Climber and filmmaker Jimmy Chin talks taste
Simply sign up to the Style myFT Digest -- delivered directly to your inbox.
My personal style signifiers are simple, comfortable, practical clothes: a navy or white James Perse T-shirt, Hiroshi Kato jeans and a North Face Purple Label Japan insulated, button-down, collarless shirt that I take with me wherever I go.
The last thing I bought and loved was a surfboard shaped for me by Matt Biolos of Lost Surfboards in Hawaii. My family spent several months there last year, and he shaped my Quiver Killer board and two special shortboards for my kids. Like a tailored jacket, a custom board is just for you.
And on my wishlist is a Ford F-150 Lightning Electric pick-up truck, with a four-door cab and zero emissions. It’s perfect for the road conditions where I live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, because it sits up high and has great clearance. In the summer I haul kayaks and mountain bikes, and in winter, it’s skis and climbing gear, so this is the perfect vehicle. I’d also love a new Dyson V10. Upon re-entry from an expedition, vacuuming is my way of getting reacclimatised.
The places I can’t wait to go back to are Patagonia in Argentina, and the Karakoram in Pakistan. Both countries have dramatic, granitic mountains that are perfect for alpine rock climbing. They have beautiful climbing lines.
And the best souvenir I’ve brought home is a photo that I took of friends skiing near the top of Everest. This was a shot that I don’t think anyone had ever snapped before and it represents the intersection of my life as a documentarian and also a climber. It’s a reminder of a very special expedition moment and one that I couldn’t have set up.
I have a collection of knives from all over the world. Whether from Chad, Oman, Nepal or Mali, they have cultural significance and are relatively easy to bring home. My favourite is one that was given to me on a National Geographic trek across the Changtang Plateau in Tibet.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is 2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis. I studied international relations in college and like to stay up to date on geopolitics. This book was written with a lot of insight into how decisions are made – and how catastrophic decisions are made inadvertently.
A recent “find” is a restaurant called The Old House in Kathmandu. It serves Asian fusion cuisine, and it has a nice ambience and a very cool bar. I also recently discovered The Savoy in London – I usually stay in Soho, but the views of the Thames made my Covid quarantine very manageable.
The podcast I’m listening to is Alex Honnold’s Climbing Gold, which is all about rock climbing. I also try to listen to podcasts on both sides of the political spectrum – everything from The New York Times’s The Daily and Pod Save America to the conservative Ben Shapiro Show.
The best gift I’ve given recently is a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) course in Wyoming to my nephew, to celebrate his 16th birthday. I used to teach these outdoor leadership courses and I was amazed by how transformative they can be. From teamwork to self-confidence to leadership, the skills learned on a NOLS trip last a lifetime.
And the best gift I’ve received recently is edits from my friend, author Jon Krakauer. I was trying to finish my book, There and Back: Photographs from the Edge, and it was excruciatingly painful. In my moment of need, Jon stepped in.
In my fridge you’ll always find cheese – fancy or sliced and packaged, I love it all. I particularly like Humboldt Fog goat’s cheese and also Tillamook Sharp Cheddar. There are always blueberries for making smoothies in there, as well as plain yoghurt, almond milk, nutritional supplements and kale.
The tech I couldn’t do without is Bose QuietComfort 35 II wireless headphones, which I use to block out the world when I’m travelling. And I’m interested in the idea of a large-scale carbon-capture machine to convert carbon emissions into something usable to counter climate change.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a black North Face Summit down hoodie. It’s simple, ultra-lightweight and easy to pack, and works as well in the mountains as it does in the city. I also added a Panerai Submersible Chrono Flyback watch that I helped to design.
I’ve recently discovered a restaurant called Coelette that has really upped the food game in Jackson Hole. It is European/Asian and would be noteworthy anywhere in the world, let alone in a small mountain town. Sturgeon with lacto carrot consommé and a soba dish with spruce tea are just two examples of the creativity here.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Ansel Adams, because he was the forerunner of the outdoor photography genre in the American West.
The product that changed everything for me was the Canon EOS 5D camera that came out in 2008. For the first time, I could shoot photographs and film with one camera, and with a cinematic look too. This was a game-changer for me in terms of the weight of the gear I had to carry, and also not having to switch back and forth between two cameras and miss so many moments.
The grooming staple I’m never without is Jack Black Intense Therapy lip balm with SPF 25. It’s small, easy to carry and very moisturising for dry, cracked skin all over the face. Just the smell of it is comforting. £7.95
An object I would never part with is a jade-dragon charm that was given to me by father for good luck on expeditions. It’s on a necklace, but I just keep it in my pocket.
My favourite room in my house is my gear room. I have tons of expedition gear, packs, ropes, rock collections, my knives, crampons from Everest, mementoes and old axes from important trips. Part office, part man cave, it’s the place where I can work in peace overlooking the Tetons.
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be a woodworker or a creative craftsperson of some kind. I love working with my hands and the satisfaction of having a finished product at the end of the day.
My style icon is my wife, filmmaker [Elizabeth] Chai Vasarhelyi. She navigates many different worlds and has innate style, having grown up in New York City. From dark jeans and a leather jacket with a vintage concert tee, to Chanel and Oscar de la Renta for the red carpet, she isn’t afraid to take risks.
The last music I downloaded was Taylor Swift’s album Folklore. My eight-year-old daughter is very into Taylor – and Ed Sheeran – so my playlists tend to reflect her interests.
An explorer’s best friends are patience and cautious optimism. Also a trustworthy partner, a belief in oneself and the ability to assess risk accurately.
An indulgence I’d never forgo is dessert. I have a terrible sweet tooth. If you put warm blueberry or pecan pie with vanilla ice-cream in front of me, I’m done.
The Rescue, directed by Jimmy Chin, is out now