24 November 2011

Gear Obsessing...it serves a purpose, seriously.

I posted something similar to this a few weeks back, not exactly but I guess close enough for one to wonder why. Well it isn't a duplicate, I'm still working through something and trying to find the best way to articulate it I guess, you could say I'm sharpening my pencil perhaps. 

There is more to gear selection than just what works, there are other reasons too, and often I think maybe someone new to this sort of thing does their purchasing based on a number of factors. One of the most important of which, in my not so humble opinion, is almost never reflected in the decision making.

I'm sure you've seen the commentary regarding gear, comparison and selection, even obsessing over it. I've read both condemnation for it as well as intelligent, logical comparisons. Discussion of gear for the sake of gear itself maybe isn't such a good thing, but, it serves a purpose. To both stoke the coals of memories as well as ignite the embers of the future.

When a woodsman is barred from forest and stream, hill and dale, trapped by life's responsibilities and commitments, the mind can still wander the far places. Still smell the wood smoke, hear the creek talk to the rocks, the wind whistle the leaves, the mist burn away from the valley in the morning Sun. The process of pouring over gear, discussing it, visualizing it being used can take a man back to memories made, provide visions of the future, afield once more.

While gear does not make a woodsman, gear facilitates experiences, helps memorialize precious time afield. It also serves as a conveyance for the wandering mind suffocating behind four walls. While a piece of kit is no substitute for time spent back of beyond, it serves a purpose beyond the utility it was designed for. Townsend Whelen once said:

"What you are going to need if you are going to take fullest possible advantage of the woods and hills and streams is, obviously,an outfit of your own...assembling such a rig one of the most consistent joys of the outdoors-man's life..." "After you have gone through the process of adding, discarding, and reconsidering for years, you will have to admit even to yourself that there is no such thing as a perfect outfit. Trying to achieve the near ideal is, however, all the more challenging because of that."

Certainly memories made in the wild are kept within, and don't need an object for their retention, I would theorize however, that those objects used are a tangible piece of those memories. That what is carried and what is used to make a memory, that later sits by your winter fire is in fact a connection to a time and place and is a piece there of, ready at hand.

A piece of kit needn't be overly expensive to be a memory enabler, or to be useful for the originally designed purpose. I would say though, that there are always those essentials without which you can do no longer, no matter what their purchase does to the budget. For me those tend to be the bigger pieces of kit, those that do the most work and bear the most burden. A pack for example, or a good pair of boots.  A pack for not only will it be tasked with the careful and secure conveyance of all my gear, but also because it will spend as much time on my back as my shirt. For this reason it must last, it must be comfortable, it must age as I do, a bit marred and scarred but still fully functional. Boots for there is no single other piece of gear that will work as hard or for as long under the worst possible conditions. For these two I'll pay what I believe is necessary for the quality I require and the design I prefer.

To be sure, the search really never ends for the perfect pieces of kit by category, for they do not exist. No single boot for example, will ever be the right boot for all occasions. Similarly speaking, no single pack, or knife, or type of clothing will serve the need across all uses, weather and geographical conditions. The belief that they will is the most common misconception I have seen, indeed, I was myself guilty of it more than once.

This reality, of course, dictates that there will be kit for season, for use, for area. A two week stint in the Boundary Waters requires a certain type, as does a week of winter trekking in subzero temperatures. A late spring foray into the wet North Woods is quite a bit different than a walk through the November North woods, as is a journey of Frost and Snow.

One of the first things the neophyte will do is pour over gear, look for discussions regarding it, ask for opinions, sometimes buy gimmicks, other times shy from them. Fact of the matter is, the first stop for most folks looking to go to the back of beyond, is gear. Their interest often is piqued by something not so quiet inside, a bit of wonder-lust perhaps, or maybe memories as a child ranging with a father far afield.

We were all here once, starting out somewhat bewildered by all that is there and lacking the knowledge perhaps of what is really truly needed. In a world of mass marketing it is indeed challenging to sift through all of it. Suffice to say this is a natural course and there is no easy way through it, of course we could all heed the sales rep at the local REI, the magazine articles, the web reviews. All these things are there, I suppose even this blog is one of them. In the end none of them, including this one, is a substitute for going and doing for garnering the experience and wisdom to make informed decisions not on soundbites or web pages, but field time.

Just bear in mind before, the reasons you are about to do what you are about to do. While pictures are great things and God knows I take enough and love them dearly, memories are something made, not taken. Choose your kit with more in mind than singular end use.

Consider the selection of gear the same as making friends because that is in fact what you are doing.


  1. Couldn't agree with your more. As much as my gear and tools are utilitarian in nature, the enjoyment and memories I get out of them far surpasses their physical function. It's totally feasible to find/make gear that is functional, aesthetically/physically pleasing and (often) not bank-breaking as well. Of course, this takes experience and trial-and-error.

    Thanks for the insightful post.


  2. I have to ask where you got your boots hanging next to your hammock? I had a pair similar when I was a duffer and loved them dearly.

  3. And yes I realize irony that I ask what kind of gear you use during this particular post...

  4. Hey Norseman,

    Those are a pair of Schnee's 16" Outfitter II boots, they are out of Bozeman Montana.


    If you order a pair, I'd suggest you think hard before you buy the ones with the tractor tread sole which it what is in the picture. They are great, just they don't have a lot of traction under certain circumstances. When I have them resoled I'll ask for the ADV sole they offer.

    They do offer a resoling service, and they do a great job.