What’s The Cost-Per-Use Of Your Skis/Bike/Rack?

get the gear
“I’ve been thinking about things on a cost-per-use basis lately,”
my friend Nick said to me a few weeks ago. Nick doesn’t make rash decisions on anything that costs money, evidenced by the holes in the elbows of the merino wool hoody he wears to work most cold days. If he swipes his credit card for something over $100, he’s thought about it for days, maybe weeks. And then he pays off the credit card balance immediately. And one day we got to talking about outdoor gear.

People sometimes talk about outdoor sports as being “expensive,” which is true. Want to start trad climbing from scratch? You’ll drop between $1,000 and $1,500 on a harness, shoes, rope, rack and helmet. An entry-level mountain bike is around $1,000, more if you get a full suspension. And skiing: The skis, boots and clothes alone are enough of a sticker shock, before you even look at $100-a-day lift tickets and $1,000 season passes. And $1,000 is a lot of money to most folks — a week of work if you make $50,000 a year.

But most of us are more than happy to slide our credit card on bikes, skis and climbing gear — think of all the turns, the after-work rides, all the places we can go and things we can experience if we just get the gear first: Face shots at Jackson Hole, splitters at Squamish, sunsets at Joshua Tree, tacky slickrock in Moab.

But Nick’s question is: How many times are you really going to use that $3,500 bike? The $600 worth of cams. The $800 skis? No, wait, the $850 powder skis. The really fat ones.

The fact is, if you buy a $3,500 mountain bike and ride it 20 times before you talk yourself into buying a new one, you paid $175 per ride. (not counting gas, new parts, tune-ups, replacement tires, chain lube, and all that stuff).

Craigslist is full of ads selling used bikes that have only been ridden “a handful of times.” You could say that person wasted their money, which is a little sad. But the sadder thing is that they had a dream and it didn’t come true, despite their investment. Dreams of riding that new mountain bike in Moab, Fruita, on the Colorado Trail, all ended up dying in the garage.

Things happen, life changes, we get busy, unforeseen things come up, and we don’t get to do some of the things we wanted to, and sometimes that ends up in an almost-new pair of skis or a bike showing up on Craigslist. It’s pretty enlightening to think about what each day of skiing costs, and what else is worth that kind of money, to you. How many pitches are you going to get out of that $240 rope. How many miles you’ve put on your carbon-frame road bike.

A few years ago, a friend told me that he and his wife got three fondue pots for their wedding three years prior. I asked him how many times they had made fondue since, and he said “three.” I said Wow, so basically you could have thrown each fondue pot in the trash after each time you made fondue, huh.

Maybe at one end of the Cost-Per-Use spectrum is your trusty, five-year-old $11 water bottle that you drink out of every time you hike, backpack, climb, or sit at your desk at work (less than a penny per use). At the other end is the $500 pair of mountaineering boots you bought for a climb of Rainier, then promptly decided mountaineering was no fun ($500 per use, or $250 per day). Nick’s unscientific worst-case example is the treadmill, plenty of which can be found for free on Craigslist.  “Those get used twice,” Nick says. “You can pretty much say that a treadmill’s cost per use is half of what you paid for it.”

Ever look in your gear closet/room/garage, see something you haven’t used much, and feel guilty? Too-shiny set of quickdraws, a backpack that still looks brand new two years after you brought it home from the store? Might be time to knock the dust off it and start using it more. Because I’m pretty sure as cost-per-use of your outdoor gear goes down, quality of life goes up.

-Brendan

Semi-Rad is brought to you by Outdoor Research.

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36 Comments

  1. The Turkey
    January 24, 2013

    Nice post. I’m going to do the math on $/use on my own gear closet.
    I consider myself a coinsurer of broken dreams: Every major piece of gear I own is from CL.
    Road bike, snowboard, indoor bike trainer, treadmill; all someone else’s broken dream bought used for 60% off retail.
    And most of my kit is from the REI garage sale. Don’t have the heart to take brand new clothes into the woods.

    Reply
  2. Aaron F
    January 24, 2013

    I’d don’t buy new “things”, I buy new experiences that happen to brought about with “things”. When thinking of buying different bicycles I don’t think about the money it cost me, I think about the amazing afternoons I’ll spend exploring new places, being trapped in my head for hours on an all day ride, or now having the excuse to go to Moab and ride the best trails in the world.

    It’s easy to get mired down in the negatives about what we do. I had a friend one time tell me one time “Remember, when you buy a new bike you’re depleting the earth of more elements to make that bike”, all the while thinking to myself “the frame is aluminum which is one of the most abundant minerals on earth”…..WTF? Looking back, I think he said it because he didn’t want me to smoke his ass on the trail even more.

    If you live your life always second guessing yourself you’ll end up never leaving your house, or wondering why all those “crazy” people out there do those “dangerous” activities. Heck, why don’t you buy a bigger TV instead that “bicycle”, now that’ll get your cost per use to almost zero!

    It will always be easier to find a reason not to do something that takes an effort and $$ than a reason to do it.

    This might be your only chance to live a life on planet earth, and you can’t bring your money with when you die…….so fuck it. LIVE.

    Reply
    • January 24, 2013

      YES! You hit the nail on the head Aaron.

      Also for consideration are the intangibles… like the anticipation of a MTB ride while I’m working. The perfect sunset picture on a backpacking trip that I stare at all year long and will show my kids. The adrenaline rush and excitement of a powder day. The ability to take advantage of any of my toys/gear when the weather and mood arises.

      These are things you can’t put a price tag on. How do you compare a MTB which CAN be someones passion with a Fondue set? Not in the same realm.

      How you go about paying for it and how much is nobodies business but your own. If you can’t control your finances then you’re an idiot. If you’re a happy idiot then high five! I know broke people that gamble their money away. I choose to “experience” my money away when I find the need and time. Makes my life amazing. NO REGRETS…

      Reply
  3. shaun
    January 24, 2013

    My Nomad is at $23 per use ($7.50/hour), parker is right around $3 per use ($.60/hour)! Best money ever spent.

    Reply
  4. David H
    January 24, 2013

    Hmmm. Funny. I guess I have to say, either we disagree heartily about this concept or we agreed mightily. I AM a new gear buyer. I’d NEVER buy a piece of safety equipment on CL (‘biner, belay device, beacon, probe, helmet). I’d never buy a used car, or a used bike, BUT, I’ve used my ‘new’ bike for 10 years and it gets ridden something like once or twice a week in the winter and 3-5 times a week in the summer. That’s, conservatively, 100 rides a year for 10 years, on a $1700 bike. I bought it new because people thrash their stuff (at least in my head, I certainly do) and I don’t want to inherit their problems. Even with all the new parts I’ve put on my bike I think I’m under $2/ride and then if I start talking miles instead of trips? We’re down in the penny’s.

    I feel sorry for those people with broken dreams and maybe I’ve caused a few of those, but my mantra to people who want to … loose weight, get in shape, get outside, etc. is, “find something you love to do (outside) and do LOT”S of it.”

    Sure, I have some climbing/mountaineering/exercise gear that didn’t get this treatment, but I can’t say that season pass is any less value. If I ski 20 times at resort (+20 in the B/C) in a year, for $500, that’s $25/resort trip. Compare that to a football game at The Mile High Stadium or at the Can (Pepsi Center). Pretty good deal, I say. And the skis do get the same value math as the bike. I’ve been running my skis for years, and they’ve got lot’s of love left in ‘em. I can’t deal with $700 for a GREAT pair of ski boots, cause I’ll use ‘em many hundreds of times and that $$ gets me thermo-molded awesomeness.

    I guess I’m as much a penny pincher, but go about it in a different way.

    BTW: my first car was 15 yrs old with 250K miles when I sold it, in working order. My 2nd, and current, car is 10 yrs old and I expect I’ll keep it around for another.. 5 or so and another 100K.

    Buying new isn’t evil. It’s just another guys way of saving money.

    Reply
    • David H
      January 24, 2013

      I CAN deal with $700 for a GREAT pair of ski boots..

      Reply
  5. Marc L
    January 24, 2013

    A few months ago I went through my bulging gear closet with the plan to try and thin it out. I honestly couldn’t find a single piece that I hadn’t used in the past year at least a couple of times. It seems like a total bummer that people buy all this stuff then don’t use it, guess I’m on the other end of the spectrum?

    Reply
  6. January 24, 2013

    For those of us who live in places where you use this kind of gear until it falls apart, that cost per use is pretty low. The people who buy stuff, never use it, and sell it at a loss are saving us tons of money. To those people I want to say thanks for subsidizing my lifestyle!
    I wonder what the cost per use of my 15 year old Surly 1×1 that I got for $600 is. Fractions of pennies! :)

    Reply
  7. Gnarkansas
    January 24, 2013

    “..As cost-per-use of your outdoor gear goes down, quality of life goes up.”
    -A most righteous mantra for the undermotivated.

    Reply
    • shaun
      January 24, 2013

      Yes!

      Reply
  8. Aaron bailey
    January 24, 2013

    I thought about this a lot last summer. It isn’t usually a problem for me to use my gear. I get outside a lot. The problem is I have too many hobbies. Last summer I broke it down on how much I would need to sail my boat in order to justify moorage. If I only went once a week, it would cost me 90$ per use. If I went once a month, ouch. So I went sailing almost every day and at the end of the summer I was bragging about how I utilized my boat so much that my cost per use was about 15$. I’m like sweet, cruising the sound and swimming the lakes is pretty awesome entertainment for 7 people, and only 15$! In the midst of bragging, a friend says “didn’t you buy a bunch of new cams this summer? And a new backpack? How many times did you use those? How about that new zero degree down bag? Doh!!! Ah well, it was fun cutting the tags off.

    Reply
  9. arh
    January 24, 2013

    How luxurious that you don’t have to think about the money new gear costs you, only the new experiences it might bring you.

    However, I think the majority of the readers here (myself included) are acutely aware that buying ‘new experiences’ may lead to other ‘new experiences’ like credit card debt and inability to pay rent.

    I think this article is trying to inspire us to use the gear we already have, not to carelessly buy more.

    Reply
    • arh
      January 24, 2013

      Oh whoops, this was supposed to be in reply to Aaron F

      Reply
      • Aaron F
        January 28, 2013

        Yep! How luxurious it is that I sacrificed for years eating a bowl of soup and a chunk of bread everyday whilst studying my ass off trying to get through college? Really?

        When you sacrifice for years trying to make a life for yourself, actually get a college degree that will allow you make money from it, pay your bills on time, & make good financial decisions I wouldn’t call that luxurious…..I’d call that intelligent.

        And, I thinks it’s a pretty big assumption on your part to think that everyone on here reading this blog is poor, or a martar to the lifestyle their sport.

        Reply
      • Aaron F
        January 28, 2013

        Yep! How luxurious it is that I sacrificed for years eating a bowl of soup and a chunk of bread everyday whilst studying my ass off trying to get through college so I can have a good job that pays well? Really?

        When you sacrifice for years trying to make a life for yourself, actually get a college degree that will allow you make money from it, pay your bills on time, & make good financial decisions I wouldn’t call that luxurious…..I’d call that intelligent.

        And, it’s a pretty big assumption for you to make that “the majority of the readers” on here are poor dirtbaggers.

        Reply
  10. Rus Southwood
    January 24, 2013

    Before I buy anything new and expensive I do a lot of research, usually end up with what I need, and use the crap out of it, until it’s not safe or it no longer functions. But I also love the people who buy new stuff, use it twice and sell it to me for half price, and they get the satisfaction of knowing they are lowering my cost-per-use, increasing my quality of life. It’s a win-win!

    Reply
  11. Ryan
    January 24, 2013

    I couldn’t agree with this post more. As a newly-found “less is more” person, I have been giving away to friends (a set of quick draws, a fairly new (and heavy) 70m rope) or donating (extra puffy that has been deprecated, light weight smart wool undies, etc.) everything not used on a frequent basis.

    How do you determine the cost per use of something you already have? For example, used mountain bike: $600, major surgery to the head requiring $300, $200 odds and ends: $1100. But I’ve ridden it quite a few times over the past 3 years. How do I figure my usage?

    Thanks Brendan. You just cost me 2-4 hours a month documenting this in a spreadsheet.

    Reply
  12. January 24, 2013

    I consider my gear to be investments. The great thing about outdoors gear/toys is that they are investments in health/exercise, fun, excitement, travel, and well being.

    The same can be said for any time spent doing these activities. If you bought the gear but can’t find time to get outside and use it then how happy are you?

    I buy what I can afford but how can you put a price on epic adventures and adrenaline rushes out in nature?

    I just calculated the 2012 costs of my MTB and all biking gear. About 66 dollars per use. Worth every penny and that cost will be a third of it by this time next year. Its value based activity, the more you do it, the more value you get from it no matter the price.

    I think this article makes great points but is narrow in its thinking. Dreams don’t die in your garage, they die in your heart and mind. Spending less is great and using gear you already have is better but everyone goes through the accumulation and upgrade phases.

    Reply
  13. Special K
    January 24, 2013

    I for one love craigslist, buying AND selling a lot of my gear. So that used full suspension bike I got for $200 and maybe spent another $200 in maintenance/parts got me a ton of rides, and then was sold for $100. So I only ended up paying $300 for it in the end. Cheap!

    I know that I can always recoup a little money from my gear when I’m ready to get something new – just have to get it sold which sometimes can be some work, but keeps my garage not-as-cluttered and makes me feel better about buying those $800 fat powder boards!

    Also have to mention my outdoor-mentor who’s shown me the ropes skiing and mtn biking, and who rides on the oldest, most beat up gear around, and still out rides most people on the trails. Always a good reminder that I probably should work on my technique instead of buying that new gear. No such thing as bad snow – just bad skiers!

    Reply
  14. January 24, 2013

    I think of my bikes, 5 of them, in terms of cost/mile. Most are at the point of costing only pennies/mile. All but one were purchased used, and the most expensive full suspension wondercyclen is the one that has seen the fewest lifetime miles.

    Anybody want to buy a bike?

    Reply
  15. Erin
    January 24, 2013

    This is such an appropriate post for me to be reading right now, thank you! A friend of mine recently brought me along to the rock-climbing gym and I’m totally hooked. I’ve been going enough that it would be worth it to invest in my own membership, and gear (which is altogether not that much for indoor climbing, but enough on a university student’s budget). I’ve been mentally going over the cost of everything divided by how many times I expect to use it in the coming months in order to convince myself to make the investment. It’s often hard to fork over a big lump sum for something, but we have to consider how much use we’ll get out of it and how much enjoyment we will have.

    Reply
  16. January 24, 2013

    Climbing gear, for me, has the highest cost per use (lack of climbing partners), esp the once-used ice axe and pair of crampons. Running gear (read, trail running) is lowest. If I had a bike, I’d ride the hell out of it. Backpacks, tents and other camping gear are coming in pretty low, though I need more use out of those! Good post. We all need to get out more and do the things God made us to do!

    Reply
  17. January 25, 2013

    Completely agree with Brendan. Really nice article.

    Reply
  18. Christophe
    January 25, 2013

    “People sometimes talk about outdoor sports as being “expensive,” which is true.”

    No it isn’t. There is a lot of outdoors activities that are almost free. And you don’t need a brand new $3,500 mountain bike to ride.

    Reply
  19. January 25, 2013

    I see your point of view, but why keep track! You’re not an accountant. Or if you are, leave your job at work. The system wants to reduce you to a set of numbers — your age, your income, your weight, blah blah blah — so you can play the endless no-win game of comparison. Yeah, unless you’re especially strong of will and contemptuous of social norms you have to play the game to get along with society. But we can all resist! Forget how much your stuff cost! Forget how good a deal you got! Forget how many miles you’ve ridden and how many pitches you’ve climbed and how many days you’ve skiied! Remember the important stuff (whatever that is).

    Reply
  20. Corey
    January 26, 2013

    I think cams are a bit of an exception to this rule. 1 life saving catch on your trad rack is worth the dollar investment.

    Reply
  21. February 4, 2013

    This is a conversation I have had with many of my non-enthusiast friends when the question the upfront cost of my hobbies. All of my gear is well used. I think the per use cost is in the pennies for some of it.

    Reply
  22. February 7, 2013

    GREAT post and food for thought. It also brings about a new way of thinking about large purchases. I have a friend who looks at vehicles this way and tries to calculate that he pays no more than 10 cents per mile of operating the vehicle (not including gasoline).

    Reply
  23. Jesse
    February 17, 2013

    As an accountant, I usually break down my gear purchases with a cost per use estimate. Sometimes your passions/dreams, or your emotions, sways your purchases. Lately I’ve been thinking that I needed a new insulating layer since my current down jacket isn’t as warm as it used it be. Today steepncheap had an awesome deal on an OR incandescent jacket. I ended up buying it but it’s for my wife and she doesn’t even use/abuse her gear as much as me. So hopefully she comes on a couple of my extended overnights this fall. If not, oh well. This is definitely a white people problem, even though I’m not white!

    Reply
    • Rus Southwood
      February 18, 2013

      BEST cost-per-use experiences: Bought a NACRA 5.5 Uni catamaran, sailed it a few times over the summer, and sold it back to the guy I bought it from for exactly the same price. Free sailing! But even better, bought a Waveblaster, used it several times, and sold it for $100 MORE than I bought it for. Got paid to use it! (minus the gas and oil…)

      Reply
  24. March 27, 2013

    A little sad but true given most of us also try to minimize our impact on the earth. Except when we drool about that cool gear. I’m probably quilty as charged! Great post.

    Reply
  25. Sebastian
    December 8, 2013

    Great article!

    Even though I agree with most of your points, I still think you forgot to mention alternatives. If i want to go climb unbolted cracks, I need to get a set of cams, don´t I? How do you measure the value of the cam that prevented you from hitting the ground?
    Let´s say you go skiing once a year for a week. The cost per use might not look very good at first glance. Renting skis every year, however, still might be more expensive in the long run.
    So I think it´s not only the money per use that you should consider, but also taking your options into account.

    PS. I really like your blog and have been reading it for the last week.
    Compliments from Germany!

    Reply

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