The original series has remained amongst my most-read posts throughout the nearly five years since it was published. This is because, in the end, backcountry gear is not as complicated as we are inclined to think, and because the online world (concerning outdoor adventure and generally) has become ever more fake.
Let us discuss.
The identity politics of outdoor “recreation” continue to not baffle, but frustrate me. Frustrate because of the self-defeating circularity. People who should know better remain, at least implicitly, convinced that backpacker, or ultralight backpacker, or climber, or sport climber or alpine climber or boulderer, is something you are rather than something you do. Looking at things in the world as the later has the benefit or empowerment and self-actualization; climbed 100 pitches this year? or slept 30 nights in the woods? You’re a climber or a backpacker. Engaged in intentional, reflexive packing for a backcountry trip and challenged yourself to not pack too many insecurities? You’re an ultralight backpacker. Engaged in a bunch of prevarication online and spent more time worrying about what you might do, when, and with what stuff than actually doing it?
Time to get off your ass.
Outdoor adventure is the ideal blend of democratic and meritocratic. You can legally do as much as and close to whatever you want, provided you build the skills. Want to climb 5.12, paddle class IV in the wilderness, ski across a range, or become truly comfortable sleeping by yourself way back in the woods? Make a plan, do stuff, fail, learn. Make due with used, substandard stuff, and be confident in your learning. Want to embrace and then be subsumed in the Big Wild Places by living on their doorstep? Move. Soon. Sacrifices will be made. In the former case, months and years spent flailing in the snow, ripping flappers in the gym, sleeplessly waking for each midnight squirrel fart gets old. It is worth it? Ideally not because of where the process with take you, though the fluidity of mastery is the best reward, but because the newness of learning has a clarity not found elsewhere. In the later case, you’ll probably either make less money, spend more on food and housing, or most likely both, but what price living? To repeat last years installment of this series; “…my problem with the new, third or fourth wave lifestyle outdoor brands; that they’ve making shiny crap that is good for the coffee shop and the hike to Delicate Arch, and whose lack of seriousness is predicated on the rare devotee who will graduate to the more core brands when necessary.” And as the years pass and my understanding hopefully continues to be complicated, I remain convinced that the somnolent dayhikers all, in some fashion, want to have the skill and mind to go that way, for a week, on their own, and come out on the other side.
And yes, I have a problem with outdoor media and industry assuming incompetence in the name of inclusivity. And I celebrate brands (and hopefully by extension ideas) which die a quick and sudden death because they were, in the end, just plain crappy. Last month Max wrote “Nowadays, few outdoor media outlets provide the critical cross-category analysis that is necessary to help us get the best thing for our needs. Most reviews are optimized for google search rank and are designed to provide advice within the category you are looking for.” His whole post is worth reading. Designing gear for not-the-Himalayas is one thing. Making lame stuff because most folks won’t care after they get the gram is another. At the same time, there are many beautiful and passionate people in the outdoor industry who have made beautiful, intense things. The best, as discussed previously in this series, endures year on year and works well across seasons and activities.
In the coming days, I’ll discuss a few more examples.