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Gear to Go ‘With’: A Colored Pencil Set for the Mountains and Beyond

If you're an artist with big adventure plans but limited pack space, With's colored pencil set just might make it into your permanent kit.

a colored pencil set resting on a drawing of a treeWith's colored pencil set ostensibly solves a few of the problems common with travel art sets - namely bulk and mess; (photo/With)
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It’s not difficult to find art supply kits aimed at travelers of all stripes. But often, these kits are just miniaturized versions of full-size supplies. The nods towards packability, accessibility, durability, and clean design can be cursory at best.

That’s a problem Kirk Bierens set out to solve when he launched his travel art supply company With last month.

A lifelong artist, Bierens wants to facilitate the creative drive in others and homed in on the ability to meet that drive at a moment’s notice as the best way to do so. If you’re an artist with big adventure plans but limited pack space, With’s cleverly designed colored pencil set just might make it into your permanent kit.

“It’s very healthy to be creative. It’s therapeutic. And I am trying to give people the ability [to create] anywhere they’re at,” Bierens told me via phone interview from the Big Gear Show, an outdoor trade show this past weekend in Denver.

“You’re stuck somewhere, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I could actually create right now versus surf on my phone.’ To create versus consume,” he continued.

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‘With’ Design and Features

The With colored pencil set on a white background
The With colored pencil set; (photo/With)

So what makes the With kit any different from rubberbanding a handful of colored pencils together and tossing them into a stuff sack?

Well, the heart of the system is the use of colored lead inserts that pair with a single mechanical pencil. This form serves multiple functions, Bierens explained.

One, it minimizes the space and weight that traditional wood-wrapped colored pencils bring to the party. Two, it means that even as your lead shortens, the tool you’re holding (the mechanical pencil) stays the same size. And three, sharpening the leads doesn’t create nearly as much waste as sharpening traditional pencils would — waste that you’d have to pack out like the good Leave No Trace-loving camper I know you are.

With’s colored pencil kit also includes a sharpener and a two-surfaced eraser. But the real eyecatcher is the clever lead storage system, a slim plastic gizmo that accordions out to display your colors while in use and folds back into a svelte package when you’re done sketching.

The With lead storage system
With’s lead storage system unfolds for easy access to colors, then folds back up for storage; (photo/With)

All of the tools slide neatly into a waxed canvas bag, complete with a carabiner loop. Not enough travel art sets seem to realize that nobody wants to spend 3 minutes of a 10-minute sketching block rummaging around inside a pack looking for supplies. The ability to clip the With kit to external webbing or pocket on a pack is a crucial win.

Bonus points: With sources the bag fabric from North Carolina and sews and dyes them in-house at the HQ in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The whole kit runs $64 and is available directly from With’s website. Shipping is free in the U.S.

More Than Just Pencils

The With waxed canvas bag clipped to a backpack
Having supplies accessible at a moment’s notice was a key design goal for With’s team; (photo/With)

With is a young brand, but Bierens already has concrete plans to expand into watercolors and markers, two other popular travel art mediums. The details are still a secret, but suffice it to say Bierens and his team are applying the same attention to common problems as they did with the colored pencil set.

Essentially, Bierens told me, he wants With to become the best travel art kit for outdoor adventurers. Or, as he reminded me again and again: anybody, anywhere.

“I’m almost 50,” he said. “If I spend the next 20 or 30 years of my life building a brand that helps people create art anywhere they’re at, I’m happy.”

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