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A Conversation with RockClimberGirl

Photo contributed by Sara Lingafelter
If you walk the floor at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, Utah, you’re probably never more than 20 feet away from someone who knows Sara Lingafelter. She’s a “recovering” lawyer (but still able to practice law), who’s made quite a transition into the outdoor industry. She built her own brand with the conversational and down-to-earth website, and since 2009 has been a field service representative for Waypoint Outdoor, a Pacific Northwest-based sales agency that represents brands including Arc’teryx, Keen, Vasque and Suunto. She's currently looking forward to her next great gig in the outdoor industry starting in January 2011. She most recently joined the board of directors at the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition. And she knows a few things about social networking – she has literally thousands of followers on Twitter.

Spadout: Not so long ago, you were more a lawyer, not as much RockClimberGirl. Can you describe what you're doing now, and how you got there?
Sara: I started climbing during my second year of law school.  I joke that before climbing I was ambitious, and driven ... and that climbing changed all that.  But really, climbing just redirected my energy.  Through playing outside, I learned what I really need to be happy, and I didn't find a way to fit law practice and the life I wanted to live together.  I don't rule out going back [to practicing law] in some way, or some day, but for now I'm really enjoying working in outdoor sports.

As for how I got here: I'd been blogging and reviewing gear for awhile, and the more people I met in the outdoor industry, the more I thought I might have found the place I was meant to be. Eventually, I had an offer from the company I work with now – a sales agency in the Pacific Northwest – and I took it.  It's been a great learning experience, and a big adjustment.  I do – literally – have fun for a living, which is awesome.  But, I do hope that I can figure out ways to better balance work and play, since play has definitely gotten the short end of the stick since I started working in the biz.

Spadout: You've been reviewing gear for a few years now, and have a "Girl Tested, Girl Approved" section. In the past 5 years, what is the best invention/innovation for women who love the outdoors?
Sara: I see more and more women getting seriously into product development, and more men getting talented at designing for women.  Women-specific gear, from season to season, is more thoughtful, with more attention to fit and function.  I love the conversations that I find myself having with friends AND product developers about the finer points of women’s pants, sports bras, climbing harnesses, sleeping bags, footwear ... and the list goes on.

Spadout: How did you get started reviewing gear?
Sara: I started reviewing gear on my own because I have always been a bit of a gear junkie, and always had strong feelings about gear; particularly women-specific gear. I wrote my first gear-related post on even before it was, sometime in 2007. During 2009, I actively built relationships with sales reps and public relations folks I met through social media and in real life. The first time I received a sample from a manufacturer for review was for Bluewater in March of 2009. By April of 2009, I had some manufacturers and representatives calling me, and ever since it has been a mix of companies approaching me, and me approaching them. I still pay retail for gear, although I have pro deal arrangements with many as well. I also do a lot of demo-ing where I return the product after my review.

Photo contributed by Sara Lingafelter
Spadout: As a climber, what's the No. 1 piece of gear you can't live without?
Sara: Helmets.  I have been a helmet wearer ever since a childhood friend died on his bike when we were in grade school.  Whether it's riding horses, motorcycles, climbing, cycling, or skiing, if I do a sport that they make a helmet for, I've got that helmet in my collection.  My current love is the Petzl Elia climbing helmet.  Usually women-specific helmets are a bit too small for me, but the Elia is an awesome fit. I love the system it has for adjustment, and it's the first hard shell helmet I've worn that actually stays put, where it's supposed to, when climbing.  
Spadout: Men and women can both use the same ropes, ski poles, waterbottles, bicycle tires, and a lot of other gear. What are a few things that women shouldn't "settle for"?
Sara: To be totally honest, I'd say women shouldn't settle for women-specific gear, JUST because an item is labeled "for women."  I find a better fit in some men’s climbing harnesses, packs, and footwear than in women-specific, and when that's the case, I buy and use the men's piece.  I've been advocating more use of the term "unisex," which seems to have gone out of fashion for a reason – but I say, go with what fits YOU the best, whether you're male or female.  I have male climbing partners who are drooling over my La Sportiva Miura VS women's specific climbing shoes (my new fave) even though they are decorated with daisies.  

Backpacks are especially hard to fit, for me.  While I generally prefer the fit of most men's packs, I'm in love with the Arc'teryx Altra line of packs.  The Altra 62 is a women-specific pack with a hipbelt that fits me perfectly (and with exceptional comfort) even with heavy loads.  I chose the Altra for some of my training hikes this summer, and it performed so well under a heavy load, with such comfort, that I chose it for my Rainier climb this season.  The shoulder straps are the most comfortable I've ever worn under load, and I love the adjustable grid system that lets you dial in the fit for the straps.  Arc'teryx is one of the lines my agency works with, but I don't get to keep everything I get to play with ... I was REALLY sad when I had to return that pack, and I'm likely to buy one myself for next season!

Spadout: Have you seen or heard of a piece of gear or innovation that's going to blow our minds in 2011?
Sara: I haven't yet, but ask me again in a few months!  I've been working the Outdoor Retailer show with my agency the last two shows, so I fell off the "what's new and cool" hunt.  I'm looking forward to making the rounds in January, and seeing what's coming soon.

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Brendan Leonard is a climber, writer and urban cyclist who lives in Denver, where he spends his weekdays managing Summit For Someone, the mountaineering fundraiser benefiting nonprofit Big City Mountaineers.
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