The best reason to buy new gear

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There are three sorts of gear purchases: banal stuff you need, fun stuff you don’t need, and fun stuff you need. I suppose there’s banal stuff you don’t need, but why would you do that to yourself.

Banal stuff you need is primarily the little things which wear, or whose upgrading is unexciting but will bring a significant performance advantage. Good socks are the example on my mind, as I need some more Wooleators. Quality non-cotton undies, tubes, Stans fluid, UV protectant spray for your boat, and ski wax are all examples.

Fun stuff you don’t need is, I’m guessing, what most of us research on the internet most of the time. The dozen-odd drivetrain variations to which I’ve subjected the Karate Monkey are a good example. Any new pack purchase I contemplate these days is another. My extensive collection of windshirts is yet another. I derive function and pleasure from all of these things, but the novelty and learning process inherent in the later is far more prominent than the former.

Fun stuff you need is the best category. Need here is defined as something approaching mission-critical status. The trip could still happen without the item in question, but the way in which the trip happens is altered drastically. My number one example this winter has been the BD Currents, pictured above. Even more than the tech boots and bindings, the Currents have let me ski different things with a vastly improved level of confidence. Their purchasing process was archetypal of fun stuff you need: I thought about it for a long time, siphoned off part of the funds to fun things I didn’t need several times, before finally buckling down and pulling the trigger (when they went on super-discount). A packraft would be another example is this category, and is the old Reba I bought from Eric way back in the day.
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Why is buying gear which allows you to do more, and especially more different, trips the best way to spend your money?  First, because gear should be about doing rather than having.  The cultural truth of this cannnot be separated from the simpler physical and spiritual benefits.  Outdoor recreation should not be avarice in another guise, no matter what gear chat says.

Second, excessive adventure specialization is not a good thing, either in terms of geography or activity.  Too much time in one area leads to a diminished skillset and rampant parochialism (“the weather in Scotland/the Whites/Oz/my backyard is more challenging than anywhere!”).  Too much time doing one thing also fosters an impoverished skillset, as well as overuse injuries.

Most significantly of all, either of these things lead to excessive dependence on a small part of the picture.  If the game is to better understand an appreciate ourselves, our fellows, and our places in the world, spending hours into years staring hard at one corner of the painting is a poor way to get there.  If I got hit by a bus getting coffee tomorrow and could never walk again I’d have a hard time of it, but like to think that eventually I’d be able to handcycle, sitski, and fly fish from a wheelchair while as much zeal and satisfaction.  Getting to that point over the course of life, in good spirits and with healthy legs, seems to me like the best goal of all.

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8 thoughts on “The best reason to buy new gear

  1. I’m still kind of cringing over what my packraft cost (in the main, my recreational pursuits have not been big-ticket hardware dependent). But even with only a handful of trips it’s clear it was a smart acquisition. I can now get on the water easily, without any of the hassles that previously limited me to a few trips per year and dependent on others’ schedules, rental availability, and arranging shuttles. In the past two weeks I’ve been out more times than I was all of last year. I can be self-supported–take off for an afternoon without having to coordinate with anyone, bail if things get hairy without worrying how to get the boat to the takeout–or coordinate with much greater flexibility than if I were tied to a hardshell. The joy made possible by a $700 little rubber boat is ridiculous, and I haven’t even done anything “exciting” with it yet.

  2. I just bought a tent that weighs less than 5 lbs and a women’s specific down sleeping bag. Though its not rated to -20, I’m hoping it will provide similar or better warmth. It’s certainly half the weight and a third of the size. Fun things I need! And a move in a lighter direction. Then I fractured my fibula :( but I’m hoping to be back out there this summer. One-legged rowing machine in the meantime….

      • Ali:

        I have done that one-legged rowing gig and I feel for you. It is one of the last refuges for a cripple to get a daily workout. Also try a commercial kayak erg or make your own kayak erg.

  3. I’ve been gearing up for a trip to the Ruth Gorge in June and going through a philosophical dilemma to which this post speaks. For many years, I was a mountain biker. Then I was a trail runner. Then I was a snowboarder. Then I was a rock climber.

    I climbed outdoors five days last year. Some part of me feels let down because I am not “following my passion”.

    However, your metaphor of life as a painting resonates deeply with me. Once I’ve gone through these periods of intense immersion in a single pursuit, I am able to recognize that I have cultivated another skill, another lens through which I can enjoy our beautiful planet.

    I’m excited about the climbs we’re going to attempt in the Ruth Gorge. I’m equally excited about cragging and shredding some sicky-gnar singletrack in my little corner of the painting. Great post!

  4. Great article, as I now feel much better about all the bike gear I have been getting:). Returning to cycling has been very satisfying and I look forward to my first bikepacking trip in a month or so. We have now got bikes for the whole family and have been on some fun rides alone and with other families. I am already planning some family bikepacking trips.

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