You Wonder Why We Don’t Have Nice Things

franks shoes
I sat down exhausted last Tuesday night next to my friends Chris and Forest in front of a granite shelter we’d just built on the summit.
I hadn’t taken much time to build a proper chair out of stones, so I kind of just half-sat, half-lied down, oozing on a pile of rocks like a starfish.

I looked down the front of my orange puffy jacket, my favorite puffy jacket, and noticed the brown and black stains that ran all the way up the front next to the zipper, and over at the Krazy-Glued hole in the arm, and my pants with the holes in the thighs, and my approach shoes that had both blown out and had canvas shreds hanging in the breeze on the outsides of the balls of my feet, and the one with the busted shoelace that I had re-routed so I could tie it.

Our gear is so nice, why do we treat it like we do? People spend less on sofas and take better care of them. The total value of my apparel from the other night, with all the holes, was around $900, including the blown-out shoes. It’s the most expensive outfit I’ve ever owned, and it gets treated the worst.

If I had a $900 suit and I spilled macaroni and cheese on my jacket, I would be pissed at myself and take it to a dry cleaners. If I’m wearing $900 worth of outdoor apparel and I spill macaroni and cheese on my jacket, I pick off the pasta and eat it and then lick the cheese off the jacket, no worries. I have a $350 jacket I’ve used as a rope bag and as a pillow. I’ve climbed up an offwidth with $400 worth of cams on my hip, grinding up the rock.

Do you ever notice that you try hard to keep your new car pristine as long as you can, but if you buy a mountain bike, you hurry to get some dirt on it so it doesn’t look so new anymore? Or talking yourself into spending $100+ on a pair of alpine climbing pants, but wincing at a $100 price tag on a pair of jeans? Wearing $100 jeans to help your buddy move a couch is not OK, but wearing $150 soft shell pants to bushwhack through a forest of thorny bushes is OK. Walking through mud in $400 Italian leather loafers: absurd. Walking through mud in $400 mountaineering boots: expected.

Give me the warmest, best-designed down jacket, so I can spill coffee on it and watch embers from a campfire put tiny holes in it. Which I will then patch with Seam Grip, duct tape or Krazy glue. Please make it a bright, fashionable color that will highlight the stains I will put on it by brushing against dusty cars, spilling food on it, and coiling ropes.

I must have an entire rack of the most expensive cams on the market, so I can place them sideways in horizontal cracks and then fall 15 feet onto them, wrenching their stems awkwardly. I will get them halfway stuck so my partner has to hammer at them with a nut tool. I will drop them on the ground, and I will smash them into a backpack on top of each other.

I will spend a large percentage of my annual income on a mountain bike and recklessly pedal it through beds of rocks I would carefully walk through, only to fold it in half on top of a pile of rocks while moving and land on top of it, hoping it still does what I want it to, but not caring how it looks afterward.

It’s a strange relationship we have with outdoor gear, isn’t it? You know if your gear were a dog, the proper authorities would remove it from your home based on how you treat it. If it were a person, it would divorce you, have you arrested, or maybe wait for you to fall asleep and then stab you to death. But you’re all like, “No, I really love you, orange down jacket, even with all your stains and holes that I caused.” And then you go right back to your old ways, treating it like you do.


30 replies on “You Wonder Why We Don’t Have Nice Things

  • Dave Sandel

    I’m with you, but I’m not with you.

    The $100+ for alpine pants vs. $100 blue jeans is 100% correct. I’d never ever pay that much for jeans. They’re just jeans! And I wear jeans to work in a professional setting (“professional” for Boulder, that is). However, show me the fancy new Arc’Teryx climbing pants when I’m in the middle of nowhere with 1 dude, and I’ll gladly pay the money. How does this work?

    Now, for the rest of the story…

    I’ve witnessed people that treat their expensive outdoor gear like you, and I am always at a loss. Dirty, wet, sweaty, stinky approach shoes? Bah, just toss ’em in my $200 pack. While I’m at it, I’m probably just going to drag that thing over the scree field like I bought it at Walmart. :-0

    “Hey, this looks like a nice spot of mud. Think I’ll lie down here in my $300 OR jacket. That’s what it’s made for, right?”

    I don’t get this frame of mind. I take absolute prestine care of my gear and it lasts as such.

    Except for climbing gear. I smash the shit outta that in some off-widths. ;-p

    • Rachel

      I’m with you. I don’t understand trashing nice outdoor gear.
      I’m not afraid to use it like it is supposed to be used, and get things wet and dirty, but I take extremely good care of them. I will wash out dirt, carefully dry out everything wet, and not scrape anything that doesn’t need to be scraped. I’m insanely cautious with food, because I fear leftover food smells in my tent. I baby my down gear like crazy, because I want it to last a long time.

      Actually, that’s my general plan. Aesthetics, I don’t care about. But anything that will affect the function of my gear, I try to protect against, since I want my gear to work well for as long as possible.

        • Lauren

          Super like this comment.

          Just like anything else you spend money on – why not take care of it??

          You can keep you gear looking new for several years just by taking care of it. Yes this stuff gets dirty and beat up, but a little cleaning and general care goes a long way!

    • Miles

      I’m the guy who destroys my outdoor gear. When I’m out there and realize what’s about to happen to it I just think, “eh, its returnable”, then fuss over whether it’ll work or not next time once I get home. And if its NOT returnable I (and all my buddies) feel outraged that they would dare not take back that backpack I used as a sled on that Montana glacier.

  • Evan

    i wear my $200 rain jacket over a $19 dress shirt when I eat while driving to work. i’m kinda sad to say it sees more use as a lobster bib than as a rain jacket.

  • Frank Sanders

    I KNOW that foot…and that SHOE !!!
    I’ve had it patched & re-soled, now.
    THANK YOU, Tony, at the Rubber Room !

  • Whitney

    So true. For me I think this goes hand in hand with my body. I try to keep it in good condition but all the knicks and scars from various adventures are little stories and badges of pride. Same with my gear. Sure, I want to keep it nice, but more so on the functional side than the appearance side. Every stain, tear, and hole is a reminder of something (usually) good, even if it’s just delicious mac and cheese.

  • David

    While I haven’t patched any gear with duct-tape or krazy glue, it seems like the krazy glue would bunch fabric up and degrade the function of the insulation; it also seems like duct tape would peel up and attract dirt around the edges.

    I’ve used this Kenyon K-tape repair tape in the past, it’s rip-stop and doesn’t peel up or attract dirt to the edge. Pretty cheap too.

  • Jay B

    Orange down jacket, I don’t love you even with the macaroni stains, I love you because of the macaroni stains.

    I love my well made gear that is all messed up because we’ve spent time togeter. Every rip and stain on a jacket is an object in a physical memory palace.

    I went on a cross country motorcycle trip recently and needed a new jacket. The sensible, rational choice would’ve been to get a waterproof high tech, Cordura touring jacket. But that’s a specialized piece of gear that wouldn’t get used all the time. I knew that day in day out, what I really wanted to wear was a nice, simple leather jacket that would become my good friend, and if I went on this trip with the “proper” gear and then bought my leather jacket after we’d never bond properly. So I bought the leather and rode in it, slept in it, used it as a pillow, a seat, got it wet, dusty, and it wasn’t as good as a proper touring jacket but it was also better. We’ve been through the business together and every time I put it on now I remember all those good–and bad–times. My style is patina. Keep thrashing the things you love.

  • Karl

    I bought my first pair of climbing shoes on spring break as a freshman in college…college in Iowa. Hung them on my bed post and worshipped them for three years until I finally moved to Colorado where I could actually use them. I’ve slept with new, unmounted skis at the foot of my bed through September and October, waiting for snow.

    I take pretty good of my gear.

    But I did go through a period of several years looking as dirty as possible and wearing chalk on my hands for as long as possible – through dinner and movies and to parties – so people could see that is what I am. It was an identity thing. Maybe the Iowa transplant in me needed to work through that. Now I hike in jeans and boulder in Babana Republic if that saves time getting from work to the rock. It is what it is, I guess.

    • Ana

      It definitely saves time. and it’s safer than trying to change while driving ninety onthe highway… I didn’t know anything but hiking in jeans until i started hanging out with climbers in college. I still exactly don’t get the fancy climbing pants when a pair of cutoffs do the job!

    • Shawn

      “hike in jeans and boulder in Babana Republic if that saves time getting from work to the rock.”

      This is the best thing. Any time I read about “fashion” in relation to outdoors stuff I am baffled. Don’t wear this, do wear that, whatever. Being old and not caring about what is cool is cool 🙂

  • 1speedlos

    As a 20+ year veteran of the bike industry, I take pretty good care of my drivetrain (easy, ’cause it’s a single speed,)and suspension on my mountain bike. But I never stress over scratches, scuffs, or other aesthetically displeasing issues.
    In fact, I promote the use of the PLOD- Protective Layer Of Dirt!


  • scoTt

    I was a similar conversation just last week.
    My work shoes are worn out and need to be replaced, but I keep putting it off… Seems that 100€ is too much for a good pair of work shoes, but 100€ for a new pair of climbing shoes gets spent without a second though…


  • ahwn

    Keep in mind that the gear we buy for adventure are tools.
    You can’t compare a $900 suit designed for looking good and nothing else to a $900 outfit designed to keep you warm and dry in relatively extreme conditions. They were designed for different things, and will be used differently. However, in both cases you spent money on a tool to allow you to do X. And so you do X – You look good, or you’re dry and warm on a pile of granite miles from a good shoe shine stand.
    And dammit, a few of your readers would much rather see you in your “outfit” made for adventure than your “suit” made for looking like you have people adventure for you.

  • Jason

    I take the “ride it like you stole it” approach to everything I own. I use it all hard and pick up the pieces later.

  • Chris G

    I buy the high-priced high-quality gear simply so that I can abuse it. When bushwhacking my way down from a long route in the dark, I have bigger things to worry about than whether my clothing will suffer or not. My $30 REI backpack came out full of holes, my $400 Arc’teryx shell didn’t have a scratch on it. The price is worth it just so I can live the life I want in my gear without having to worry about it!

  • Brent

    I like the analogy of how we treat our bodies, I eat good, go to the gym, run and such, all things that are considered healthy living. When I am on a climb or such I will drink unfiltered water off a glacial creek, climb with big exposure unroped and take sport whippers without a second thought. Yes we spend a lot to do the things we enjoy… Both monetarily and physically

  • john

    Skis are treated worse than any other piece of equipment. Sliding on $400 boards has to be the most absurd use of money.

  • Jordan

    Keep them in shape and functional but otherwise…I always say “gear that’s too clean means you don’t do anything” 🙂

  • Mark

    I had to go to a wedding at Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood. I didn’t own a suit so I went to a thrift store and bought a jacket, pants and tie for $30. When packing for the trip ( of course I brought all my climbing gear along) I realized my hiking/ climbing underwear cost the same as my suit for the wedding.:)

  • Amy

    I love it! I’m not quite as hard on my gear, but in my mind the money is well worth it. I have a pair of REI pants that I’ve been wearing for almost 10 years and they still work. They may have a few holes, but they are well deserved badges of honor. I take good care of my gear, but I definitely buy it to be used.

  • Cascades Runner

    Yep, sounds like the story of my stuff. But to be fair, the marketing behind outdoor gear is all about pushing limits regardless if that limit is spilled food or in Jack’s case how many holes you can patch in a Patagonia jacket. The only thing I get obsessive about is may sleeping bag, everything else can get burned, wet or holy. To be fair, I’m not a climber and would not advise two of the three conditions above for climbing gear.

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