Outdoor adventures are, in and of themselves, worth very little. The value of challenging recreation outside is in the extent to which it expands, progresses, and hones the consciousness of the participants. Humans being social creatures, this is then passed on to others, directly and indirectly, and hopefully for their benefit. The many hiking, camping, and backpacking trips my parents took me on early in life have been instrumental in giving me whatever humility, patience, and wisdom I may possess. The journey of Shackleton resonates so widely because readers instinctively think back to instances in their lives when they exceeded their own capacities, which soon gives way to speculation on just how powerful that process of self-overcoming might be under duress.
In short, I have a great belief in the potency and potential importance of outdoor adventures, and it is this faith which leads me to hate GearJunkie.com.
Gear Junkie is the product of Stephen Regenold, a Minnesota journalist. The sites/brands/businesses growth in the 8 years since its inception has been impressive: Regenold’s column is nationally syndicated in an oddball assortment of publications, the most significant of which is by far Outside Magazine. The pithy, several hundred word gear reviews which are GearJunkie.coms bread and butter may not have created this type (see p. 58 of link) of review, they do provide the best example of the contemporary form into which it has evolved.
To whit; while GearJunkie.com features some useful articles that speak to what gear ought to be in our lives, namely a means to a much higher end, the overwhelming majority of the sites content are of the barely filtered press-release type, and can hardly be called tests at all. Particularly ironic, given that Regenold has written some quite reasonable guidelines for a proper gear review. It seems that the interests of his business are poorly served by following them.
The problem here is that comparitively few buyers of outdoor gear care to see it tested to failure. The purchasing motives are not aspirational (what trips will this thing and its qualities allow me to do?) but fetishistic (what lifestyle attributes might I vicariously take up with this thing?). There has always been overlap between these two, something known as marketing, but the ultimate hope is that the second eventually becomes the first. Outdoor fetishism that lingers on too long absent meaningful experience is not only empty consumerism, but ressentiment; self-loathing frustration based around instances of quiet desperation left unfought. A dangerous thing for the person and those around her. Someone interested in actual use is going to care a great deal about long term durability and function, theoretical interest will instead be driven by spin. In an outdoor market where the vagaries of fashion increasingly drive sales (I remember in the pre-net days, when Patagonia and The North Face came out with only two catalogues all year!), hype on the front end is the most profitable. Thus sites like GearJunkie.com provide advance knowledge in the form of reviews of products its not even clear they’ve seen in person, while long term reviews speaking from a body of experience lag too far behind the marketing cycle, and fall further into disuse and obscurity.
The problem here is that Regenold knows better. He’s been around the adventure block enough, but even his most experience-driven work still leans towards superficial blurbism. Some of his articles (the aforementioned winter commuting how-to) straddle the divide between substance and accesibility well, but I call on him to do so more consistently. Unlike so many other review sites, he has the skills and access to the terrain to properly test gear. GearJunkie.com, in short, has no excuse for propogating the mickey mouse version of outdoor adventure in they way they have.
They know why they should do better.