Gear as lifestyle – Why is gear discussion so popular?

Gear as lifestyle. Or why discussion of the minutiae of gear is so popular.


Photo from E-Bay’s outdoor gear section

For various reasons, gear talk is the most popular discussion on most outdoor forums.

Some of the most popular backpacking websites currently are gear focused.

Not just about the basics of outdoor gear, but the minutia as well.

Which three-point-something ounce stove is more efficient versus another three-point-something ounce stove?

Or which latest cuben fiber poncho is better than the previous cuben fiber poncho?

There is certainly a place for this type of discussion.

After all, money is a finite resource and we want to get the piece of gear that works for us.

But why the overall popularity of this discussion vs say outdoor ethics or the best spot for trout fishing? Where to get the best sunset photo or what are some favorite backcountry meals? Or even the logistics of getting to a place and planning for a trip?

Basically, why gear discussion for the sake of gear discussion?  Is gear that important for outdoor pursuits in proportion to the amount it is discussed?

REI Garage sale photo from

For many various reasons, gear discussion dominates outdoor talk.

Here are my own thoughts on why gear discussion, esp discussion on specific gear items, is so popular.

  •  If a person is new to the outdoors, it is something very much of interest.  If you have never backpacked before, seeing that a seemingly authoritative sounding website or magazine endorses a specific pack is comforting. The person new to the outdoors wants to know what is the best and what to buy.  Again, considering money is a finite resource, that is an understandable desire.
  • Specific gear is easy to discuss.   It is something tangible.  You can easily describe what the water filter weighs, the price, how past it pumps water vs the competition and so on.  May be more difficult to discuss why a water filter may be more appropriate vs chemical treatment.
  • “Gear is fun”. Buying the gear gives some temporary happiness. And many of us like our toys. Basically, we get a thrill when discussing what new things to acquire and then acquiring it.  The credit card bill at the end of the month may change that feeling, however. 😉

All about the gear! From Portlandia.

Mostly, though, I think gear is discussion is popular because it is “gear as lifestyle


12 Replies to “Gear as lifestyle – Why is gear discussion so popular?”

  1. Once forgot a pad and substituted the shiny reflector from my car. Worked great. Being prepared it essential. But, it’s not the gear, its being able to to use what you have on hand in the situation. Sure you can cut your toothbrush handle off to save a half ounce and carry a titanium spork. Or you can know how to cook a muffin in an orange and not need the spork.

  2. Great article. I don’t think it only affects hikers, climbers, and such. I have a few friends who are golfers. They go through the same thing with golf gear – putters, shoes, balls, etc. Everyone’s buying the newest and best stuff. I think the same can be said for hunters and fisherman.

  3. Discussing gear is always good to get some ones view. This past weekend it was a new sleeping pad versus a new pair of hiking shoes. Ended up thinking I would get more use out of the shoes and could still get by on my 10 year old therma rest

  4. I completely agree – I can’t get on the river as often as I should, but I can tie flies in the living room every evening, stocking and restocking my boxes.

    It’s a necessary ancillary hobby, but a sad substitute for the main pursuit.

  5. Mags,
    I would have to add that our materialistic society pushes us toward buying, wanting, discussing gear. It is blatant consumerism that has permeated all aspects of our lives. Why should backpacking be exempt? We would all do well to just say “No” to more stuff.
    ps loved the Portlandia sketch

  6. I think part of my own gear talk is because I’m new and still in the acquire stage. This crap is expensive and I’m tired of spending money on something only to realize it isn’t what I really wanted. Hopefully by hearing how others like something, how it is or isn’t used I can see if I really need it. You’re on to something about people talking about gear instead of getting outside.

    • Todd, very smart to want t see what gear works best for you. aiming my article more at gear hobbyists: people who collect and discuss gear instead of actually getting out and using it. 🙂 have fun on your hikes!

  7. Mags, great perspective and write-up, as always!

    As you know we, as busy outdoor educators, are on the other end of the spectrum. For example, I don’t particularly care about the details of any piece of gear, just whether it works. Function and its practical use are my priorities. If something does the job, works from a practical perspective, and is durable enough to last, I don’t care about weight or price.

    I spend about 150 to 200 days/nights per year out in the backcountry teaching wilderness safety skills to beginning backpackers and thru hikers, alike. It came to my attention this spring, while teaching in the North Cascades up by Harts Pass on the PCT, that my tents, sleeping bags, and winter shells are wearing out. Of course, I don’t have much of a memory for when I got things, so I asked my wife, who immediately told me, “Honey, Mountain Hardwear sponsored us with all that stuff 18 years ago!”

    …the other side of the coin….

  8. Mags,

    Before I read any of your article I had the same thought. Gear talk helps to fill the time between what we really want to do which is hike. It’s a gap-filler. I think the other thing perhaps is that you can only bring so much hiking (love the Portlandia sketch though…particularly since I live in Portland) so that enables many people (who have a reasonable amount of resources) to get the very best of everything and actually afford it. There are not many hobbies/lifestyles that can be said for. It’s kind of fun to actually be able to buy the “best” things in the world for hiking and they all add up in total to say less than a few thousand dollars or so (including technology).

    Although, some may say…”less gear, more beer”. I think I’ve heard that somewhere?! 😉

    Great job on “The” Trail Show…love it!

    Mike “GoalTech” Irving

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