Jun 23, 2011 at 12:20 am #1275836
Buy the Newest, Lightest, Shiniest Gear Or You Could Die
by BRENDAN LEONARD SEMI RAD on JUNE 15, 2011
There’s a single paragraph in Yvon Chouinard’s Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of A Reluctant Businessman in which he talks about solo expedition kayaker (and grandmother) Audrey Sutherland, who at that time had paddled more than 8,000 miles around the world. One of the quotes attributed to Sutherland is one of the main things I took from the book:
“Don’t spend money on gear. Spend it on plane tickets.”
Not that you shouldn’t buy a new climbing rope every few years, or ride your bike without a helmet because that would be “buying gear” — I think what Sutherland is saying is that you don’t need the latest, greatest stuff on the REI floor to have a good adventure.
A little over a year ago, I was rolling my bicycle into the Pacific Ocean after 3,000 miles of riding, from San Diego to St. Augustine, Florida. One of the big questions of the ride for me, besides “Do I have a saddle sore?” was “Is my bike going to make it?” I had bought my Raleigh Team USA from some guy in Broomfield for $100 after seeing it in a Craigslist ad. The bike was 25 years old when we started our ride. I had wanted to try riding that bike across the country in some sort of way of showing all the people we met that you didn’t need to be Lance Armstrong, or have his bike, to do something fun. Plus, I mean, it said “Team USA” on it.
In the end, nobody really cared about my bike besides me. But it made it, 3,000 miles, and when I got back to Denver, I put my old city tires back on it and rode it to work every day, just like I had all the days leading up to our two-month bike ride. Was the bike a little heavy for riding across the country? Maybe. Did I have to do a lot of work on it along the way? Yes. Did it make it? Yes.
Was the adventure way more memorable than the gear I bought for it? Absolutely.
This is America, and we’re constantly bombarded with ways to spend our disposable income. We need to replace our phone that’s 4 months old, or get a car that turns its windshield wipers on immediately when the windshield gets wet, or get a bigger, more defined television to slowly die in front of.
In the outdoors, you need gear, yes, but you don’t need all of it, all the time. A friend of mine who does about twice as much climbing and skiing as I do has about 2/3 of a reasonable rack for climbing, borrows ice tools, and has an avalanche beacon on a kind of permanent temporary loan from someone. He does have way nicer outdoor clothing than me. I am envious of his stories, not what he’s wearing in the photos I see from his trips.
When I used to work at the REI store in Phoenix, we used to have a couple of guys who would come in without fail every single Saturday. Both of them knew more about gear than I did, and they would show up and engage anyone on the sales floor for hours about the materials in this tent, or this rain jacket, or this GPS. It was like they were coming to a class to learn more about gear than anyone. Some Saturdays, I would be pretty tired of giving up all my weekends (I had a full-time job on top of my part-time REI gig) to work at the store, and I just wanted to go up to them and shake them, and say, “Your gear is perfectly fine! Go use it! Some of us have to work Saturdays — you don’t! If you want to buy something, let me sell you a map so you can pack up a backpack and go do some cool shiet somewhere.”
Sometimes I hear people say things like, “I’m kind of a gear junkie.” That’s fine, whatever floats your boat. But you really don’t need to know that much about gear to do most things in the outdoors — how to fix some basic things on your bike, sure; how to use rock and ice climbing gear in a fashion that doesn’t endanger you or your partner, yes; how to operate a stove without burning down the forest, yes. But if you’re not Steve House or Ueli Steck, you can probably go ahead and climb with the fifth- or sixth-lightest soft shell, and crampons from 2004. Really. And your tent can weigh 6 ounces more than its closest competitor.
For the record, you know what you can buy for the same price as an Arc’Teryx Alpha LT jacket? Flights to and from Jackson, Wyoming from Chicago in August.
Jun 23, 2011 at 12:37 am #1752363
@dirk9827Locale: Pacific Northwest
I completely agree with the spirit of this thread – certainly gear matters, but what matters far more is making your own adventure.Jun 23, 2011 at 1:02 am #1752368
And your tent can weigh 6 ounces more than its closest competitor.
That's a bit controversial for this forum, isn't it?
Using a tent, I mean…Jun 23, 2011 at 10:12 am #1752454
spelt with a tParticipant
@speltLocale: SW/C PA
I've been thinking a lot lately about this sort of thing. I made a post last week that got some thoughtful responses.
I want less, find I do better with less, actually enjoy making do in some ways, but it can be complicated. Ex: I'm using a windbreaker from high school as a wind shirt. I've no desire to look at new windbreakers (I think I'll always call them that; it's more descriptive anyway). So I've avoided that gear trap. But if I had gotten rid of my windbreaker instead of keeping it in the 'clothes I'll wear again…someday…I swear' bin, I'd be in the market right now. What to keep, what to toss, what to buy and not buy. Good questions.Jun 23, 2011 at 10:25 am #1752461
@ewolinLocale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
I couldn't agree more. Unless gear is way overweight by modern standards I generally don't replace it until it wears out. I don't care at all that I'm using older stuff as long as it works well and is reasonably light weight. My attitude might be predjudiced by the fact that, since we backpacked as a family of five for a long time, replacing one thing actually meant replacing five!Jun 23, 2011 at 11:25 am #1752478
@hikinggrannyLocale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
Did anyone watch the video that Jason Klass put on his blog a few days ago?
"When Gearheads Run Amuck"
Jun 23, 2011 at 11:34 am #1752483
gear hoars forget that its not gear that makes you happy … but what you use it for and how often you abuse it
its useless to be on BPL all the time if you can be outside instead ;)Jun 23, 2011 at 11:38 am #1752486
"And your tent can weigh 6 ounces more than its closest competitor."
All I know is that I must (MUST) be carrying a lighter load than my hiking partners. Now where did I put my scale?Jun 23, 2011 at 11:56 am #1752492
Colin Fletcher said decades ago, must have been in the 70's, that becoming knowledgeable in backpacking gear risked making you a fuddy duddy.
Having said that, I benefit greatly from the BPL engineers who compare gear, the R-value of pads, the effectiveness of stoves in the wind, etc.
We all just need to get out more, but until we do…Jun 23, 2011 at 12:13 pm #1752500
@sbhikesLocale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
It's funny but I have things like that at home, things I'm sure could be upgraded but I feel absolutely no desire to do so. My computer, my bicycle, my fanny pack, some of my backpacking gear, my pickup truck. I agree whole-heartedly that people need to get out there and use their stuff. Shopping for stuff doesn't make you a backpacker.
I used to ride with a bike club and I found it so boring because it was a bunch of fat guys talking about bicycle parts, bicycles and bike gear. They were always upgrading this or that or buying new bikes. It would take at least an hour before they'd start the ride and all the bike gear talk would continue through the entire ride. They never could understand me, either, and my lack of interest in bike parts and my disinterest in getting a better bike.Jun 23, 2011 at 12:35 pm #1752511
I think I'm detecting a little attitude towards fat guys there.Jun 23, 2011 at 12:45 pm #1752517
@magillagorillaLocale: Southwest Ohio
This is another one of those HYOH threads. Personalities differ, that's all. There are other factors as well, like financial means, other priorities and free time. I do support the "get out and do it" attitude, don't get me wrong. I've strong-armed friends in to going out for the weekend when all they had was a gym bag and some canned food. Ya, we had fun.
It seems though, some people impose their frustrations on to others and make broad sweeping statements. Just because you are burned out on thinking about gear does not mean you should dismiss the way other people enjoy backpacking as a hobby. I personally think gear is part of the fun. I like to try new things all the time. When I dial in a good piece of gear it stick with it. Some of my gear is 20 years old.
Some people have a lot of money to spend on their hobby. What's wrong with them buying a ton of gear? It keeps money in the pockets of the people making the gear so that they can innovate and keep prices down, or in this economy, stay in business.
Some people have abundant free time others don't. I have little free time and not much money. Reading forums and checking out gear is my way of staying connected to my favorite hobby between trips. Some people can go out for 3 months with no notice and some can go out every weekend, well good for them.
Basically, what I'm trying to say is, calling people some kind of "poser" because they enjoy backpacking differently or don't get out "as much as they should", is just sophomoric at best.
On the other side of the coin, constantly chasing the best and newest gear is something I avoid. The people that do this perform me a service by testing out gear. I can read reviews then by top of the line (2 years ago) gear when it's nice and cheap.
Some people are the science and engineering bunch. Backpacking kits are a problem which must be solved to accomplish a goal. I lean towards this category.
Some backpackers are passionate "live for the day" types. The go getters that inspire people like me (the working stiff), to put the spreadsheet down.
There is another set of people that are just OCD about gear and weight. Leave them alone, they can't help it.
I like all the enthusiasts except the ones that buy gear and NEVER backpack, they are just weird (there's my addition to broad sweeping statements).Jun 23, 2011 at 1:20 pm #1752527
@sbhikesLocale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Yeah, those fat guys were poseurs. Maybe if they did some actual riding rather than stand around the parking lot eating donuts talking about bike parts…Jun 23, 2011 at 1:25 pm #1752529
@erdferkelLocale: S. California
+1, once I got most things dialed in, I just left it and try to go out as often as I can. I have far more respect for the grizzly guy with an old Kelty external frame with pine pitch all over it from 30+ years of doing it than someone with a shiny new Golite.
In point of fact, the plateau of safety and comfort provided by your gear is pretty broad. You can spend a lot, or a lot less, and still make it back from most trips without issue. I would agree that if you're trying to climb Denali, then gear selection and durability is really important, but for probably most of what people do in their local mountains or even the Sierra, it doesn't matter that much. Similar to the way that for Lance in the TdF, a few grams might make the difference in a TT, but not at all for 99.99% of riders in their local club race where level of fitness and training is far more important.Jun 23, 2011 at 1:36 pm #1752533
the difference between the gear OCD and a "poser" is that the former recognizes they have an issue and that all that gear doesnt really make them any better of a backpacker/climber/biker … at least not enough to really matter
the latter believes that gear is a substitute for real experiences … and that it makes them "outdoorsy"
you see the latter all the time running around struggling to go up easy climbs in their brand new (insert brand here) gear …
ever notice that most of the people who do very hard things do so with any piece of gear they can get a hold of … not the latest and greatest or even (can of worms) the lightest … unless they are sponsored that is
as a former dead birder i can tell ya that all that gear doesnt make you any better a climber =(Jun 23, 2011 at 2:13 pm #1752553
@magillagorillaLocale: Southwest Ohio
"the latter believes that gear is a substitute for real experiences … and that it makes them "outdoorsy""
It's called marketing, and it's very effective. The North Face outlet store by my house is 95% clothes. I went in there and they had 1 tent and maybe 5 backpacks. I work with people who swear by North Face, they don't do anything outside except walk from the door to their Land Rover.Jun 23, 2011 at 2:26 pm #1752559
@marti124Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
This thread reminds me of the video put out by Jason Klass — have you all seen it? It is a super hoot.
What Gear Heads Sound Like to Normal PeopleJun 23, 2011 at 3:19 pm #1752585
"I have far more respect for the grizzly guy with an old Kelty external frame with pine pitch all over it from 30+ years of doing it than someone with a shiny new Golite."
I guess if I want trail respect I should dig out my beat up 36 year old external pack then use the new Pinnacle I just got? That's too bad, I like the Pinnacle. Maybe I can drag it around in the dirt some to make it look like it's not so new so I won't look like a poser? On second thought, I'll do what I always do and not care what anyone else thinks of my gear. It works for me!
And the old Kelty? It was shiny and new at one point.Jun 23, 2011 at 3:44 pm #1752591
Giving a rats rear end about what anyone thinks is the really the problem i am hearing. Either side of the gear coin you are on really. Just saying, you do your thing i will do mine. If only we could all learn to appreciate the things we do share in common as apposed to search for the things we do not…
Yeah gehy hippy dippy crahpah but it is so true…Jun 23, 2011 at 3:53 pm #1752594
I don't see much difference between the guy who buys nice gear to look outdoorsy and they guy who chooses a different piece of gear just because they are afraid of looking like a yuppie poser.Jun 23, 2011 at 4:37 pm #1752610
Yup buy what you wanna buy, use what you wanna use how you wanna use it. And for Christ sakes stop worrying about what your dam neighbor is up too!!Jun 23, 2011 at 4:46 pm #1752617
Actually, Diane had it right—the word is "poseur" and not "poser." Feel free to check your Webster's. In the interest of a encouraging a more literate hiking crowd…Jun 23, 2011 at 5:16 pm #1752633
"Actually, Diane had it right—the word is "poseur" and not "poser." Feel free to check your Webster's. In the interest of a encouraging a more literate hiking crowd…"
I don't know Gary. Maybe in high society places like Boulder where French is spoken. Up here in the Conifer hood we go with poser. (If I, as a semi-literate, used poseur in this case would I be a poseur?) :)
From websters.com (actually dictionary.reference.com once the link is resolved):
someone who pretends to belong to a group only by affecting the attributes of the group.Jun 23, 2011 at 5:22 pm #1752635
@davidadairLocale: West Dakota
I think Rumsfeld put it this way: "As you know, you go hiking with the gear you have. Its not the gear you might want or wish to have at a later time."
Can't be too ready though!Jun 23, 2011 at 6:31 pm #1752659
well i actually think that "posing" is kinda dangerous for yourself and yr partner in some situations
not having the right skills, yet believing that the gear will get your through can be a bad combination
this is especially true when climbing … yes there are certain times when a bit of extra gear can allow you to protect certain sections .. but you better know how and be experienced at using it … or youll be putting yrself and yr partner in dange
im quite weary of new partners showing up with lots of brand new shiny expensive gear … i often find myself leading every pitch when that happens and moving quite slowly
just my observation …
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