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What Ben Gibbard Can’t Live Without

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images; Illustration; Joe McKendry

If you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered what famous people add to their carts. Not the JAR brooch and Louis XV chair but the hair spray and the electric toothbrush. We asked musician Ben Gibbard — front man of Death Cab for Cutie, releasing their tenth studio album, Asphalt Meadows, today — about his travel-coffee setup, trail running gear, and favorite nonalcoholic craft beer.

When my wife and I got together ten years ago, I noticed that she traveled with an Aeropress and a kettle. She also toured with bands for a number of years, and when you’re on tour, the first thing you want every morning is a really good cup of coffee. I’d rather make it myself than be on the hunt for it. And this kettle is great, because it compresses down and doesn’t take up a lot of room in your bag. Hotels, sometimes they’ll have a kettle and sometimes they won’t. Or you can sometimes use the coffee maker in the room to heat the water. But it’s way better when it comes from your own kettle. With the AeroPress, I’m not that adventurous; I just brew it the traditional way — I’ve seen people do the upside-down method and they swear by it, but I’m a believer that if you’re drinking good coffee and you let it steep long enough, it’s going to be good, whether it’s upside down or right side up.

Whenever we would tour through Norway over the last 10 to 15 years, I would make the pilgrimage to Wendelboe and buy bags of beans to take home with me and make them last as long as I could. Now they have this subscription service. The coffee is just really flavorful and really fruity — they specialize in light roasts. It feels not so environmentally responsible to have beans shipped from Colombia to Norway, then roasted and shipped back to the United States, but I’d like to think my daily carbon footprint is narrow enough that it allows for an indulgence like this.

I started trail running a little over ten years ago. I had signed up for a trail run by accident. The band was on our way to Australia, and we had a stopover in San Francisco for a couple days, so I signed up for the Golden Gate 30K, thinking it would be fun. I showed up at the race start and it turned out to be in the Marin Headlands. I asked someone where the race was going and they looked at me like I was insane and pointed to this giant mountainside. But I just fell in love with it, and have run tons of 50Ks and five 100 milers since then. Brooks was one of the first brands to make trail shoes. Other brands made improvements over the years, and the Cascadias fell out of favor for a long time, but in the last couple years they have been redesigned. Now I think they’re perfect: really solid, mid-cushioning. I’m doing a big push tomorrow and I’m wearing them for the whole day.

Pro-Tec Spiky Massage Ball

I refer to it as my “spiky pain ball,” because it is relentless. It is not a soothing physical-therapy item. At my age, playing shows for almost two hours and also running really long distances, I like having this thing in my bag at all times for anything on my body that’s giving me grief. It digs right through to the source of tension and just breaks it up. It is not a pleasant device, but if I could get one that was made of metal, I probably would. I definitely subscribe to “pain is gain” when it comes to breaking up tight muscles.

When I’m on the road, I’ll pull up Gaia to see if there are any of those dotted lines near the venue where we’re playing. Then I can make running routes and put those routes on my watch so that I’m not getting lost. It’s been so helpful at times in the backcountry when my phone doesn’t work, because GPS signals still work on Gaia. And it’s to-the-foot accurate. If there are a bunch of trails going off in different directions and it’s not well marked, Gaia is so effective in making sure you’re on the right route. I think it’s the best app of its kind.

My Suunto running watch is the one thing I have on at all times. It’s specifically optimized for long mountain efforts. You can get up to 60 hours of battery time on it, whereas a lot of running watches max out at 3 or 4 hours, for marathon distances. I can take routes from Gaia and follow the little arrow on my watch so I don’t get lost.

Garmin inReach Mini

The inReach has the ability to call SOS in the backcountry, but you can also pair it with your phone and send texts through it when you’re out of cell service. My friends and I are doing this remote, 75-mile route tomorrow, deep in the Cascades, and for me, it’s become this essential piece of gear. It’s not cheap, but the service is only $14 a month, which is worth it for people who love hiking or going to remote places. In terms of things I can’t live without, this could literally be a lifesaver.

I quit drinking in 2008, and when I first quit, I would order nonalcoholic beers to kind of mimic drinking, you know? Someone at the bar would be pulling a dusty O’Douls out of the back, and often those nonalcoholic beers would raise more questions than you wanted to answer. Like: “Why aren’t you drinking? Are you done drinking? Oh, you’re just quitting for a while?” But when someone first handed me one of these, I thought it was a real beer. It’s refreshing and not supersweet. The design is cool, and the company is made up of mountain bikers and trail runners. They donate 2 percent of sales to restoring trails. They seem like they’re fighting the good fight as much as anyone can fight the good fight when they’re putting products into the world.

Guitar tuners are the kind of thing where it’s a bit like lending a book — if you lend one to another musician, you’re not going to get it back. Someone packs it away in their stuff. And the nice thing about the Snarks is that they’re really affordable and really discrete. You can put them on the end of the headstock of your guitar or bass and you can turn it inward, so people can’t see it during a show, and it’s not an eyesore at the end of your instrument. And they’re cheap, so if someone walks away with one, it’s not a big deal. It’s an item I have strewn all over my studio when I’m recording and always have with me in my bag.

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What Ben Gibbard Can’t Live Without