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Gear

August 17, 2020

Quarantine Gear: 5 Essentials That Kept Me Going

Written By
Alex Strohl

The snow has now completely melted beyond the window of my improvised home studio as I write this. When I first set up my makeshift desk back in mid-March, the snow walls were four feet high. Just like that, Northwest Montana has slid into spring and I wonder where the time went.

The last few weeks have been like no other; the world has suffered and still has a ways to go. At the beginning I was anxious, wondering what I might miss (thoughts of a spoiled "go where I want, when I want" adventure photographer, perhaps). But as the hours turned into days and the days became weeks, I came to terms with the peace around our home. We're lucky enough to live at 4,500 feet, at the base of a ski resort with very few neighbors. Most of them visit their second (or fourth) homes for Christmas, ski a couple weeks, and leave just as fast as they came. I'm one hundred percent OK with that because it means Andrea and I get the vast extent of trails and backroads to ourselves eight months of the year.

The same trails that kept me in relative fitness the past several years have brought me so much more during the pandemic—they've kept me physically healthy and mentally sane. So I'd like to dedicate this little post about gear to the network of trails and backroads here, because without them I'd be having a very different quarantine experience.

Although I love quality products, I'm not much of a gear head. I see tools as a necessity and enjoy the research process, but it all comes down to utility—how do I use it? Once they're here, I don't give them much thought unless they break. So ask yourself: Do I need it? How could I use it? Consider these my suggestions for individuals with similar existences to mine—and if you're even remotely in the same boat, I reckon you'll find them quite useful.

1. Peak Design Tripod

The pandemic has had an interesting effect on our day-to-day communication: "Instagram Lives" have exploded in popularity. At any point I open the app, there's at least one live chat underway; in fact, this morning I opened up Instagram to find FOUR such lives taking place. Talk about a change in behavior. Since quarantine began, I've received countless Instagram Live requests and accommodated a large number of them (if you've missed them, make sure to subscribe to my post notifications on the app). The Peak Design tripod has been getting daily usage, mounting my phone on its nifty hook attachment.

I highly recommend this tripod for its ease of use and sleek appearance. I've had one for 11 months, and love how small it packs down for photo missions.

There are two models: carbon fiber and aluminum. If you're obsessed with weight or have a disposable income, by all means I'd encourage you to choose carbon fiber. But for everyone else, the aluminum is perfect.

Aluminium

Weight: 1.56 kg (3.44 lbs)

BUY NOW: $349

Carbon

Weight: 1.27 kg (2.81 lbs)

BUY NOW: $599

2. Lexar 1TB Pro Portable SS

During one Instagram Live conversation, someone asked if I had a go-to photography accessory. The first thing that came to mind was this solid state drive from Lexar. (Full-disclosure: I am a member of their ambassador team, but I've been recommending portable SSDs for on-the-go creators since 2016—this is the best drive I've ever owned.) Before I get into the specs of the Lexar model, here's why an SSD is essential to any traveling photographer or filmmaker:

The nature of our job requires us to deal with large files. On a shoot, we fill up 128GB cards in a handful of days and have to dump those files somewhere. Historically, we carried those quirky looking LaCie drives coated in orange silicone. Those were slow, bulky and prone to fail after extensive usage—that's because there was an actual disk spinning inside of them. Every hard drive will blow up in your face at some point; it's an unfortunate part of life. In 2015, portable SSDs became affordable and I began to play with them. They changed my workflow—on remote shoots I could have just two of them for backups. One remained in the hotel room, while the other clipped to my waist belt. It's the ultimate traveling backup system. 

Although I haven't been on the road in the past two months (Thanks, Covid-19), I've been using the Lexar SSD every week to pass files to our film editor and as work drives when editing recent photos.

How fast is it?

Lexar 1TB Portable SSD
SanDisk 1TB Portable SSD

Build quality is top notch. The USB-C port is tight—when you insert a cable and wiggle it there's no looseness (which in my experience, is a sign that one day that port will fail). If you don't have one but are going to be on the move (whenever we're finally allowed), invest in one—it'll simplify your life.

Editing setup
Lexar SSD vs LaCie 4TB

Lexar SSD vs the LaCie 4TB

Lexar Professional SL100 Pro Portable SSD

Weight: 70.5g / 0.155lbs

Writing / Reading Speed: Up to 900mbps

BUY NOW: $199

3. Arc'teryx Cerium SL Hooded Jacket


Spring is a weird season for clothing, especially up north. One day, it's 60 degrees and sunny; the next, 33 degrees and blowing snow. That's fine if you're cozied up at home, but when you're trying to stay active it becomes an experiment in layering systems. Through years of weekly exercise regimes—skiing, biking, hiking and walking—I've refined my kit. And perhaps my favorite piece is the Arc'Teryx Cerium SL Hoody. To this date, I've no idea what the name means (Does anyone? Does Arc'Teryx even know?), but I've used several iterations of this jacket each spring and summer. What I appreciate most is packability: it stuffs into its own pocket, easily fitting into a cramped backcountry ski backpack or a bike saddle bag. It even fits in a hoody pocket.

Warmth

This is a light jacket that packs 1.7 ounces of down (compared to a winter jacket that can pack well over three ounces of down) at a fill rate of 850. Manufacturers like to brag about fill rate ("800 fill", "900" fill), but it's just an indication of the density to which the down is packed. To put it simply: The higher the number, the more feathers are in it per cubic inch. But to understand warmth, the number you want to pay attention to is the weight of packed down: a 1.7 ounce fill puffy will keep you half as warm as a 3.4 ounce fill jacket. Look at both numbers to balance density and warmth.

The Cerium SL bundles all that down in a 7D RipStop fabric which is ultra light and waterproof... out of the assembly line, at least. I generally don't trust down jackets to keep me dry in any proper storm, and neither should you (synthetic fill retains more heat when wet than down), so I'd recommend you pack a shell like this one if you're heading into the unknown!

Fit

I'm 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds and wear a size Medium. It's pretty fitted and I like that because it doesn't get caught in branches and actually looks nice. I've been taking this puffy on morning ski tours up the hill, long bike rides, and daily walks around the house.

If you're in the market for a very light (7.6 oz / 215g) spring and summer jacket that won't take up too much space and looks and feels good, this is it.


Arc'teryx Cerium SL Hooded Jacket

Weight: 7.6 oz / 215g

Packed down: 1.7 oz

Down fill: 850

BUY NOW: $251 - $359

4. Waxwing Roasters Icarus Espresso Blend


As much as I love coffee and can't grapple with the idea of a single day without the delicious aroma that emanates from a brewing pour-over, I’m not entirely qualified to talk about the subtleties between unique coffee beans. There are people who can tell you all about the intricacies between an Ethiopian bean from the Yirgacheffe region versus one from the Sidamo region. To my great dismay, I’m not one of these individuals. 

However, I’ve spent the past three years educating myself about the components that make a delicious coffee, and I've narrowed it down to three critical criteria: a great coffee is A) sourced from a quality producer B) fresh and ground to order C) prepared by a qualified barista. If you've checked these boxes, you’re likely to be treated to an otherworldly experience far-removed from the likes of Folgers ;) Such is the case with Icarus—named by its creators,  Pete Milne  and Levi Hoch , after a character in greek mythology who flew too close to the sun. Surprisingly for my own taste, it's an espresso blend—something I've never sought. (I have this silly idea in my head that anything blended ends up as a compromise, a mediocre "crowd pleaser." No-one ever thought about blending Picasso and Monet’s paintings... but I digress.)

So, I love Icarus because it’s a well balanced espresso blend that didn’t fly too close to the sun—a light to medium roast, in coffee terms, yielding a bright, punchy drink that shines through milk.

WaxWing Roasters Icarus Espresso Blend

Weight: 1lb bag

+ free shipping during COVID

BUY NOW: $19

5. On Writing by Stephen King

For the entire month of March, Stephen and I met every night at the same time. Not literally, of course, but his book about the craft of writing is so personal that I felt as if we were hanging out in the same room. On Writing has 4,118 five-star reviews on Amazon, and I understand why: King is a literary savant, and the contents in the book come to life in a sharp, riveting way. I've thoroughly enjoyed it even though I don't have lofty writing ambitions. If you're remotely interested in how to be a storyteller or writer—a skill that we all use daily—give this book a read. Here are four takeaways I've gleaned from Mr. King:

When you know what you want to say it's easier to say it.
How many times do we start a sentence without exactly knowing where we're going and end up deleting it after a few tries? It's perfectly normal, but it used to frustrate me—why couldn’t I get my thoughts out? This is simply the creative process manifesting itself, one painful word after another; reading King describe that process made me realize we're all in the same boat. Until we have a crystal clear idea of what we're trying to say, it'll be confusing to put on paper—but that's just the creative process. Embrace it.

P.S. I've read that the audiobook version is even better (narrated by Stephen King, himself), so I've linked it   here.

On Writing By Stephen King

BUY NOW: $12.82


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