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.