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What It’s Like to Be a Gear Tester: Mountain Hardwear Edition

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“Matt, see anything?” I yelled in his general direction. From the other side of a small grove of trees, he shouted back “just a whole lot of grass and moss.” Less than a mile from the trailhead and we had already lost the trail. Twice. For context, Matt and I both run a lot. Seventy or so miles each week, mostly on trail. We’re not new to backcountry navigation, either. We met while living in Jackson, WO, and became close friends through big days in the Tetons. Now, back in the present day, we were stuck in a maze-like bog in what can only be rightly described as the middle of nowhere, Lofoten, Norway, serving as a gear tester for Mountain Hardwear.

The best—and perhaps only—decision was to climb a nearby rock feature to get a better view. That we did, and soon we re-found the trail. Fortunately, from there, the trail switchbacked up an elevator-steep scree slope, getting us out of the marshy morass and onto runnable singletrack. We would then follow a series of ridgelines for a few miles to the coast, before doing it all in reverse, to get back to the car.

Monotonous Beginnings

Last winter, sitting at my faux-wood desk squeezed between a ski rack and the living room window, I received an email. Out of the hundred or more I read that day, this one stood out. The subject line was just one word, “Availability,” and the body was much the same—anything but flowery or verbose.

Friends who worked at Mountain Hardwear were looking for gear testers to throw their unreleased performance line through the wringer. Full disclosure, I work with these folks regularly on a variety of projects and there’s a good rapport both ways, so this wasn’t a complete cold call. The offer was simple and concise: a paid trip to northern Norway, to spend a week hiking, scrambling, and running as much as possible. The goal was to see how these new coats, layers, and packs would hold up to the elements.

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