February 24, 2010

Confessions of a Gear-a-holic

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Today, it occurred to me that I can’t walk through a single room in my house without tripping over a piece of outdoor gear. There are kayaks in my kitchen, bikes in my basement and crampons in my closet.

Normally, these possessions are my pride and joy: each serves a specific function, and many articles have a storied history attached to them. But as of late, I feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff cluttering my life. I hate to say it, but I’ve become a gear whore.

Not that there’s anything wrong with gear. For most outdoor sports, having proper equipment (and training!) is vital to having fun and staying safe. Although most activities, even hiking, require start-up fees that can be steep and burdensome, there really is no way around, let’s say, going skiing without having access to a pair of skis.

Additionally, in the outside world, even your clothes matter. Mail carriers can persevere through wind, snow, sleet and rain in a simple cotton uniform, but they’re cast from a different mold. For everyone else, it’s Smart-Wool® and GORE-TEX® all the way.

Although it lacks the speed of downhill skiing or the balance of bouldering, gear whore-ing is a particularly satisfying outdoor activity. It enables the class-bound individual with Internet connection unparalleled access to a word of shiny new equipment designed to make your time outside that much better.

It enables you to covet, purchase and show off a $300 pair of soft-shell pants while making fun of sorority girls who wear $200 leather riding boots. The more / better gear you own, the more fun you can have outside, right?

Yes and no. Gear is essential and online shopping is fun and addicting, so I can’t really argue there. Instead, consider this: I’ve known people who take out student loans to buy thousands of dollars in climbing gear yet have only every climbed outside a few times, or individuals who will starve themselves for weeks on PB&J just to buy another pocket knife.

While I envy their new and shiny toys, I must say that the average gear whore is totally lame to talk to. Generally, all they can tell you is how expensive their jacket is, or how strong their cameras are, or how revolutionary their disc breaks are.

It may sound cool, but if you’re anything like me, you got into going outside because it’s fun, simple and badass. I want to hear stories of misadventure, of getting lost and of pushing yourself too high or too far, not how your $500 GPS kept you on course and got you back home in time for supper.

So which side do I fall on? Does owning half of REI make me lame? Or can I redeem myself with gnarly tales of 30-foot whippers or 25-mile daylong death marches?

Regardless, less is always more. Do I really need that new harness, those new shoes? Probably not. Will I use them? Yes, but only at the expense of my other five pairs. I could do with a few more holes, and a few more stories.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go duck-tape my bindings to my skis. I’m off to Hammond Hill in 10.

Original Author: Guy Ross