Since my post on being the ultralight cheapskate seemed to be such a big hit, I thought I’d elaborate on that a little. I try to be very conscious of my unnecessary expenditures, in other words any money I spend on backpacking equipment. I have a bit of a downfall in this area, though– I also prefer to have top quality equipment and I’m a bit of a gear junkie. I always want more backpacking stuff because I’m always tweaking my gear list to have the ideal for all conditions. You could call it an addiction, since it often overrides my sense of reason (which is suspect to begin with), but it’s an integral part of what makes me who I am. Backpacking is my life, so obsessing over the equipment keeps me connected to it while I’m not on the trail or planning a hike. And it’s healthier than heroin or Mountain Dew.
|Solution: Get the best gear and make it last! (at the end of the PCT here, with my trusty Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Pack, Montane Featherlite Smock, Gossamer Gear Lightrek 4 Poles, and “The Ox”).|
Some folks go for bargain buying and using dirt-cheap gear. I like to go this route when it doesn’t affect the quality and weight of my equipment. One way or another I try to avoid paying full-price for anything, and having a part-time job at an outfitter certainly helps in that regard. But what’s the point of spending any amount of money on a piece of equipment that you’re just going to want to upgrade the next year? The best route is to get exactly what you want once, then not want to buy something better later on.
With that in mind, I’ll be putting up a few posts this holiday season about my long and convoluted thought process for buying new backpacking gear. I’m a habitual researcher when it comes to what gear item I should get, spending way too much time reviewing specs and user comments online before making a big purchase (“big” being anything more than $30). With an even smaller gear budget than usual this year, I’ll be doing a lot more research before deciding what to buy, if anything. And since it’s the Christmas shopping season, hopefully the research I’m doing will help out some other folks in their decisions to buy some new hiking toys.
|This tarp has kept me dry through the entire AT, NET, and dozens of weekend trips over the past 6 years. It’s not perfect, but it’s hard to beat the reliability and price.|
You might ask me, “don’t you already have enough equipment?” For the most part, yes. Especially when it comes to three-season backpacking. But I’m looking to do more winter backpacking in the future, and I definitely don’t have a good set of gear for winter backpacking. Also, being the addict that I am, I’m always lusting over fancier and better equipment that I can get for long-term upgrades. There aren’t really any impulse buys in my life– I make sure to think through my purchases beforehand, and place them into three general categories, loosely arranged by necessity:
1. Upgrading existing gear: This category is the one that is hard to justify spending money in because I already have suitable equipment, and these expenditures are just replacing my “good enough” gear with something even better. Ideally, I’d wait until something breaks, and then replace it with something better. The bonus of waiting to upgrade, as with computers, is that the longer you wait, the better the new purchase.
2. Extending my range of backpacking possibilities: This is an ongoing process for me. I’m already pretty well outfitted for three-season backpacking in the Northeast, as I’ve said. However, my three-season Northeast gear doesn’t necessarily work for winter in the Northeast. There are also a few pieces of gear that don’t translate well to Western backpacking. I try to make purchases to fill the gaps in my possible backpacking areas from time to time, but the urgency mostly depends on how soon I’ll be heading to a new place. This winter, I hope to do a lot more backpacking in Vermont and New Hapmshire, which means I’ve got my eyes set on some new winter gear.
3. Replacing and fixing gear: This is the most important expenditure in general, but I hate to make it. Inevitably, some gear is going to break beyond repair. I try not to let this happen to most things, but sneakers, trekking pole tips, and foam sleeping pads wear out eventually with normal use. I try to limit my disposable gear to just those things, so I don’t make any regular expenditures to replace worn out gear. With plenty of backpacking, though, you have to replace stuff eventually.
It’s never a quick process for me to buy new gear– there’s endless research on the internet, sometimes buying and returning (I don’t like to do that, but it can be very useful), sometimes buying and field testing extensively before deciding an item isn’t right (in which case I’ll usually sell it). Sometimes the stars will align so that an item presents itself as the perfect item, and it becomes the perfect purchase.
In the next few weeks, I’ll try to put up posts about my process for buying sleeping bags, insulating jackets, backpacks, and general items. We’ll see where it goes from there.