Stoke for the Advendurist



Dirtbag Ultra: Gear

Written by : Andy Magness

Personally, I've always had a bit of a twisted obsession with gear. In grade-school, it was pencils and stationary. I got new stuff every year and hoarded it. I borrowed pens and paper from classmates or used the back sides of sheets in last year's notebooks so all my cool new stuff would stay, well, new.

As I got older, I delved into the world of Dungeons and Dragons and my favorite part was always buying and finding equipment for my character. Yep--new gear. My characters suffered from the same issue I had though, and tended to use their older, crappy equipment, leaving the nice armor and sword safe in their footlocker at the inn.

I outgrew roleplaying as I started having my own real life adventure but my passion for gear continued, as did my strange habit of desiring to own the best but use the worst. I had a stash that included a nice pack, sleeping bag, and technical clothing but when I went on trips would take the wind pants that I'd found at the salvation army and the jacket that was held together by duct tape.

Bike shorts or swimming togs? What's the difference?

If there is a name for this strange psychological trait, I'd love to be enlightened. But name or not, the phenomenon has allowed me to learn one pretty important lesson--gear doesn't really matter. Then again, gear matters a lot. Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.... but there is simultaneous truth in these statements.

When setting out for a climbing expedition or a 100 mile run, some of the gear does matter. This gear is what I call 'functional gear'. On the big walls of Yosemite, for example, functional gear included a good solid rack of climbing gear, a rope that is long enough and in good nick, a harness that is sound, a pair of climbing shoes that fit, and a haul bag that doesn't have holes that are big enough to let anything important fall through. You don't actually need anything that is shiny, new, or has lots of bells and whistles, as long as it is, well, functional.

Then there is what I call 'flash gear.' You know, the shiny stuff. The aero helmets covered in glitter paint with built in Beats, by Dr. Dre headphones, and an integrated system of drop down lenses that adjusts automatically to optimum tint based on the ambient light. Or the shoes with a computer chip implanted in the sole that communicates via blue-tooth to tell the massive honking 'watch' on your wrist what your cadence is and how much force each foot strike is generating while it simultaneously posts this information to your facebook page: "Andy is currently running at 8.3 miles an hour and his ground contact force is in the optimal range for his height and weight!" [Helpful hint-- even if you can afford to own them, don't wear these two items at the same's for biking and the other running, as cool as the gear is, you won't be cool if you make this mistake.] Flash gear might be really fun to play with in your free time and is undeniably a great conversation starter at a local running or cycling club meeting, but is generally unnecessary.

Occasionally there is some blurring of the lines--Alpacka rafts, for example, are the best and most expensive packrafts on the market. But packrafting is one of those pursuits where if you really get into it and are doing big things, you NEED the best, and so the fact that Alpacka's are also pretty flash is just a perk. You also get into a grey area if you're an elite athlete. If you are, then all those bells and whistles, all that increased technology--starts to matter. After all if those tinted lenses make you a bit braver on that steep descent on the bike you might just edge out your competition by a few milliseconds as he struggles to adjust his vision the old fashioned way (by allowing his pupils to dilate) when he passes from the shade of the forest into the bright sunshine of a more open stretch of road.

Highly competitive athletes aside, most of us will actually benefit by focusing on functional gear rather than flash gear--and in fact focusing on the minimum amount of functional gear needed for any particular pursuit. Here's how:

CASH: The first is obvious--it'll save you some cash. Lots of it in fact. I'm a consumer through and through--when I walk into a gear store my overwhelming impulse is to take out a second mortgage on the house so I can buy heaps of stuff I don't really need but that looks so freakin' awesome. Thankfully though, my wife is a bit smarter (and more disciplined than I) and deep down I'm able to realize that my marriage is (at least a little!) more important that those 12 ounce carbon fibre trekking poles that can be used as fishing spears and screw together to double as a kayak paddle.

In general, I've adopted a series of questions that I ask myself when it comes to actually following through on a new purchase--will buying article X allow me to do anything (Y) that I can't already do? If the answer is no, then it's a no sale. If it is yes, then I ask a new question--am I sure I'd actually use X to do Y at l least a few times a year? And if the answer is yes again, a final question--is there a cheaper alternative that would still allow me to do Y with as much, or close to as much, satisfaction? If the final answer is no, and only then, will I start the (sometimes lengthy process) of trying to rationalize the purchase to my wife, who of course, has final say.

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