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.
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.