident, but by the repetitive strain of feet pounding pavement.

 

 

Indeed, during peak training times, runners such as Levad tick off 30, 40 or more miles in running shoes each week, striking foot to road tens of thousands of times. The abuse can affect the physiology of the foot, creating conditions unique to the running world that -- as in Levad’s case -- are difficult for some doctors to diagnose or treat.

 

In a story I wrote last month -- "Meet Dr. Feet" -- I look into Levad's case through the lens of Dr. Paul Langer, a podiatrist, a clinical faculty member at the University of Minnesota Medical School, and a veteran of two dozen marathons, several triathlons and the Ironman.

 

Levad was diagnosed with a heel malady called plantar fasciitis.

 

Dr. Langer's prescription for healing may surprise you.

 

Go here for the full article: http://thegearjunkie.com/meet-dr-feet

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Luxury is a Doublewide

Posted by Stephen Regenold Jul 23, 2007

This ain't roughin' it.

 

 

[http://www.bigagnes.com/str_bags.php?id=di]

 

Anyone who has had the chance to snooze in a Big Agnes

Doublewide Series sleeping bag -- as my wife and I did this past weekend while

car camping near Lake Superior -- can attest to the fact that sleeping on the

cold, hard ground can be quite luxurious.

 

Indeed, the bag we employed -- the Dream Island from Big

Agnes ($239, www.bigagnes.com) -- is a simulacrum of a queen-size bed on the

floor of your tent. It measures about 50 inches wide by 80 inches long. There

are built in no-draft collars for each snoozing person, and Big Agnes rates the

bag to be adequate to temps down to 15 degrees F.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The company uses an unheard of 4 pounds, 8 ounces of fill in

this bag, making it quite the cozy, quilted experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On each side of the bag is a zipper to allow easy access for

both sleepers; built-in pockets up high hold your fleece jacket or other

clothes to create an ad hoc pillow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dream Island -- like all Big Agnes bags -- mates with a

sleeping pad via an integrated sleeve underneath, letting you slip the pad

inside to create a solid, stationary platform. You physically cannot roll off

this pad, as it's pinned in a sleeve, unmovable.

 

 

We went with the Hinman Pad, a 50 x 78 x 2.5-inch air

mattress that has a high-density solid foam core. It goes for $139.95.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To inflate the Hinman, you open two valves, roll it out, and

let the air suck in. I had to huff and puff a few breathes in to get it firm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only one real bummer with this setup: Its size. Together,

the Dream Island and Hinman Pad weigh nearly 20 pounds, and rolled up they're

each the size of a large tent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Big Agnes didn't design this setup for anything other

than car camping. And for that circumstance, as we discovered last weekend, this

bag is about as good as it gets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For this comfort you do pay a premium: Together, the large

Hinman pad and the Dream Island will run nearly $400 after taxes. Ask yourself:

What's a good night's rest on the cold ground really worth?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Availability: Dream Island bag, July 25; Hinman pad, Aug. 20.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contact: Big Agnes Inc., www.bigagnes.com

 

 

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Yesterday in this blog I reminisced about a trip I took

through hell one year back, the 110-mile mountain bike epic that is North

Dakota's Maah Daah Hey Trail. This is where we ran out of water and were forced

to pour brown-algae slug through T-shirts to filter sediment before dropping in

a half-dozen iodine pills. We rode the trail in 30 hours, nearly straight

through, in 110-degree heat. Only three of the six from my group made the whole

length, the others' bleached bones still out there crackling somewhere in the

Badlands sun. (O.k., that last part I made up.)

 

 

 

But the days before this bike trip, at the start of the long

weekend we spent in North Dakota last July, I experienced a wholly different

type of adventure: Sailing on Lake Sakakawea.

 

 

 

Indeed, if the Maah Daah Hey that weekend was a bit of hell,

then Sakakawea -- a  368,000-acre reservoir

of the Missouri River -- was a big dose of heaven.

 

 

I sailed with guide Mike Quinn on the 34-foot Sovereign, a

white and gleaming craft with teakwood decks and a cabin to sleep five.

 

 

 

By numbers alone, Lake Sakakawea is an impressive body of

water, with more than 1,200 miles of shoreline, most of it uninhabited and

wild. At about 170 miles long, the winding lake heads westward through North

Dakota in a massive S-curve to the Montana border.

 

 

 

Clear water up to 180 feet deep is measured at the Garrison

Dam near the lake's eastern end.

 

 

 

In fact, Sakakawea is among the world's largest artificial

lakes, ranking at No. 3 in size in the United States after Lake Mead and Lake

Powell, the reservoirs of the Colorado River in the Desert Southwest.

 

 

 

Our trip -- which I wrote about in New York Times here, http://travel.nytimes.com/2006/09/22/travel/escapes/22sail.html

-- included two days of doing nothing much more than pulling sheets, tying off

ropes, and working the boat at Quinn's command in an exhilarating participatory

trip.

 

 

 

We zigzagged and tacked for the day and into the evening

toward the slowly sinking summer sun. We anchored in a bay near the start of

the state's Badlands region, where Sakakawea casts its long arms into dry hills

and desert canyons. We dove off the boat and swam, and we hiked into the wild

hills during short breaks on land.

 

 

 

Finally, we slept out under the stars, grilling dinner on

the deck of the Sovereign before laying back to be lulled under a deep vaulted

velour of unadulterated silence, of absolute North Dakota nothingness.

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It was about one year ago this week that I biked the Maah

Daah Hey Trail, an epic 105-mile singletrack through the remote Badlands of

western North Dakota that ranked among my most harrowing adventures during all

of 2006. That's right, big adventure in North Dakota of all places. I pictured

wheat fields and cows. Instead we got temps up to 112 degrees and endless,

desolate track. We saw no other riders during a crazy 30-hour push straight

through the entire trail, which ended with three of the six from my group

abandoning effort, surrendering to a camp at mile 85 then waiting several hours

'til me and the two other finishers drove back after completing the ride.

 

 

We'd run out of water, and things were turning a bit Lord

of the Flies out there, with one unnamed friend hoarding a last reserve stock

of canned peaches, literally slinking off into the bushes to hide from us and

eat them. I had a half-mouthful of slimy, hot water left in my Camelbak, and I

kept sucking it in my mouth, swishing it around, then spitting it back in the

hose. "Just a taste, just a taste. . .". Crazy times. Another buddy

began projectile vomiting after me finally found a water pump, as he drank

nearly until his stomach burst.

 

 

The Maah Daah Hey is in surprisingly harsh and desolate

country. It's true Badlands desert, and there is NO ONE around for so many

miles you don't want to think. Cell phones don't work. Cow trails intermix with

the bike route, causing you to loose the route. We even were stalked by a large

charging bull who I guess felt threatened by our presence on the free range.

 

 

 

 

In the end, it was, as I said, an adventure of the year.

I wrote about the story for New York Times, (though this iteration --

http://travel.nytimes.com/2006/08/18/travel/escapes/18bike.html -- glossed over

a few of the gnarliest details due to the venue.)

 

The Maah Daah Hey also made my Top 10 Adventures of the

Year story on http://thegearjunkie.com/

 

 

 

 

See the full dope here:

http://thegearjunkie.com/the-gear-junkies-top-10-adventures-of-2006

 

 

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In endurance sports like adventure racing and ultra

running, keeping my feet happy and healthy for hours or days on the go has

always been difficult. Lord knows I've learned the hard way: During Primal

Quest, a 10-day adventure race in Utah last year, the freak combination of

shoe-invading desert silt, 110-degree heat, and 40+ miles of trekking set off a

reaction that dug deep 50-cent-piece-size blisters into the back of my heels.

This took place on the first day of the race. I was then forced to trek,

paddle, climb and bike for 9 days with raw, electrifyingly-painful feet,

utilizing medical tents for aid when available, pain relieving drugs, duct

tape, super glue, and sheer will to keep on.

 

 

(See my story on the race here: http://thegearjunkie.com/adventure-primal-quest-adventure-race)

 

 

 

 

Since that race, I take foot care -- and foot/shoe/sock

preparation -- quite seriously for any event. A case in point was this past

weekend, when I competed on a two-person team in an 8-hour adventure race in

central Minnesota, the annual MNOC Adventure Race. The race course would be

venturing through deep woods and swamps. We'd wade and swim through rivers.

We'd trail run and paddle a kayak. Bushwhacking was to be a large part of the

ordeal as well.

 

 

 

 

As such, my footwear situation needed to be unique.

Regular trail runners and synthetic socks would not cut it.

 

 

 

To prepare my feet, I started at home, trimming my

toenails back. This is important to lessen the chance of contact with a nail pounding

on the front of your shoe. Toenails may also rub neighboring toes, which can

cause blisters.

 

 

 

 

Next, at the race, I applied Hydropel, a gooey salve made

by Genesis Pharmaceutical Inc. that does a good job eliminating friction both

between your foot and the sock as well as the skin-on-skin rub between toes. It

repels water, an important trait for events like this. The product comes in

small, 2-ounce squeeze bottles, which cost about $13 each. It's not cheap, but

used somewhat conservatively the bottle should last you for five to 10

lube-ups.

 

 

 

 

(See my full Hydropel review from The Gear Junkie here:

http://thegearjunkie.com/hydropel-sports-ointment)

 

 

 

 

Step No. 2 was socks, and for this I employed Inov-8's

(http://www.inov-8.com) new Debrisoc, which are essentially merino wool sport

socks with a built-in flap that folds over the shoe's opening to create a

gaiter. These all-in-one innovations, which cost about $22, seal off your foot

from sticks, rocks and mud. A small hook in front stretches the flap over the

laces. Elastic bands loop underneath to keep it on tight.

 

 

 

The Debrisoc is a cool invention. It fits nice and solid,

and the all-purpose miracle material of merino wool is hard to beat in any

season, as it breathes, insulates, cool, wicks, and then dries somewhat

quickly.

 

 

 

 

As promised, the Debrisoc kept all debris at bay during

the race. I never once had to dump out my shoes, despite wading in mud,

swimming, running through swamps, and bushwhacking a couple miles through thick

woods, jumping logs, tangling in raspberry vines, and sometimes practically

swimming through bush as thick as it comes.

 

 

 

 

(See my full Debrisoc review from The Gear Junkie here:

http://thegearjunkie.com/gear-review-inov-8-debrisoc)

 

 

 

 

For shoes, I also went with Inov-8, employing the

company's RocLite 285s. These aren't trail runners. They aren't shoes you'd

wear for a jog on the street, either. U.K.-based Inov-8 Ltd. makes shoes for

the oddball sport of mountain running. I love their minimalist design for

orienteering and shorter races like this 8-hour event in central Minnesota.

 

 

 

The RocLite 285s have a low-profile midsole, which

essentially means there is very little cushioning underfoot, and its upper is a

thin synthetic mesh. They drain water well once submerged, they fit my feet

perfectly, and they are fast and light little buggers.

 

 

 

 

Final note: For ultra events I recommend sizing up at

least a 1/2-size increment from your normal shoe. During long events, when

you're on the go for hours and hours, your feet will swell. The extra area

inside the shoe is mandatory for keeping things happy and healthy down there in

the land of blisters and chafe.

 

 

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Sometimes the simplest solutions are among the best. Take Guyot Designs' Splashguard Universal, a $3.25 cap designed to fit all wide-mouth water bottles from Nalgene, GSI, and the like.

 

As the name portends, the SplashGuard's purpose is to prevent that splashing, sloshing effect that comes when trying to drink while on the move.

 

There's a small opening on one end from which you sip; a larger opening on the other side lets you add water without removing the cap.

Made of food-grade silicone, the little cap slips in flexible and easy.

 

The silicone rubber won't absorb or retain odors and tastes, and it can be sterilized by boiling.

 

Weight: 0.5 ounces

 

Price: $3.25

 

Company: Guyot Designs, www.guyotdesigns.com

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I write a syndicated newspaper column on gear -- "The Gear Junkie" -- as well as run an ancillary web site, http://www.thegearjunkie.com, and now I'm a blogger on Active.com, too.

 

A little about me. . .

 

I have been active in outdoors journalism (and all the corresponding sports and adventures that go with the gig) for several years. I was the founding editor of Vertical Jones magazine, a climbing publication (1997 - 2001). In addition to the weekly Gear Junkie newspaper column, I write on the outdoors and adventure-travel for New York Times, Forbes Traveler, and other national media.

 

The Gear Junkie column runs in 10 newspapers weekly, from Seattle to St. Paul, to Greensboro, N.C. The web site -- which launched Sept. 18, 2006 -- includes the Daily Dose blog; video gear reviews; interactive slideshow features; The Gear Junkie column archive; and feature stories ("Gear Junkie Adventures").

 

 

 

 

What makes The Gear Junkie different? I test gear to death, training daily for outdoors adventures, competing in national events, and running marathons, climbing mountains, rafting rivers, racing on a mountain bike, killing myself (nearly) on multi-day adventure races. . . you get the picture. I'm always on the go. This is my passion. This is my life.

 

This blog, I hope, will provide a bit of a peek into what I do.

 

Stephen Regenold -- http://www.thegearjunkie.com

 

THE GEAR JUNKIE  Syndicate newspapers: Seattle Post-Intelligencer,

Albuquerque Journal, Casper Star-Tribune, Spokane Spokesman-Review,

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Greensboro News-Record, Cape Cod Times,

Jackson Hole Star Tribune, Redding Record Searchlight, and Billings Gazette

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

stephen@thegearjunkie.com

http://www.thegearjunkie.com

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

member, OWAA (Outdoor Writers Association of America)

member, ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors)

 

 

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