Ga-Ga Over Gear: The New Gear Fetish

This essay is my rant about gear and the outdoors. Or rather people who care more about spend time outdoors to use gear rather than the other way around.  🙂


The outdoors is supposed to be about simplicity. Where life is down to the essentials.

Yet, the trend for the outdoors is increasingly less about the outdoors itself, but more about the toys needed to enjoy the outdoors. Never mind the view…what shell did you wear to get to the view? What kind of shoes did you use to explore the canyon?

Sure, gear needs to be discussed. It is hard to accomplish anything without the correct tools. But there is a fine line between discussing gear…and making gear the purpose for the activity.

When I think of gear and the outdoors, I always think of cooking.

My Grandma cooked with a pot, a pan, a knife and some simple spoons. Something most "foodies" would sneer at as they buy their overpriced yuppie cookware at Peppercorn.

I suspect (I know!) that the dishes Grandma cooked is far superior to what the yupsters cook on their expensive pots. I now see that the "peasant food dishes" Grandma made are now served in chi chi restaurants that specialize in "Rustic Southern Italian food" (i.e. not the "red sauce " joints most Americans think of as Italian food). These dishes cost an arm and a leg….not bad for something made for starving peasants from il mezzogiorno. I also see the recipes posted on foodie websites and at Whole Foods (something I doubt my ancestors could afford…or whatever the equivalent of the 1910 Whole Paycheck was.. )

So..what does all this rambling mean?

In the same way my Grandma was able to able to make these wonderful meals with the most basic of tools, why do we as backpackers (and outdoors people in general) obsess over titanium pots? Heat transfer rates? Etc? Backpacking is about simplicity. Getting back to the basics. Lightweight backpacking is about paring down to the uber essentials.

Yet, backpacking seems to have become about the gear. Lightweight backpacking has become less about simplicity and more about what "gee whiz" toys you can buy to get lightweight.

A pot, a knife, a spoon, some heat. It worked for Grandma when she made eggplant. Surely the simple tools can work for our backcountry concoctions?

In the end, no one cared what kind of pot the good cooks used. Perhaps we should take that philosophy towards enjoying the outdoors, too.

Gear is to used to enjoy time spent  in the outdoors. Hopefully we don't hike so we can enjoy gear.

And a similar post I did on a hiking bullentin board in reponse to a person posting about a particular type of stove…

The only cult-like gear users are those who collect gear and hike less. As a person hikes more (generally speaking) gear is talked about less.

Grandma Mags was an awesome cook. What she could whip on a Sunday was simply amazing. Christmas? Those Italian cookies people pay $$$ for in the chi-chi bakeries? Out of her memory she could make a tray that would make any so-called foodie salivate. I never heard her discuss the knife to use, or what brand of pot or the merits of this type of cutting board vs. another one.

She simply cooked. She simply baked. And it was awesome.

The "foodies" who go to Peppercorn and spend $50 for a garlic press will never, ever cook as well as my grandmother with a simple knife, some heat, a trusty pot and a spoon.

In the same way, those who drone on endlessly on why their choice is great and others suck (as opposed to saying why it works for THEIR way of backpacking. Subtle, but important difference), spend more time collecting gear and less time outdoors.

On trips with friends, we don't compare stoves…we hike and enjoy the gorgeous Colorado night ski.

On the thru-hikes, people who are gear centric are mostly ignored.

It is just gear. The least important part of backpacking. Tell us why you use a piece of gear. Why it works for you. But to somehow think a piece of gear is "best" or "better" than another person's choice? Pure gear wankery for gear hobbyists who are online.

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13 years ago

I think it is important to point out that john muir had logger boots with screw fashioned as crampons, a leather unframed satchel, and acorn bread. With this gear I can guarantee old johny boy got more out of the wilderness experience than the gear whore who spend thousand, not just once but every year, on there kit. viva punk rock backpacking. edward abbey went out with a down sleeping bag and a canteen