Folks go into the wilderness for simplicity: no house, one outfit to choose from every morning, and only your most basic needs to take care of. Not that meeting those needs is easy; it can be tough to keep yourself fed, warm, and happy when you’re in the outdoors.
Part of that simplicity is having fewer physical objects with you, because you’re limited to what you’re willing to carry. For many, this means letting go of a lot of the supposedly necessary things and learning, temporarily, to live with less.
Now, you’d think that learning to live with less would mean we become less attached to our stuff, right? Wrong. That’s the romantic view of going into the outdoors.
The reality is that by having fewer things, what you choose to bring suddenly becomes way more important. You come to love your sleeping bag, your tent, and your dry socks in a way that’s almost unhealthy.
You come to love your sleeping bag in a way that’s almost unhealthy.
Why is that? Why does it matter how great the gear is, and why can it be the end-all-be-all on the trail?
Unlike the stuff we have in the frontcountry, most of what we bring into the backcountry serves our survival in some way. When you’re carrying everything on your back or in a small boat, you choose your gear carefully and avoid the unnecessary extras that won’t make your life better on the trail (peanut M&Ms, of course, fall into the “necessary” category).
Gear is awesome because it helps you not get dead.
Maybe the first time you head out you’ll be inclined to bring extra stuff, because you don’t have a lot of experience to draw from and you don’t know what you need yet. I remember the skeptical look I gave to my camp counselor when she told me I only needed one t-shirt for an entire week.
On the trail, it’s your tent that keeps you dry when the monsoon hits, it’s your puffy jacket that keeps you warm when the temperature gets frosty, and it’s your rope that will catch you when you fall. Knowing how to use these items and bringing what’s appropriate for the situation matters, even when you’re only out for one night.
Gear is awesome because it helps you not get dead.
2. Actually Doing the Activity
You can’t ski without skis, and you can’t go backpacking without a backpack or go rock climbing without a rope (at least, most of us need a rope to climb). It’s a little less serious than reason #1, but not by much. The gear is the medium that makes the activity possible. The better the gear and your skill with it, the more options you have.
This is why you’ll find a dedicated outdoorsperson obsessing over the latest release from Patagonia or Black Diamond: the gear directly affects their ability to pursue whatever activity they’re working at (also, whatever it is probably looks really, really awesome).
Gear is awesome because it lets you do amazing things.
You can’t ski without skis.
3. Gear Is Not Replaceable in the Backcountry
At your house, if you lose your wallet, it’s incredibly inconvenient, but rarely immediately life threatening. Call your credit card companies, visit the DMV for a new driver’s license, pray you didn’t leave any cash in it, and you’ll probably be back to normal in a few days.
But if your stove breaks on day three of a week-long backpacking trip and all you have to eat are uncooked noodles, you’re going to have a bad time if you left your repair kit at home.
In the wilderness, you can’t immediately replace a lost item. There’s no sportshop down the street or junk drawer of useful goodies. If you lose a water bottle, you’re stuck with whatever you have left to get you through. That could mean you need to turn back because you can’t carry enough water to get you through an arid section of trail, or needing to stop, fill up, and treat it every time it empties, wasting valuable time, or even making do with carrying water in a plastic bag.
Loving your gear means you have to take care of the stuff you choose to bring and not lose it, because what you have is what you have.
Gear is awesome when it doesn’t break, or get torn, or get lost, or fall down a waterfall, or …
You’re stuck with whatever you have left to get you through.
Ok, yes, we depend on our gear. But most of the time, I’m in a city somewhere with a mile of stores to choose from. Why does worrying about gear matter?
In the frontcountry, our dependence on things is still there, but it looks very different. There are shopping malls nearby, so replacing what’s broken is easy; people give you weird looks when you wear the same three outfits every week; and folks fund millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements to tell us that last year’s model is inferior to this year’s, and we need the new one now. These messages tell us the value of things, not as the commitment to self-care that it is in the backcountry, but rather in order to focus on what makes money for the companies and what keeps up appearances within our social circles.
We can’t live without things, but we can focus our attention on the things that we do need. We can make our stuff last as long as possible and learn the skills to take care of our gear rather than throwing away what’s broken or old. Recognizing our dependence on things (whatever they may be) teaches us which items are actually needed as well as what it means to live in a way that values actually important possessions rather than throwing something away in favor of the next shiny new toy.
So let’s keep our old toys shiny instead!
What do you think? Is gear an absolute necessity or an unneeded burden? Share your thoughts below!
Post inspired by WordPress Daily Prompts.