The Gear Junkie

The Gear Junkie: Interview with Stephen Regenold

"I like to think that I walk the walk and talk the talk," says Minneapolis-based journalist Stephen Regenold, who writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column on adventure and the outdoors. He also runs
a popular web site, The Gear Junkie, ( for serious outdoor enthusiasts like himself.  With its incisive reviews and pull-no-punches commentary, The Gear Junkie appeals to gadget lovers and aficionados of adventure.

Working out of his home, Regenold, 29, personally tests all the products that outdoors manufacturers send him. This gives him an ideal excuse to regularly indulge his passion for cycling, climbing, kayaking, adventure racing, and trail running. He'll try any sport, actually, which pushes his adrenaline needle into the red zone.

In 2006, among an impressive roster of achievements, he ice-climbed up frozen waterfalls in Ontario, Canada, competed in a weeklong adventure race in Utah, kiteboarded off the California Coast, and covered 105 offroad miles on his mountain bike through North Dakota's Badlands in 30 hours--in 100-degree heat.

RailRiders spoke with this Man On The Move this past January. And yes--Regenold is  a big fan of Weatherpants, Eco-Mesh Pants, and Eco-Mesh Shirt.

Q: You had a busy year in '06. Which was more difficult: the 420-mile long Primal Quest adventure race in Utah or mountain biking 135 miles in snow and sub-zero temperatures in northern Minnesota?

Stephen Regenold:  Primal Quest, hands down, was more difficult. The self-supported Arrowhead Race in Minnesota got off to a tough start --minus-19 degrees Fahrenheit at the start line -- but once my extra-wide tires got rolling that event went mostly smooth. Primal Quest, on the other hand, was a solid week of absolute physical, mental and existential exhaustion, emotional breakdown, and enlightenment. On about the fourth nigh,t my head began to feel like it was floating a foot off my shoulders. Colors looked more vivid. Our four-person team slept just here and there, an hour a night on some occasions. The race was life-changing, and it was totally eye-opening to the potential of what the human body can do.

Q:  What's the scariest thing that has ever happened to you on one of your adventures?

SR: I skied out an avalanche in the Jackson Hole backcountry once, riding the tumbling fluff like an ocean wave. My heart was racing for sure. I've taken 40- or 50-foot leader falls on traditional rock
climbs, a memorable one on Devil's Tower in Wyoming.The scariest thing, though, was when one of my skiing buddies rag-dolled over rocky talus on a huge chute outside Bozeman, Montana-- The Great Northern Couloir -- about 10 years ago. He missed a hop-turn on the steep slope and shot off into an adjacent gully, flipping over rocks. It was horrible. I saw his ski boots flying up over his head, and then he came to a stop on the edge of a cliff. Amazingly, he only dislocated an elbow and had a minor concussion. (He was wearing a climbing helmet, thank God.) I slung his bum arm up with an extra pair of pants from my pack, securing it close to his body, and helped him side-slip the 2,000 vertical down to the forest below. Then, we got lost in the rain hiking out.

Q:  What are your five favorite camping or hiking places in the U.S.?

SR:  In order, they are:  Minnesota's North Shore -- Lake Superior views, quiet old mossy forests. My homeland! Big Sur, California-- giant redwoods, rushing rivers, waterfalls, fog, ferns, ocean. Red
Rock Canyon, Nevada -- otherworldly sandstone valleys and mountains 25 minutes from the Vegas Strip. Black Hills, South Dakota -granite spires, deep piney forests. Central Colorado -- this country's version of the Swiss Alps, especially in springtime

Q:  When you are testing gear for manufacturers, are you part outdoor lab rat, wide-eyed enthusiast, or dyed-in-the-wool skeptic?

SR: I'm a journalist first, an outdoor lab rat second, so I guess the "dyed-in-the-wool skeptic" label fits best. I see so much gear every year that not a lot 'wows' me anymore. This objective view lets me
write about the gear more honestly.

Q:  Ever test things in the outdoors and have them really fail and be, well, S.O.L?

SR: Never S.O.L., because I won't rely on something I don't know and trust. My worst incident -- and this is an episode that could have killed me -- was about 10 years ago when I was testing an emergency
rappelling system for Vertical Jones magazine, which was a climbing magazine I started up while in college. The rappelling product, which included a fanny pack stuffed with 4 mm cord and a special rappel device, was made for emergency situations when you needed to abseil a cliff but you don't want to have to bring along a regular climbing rope. Anyway, I didn't trust the setup at all, and so when testing it on a 100-foot sheer cliff I had a climbing partner back me up with another rope. I rappelled, and the little cord did fine, but while wrapping it up at the bottom I noticed that the cord was sliced almost all the way through near one end. Very bad. Not sure if it came like that from the company or if something on the cliff face cut it, but I was glad I had that backup line as my life hung literally by a thread.

Q:  Let's take the issue of water. What is your opinion on all the different ways to treat waterborne parasites and bacteria. What's your ultimate recommendation?

SR: I use iodine and other chemical tablets. I have never had a parasite or an incident, though most of the places I go are pretty pristine. During the Primal Quest adventure race, however, we had to
filter the silt out of river water with one of my teammates' underwear!

Q: Does your house look like a Big 5 or Sports Chalet store with all the gear you test? What do you do with all the stuff after you're done reviewing it?

SR: It looks more like a Fedex depot, with new gear coming in all the time, and the tested stuff being shipped back to manufacturers.

Q:  What kind of adventures have you be up to in 2007?

SR: I went to Utah  to ski the Interconnect Tour on a story assignment for New York Times, which links six ski resorts via backcountry routes and chairlift rides. You essentially ski six places Eurostyle,
cruising from valley to valley in one day. Otherwise, I have not yet signed up for anything along the lines of Primal Quest in 2007, though I'm sure something will come up. I'm potentially climbing and skiing Mount Shasta in March. I'll do a dozen or so local orienteering meets and adventure races.  I will run a couple marathons. I plan to travel at least once a month in 2007, starting with a few adventures in California.

Q:  What recommendations do you have for novice backpackers? How much new gear do you suggest they invest in. What are some essentials?

SR:  I'm working on a story right now about "Ten items you need to survive in the woods." Look for that on  Because this question is so broad, my general suggestion would be to go fastand light, bank on speed in the backwoods over comfort. Buy products that are simple and high quality, like a $10 straight-blade Mora knife instead of an $80 multi-tool. I bring an amazingly little amount of gear on my backpacking adventures, just the bare minimum for food, drink, warmth, and protection from the elements.

Q:  What do you think of the gear and equipment used by Shackleton's party in the early 1900s in Antarctica? How would this fare today?

SR: It's insane what they did, but I think in those situations it's more about a will to survive. They would have been more comfortable in breathable Merino wool base layers and eVent outer shells, but I think
in the end it was strictly the primal force in these archetypal adventurers that let them live. What modern gear has done is even the playing field. Now average athletes can climb Mount Rainier or dogsled
through the Arctic, or whatever. Those kind of expeditions used to be major feats, as the gear was so heavy and inefficient.

Q: Can you build a fire from scratch in the outdoors--without matches?

SR:  Maybe. I've done it, but it's not a skill I practice or believe my life will ever depend on.

Q:  Tell us some more about The Gear Junkie. Why did you launch it? What are your goals here?

SR: The Gear Junkie is a newspaper column I created in 2002. It covers gear and the outdoors and is now syndicated in eight papers weekly around the U.S., including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Albuquerque Journal,  Greensboro News-Record, Redding Record Searchlight, Billings Gazette, and others. is devoted to the outdoors, health, fitness, adventure travel, and all the gear and equipment associated with those pursuits.  It launched Sept. 18, 2006, and includes: a Daily Dose blog; streaming video gear reviews; interactive slideshows; an archive of The Gear Junkie column; feature stories; and a Weekly Gear Giveaway contest.

Q:  How critical are you in reviewing products? Ever get nasty letters from manufacturers who might disagree with your findings?

SR: I tend to not write about crap. There are a lot of consumer-grade outdoors products that I don't cover, as they won't perform to the level I need. My column does get very critical on good gear at times,
though. Most manufacturers are appreciative -- or at least they are to my face -- whenever I've pointed out some potential issues, such as areas of improvement, and failures.

Q: What new trends do you see in backpacking and hiking gear?

SR: Just a continuation of keeping things lightweight, streamlined and simple to use.

Q: Finally, what is it about RailRiders that has made you a fan?

SR:  My RailRiders Weatherpants have held up to literally years of abuse. I've probably ran 20 orienteering meets and several major adventure races in them. During one orienteering meet, I kept getting cut off at the shins while running through the woods by errant barb wire fences, but the pants never ripped. Yes, somehow my legs got cut up but the pants did not rip.  For Primal Quest I wore the Eco-Mesh Pants in temperatures up to 110 degrees. The big mesh vents kept my legs cool. I wore them for about six days straight, and they kept dry and clean, despite much abuse in the deserts and mountains and canyons. In fact, they look so nice nowthat I will wear that same pair out to dinner! They showalmost no sign of wear.  The Eco-Mesh Shirt is my mainstay adventure racing and orienteering top. It's durable, breathable, and it protects my arms from the sun and sticks and thorns as I thrash through the woods in search of flags. The Eco-Mesh Shirt was my top during Primal Quest as well.