desert van

The biggest problem with getting outside in the City of Angels? Being spoiled for choice. We’re distilling that process by getting the goods straight from the experts with a recurring series called Gear Trails.

By the Editors of Insidehook

This time around, we’re tapping creative director Liam McAuliffe of Coldsmoke — makers of super stylish technical jackets — for his favorite winter activity near Los Angeles.

In brief: you’re going desert hiking and then skinny-dipping at a hidden waterfall.

And we’ve got all the gear to warm you up afterward.


InsideHook: What is your favorite winter outdoor activity in CA?

Liam McAuliffe: My favorite winter outdoor activity in California, especially down here in SoCal, is getting out and exploring the desert wilderness areas that are too hot to fully enjoy during the rest of the year.

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IH: Why do you like the desert? 

LM: The desert is vast, desolate, quiet and hostile to most forms of life for much of the year. But during the winter, especially after the rains, the desert comes alive for a precious few weeks. Delicate wildflowers pushing up between the Joshua Trees and cacti paint the sandy basins with psychedelic, vibrant colors. A creek that’s usually dry but for a few stagnant rock pools, transforms into a rushing stream cascading into a double-tier waterfall feeding crystal clear swimming holes. Giant, otherworldly rock piles rising hundreds of feet from the desert floor provide endless climbing and scrambling routes. And winter is the time of year when a soak in a desert hot spring beneath a star-littered sky is most rewarding.

IH: Got a favorite desert? 

LM: Joshua Tree is the most accessible and dramatically beautiful destination to escape to. However, with the spread of Instagram-fueled outdoor culture, it’s become increasingly difficult to find a campsite, let alone a bit of the solitude the desert is famous for. That said, for someone new to the desert, I’d recommend getting your feet (very metaphorically) wet at J-Tree before pushing deeper into the 50,000 square miles that comprise the Mojave. I just got back from my first trip to the Kelso Dunes. It felt like a sci-fi planet, with dunes hundreds of feet high surrounded by dark granite mountains. You can hike to the top of the dunes and sand-board down. We encountered some kids with homemade, Mad Max-style sand sleds pulling 45 MPH runs. My favorite desert hike is in the Sespe Wilderness up around Ojai. There’s a challenging hike up to Matilija Falls that requires multiple river crossings and scrambling up a slot canyon to that double-tier waterfall. Well worth it, but not for the faint of heart.

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IH: What do you say to folks who think it seems like a lot of sand?

LM: All of these locations have their own unique features and character, which is what I appreciate most about the desert. For the casual observer, these places can feel harsh, uninviting and monotonous. But the more time you spend exploring the desert, the more sensitive you become to subtle phenomena like the changing light, rock patterns and the movement of a coyote on a distant rise.

IH: What Coldsmoke items do carry with you?
LM: The desert is extreme even in winter. In the high desert (up above 2,000 feet), pleasant 70 degree days drop below freezing at night. These temperature swings make it the perfect environment to develop and test for versatility, a key feature in all of our gear. During this recent trip to Kelso I hiked in my Alpha-lite bomber, then threw on the Winbloc joggers and my Wool Moto jacket at night when the temps plummeted.

We actually developed the Fidlock shorts on a hike up Sespe. We wanted shorts built of material burly enough to withstand rock abrasions, branches and prickly desert plants while scrambling, but that we could still wear swimming.

I never go into the desert without a hat. In the winter I wear our waxed Japanese Military cloth hat — it’s a bit warmer than your average hat and super durable. The desert beats everything up. I also just climbed the dunes in our new, as yet to be released, 3xdry pants that wick moisture so sweat never gets a chance to get cold — definitely a staple from here on out.

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IH: What sort of tips do you have for going there?

LM: Bring WAY more water than you think you’ll need. When it’s cold, it’s still extremely dry and you will get dehydrated. Sunblock and chapstick are also key. The desert looks tough, but the life there is doing everything it can to survive and is surprisingly fragile, so stay on trails, and pack out your trash. I sound like a park ranger, but when the features are so minimal, one shiny candy wrapper really stands out.

IH: Are there hole-in-the-wall bars or restaurants nearby that you always hit?

LM: If I’m in J-Tree, a trip over to Pappy and Harriet’s is a must. It’s always good to check their calendar for a chance to catch a world-class artist playing out under the stars. The ribs are pretty good too. Up in Ojai, nothing beats a buffalo burger and Moscow Mule at the Deer Lodge. Great log cabin ambience. And out by the Kelso Dunes we hit Peggy Sue’s, an iconic ’50s highway pie and burger joint with a turtle pond and metal King Kong and dinosaur statues. The biscuits and gravy are a good bet.



Congratulations to Pacific Northwest native Mason Strehl, this season’s #coldstoked photo contest winner! What can we say that his photos don’t already. Fantastic shots of fun times in beautiful places.

As for the prize, we’re outfitting Mason on his upcoming adventure from Bellingham Washington up to Fairbanks Alaska. The kit includes the MA-1, The Cruiser Jacket, and Aurora Down Jacket.

You’ll be able to follow along with Mason via our instagram feed. And don’t forget to tag your own adventures #coldstoked for your chance to win.

We asked Mason to select twelve shots from his portfolio and tell us a little about each. Check out the stories and splendor below:

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This photo is from a mid-summer camping trip around the Mt. Baker wilderness. After a beautiful sunset and a clear, starry night we awoke enveloped in clouds. Instead of heading out we built a fire and made some coffee and just enjoyed the cool, wet weather. It’s definitely something you have to get used to living in Washington.


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This photo is from one of my many “suicide trips” of the summer. I left town the day before around 11pm and drove 3 hours to the Maple loop trailhead. I took a quick hour long nap once I got there and started hiking to reach the pass by sunrise. I continued along the loop and snapped a picture of Heather Lake, then headed down to the lake and swam out to that island in the freezing cold water. After that I was thoroughly chilled and I headed home getting back around noon – not bad for 13 hours out of town.


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When I lived in Oregon, I used to spend days just driving the coast and hiking and camping all up and down it. This was before Instagram started blowing spots up, and there was nothing cliche about going and shooting anywhere. I actually stumbled upon Samuel H. Boardman State park completely by accident and captured it as I discovered it over the day.


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After a night of camping with some really good people. Dylan Furst (@Fursty) , John Winfield (@johnwingfield) , Bridget Smith (@wanderingalaskan) and I were headed out camping and we got an invite from Andrew Kearns (@andrewtkearns) to spend the night with him and Tina Niemitalo (@tinaniemitalo) out at a spot he knew about. We were joined by Bex Fairleigh (@youngbex) and we spent the night around a fire cooking and laughing and getting to know each other. The next morning we woke up to one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen and I captured Andrew capturing a portrait of Bex amid the morning light.


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Mt. Baker wilderness has quickly become my favorite place since moving out to Washington. I’ve spent way too much time just out and about wandering the colorful fields and forrest. This particular trip I headed out and got lost with one of my favorite dogs Millie the Golden (@millethegolden). This was caught just as the evening sun came down getting ready to set.


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This photo is from the hands down best sunset I’ve seen in my life. Another Mt. Baker adventure with friends, we reached Artist Point just before sunset and ran around like madmen shooting and staring in awe at the light and cloud display nature was putting on for us.


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Another “suicide trip”. This one was pretty insane, I left after work and drove to Whistler and met with one of my photography and videography idols Aaron Leyland. He told me about a hidden cabin back in the mountains, and as I didn’t have anywhere to stay for the night I headed out to find it. I eventually found the road and drove as far up as my car would take me. When I couldn’t drive up anymore I got out and walked with my gear in snow and heavy winds. I didn’t reach the cabin till around 10pm, and I was completely soaked through. I started a fire in the cozy cabin and a local cruised up in his old Land Cruiser and joined me for the night. He was nice enough to give me a lift back to my car in the morning.


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This photo is from the same trip as the one above, just on the way home. I got a bit tired driving back and decided to pull off the road just outside Squamish and take a quick nap. I snapped this before I went to sleep.


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Another trip out to BC. This shot came during a 24 hour trip up to Garibaldi Provincial Park. I took off at around 5pm and shot up and stayed the night in the Garibaldi Lake trailhead. I got up at 5am and hiked the 18km trail in just a few hours, but managed to catch a few good shots on the way. My engine actually ended up blowing up on the way home from this trip so the rest of the day consisted of a long tow truck ride and a strong drink.


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Me and Dylan Furst decided to head out for a day of hiking in the rain out in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and after a long day of wet and cold adventuring we settled into our camp site for the night. This was the view I woke up to.


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This photo was one of my more recent shots from a trip to Alaska. I traveled up to Fairbanks with Megan Evanson (@megan_evanson) for a week and we decided to head to Summit County for the day. We spent the day exploring frozen river beds, icy canyons, and some very cold mountains, all in a brisk -30º F.



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One of my personal favorites, this shot came during a recent trip to the Olympic Peninsula. It was my first time out there, and some friends showed me the good spots. This suspended tree is definitely one of those spots, and as I love to hammock, I decided to throw one up directly underneath it. More camp coffee was made, and more hangs with friends were had.




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2 weeks, 2,200 Miles, 41 hours behind the wheel,  five states, one province, three mountain ranges, gallons of beer, tons of new friends, and countless memories. Needless to say, the Coldsmoke Winter Film Tour was a blast. Thanks to everyone who came out, got inspired by the latest winter films, shared the stoke, and picked up some Coldsmoke gear! Its all added up to the Coldsmoke Awards show, January 10th in Bozeman MT, at the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture. There’s still time to vote for the people’s choice award and be entered to win a cat skiing trip for two at Powder Mountain, in Whistler, and $1000.

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The boys from KSM collective were given 7 days to shoot and edit a 5-7 minute ski/snowboard film all within 100 km of our second home, Whistler B.C. They called it Wintertide. 

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Justin Kizzart, our very own screen printing wizard, was up in Whistler delivering the Tantalus Guide Jacket to the Powder Mountain Heliskiing guides who inspired them.

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Thus did LIFE introduce to the magazine’s readers its own unique (if somewhat shrill) take on a toy that would evolve into the emblem of a singular subculture and, eventually, a lifestyle. Skateboarding, LIFE opened in 1965, is “the most exhilarating and dangerous joyriding device this side of the hot rod. A two-foot piece of wood or plastic mounted on wheels, it yields to the skillful user the excitements of of skiing or surfing. To the unskilled it gives the effect of having stepped on a banana peel while dashing down the back stairs. It is also a menace to limb and even to life.”

Today, when grown men and women make a living (in some cases, a very nice living) inking endorsement deals and competing at skateboard tourneys around the globe; when skateboard video games sell millions of copies; when skateboarders like Tony Hawk and Marisa Dal Santo (and their winter doppelgangers, snowboarders like Shaun White and Gretchen Bleiler) are stars who not so much straddle sport and pop culture as transcend both; when industries (clothing, gear, skateboard park construction) have grown as the appeal of the sport has exploded — today, it’s difficult to imagine a time not that long ago when skateboarding was so new, so absolutely marginal, that a major national magazine could safely assume that  at least some of its millions of readers had absolutely no clue what skateboarding entailed … or what a skateboard was.

Here, looks back at the early, thrillingly anarchic days of a quintessentially American sport and pastime that, over the years, has been embraced by millions around the world while still, somehow, retaining its rebel cred.

Skateboarding, as the old saying has it, is not a crime. But as these pictures show, riding a deck can feel criminally fun.

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I never set out to become anything in particular, only to live creatively and push the scope of my experience for adventure and for passion… The raw brutal cold coastlands for the right waveriders to challenge – this is where my heart beats hardest…

At Coldsmoke we cherish creative individuals who push the boundaries of human capability in the world’s most challenging elemental conditions.

Meet Irish surf photographer Mickey Smith in this brief yet resounding visual poem Dark Side of the Lens. As Smith reflects on a life lived in dangerous intimacy with the North Atlantic coastline, his words pull us like the light of the majestic imagery he photographs, back through the camera’s lens into the being of the artist himself.  In only six minutes we come to understand how an entire life is physical and philosophically formed by the elements in which it is lived.

Smith’s life and work is an example of the coldsmoke edict, “become one with your environment” as he curates treacherous beauty into images that are shared with those of us less daring, but no less inspired.


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Unless you speak German, you won’t understand what these guys are saying, but judging by their goal of ice-climbing 8 frozen waterfalls in one day, it’s probably lunatic babble anyway. Nevertheless, these stunning visuals are not to be missed. Watch Guido Unterwurzacher and Christian Hechenberger attempt to climb the icefalls of Pinnis Valley – in one day.

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While resisting the 9-5 grind for over a decade and travelling all over the world, living vicariously through other people’s travel images isn’t something I’ve felt compelled to do.  But now that I’ve joined the ranks of the gainfully employed, it’s become a mild addiction, as painful as it is pleasurable.

To appease and prod my pain, I’ve started following Foster Huntington’s blog Van-Life and instagram. It’s mildly comforting to know that I’m one of more than 720,000 followers, most of whom like me, are parked in front of a computer screen rather than in a personalized hybrid van/truck/home at one of the remote and wondrous locations he’s snapped during the years he’s spent travelling since quitting his NYC design job.

Check out Foster Huntington’s lusty (wanderlusty that is) images featured in the new Monsterchildren #41 that Coldsmoke helped inaugurate last weekend in Vancouver.

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Fast forward to 1:30 in, and watch snowboarding’s pioneers eat shit. Maybe their jeans were too tight?

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Banzai Pipeline in Oahu, Hawaii is a surf spot that serves up some of the largest and deadliest waves in the world. If you can hold your own above its razor sharp reef, the surfing community will respect you forever.

Using a GoPro camera and a DJI Phantom quadcopter, aerial photographer Eric Sterman has captured the world’s top surfers taming these massive waves.

The result is a truly breathtaking video from a perspective which used to be impossible for filmmakers to achieve without hiring a helicopter. I’ve watched a few surfing films before (Billabong Odyssey and The Endless Summer are my personal favorites) but this is by far the best footage I’ve ever seen from Pipeline.

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heliski-cover interviews Randall Breitenbach and Imani Lanier, founders of the newly minted Coldsmoke Apparel, and the Coldsmoke Collective which includes Powder Mountain Cat and Heliskiing, and the Coldsmoke Awards Winter Film tour.

RB: “If my guides are going to be wearing this, this has to be the best stuff on the mountain. So I want the best new materials, I want the best zippers, I want the best seals, I want the pockets where the guides want them, so we spend over a season putting together  equipment that’s pretty outstanding and goes toe-to-toe with anybody honestly.”

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