Tips From a Professional Gear Tester

Kelly Cordes is a lot of things. A world-class rock climber, a high-altitude mountaineer, environmentalist, and more. But perhaps his most steady gig is one that many of us have dreamed of, but weren’t quite sure if it was actually a real occupation. You see, Cordes is a full-time gear tester for Patagonia, a job that requires him to head outdoor and test new products in the most demanding environments imaginable. That’s a lot of fun when the gear you’re testing performs at a high level and works the way it should. But what about when that gear isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be? That’s less of a problem with stuff from Patagonia, but even still, it can be an issue. Recently, Men’s Journal caught up with Cordes and picked his brain about this unusual job. They also got some interesting tips of what he looks for when he’s putting a new piece of equipment to the test.

Over the course of his career, Cordes has been to some far flung places. For instance, back in 2004, he and Josh Wharton put up the first ascent of the Great Ridge on the Great Trango Tower in Pakistan. This is a rock face that is more than twice the size of El Capitan in Yosemite and much more technically demanding as well. To tune up for that attempt, the duo took on a few other routes in the Karakoram before hand, mostly climbing with just a single 28 pound (12.7 kg) backpack. That alone requires plenty of experience and knowledge.

Over the years, Cordes has learned what is important to have in your gear and what is superfluous. He knows what items are worth spending extra money on, and which ones he can use far-less expensive knock-offs to get him by. In the Men’s Journal article he also shares his thoughts on some important things that he looks for in his gear. For instance, one of his weight saving techniques is to only bring a single pair of gloves for his climbs, where others might bring three or four pairs. That means that the ones he does bring have to perform exceptionally well. But Cordes doesn’t bring a pair from Black Diamond or Outdoor Research, instead preferring a pair of Japanese fishing gloves that cost just $20. In the story, he shares other ways of cutting weight from his pack (he’s very selective on his layers), where he allows himself to splurge a little, and what creature comforts he brings along for his adventures. Cordes also lives by the mantra that the more you know, the less you need, which is something I’ve certainly come to appreciate over the years as well.

The full article is worth a look, both as a profile of Kelly Cordes himself and as having some good, sound advice on how to approach your gear. You can read the entire interview here.