My Favorite New Things

Palouse Falls

With van upgrades complete, I finally made a video tour of the gear garage. If you’re interested, check it out!


I left home for college driving a small red car containing everything I owned. That list included my favorite fan (with remote control), which I jammed in the trunk next to the subwoofer. Different priorities at 19, I guess.

Even if I’ve upgraded vehicles, I still identify as a minimalist. If traveling for a few years by van, bike and backpack has taught me anything, it’s that curating my limited possessions is important.

We’ve been in gear replacement and upgrade mode the last couple months. Some stuff was frayed at the edges from tons of use, whereas other items were life improvement purchases.

Tim Ferriss always asks his podcast guests what $100 purchase has improved their lives. Here are some of my recent personal favorites.

I found this random bear in an abandoned house on my drive from Portland to Idaho. Sadly, he didn't make the gear cut.

I found this random bear in an abandoned house on my drive from Portland to Idaho this week. Sadly, he didn’t make this list – I left him sitting right here smiling into eternity.

Peak Designs Capture camera clip – anyone who hikes with an SLR camera needs one of these. Instead of stopping to pull your camera out of your pack or fighting with a strap around your shoulder, this nicely engineered device clamps to a backpack strap. Loving this sweet tech.

Lightroom – I’m embarrassed to confess that I used Picasa to edit all my photos until this January. #amateurhour Only every single photographer I know used and recommended Lightroom, but apparently I am a sloooow learner. When I bought my new Sony camera, I decided it was time to up my game. If you are serious about photography, don’t be a bozo like me – spend a few bucks and get this immediately. There are a ton of online tutorials that will get you up and running quickly.

Xero Z-Trail sandals – these excellent strapped sandals (similar to Tevas or Chacos) are perfect for anyone into minimalist footwear (i.e. zero-drop/flat foot bed and wide toe box). I’ve hiked sketchy climbing approaches in flip flops for years, but these are my new go-to for fording rivers and scrambling up scree slopes. They’re very light, comfortable, and have serious tread for great traction.

Bell 2R helmet – this slick MTB helmet features a removable chin guard. Now I actually wear my full-face helmet instead of leaving it in the van! Just strap the chin guard on your pack for the climb, then snap it into place in 30 seconds at the top to protect your smiling mug on the way down. I bought the one with MIPS protection.

Mountain biking Syncline WA Scott Rokis photography

A day on the trails with the Bell 2R. Photo: Scott Rokis

Red Rising scifi trilogy – the best scifi I’ve read in a lonnnng time. Don’t ask questions; just go read it! I switched back and forth between audiobook and text and both were fun.

Patagonia Nano-Air jacket – my favorite outerwear. Lighter than a fleece, but just as warm. I wear it around town, hiking, shooting photos, or just lounging. Breathes great and somehow stays warm. As a bonus, it’s synthetic fill and entirely vegan.

Gyro exercise ball – my wise friend Martin turned me onto this device. I was skeptical at first, but it’s a great warm up for climbing and renders tweaky elbow problems null and void. Spin it up when you’re driving and pretend you’re still looking at the road. – we started using Cozy over a year ago to manage our rental property payments and leases. I still love this service! It’s totally free for the landlord (Cozy makes their money from credit checks) and you don’t need to exchange bank account info with your tenants. If you have any rental properties, definitely check out this Portland-based company.

Sink and running water in our vanthis van upgrade is SO great. For all you van owners pretending running water isn’t necessary, spend a few hundred dollars to join the 21st century and live in style. Thank me now. And later. It’s that good.

Nada mas! See, no remote control fan in this list. I did just install one in the van though, so perhaps I haven’t changed much since high school. And the van does have a subwoofer under the passenger seat… Sigh.

I’m writing this from Idaho, where I’m dropping off the van at my parent’s place for safe keeping. Tomorrow it’s time for a flight to Iceland to see what all the hype is all about. I’ve heard the reindeer do synchronized dances to the Northern Lights and everyone wears Viking helmets.

Any awesome gear you’ve added to your life recently that you’d recommend? Let me know via email or in the comments.

A final vista of Mt. Hood in Oregon before hitting the road east.

A final vista of Mt. Hood in Oregon before hitting the road east.

Easy Investment Property Management with Cozy

Enjoying free camping near the Valley of Fire in Nevada.

Rent out your house and go here! (Free camping near the Valley of Fire in Nevada.)

Forget broken toilets. A handyman on speed dial can fix those. I think the most time-consuming part of renting out a property is screening tenants and arranging payment information. I’d wager you landlords out there dread it. If you don’t, your anti-anxiety medication is working!

We mostly invest via index funds, but own one investment property and our personal residence, both of which we rent out. In the recent years, we’ve leased to a half dozen people and it is always a pain in the neck to manage the initial setup.

For short stays, Airbnb works great, but we tend to leave our house for longer periods of time or rent our other investment property for at least a year. There are services for bigger investors (e.g. Appfolio), but they charge $200/month minimum, killing cash flow for single-family properties. Plus, professional online services have 22,231 features like a fancy T.V. remote where all you know is ON/OFF.

Enter Cozy, a Portland startup that changes this. It’s a free service aimed at small investors who don’t use property management companies (which charge ~10% for long-term rentals and half your child’s future income for short-term) and want a streamlined way to manage tenants. Nothing in this for me – I simply like Cozy’s service and think it would benefit small-scale real estate investors.

Why use Cozy? It’s simple, fast, and will save you time and headaches. Here are the basics:

  1. Set up a simple account at
  2. Enter your property into their system, which takes just a few minutes.
  3. Set up your bank account info so that tenants can send you cash (by the truckload, hopefully).
  4. Cozy generates a link to a tenant screening application that you can share online, email, or include in any property listing (e.g. Craigslist). Sending PDFs via email and getting incomplete crap back is so 2003 – this is an easy, online method that notifies you when a new application comes in. On the tenant side, it’s simple, and even lets someone import employer info from LinkedIn. (I went through the process so I knew what to expect.)
  5. A credit check service is provided by Cozy, the cost of which you pass through to the tenant. You can also send them to get a free one at if you don’t need a report with a credit score. You also can require a background check if desired. (In response to Trisha’s comment below – we always require a credit report with a score, and that is my recommendation!)
  6. Best part? Payment terms and setup are clean. No more giving tenants your address to mail a check, or figuring out monthly deposits bank-to-bank via a voided check. Cozy acts as the intermediary (for free!), and will initiate a withdrawal each month. It also allows you to set up split payment for multiple tenants, including for the security deposit.

That’s it! I would do screenshots, but any middle school kid can text 1,432 times and navigate their system at the same time. You can figure it out. So great to see a startup provide practical and useful functions instead of just another photo sharing app.

For all of you who are self-managing properties, I think this is a great way to streamline things. I am digging it and will not be going back to PDF applications and hacked-together payment setup. Next time you transition tenants, check out Cozy.

Rent your house and go here! (Niakahnie Mountain on the Oregon coast.)

Rent your house and go here! (Niakahnie Mountain on the Oregon coast.)