What's In Your Tool Box?

by Katherine Ehrlichman

What's in your Tool Box? 

Guest Blog Written by Ryan Carlson

Currently and for the past 22 years I have guided, instructed and educated people in the outdoors. I am currently the Executive Director of the Wilderness Education Association (WEA). With 600+ backcountry field days in the past 20 years, I recently noticed something special while leading a WEA 8 day backcountry expedition – something that has never happened before.

In most trades, one of the key fundamentals of a professional is to have the right tools. This does not  exclude outdoor leadership! The right tool does not only make work more effective and efficient, but in the long run, it also saves money because they are made well and made to last. 

But first, some context:

I love leading, equipping and educating others in the outdoors. It is where people learn to care for and steward our most valuable resource, the natural environment. It is where people fall in love with the outdoors. It is where people learn to lead, and work together. It is where people encounter truths of who they. It is where grit and fortitude develop and perceived boundaries are shattered. 

Over the past 20 years, I have developed a very narrow list of what tools are the best to have in my outdoor leader “tool box.” I have used gear in the harshest environments, using each tool often to their limits. 

There are a couple items in this tool box that I have not been on a trip or expedition without. One of these is a comfortable and high performing base-layer, and another is a lightweight insulating layer. 

Unfortunately, because both the apparel industry, and outdoor technical gear industry that are made well often rely on practices that increase use of natural resources (manufactured overseas and unused product to the landfill) and use materials that are not renewable (synthetic fleeces, etc.). In short, I have not led a trip in 20 years where I did not bring a base layer or light insulating layer that was made in the United States and/or not synthetic. A quality product for this application did not exist. 

Fast forward to two weeks ago. I  packed my kit, and was able to include a Merino wool base layer T-shirt (Kitsbow Mullinax), Merino wool long sleeve base layer (Kitsbow Escalator), and a Pendleton Wool Flannel (Kitsbow Icon), all which were made only 7 miles  from my house at Kitsbow in Old Fort, NC. 

These three items were sewn by local makers when I placed the order, with a process that minimizes waste, while utilizing the best quality materials, and supports the local workforce and economy! 

After wearing each piece every day and all day in Central Pennsylvania, on this backcountry canoe expedition, often times under a dry top, in hot balmy weather, all day rain and cool spring nights they did not stink – and these pieces performed as well, if not better than the best I have used from the leading outdoor apparel brands in the industry. 

I even flew home in the Kitsbow Icon on the airplane and did not have to worry about grossing out the passengers next to me!

I am thrilled that I now can add to my professional tool box several essential tools that were made consistent with the values that are part of every trip I lead:To be stewards of the environment, value individuals with dignity and respect, and pursue quality and excellence in everything! 

Hopefully the broader outdoor industry will follow suit and continue to evolve both production and business practices to have products that better represent what we value!