When it comes to sharing expert stories, it’s hard not to talk about Jim Urbec. He’s a dad, a U.S. Army veteran, a former triathlon coach and an expert rock climber. We had the chance to sit down with the expert outdoorsman to learn more about his military experiences, his favorite gear to take to the crag and the rock face he plans on dominating in 2022.
Hi Jim! Can you share a little about yourself and how you became part of the ExpertVoice community?
Sure! I’m retired military after 25 years, mostly with Special Ops in the Army. I started rock climbing in the late 80s, early 90s while I was in college. Back then there wasn’t a huge network of climbing gyms so my climbing career soon went into hiatus. I picked up triathlons and did those competitively for about 15 years. When my family moved near a climbing gym, we got memberships for the whole family and it rekindled my love for the sport — and it worked out nicely because climbing is more conducive to the busy schedule I’ve got now.
I joined Promotive [now ExpertVoice] in 2011 by way of the Army team. It gave me really good access to brands I use a lot of when I’m climbing, hiking and camping. I retired from the military in 2015, which gave me more time to take my kids outside and pass on my passion for the outdoors. Now they’re college-aged and it’s still, “What’s the next weekend adventure?” Then I’m back to ExpertVoice to find the kind of gear we need to do it.
Twenty-five years in the military is pretty impressive. Do you feel like your Army experiences made you the person you are today?
Glaciar training in Alaska and Army training were two of the most formative life experiences I’ve ever had, to the point that my kids say they wish they could go through Ranger School and get the mental toughness…without actually having to go through Ranger School.
Was that one of the pinnacle things Army training provided for you, mental toughness?
In Ranger School, you’re training about 20 hours a day, going on just 2 hours of sleep. You are cold, wet and tired for 60 days straight; so the thing you learn the most is how far you can push yourself, even when you’re at the point of mental and physical exhaustion. It has helped me in more ways than I can explain — both personally and professionally. It doesn’t matter how bad it’s raining, the storm always passes, just hold tight.
Do you resort to that discipline when you’re on a difficult climb?
As far as being on a rock face, not that I’ve ever put myself into super dicey situations, but there are times when you will certainly get tired and you need to focus on the task at hand. I can focus up and have that clarity of task. And now, keeping up with 18- and 19-year old boys, they know the old man’s never going to stop.
So climbing is your go-to sport these days?
Yeah, triathlons have been put on the backburner. I walk into the garage and see my bike taunting me. But it can be a second full-time job balancing the 15-20 hours of training. When I was in the military it was easy to justify working out a couple times a day, but my boss now doesn’t care what kind of shape I’m in.
Where’s your favorite place to climb?
If it’s a gym, I like Onsight Rock Gym here in Knoxville, Tenn. And if I’m headed outdoors, it’s all about the Linville Gorge in North Carolina and the Obed in Tennessee.
Do you have a dream place to climb?
The big trip we have on the calendar is Devil’s Tower. It’s a long-term goal I’ve been working toward with my youngest son Cooper, who was a competitive climber. We started out at the gym with him, then I took him sport climbing, traditional climbing, then multi-pitch. It’s just that progression of taking on bigger, technically more difficult climbs. We’ve looked at Devil’s Tower as something really cool and out of the norm so we’ll be making that climb after he graduates in summer 2022. We’re all looking forward to it.
What are your gear must-haves? What’s going with you to Devil’s Tower?
I’m a pretty big fan of Outdoor Research, Black Diamond and Mountain Smith. If I had to pick one piece of gear, it’d be the OR Ferrossi Pants. They stay where you want them to without having to adjust them or your harness. As far as comfort and mobility, they’re the best. I’ve slept in them and climbed in them. I have one of every color.
The Black Diamond C4s are must-haves for anyone who is an outdoor rock climber. If you’re going to trust your life with something, those are a pretty good choice.
I’ve also got a set of the neon pink and neon blue Beal Joker 9.1 mm ropes. They’re light and versatile, and can be used as single ropes, twin ropes or half ropes. And the fluorescent color helps you be seen. I like them a lot.
What does being an expert mean to you?
I try not to wheel the term “expert” around too often because as soon as you call yourself an expert, someone comes around with a bigger, better knowledge base. The truth is: there are many ways to do things. I was a certified triathlon coach so I can provide an educated opinion based on my experience and training but I try to be humble and say, “Here’s a way to do it, it’s not necessarily a better way, but it worked for me.”
You don’t coach triathlons anymore, but are you still sharing your expertise?
Yeah, I’m generally giving recommendations or advice on social media. Someone will say they have plantar fasciitis, and I’m big on finding the cause of the problem. Changing into a different shoe or using another shoe that someone else likes won’t necessarily “fix” you. I could say that I like Newton running shoes but that may not work for them. It’s about giving advice, but ultimately it’s about putting foot to pavement to see if it works. Our biomechanics are so different, it could be about the shoe or it could be the way you’re using it — so you need to find the root of the problem.
You have made 42 recommendations on Expertvoice. I take it you like the new product recommendations tool?
I really like the recommendations tool. The recommendations I see on ExpertVoice I take with a heck of a lot more weight than other sites like Amazon because those can be posted by anybody from anywhere. I especially trust the recommendations when it says the person is a product owner. I know this guy actually owns it, and his recommendation is more valuable to me.
What’s the best part about ExpertVoice for you? Is it all about the discounts or the education?
It’s probably 60% for discounts and 40% for education. I’m not in retail so it’s all for my own edification, I just love to learn more about these brands.
Check out Jim’s Expert Profile to see the gear he recommends and more photos of his accomplishments.