Here’s All the Gear You Need to Start Climbing

Most people learn climbing in a gym. I learned in 40-degree rain on granite slabs in western North Carolina. I didn’t climb in a gym until after I’d done a few alpine ice climbs. Let me tell you one thing: It’s less-intimidating to get acquainted with the safety routines, lingo, and gear when climbing indoors. Still, it’s perfectly fine to start outdoors if you fall in with the right climbers or enroll in an American Mountain Guides Association-accredited course. 

Whether you’re indoors or outdoors, you’re going to need some basic gear. I’m keeping it simple  (and affordable) in this guide, as it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the jargon for technical gear. You’re also not going to be climbing lead until you’re more experienced, so I’m omitting items like rope and quickdraws, which your climb leader will have. You can get by with any flexible clothes (no jeans!), though I suggest you veer toward technical synthetic layers for climbing outside. 

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The Pandemic Nearly Shuttered My Church. Technology Saved It

Larger organizations such as the 3,000-member Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh were already using streaming services and recording them before the pandemic, but they jumped at the opportunity to do more and connect more deeply with their congregation during this time of crisis.

“We have really increased our chat functions during the service,” said John Erwin, the executive pastor. “This includes engagement strategies with special moments that individuals watching can respond to by clicking a link and/or virtually raising their hand to trust Christ or be prayed for.” 

Retired pastor Danny Lemons, who most recently led discipleship for 14 years at the 400-member Messiah United Methodist Church in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, says Messiah is experiencing as much as a 100 percent increase in online attendance. To keep their members engaged, they distribute digital versions of their bulletin and hymn lyrics in advance.

At Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, pastor Andrew Taylor-Troutman not only uploads a recorded sermon weekly that may be viewed asynchronously from their website but also offers a virtual weekly communion service. Participants prepare their own bread and cup at home, and after the prayer, they take turns serving themselves, all in real time.

Temple Beth Or in Raleigh, which hosts a religious school and early learning center, supplements online lessons with surveys from polling apps and word cloud generators to keep their students engaged.

Build New Bridges

During the height of the pandemic, and after the murder of George Floyd, Taylor-Troutman reached out to pastor Larry Neal of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, a historically African-American community also in Chapel Hill. “When I suggested that our two churches pray together,” said Taylor-Troutman, “Reverend Neal didn’t just say yes, he offered up a plan calling for our people to join together weekly.” The two faith leaders then coordinated a weekly conference call, and they recently upgraded to Zoom, where participants interact and pair up as prayer partners.

The internet has also provided a much safer and more flexible alternative to handing around the traditional offering plate. Visitors to the website for Chapel in the Pines now give to the mission of their choice online through a customized drop-down menu. This approach fostered new initiatives such as a partnership with a local restaurant to provide meals for those in need, a project that serves the community and spurs economic development. With this new approach, said Taylor-Troutman, revenues at Chapel in the Pines rose by 8 percent.

Michael Fulp, pastor of Cedar Square Friends Meeting in High Point, North Carolina, credits innovation with helping his congregation retain their youth, a challenge for churches across the nation. “Young people are far more comfortable with iPhones, iPads and computers than the older generation, and this helps keep them connected to us. The same goes for social media. Our Facebook followers have doubled from 200 to 400.”

“Another benefit of technology is that it allowed us to bring together other congregations from the Reform Jewish community across the state and nation,” said senior rabbi Lucy Dinner of Temple Beth Or. “For example, we hosted a joint Shabbat service to honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and soon we’ll also be offering a virtual lunch and learning event with two hours of education, featuring rabbis from other temples.”

Seize the Power of Content

While faith communities may not be the first to adopt the corporate “cloud-first mentality,” we can think outside the box and put valuable in-house resources to work for our benefit. For the first time in years, the Science Hill choir wasn’t able to assemble to practice for our annual Christmas Cantata in December. In lieu of an in-person event, we simply streamed a favorite performance from our DVD archives, and all viewers, whether online or at the meeting house, enjoyed the nostalgia of watching familiar faces gather and sing.

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Strap on a HoloLens and Step Into the AR Conference Room

When Microsoft’s Alex Kipman logged on to our meeting last week, he showed up as a cartoon avatar standing somewhere between my cluttered desk and a kitchen filled with outdated appliances. This holographic version of Kipman somehow didn’t stun me—maybe I’ve had too many augmented reality demos at this point—but his appearance in my apartment, when he was physically in Redmond, Washington, is what Microsoft thinks the future of AR will be.

But first, I had to ask: Is Microsoft working on consumer-friendly AR glasses? Because the thing we were both wearing on our heads, HoloLens 2, well … it’s pretty extra. It is technically sophisticated, a full-fledged computer for the face, with 2K displays in each eye and built-in spatial audio and 6DoF positional tracking. But the headset is large, expensive, and brutally futuristic-looking. The first version of HoloLens was designed for developers, who were supposed to make compelling apps for it. The second version is sold to enterprise customers—entities ranging from Airbus to automakers to the US Army (which has been a source of some controversy).

If mixed-reality headsets are ever going to be used more widely, a couple of things are going to have to happen: They’ll need killer apps, and the hardware needs to be something that people will actually want to wear on their faces. Hence my question to Kipman, the man who invented HoloLens, about when these things would evolve beyond the enterprise niche.

Kipman didn’t really answer. He was more inclined to talk about Microsoft Mesh—the new mixed-reality platform Microsoft announced today during its annual Ignite conference, which is being held virtually. Mesh is powered by Azure, the company’s cloud computing service. The software will enable people in different physical locations to join each other in mixed reality to meet or to hang out. That’s the big news today, and Kipman wants to stay on topic.

“We’re not going to talk about hardware today, and there’s nothing to disclose,” Kipman replied. As he spoke, a mini holographic Alex Kipman was wedged upside down in a holographic convertible car, the result of us resizing and turning a series of virtual objects in this bizarre space. “But we are leading mixed reality today, and the objective is to continue leading it.”

“But it would be foolish, at this point, if you weren’t experimenting with AR glasses,” I counter.

“I think you would be correct,” he replied.

Later I would talk to John Hanke, the chief executive of Niantic, maker of the popular augmented reality game Pokemon Go, about the company’s new partnership with Microsoft and how it plans to use this new Mesh software.

“[HoloLens] is not a device that you’re going to wear on the streets. We’re using the HoloLens 2 as an experimental platform to start working with this stuff before future AR glasses that are consumer-friendly are ready,” Hanke said. Got it: AR glasses are the future. And this new mixed reality software from Microsoft is somehow going to get us there.

There may have been no better—or worse—case made for AR glasses than the experience I had trying to take meetings in large headsets in the days leading up to Microsoft Ignite. In order to give journalists (myself included) advance access to some of the features Microsoft planned to showcase Tuesday morning, Redmond shipped out a large, hard-shelled flight case filled with computer equipment. This included a HoloLens 2 ($3,500), which is “untethered” and doesn’t require a separate PC; an HP Reverb G2 VR headset ($600); and a 15-inch HP Omen laptop ($1,200 and up), which is what the Reverb headset plugs into. The gear overwhelmed my desk, and I had to move some into the kitchen.

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The Best Fitness Trackers and Watches for Everyone

Like every piece of gear you wear on your body day in and day out, fitness trackers are incredibly personal. Not only do they have to be comfortable and attractive, but they must also accommodate your lifestyle and when and how you like to work out. Did you just buy a Peloton, or can you only squeeze in a lunchtime walk? Studies are mixed on their benefits, but there’s never been a better time to find a powerful, sophisticated tool to help you optimize your workouts or just get in a few more steps every day.

We’ve tested dozens over the past four years to bring you these picks. Not quite what you’re looking for? Check out our guides to the best smartwatches or best running gear.

Updated March 2021: We removed older picks and added new trackers, like Amazon’s Halo.

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Period Underwear Changed My Life—and I’m Never Going Back

I’ve tried six different brands with differing absorbency levels. You can read about them more in-depth in the menstrual products guide, but I have some favorites. If you want to make the switch, I suggest trying a few different pairs to find what works best for you and your body.

My favorite is Modibodi. It has the biggest range of absorbency levels with heavy-overnight and 24-hour options that should last you all night or all day without worry. It also has a patent on its lining design. The lining includes a top bamboo layer that wicks moisture and curbs odors, plus a merino wool middle layer that absorbs that liquid and keeps it locked in place to avoid getting your clothing bloody (or your skin from feeling wet). There’s also an extra waterproof bottom layer as an additional defense against blood soaking through them and staining your pants.

Another of my favorite pairs comes from the brand Knix. The company’s nylon styles were by far the comfiest; the silky feeling against my skin was a nice change of pace on those normally uncomfortable days. If you’ve ever felt like you could take on the world because your bra and underwear match despite no one else knowing, you’ll understand the feeling these nylon underwear give me. Maybe I’m bleeding and pretending my insides aren’t cramping up, but at least my underwear feels good, you know?

Knix uses a cotton top layer with spandex and carbon for moisture wicking and odor suppression, plus polyester middle and exterior layers for absorbing and trapping liquids.

Safety Concerns

I couldn’t rave on about how much period underwear has changed my life without mentioning the elephant in the room: in 2020, PFAs were found in certain pairs of Thinx menstrual underwear. Sierra Club writer Jessian Choy sent in several pairs of her Thinx underwear and Lunapads (now called Aisle) to Graham Peaslee, a physics and chemistry researcher at the University of Notre Dame. Peaslee found high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (chemicals commonly known as PFAs) in two of the three Thinx pairs, but not in the Lunapads. (Peaslee had previously discovered PFAs in fast-food wrappers.)

“It was enough PFAs that we are sure it was intentionally added to make a layer water resistant—which is a lot of PFAs in general,” Peaslee told WIRED when asked about his findings. Peaslee can’t say whether the amount of PFAs found in the underwear posed a risk to the wearer (PFAs are more harmful if ingested than if worn) but he does believe such “non-essential” use of these toxic chemicals should be avoided.

I talked to every company I tried, including Thinx, and all assured me that there are no toxic chemicals in its underwear. Some even started including language in their marketing noting that their products are PFA-free. We’re going to continue researching the topic, but we think these brands are being truthful about the makeup of their menstrual underwear, especially after this finding.

There’s not a lot of research in general about menstrual products. In fact, when I reached out to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists when I first wrote the menstrual products guide, it couldn’t answer much about any menstrual products at all because of the lack of peer-reviewed scientific research. Like a lot of aspects of personal care that women deal with, we have to take a leap of faith that the products designed for us aren’t going to harm us.

I just know that there’s little that makes me feel good when I’m bleeding from my vagina for the fifth straight day, and if period underwear can help me even a little, I’m not letting it go.

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The 20 Best Weekend Deals If You Work From Home

We’re coming up on a year since the pandemic first imposed a lockdown in the US, forcing many people to work from home for the first time, and kids to learn remotely. If you’ve yet to make a home office of sorts, temporary or not, now is still a good time, as the pandemic isn’t disappearing just yet. We found several deals this week that can help you get it together, and if you already have your own space, maybe you’ll find something here that’ll make remote learning and working just a little more comfortable.

Our guide on setting up a home office and our work-from-home gift guide have more ideas.

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Workspace Deals

standing desk
Photograph: Amazon

If you need a new desk, chair, or monitor, a few of our favorites are on sale. You’ll also find a deal on a standing desk mat and monitor mount, among others items.

  • Jarvis Bamboo Standing Desk for $479 ($50 off): This is our favorite standing desk. There are desk frames in three height ranges to choose from, and the site explains how to measure and find the perfect fit for your needs. You can save four presets to easily switch between your preferred heights. Depending on the finishes you choose, this desk can cost slightly more, but with the current sale, you can get higher-end finishes for less than normal.
  • FlexiSpot EN1 Standing Desk for $300 ($60 off): WIRED senior associate editor Julian Chokkattu notes that this desk is slightly more time-consuming to assemble than the instructions suggest, but it has the perks of a motorized standing desk at a cheaper price. It can go from a height of 28 to 48 inches, and you can save three height presets. The surface is made from environmentally friendly chipboard, and it doesn’t feel cheap.
  • Staples Ardfield Mesh Back Fabric Task Chair for $60 ($70 off): Reviews editor Jeffrey Van Camp recommends this chair after testing “all the chairs at all the stores” (in the Before Times). It’s not his favorite—that’d be the Staples Hyken, also slightly discounted—and it may not last you a lifetime, but it’s significantly cheaper than most options, especially on sale.
  • LG 34-Inch Ultrawide Monitor for $320 ($60 off): Ultrawide monitors are nice if you need more screen—you can run two full-size browser windows side by side, and many of the Gear team members own one. Van Camp recommends this model, which has a 2,560 x 1,080 resolution, HDMI and DisplayPort inputs, and a speedy response time (if you game during downtime).
  • Vissles-M Portable Touchscreen Monitor for $189 ($20 off): A portable monitor lets you tote it from room to room, so you don’t necessarily need to stay tethered to one desk. It plugs into your laptop via a cable, and you can use it as a secondary screen. Our review has more information.
  • Amazon Basics Premium Single Monitor Stand for $124 ($11 off): Mounting your monitor to an arm such as this one helps you get back some of your desk space. If you have a monitor that’s 32 inches or smaller (that leaves out the ultrawide above), you can use this Amazon Basics arm. We haven’t tested it ourselves, but it comes highly recommended. Need something for a bigger monitor? We like this one from Monoprice.
  • Logitech G513 Mechanical Keyboard for $131 ($20 off): This is our favorite keyboard for most people. It’s relatively quiet (for a mechanical keyboard), comes with a NumPad, and has RGB lighting, but you can turn it off if you prefer.
  • Logitech G203 Wired Mouse for $28 ($12 off): This is in our Best Mouse guide, and it is our pick for the best under $50. Don’t let its low price fool you—it can compete with higher-priced models in sensitivity, and you get six buttons.
  • Aukey FHD Webcam for $28 ($32 off): It’s not our favorite webcam, but it’s one of the only ones consistently in stock, and it’s affordable. It reliably sits on top of a monitor.
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab Active3 and 27-Inch M5 Smart Monitor for $620 ($100 off): If you already had any interest in getting an Android tablet, you can save $100 on Samsung’s new smart monitor if you buy them together. The tablet is rugged, so it’s meant for a more active environment, and the monitor has a TV interface for when you’re done with work. An option will come up to add the monitor once you add the Galaxy Tab to your cart.
  • CubeFit Terramat for $100 ($5 off with coupon): It’s not a huge discount, but an anti-fatigue mat like this can make standing at a desk more comfortable. There are built-in ridges and bumps that help stimulate and massage your feet, plus a balance bar to work your core and wedges positioned to stretch your calves. Click the on-page coupon to see the discount.

Work From Home Accessory Deals

Image may contain Electronics Phone Mobile Phone and Cell Phone
Photograph: Upright
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Alexa Skills That Are Actually Fun and Useful

Amazon’s Echo devices can do a lot of cool things out of the box, but if you want to add extra features, you can turn to the Alexa Skills library. These mini-apps let you add new voice commands, connect to third-party apps, and even play games. There’s just one problem: A lot of them aren’t great. To cut through the chaff, we’ve got a list of the best skills that are actually worth enabling on your Echo.

7-Minute Workout

Finding time to work out during the day is one of those tasks that can feel more overwhelming than it really is. 7-Minute Workout helps fix this problem by starting a short, guided workout with a single voice command. Tell Alexa “Start a 7-minute workout” and it will walk you through a few simple workouts that will take no time to finish.

Headspace: Guided Meditation

Meditation can have a profound impact on your health, but it’s not easy for most people to do on their own. That’s where guided meditation apps like Headspace come in handy. Tell Alexa you’re ready to meditate, and the service will start walking you through how to relax, focus, and center yourself. You’ll need to have a Headspace account in the usual app, but once it’s all set up, you can start a meditation session without touching your phone.


Smart speakers and displays are excellent cooking companions, since they can walk you through cooking a recipe. Which makes AllRecipes one of the most useful skills you can enable. This skill will walk you through recipes it finds online or ones you have saved in your personal cookbook.


A useful companion app to AllRecipes, the OurGroceries skill lets you keep track of the groceries you currently have in your pantry, add items to your shopping list, and remove things as you use them. If you’re already using Alexa to help you keep track of your recipes and cooking, it’s not too far out of your way to also track your groceries, and then you’ll never need to wonder if you have milk in the fridge.


If you want to put together a cocktail, but you’re not sure what you can make with what you have in stock, Mixologist can help. It can find cocktails by name, search for drinks that use a specific ingredient you have (like rum or tequila), or find a random drink you might not have tried before. It’s a handy way to branch out with your drink menu without too much effort.


When you’re getting ready to leave the house and need to call a ride, Alexa can get you an Uber or Lyft with a single command. Both apps allow users to ask for different types of rides (including budget or premium rides) or check your ride status. Lyft even lets you rate your driver after they drop you off. Just make sure Alexa hears that five-star rating correctly.

Ask My Buddy

Alexa is equipped with commands that let you message or call people, but they can be finicky. That’s fine for day-to-day communication, but Ask My Buddy is designed to simplify things for one simple purpose: emergency messages. You can set up this skill to text or call a specific person when you say, “Alexa, ask my buddy to send help.” This is useful if you have someone who has trouble getting around in the home and might only be able to call out for help but not reach a phone.


One of the most convenient use cases for a smart speaker is being able to control your lights with your voice. With smart light skills like those for Philips Hue or LIFX, you can set light brightness levels, change colors, and turn lights on and off with voice commands. Once you turn your bedroom lights off from comfy-under-the-covers, it’s hard to go back to anything else.

Sleep and Relaxation Sounds

If you have a Spotify or Amazon Music account, you might already have access to a library of white noise sounds that you can play in the background or as you try to sleep. However, you don’t need to pay for a separate service. Sleep & Relaxation Sounds comes with a library of ambient noises like rainfall, cicadas, train rides, or a variety of other soundscapes you can put on with a command.


One of the most popular game shows in the history of television, Jeopardy has its own Alexa skill that you can use to play along with the episode that’s currently airing. Every weekday, the skill offers companion questions that go along with the categories on the episode, so you can play along.

Skyrim Very Special Edition

In a similar category of fun Alexa skills, Skyrim Very Special Edition is a version of the popular fantasy RPG game that everyone thought was a joke, until it wasn’t. You can activate the skill and follow quests, do battle, and explore the land of Skyrim, all using voice commands and verbal descriptions. It has a feel of one of those old-school text adventure games, with a modern twist.

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I Found My Niche on TikTok—You Can Too

The first time I heard about TikTok was in the fall of 2019. My coworker at an NYC coffee shop told me how Charli D’Amelio, the most-followed person on TikTok, filmed a video at our location. “Who’s that?” I asked as she tried to explain the app and D’Amelio to me. As a 22-year-old recent college graduate, I thought TikTok still referred to the Ke$ha song. I felt out of the loop for once and dismissed TikTok as just another social media app that would fade away. At the start of the pandemic, though, I was newly unemployed and forced to move back into the home of my parents in Texas (hopefully temporarily). I finally downloaded TikTok and made a free account, and spent hours scrolling mindlessly to numb the pain of the world.

When I first saw a video of someone playing a vinyl record, it clicked. Being home, I had access to 11 years’ worth of vinyl albums that I’d started to collect as a hobby in 2010 at 13 years old—something that was such a massive part of my life. I’d always wanted to show off my records in some way on YouTube or Instagram, but it felt too intimidating. With TikTok’s 1-minute limit, it felt like a challenge, but also just enough time to show off my records individually. Soon I was making videos documenting my collection along with tips on how to care for vinyl, which I learned in my years of collecting. I amassed a following of over 10,000 followers and over 600,000 likes on my videos. I loved the little nook that I joined.

Up until joining TikTok, I was always second-guessing what to post on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. With TikTok, I immediately felt a sort of comfort about posting. Now I get why it was popular: It was accessible. Anyone could go viral. There was no need to put on a facade like on other social media sites. The “For You” page showed you anything and everything. Once you followed and interacted with accounts, the page could get very specific to your tastes in content. The most popular creators were popular because they carved out their own arena and developed a following based on that niche, something I was also developing.

To post my vinyl content, I used a lot of stacked books to prop my iPhone up, making the videos outside—in 100 degree San Antonio heat—for great natural lighting. My first try was a Lana Del Rey heart-shaped record released in 2017. It got over 100,000 views in a few weeks. I couldn’t believe my initial post did so well. I tried more videos, but my luck ran out for a few months, stuck at under 500 views. When I got a tripod and a ring light, I used my professional camera to make better videos that showcased the records in the more detailed way I aimed for.

I was as anonymous as possible at first. I had never put myself out on the internet like this before. Yet, after trying to match the initial excitement of having my first vinyl TikTok go moderately viral, my account was stuck in limbo until I posted a video about my Selena Quintanilla record. That was one of the first voiceover videos I did, and it got over 20,000 views. That gave me the drive to make more videos. This time I realized I needed to put more of myself in my videos. I really revived my account when I made another TikTok about my Lana Del Rey heart-shaped vinyl record. With the added voiceover and a detailed explanation of the record, it got over 200,000 views, beating my initial viral Lana TikTok. As I saw the views go up and increased interaction with people in the comments, I knew the direction I needed to take my content.

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The 19 Best Deals From Winter Clearance Sales This Week

Now’s the best time to buy winter gear. The season might be winding down, but the savings are substantial. When I had to buy all my mountain climbing equipment as a budding mountain climber years ago, it was during the annual end-of-winter sales. Plan a few months ahead and you could save some serious money.  

Updated February 25: REI’s winter clearance sale is over, but many items remain on sale, and Backcountry’s and Moosejaw’s winter clearance sales are still going. I’ve crossed out some sold-out items, re-added some that have come back into stock, updated pricing, and added five new deals.

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Technical Gear Deals

19 Best Deals From Winter Clearance Sales Outdoor Apparel Backpacks and More
Photograph: REI 

Need more ideas? Read our Best Fitness Trackers and Best Laptop Bags guides.

  • REI Flash 18 Pack for $20 ($20 off): Taking a big, bloated pack on a day hike is unnecessary suffering. For a quick “get outside” bag, the Flash 18 is one of our favorites because it’s lightweight and cheap, but has enough room for a rain jacket, lunch, sunscreen, and water.
  • Black Diamond Momentum Climbing Shoes for $70 ($25 off): These are a solid, non-aggressive climbing shoe good for novice climbers and those who, regardless of skill level, tackle certain types of smooth outdoor rock, such as granite slab. They’re some of the most comfortable sub-$100 climbing shoes I’ve worn. The women’s version is on sale for the same price.
  • REI Co-Op Multi Towel Lite for $5 ($5 off): You should have a couple of pack towels when you’re backpacking. Condensation and mist collect on the fabric of your backpack as the weather changes. To keep it from soaking into your fabric and weighing you down, it’s helpful to have a small towel handy to periodically wipe it down.
  • Mountain Hardwear Crag Wagon 35 for $142 ($78 off): If you do any outdoor climbing, you’ll need a pack big enough to haul everything. A regular, little ol’ daypack can work if you’re not carrying a full rack of gear, but it’s nicer to be able to put your helmet and climbing shoes inside instead of dangling them on the outside. This 35-liter pack will swallow all of it, and the front panel unzips to make loading and unloading easier than a top-opening pack.
  • Black Diamond Camalot C4 Package #4-6 for $297 ($32 off): If you want to start climbing trad or need to update your rack, you’re going to need cams. BD’s Camalot C4 series are the standard many of us use by which to judge the competition because of their long, continued existence and ubiquity at any trad route. The new generation is 10 percent lighter than the outgoing C4 cams.
  • Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles for $135 ($45 off): (Update: sold out) I’ve banged and abused carbon fiber Black Diamond trekking poles over some nasty trail rocks and they’ve held up well. The cork hand grips are cushiony and handle sweaty palms well. I’m not sure I’d want to go back to non-cork handles. Trekking poles are useful for stability and taking some of the strain off your legs and knees.
  • Garmin Forerunner 735XT Run-Bundle for $240 ($160 off): WIRED writer Adrienne So, who tests fitness trackers among other things, says this is a great deal. It includes an HRM-Run chest strap that measures your heart rate. The Forerunner 735XL has GPS, is water-resistant to 50 meters, and pairs with your Android or iOS smartphone.
  • Toaks Titanium Folding Spork for $6 ($3 off): If backpacking had a symbol, it’d be the titanium spork. Toaks is a solid manufacturer of titanium cookware. This folder weighs only 0.6 ounces and folds down nice and small in your pack.

Camp and Travel Deals

19 Best Deals From Winter Clearance Sales Outdoor Apparel Backpacks and More
Photograph: Backcountry
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So Long, Fry’s. I Learned Everything About Gadgets From You

For the umpteenth time in the past year, a wave of sadness hangs over my family’s group chat. This time it’s not about a fraught election or the woes of the ongoing pandemic. It’s because Fry’s Electronics, the West Coast’s premier suburban electronics superstore, has announced it will soon close all of its locations.

I took the news hard, as if a major chapter of my life had latched shut. But when I tried to process my grief out loud with my fiancée, I was met by deaf ears.

“It’s just a stupid electronics store,” she said, sauntering to the kitchen for a morning cup of coffee. “Why does anyone even care!?”

I was taken aback. How could anyone not care? Fry’s was the magical electronics emporium where so many of us bought our first CD burners, flatscreen monitors, cordless vacuums, wireless printers, or ATI Radeon 9800 graphics cards. Fry’s also, quite famously, sold more than just electronics. You could find bone-handled pocket knives there alongside bins of DVDs you’d never—ever—want to watch. I bet if you polled 100 Fry’s shoppers, at least 90 of them were walking out of the store with something they hadn’t come for. Folks in the Midwest can’t say that about Micro Center, their own regional electronics retailer.

Fry’s has been sliding downhill for a long time. For a company whose sales motto seemed to be “If it plugs in, we sell it,” it was perhaps inevitable that it would slowly bleed dry in the Amazon era. I’m somewhat surprised it lasted this long. And yet, I now feel sad for the next generation who won’t have a place like Fry’s—with its aisles of cables, computer parts, and inessential gadgets—to spark hands-on inspiration.

Chips Ahoy!

My family’s Fry’s outings always began on a whim. My Dad would find a random knickknack we needed—a new TV remote, a hard drive, the latest version of Quicken—and our collective engines would start revving.

We’d pile in the wagon and take the backroad trek through suburban Portland, Oregon, to the giant red and taupe building, my two brothers and I with our heads spinning as we thought of the ways we’d divide our meager budgets.

Fry’s was one of our favorite places to go because we had free reign. It was just too big, and our interests too scattered, for us to not have a timer and a meeting place. And so, for an hour, we could mess with anything under the fluorescent sky.

All of the latest game consoles, computers, headphones, speakers, and even prebuilt gaming computers were just sitting there, waiting for our greasy fingers. Fry’s was one of the only places you could see the entire home technology revolution sprawled out before you. And you could experience most of it without spending a dime.

New technological breakthroughs would appear in my life for the first time under that domed ceiling. Fry’s was the first place I ever saw Wi-Fi, an HDTV, an Xbox. I remember seeing early VR headsets there and hearing earth-shaking surround sound for the first time. It was exciting to be able to see the future scrolling toward your feet like the next sequence on the Guitar Hero screen.

Fry’s was also where I learned firsthand that nascent technologies—in this case, a glove-based controller that my brother woefully wasted $100 on in 2002—are sometimes too good to be true.

Bits and Bobs

Those cluttered aisles fostered a surprising sense of community. After all, most normal people really had no reason to go to Fry’s. Our family outpost in Wilsonville, Oregon, was the home of excuse-based electronics purchasing for the entire Portland region. Apart from the sea of dads obsessed with touchscreen remotes, you’d discover a fellow nerd-child powering through the latest DDR demo, a doppelgänger in a Star Wars T-shirt also shopping for cheap LAN gear, and someone else obsessing over the newest Nvidia card.

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