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Ian Schumann
(freeradical) - M

Locale: Central TX
Balancing vanity, utility, and economy on 11/16/2013 08:55:26 MST Print View

Today I find myself again considering a question that has bugged me ever since I got into backpacking (only 7-8 years ago). There are some items for backpacking that we buy that have no crossover into everyday life -- for instance, water treatment devices, at least for me, never present themselves as useful in my everyday urban existence.

However, there are a lot of other things where what we purchase for backpacking could easily do double-duty in everyday life. In fact, I suppose a lot of people who are trying to ramp into backpacking slowly and without great expense, end up using their existing cheap fleece jacket, running shoes, school backpack, and so on -- as we've seen over the years on such threads as Ultra light, and ultra cheap and that sort of thing. Which is great, all of that is great.

But today I find myself caught in a tug-of-war for competing goals. Today in particular, I am sorting through an array of lightweight insulated jackets, five of them, all purchased on sale, trying to find the piece that might finally end my habit of turnover, at least for a little while.

Here are those competing goals:


  1. Utility - I want my puffy piece to make sense in a 3-season gear list. It should be reasonably durable, have decent loft, at least passable wind-resistance, and a little water resistance. It should be lightweight and compressible. The cut of the piece should be close enough to provide good thermal retention, but loose enough to allow a modest amount of layering underneath. I'll need it to perform while I'm up in the mountains, and so on -- so it needs to be good! Good in all the ways that BPL has taught me to understand that term :-)


  2. Vanity - I want my puffy to make sense in the city. It should be durable and comfortable enough to keep on for several hours. Moreover, it needs to be presentable so that I have something to wear out on a social scene while it's cold outside. I want it to have a fit that is trim and flattering, and doesn't make me look like a bulbous lump of nylon. The minimalist part of me hates that this need to look good is even on my list ... but I'm at a point in life where I participate in an upwardly-mobile segment of society, where on occasion I will be out in public with coworkers or clients, and where I experience measurable gains from looking the part. Maybe when I have kids, or I retire, I will again dress like crap, like in my younger days. But for the moment, I both like looking good for my own sake, and I enjoy it too for the prestige (albeit ephemeral) that it brings me. This is me trying to be as honest as possible here, you see.


  3. Economy - If the above two were all that I needed, then my quandary would be easy to solve -- have one set of clothes for backpacking, and another for city life -- problem solved. BUT this approach irks me. I'm not sure I should trust it. This to me sounds like a ruse, a trap sprung by the hidden voices of consumerism that have been nurtured in me by our culture for ~3 decades. I don't want to necessarily take the easy way out here. It would bother me (and maybe it should? or shouldn't?) to see that my closet had a subset of very valuable, expensive items (ultralight clothing) that only manages to get used about 2-3 times a year. Even if I made a good effort to hike more, and raised that rate to 6-8 times a year ... even then it would seem wasteful to me. It would concern me to have made an investment into this set of clothes, and having done that, not be enjoying the ROI as it were, of wearing them, more than but a handful of days per year.


So, there you have it. A set of competing goals. I suppose that, like many of these paradoxes, the bottom line would say something like Pick any two. But hitting all three, man, that is a challenge. Maybe an unrealistic one.

Does that make sense to anyone else? I am not sure if I really should worry about this or not. What I'm hoping for here is a discussion, if not a set of answers. Surely this question is something that everyone has to resolve for themselves, based on their religious, social, and cultural values. For me being a follower of Jesus, I am trying to tease out whether #2 (and perhaps much of #1) is all purely a comparison-based game, a one-upping waste of energy, and something that I should just give up on. The trouble with participating in a community like BPL, though, is that it's so easy to take note of the cool thing that the other person has. In fact, this is easy in everyday life, as well.

Anyway ... in spite of all those caveats ... I'm curious for your thoughts. Any thoughts at all would be fine.

Ian Schumann
(freeradical) - M

Locale: Central TX
Re: Balancing vanity, utility, and economy on 11/16/2013 08:58:56 MST Print View

Oh and meanwhile, while I have like 5 puffy jackets here all at the same time, I'll be posting a mini state of the market report, just for the fun of it :-)

Since a lot of our analyses here are based on selecting the best from among an array of good options, I figure it could help people to compare apples-to-apples on several pieces that are out there right now. Those are:


  • GoLite Roan Plateau (the heavyweight here and more of a control than anything)

  • Montbell Alpine Light

  • Mountain Hardwear Nitrous

  • Mountain Equipment Arete

  • Montbell Thermawrap BC



Given that the latter 4 of these are all within 1-2 oz of each other, and similar priced, and similar fill power (except the Thermawrap of course) ... I was surprised that the other differences amongst them are substantial.

So, I'll put all that on a separate thread here, later this weekend. Might as well document the differences while I have them all here :-)

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: Balancing vanity, utility, and economy on 11/16/2013 09:10:19 MST Print View

Good points

But, if you have 5 puffys you're blowing the economy goal : )

For lightweight backpacking, sometimes I trade off some durability for lighter weight. That means I don't want to wear it out using it when I'm not backpacking.

For every day use, better to have heavier, more durable stuff.

No clear best solution though...

Ian Schumann
(freeradical) - M

Locale: Central TX
Re: Re: Re: Balancing vanity, utility, and economy on 11/16/2013 09:14:36 MST Print View

Thanks Jerry :-)

I'm judging by your wink that it was clear to everyone ... but in case not(!) ... I only have the five puffies because I'm trying to make a decision. Soon at least 3, or 4, or maybe all 5, will be returned to vendor, or sold on the Gear Swap :-)

Ryan Slack
(RWSlack) - F - M

Locale: Minnesota
Urban utility on 11/16/2013 09:19:28 MST Print View

How cold does it get during the times you would be using this as an "around-town" piece? (I'm asking as a Minnesotan who sees you listed as being in Central Texas.) I'm wondering if you really need a puffy jacket, or if a used wool coat might work better and be more stylish. For your goals, it seems it would be best to keep your one favorite jacket that you use outdoors the most, sell (or donate) the rest, and pick up an around-town wool or similar piece that is warm enough with a sweater underneath.

PS The Golite Coal you sold me awhile back is still in use. Turns my 40 degree quilt into a 25!

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: Re: Re: Balancing vanity, utility, and economy on 11/16/2013 09:22:44 MST Print View

This is BPL - you're not allowed here unless you have at least 5 puffies. You don't have to return them. Although it is definitely BPL to sell some on Gear Swap : )

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
A different look on 11/16/2013 09:36:50 MST Print View

You are defining economy in such a way to cause you the dilemna. To illustrate I will share a similiar dilemna on winter camping gear.

I want the lightest weight optimized gear for each season.
There are optimized solutions that work for summer and winter (neoair xlite vs. xtherm)
I am to some degree a tight wad.

I had the neoair xtherm for winter hiking but I knew I was carrying around several extra very expensive ounces needlessly for three season. But I didn't want to spend the money to duplicate gear. (I have become neurotic about not wanting a lot of gear.) what did I do? I ended up buying both the xtherm and the xlite. My rationale? In the end, gear like a sleeping pad or clothing has a useful life. While my initial outlay is higher by purchasing two pads, it ends up being cheaper in the end because I put less nights on my expensive xtherm so it will end up lasting longer.

What does this mean to you? I think you have made a false choice. I would optimize you outdoor gear and use it primarily for outdoors and have a optimized solution for your everyday life. It will result in a lower life cycle cost in the end. I have found that compromises are generally sub-optimized on all fronts.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
Re: Balancing vanity, utility, and economy on 11/16/2013 10:05:03 MST Print View

I started thinking about this a few years ago. Enjoying the aesthetic of less gear on the trail, I started looking for ways to apply these principles at home. First by getting rid of stuff I never used (clothing, books, cookware and appliances in basement storage, etc), then by trying to find a multipurpose wardrobe, like you, that would suit a variety of needs. I gradually switched over to lightweight merino shirts and nylon pants equally at home at work and on the trail (though I do have a designated pair of hiking pants whose cuffs never quite get clean). Every few months, I go though my stuff and see what can be repurposed, sold, or donated.

I too have a few pieces of gear that were not getting used year round. Recently I created an emergency bag for my car out of this less used gear (8 x 10 tarp, emergency bivy, spare fleece, puffy, and rain gear, pants and shirt, ti mug, water bottle and filter, etc) so that in the event that I break down in a remote area, get a flat tire during a rainstorm, spill coffee on my work clothes, etc, I know that I have rain protection, spare clothes, shelter, warmth, etc. It got that stuff out of the house, and gave it a valuable purpose even if not often needed.

The end result for me has been a much smaller wardrobe and and a tidy gear closet consisting of pieces that are all loved and used often.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Balancing vanity, utility, and economy on 11/16/2013 10:15:56 MST Print View

Yup, been there--- still working on it. I hear "lifestyle" in your dilemma. If you have work that requires a certain level of sophistication in your clothing, embrace that as best you can, but try to keep your head on the goal if you value a simpler, more sustainable way to handle your possessions. Fashion is a cruel master!

I get into this thing with duplicating clothing for city and hiking, thinking that I dont want to subject my hiking gear to everyday wear and tear. Of course that is full of conceptual traps.

I live in the PNW and close to a large university. I see a certain type on the street that has adopted a lifestyle of voluntary poverty and outdoor adventure. So they have their hiking clothing and wear it everywhere. You might see a guy who is wearing a lot of Smartwool and a good rain shell and using a high end day pack for urban commuting, but stretches his haircuts out and everything looks well worn. Of course I am using sweeping stereotypes.

I've met many who adopt a very simple lifestyle and work to save up for the next adventure. They share housing, ride a bike, use mass transit, and keep their possessions to a minimum. They have a very good grip on what they are doing and are self-aware.

Another way to get the adventures is to work in a profession that pays well and have a couple Big Adventues each year. Depending on the profession, you may need the clothing to go with it. The pragmatic reality is that we live in a conformist culture. On some levels, your professional clothing is no different than another professions tools. How far you want to take that is up to you. Self-awareness and self-honesty are key I think.

Read Thoreau's chapter on Economy in "Walden." He covered much of our modern dilemma in 1854!

http://thoreau.eserver.org/walden00.html

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F - M
Re: Balancing vanity, utility, and economy on 11/16/2013 11:21:12 MST Print View

Yes and no

Yes
- if you only go outside occasionally it makes sense to buy "fashionable" gear for mainly urban wear
- urban conditions in places like vancouver in the rainy season is likely harsher than a summer in yosemite .. of you dont have a good rain jacket/ umbrella yr getting soaked
- its better than $$$$ cotton designer labels made in sweatshops ... Except for a few "outdoor" labels its not as expensive and itll work in poor conditions

No
- if you bought the "best" and the "lightest" for its use outdoors and not just to show off and make yrseld feel better ... You wont generally wear them everyday, to keep them in tip top condition ... DWR degrades, synth goes flat, even down worn or slept in everyday gets worn out in a few years
- if you use ur gear as hard as you can outside, theyll get holes, rips, stains, etc ... Which tends to reduce their "suitability" for social wear
- you wouldnt be using the most UL clothing ... Things snag on door jams, fences, wearing UL nylon everyday means youll need to seam grip the pinholes that show up after a few years

I own and use outdoor clothing every day ... I wear my EB puffy even sleeping, my MEC T2/3 long underwear daily in fall/winter, sleep in my cata meow every night ... We have no heating

And i have a decent amount of branded outdoor clothing that i wear in town ... It works better than normal clothing in our PNW

However i KNOW that its used as urban wear ... Thats what i bought it for ... I have other stuff i use outdoors, things that are either in top shape for where it matters, or cheap stuff which im willing to destroy

If you want to justify $$$$ purchases thats your call ... but for the outdoors you dont need all that stuff

For all the "take as little as possible" ... Most of BPL, including myself, translates is as "own as much as possible"

IMO most outdoor clothing companies are transitioning towards urban gear ... Its where the money is, and most people use their gear for the occasional walk in the park, weekend or week away a year

;)

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: The Great Lakes Bay Region
Re: Re: Balancing vanity, utility, and economy on 11/16/2013 11:34:11 MST Print View

I try to keep my outdoor clothing separate as between backpacking, skiing and day hiking it probably sees 50-60 days use each year,
I have couple of older puffys I use every day for work or around town, also use older base layers and fleeces a lot.

Katharina ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Re: Re: Balancing vanity, utility, and economy on 11/16/2013 11:44:58 MST Print View

It's a mix for me.
Puffy jackets I purchased for backpacking I use regularly when it's cold.
Pants; sometimes I use my nice backpacking pants in town and sometimes I use my every day pants when backpacking.
Expensive rain gear I use at work when it's a daylong downpour and I need to stay as dry as possible. For a couple hours of rain I use cheap gear and change .

At home I have used my stoves, my headlights, my quilt, my hammock, my pads and sleeping bags ( for guests) and probably more.

scree ride
(scree)
? on 11/16/2013 12:30:55 MST Print View

Quality is cheap and suits my vanity. I don't see a problem.Instead of buying ten things on sale and spending twice the money, buy 1 quality good at a time. in the end you'll have a lot less stuff and a lot better stuff.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: west coast best coast
Re: Balancing vanity, utility, and economy on 11/16/2013 13:00:49 MST Print View

I don't understand the reason behind choosing outdoor clothing that is usable in the city unless you are traveling with minimal space.
It's just putting unnecessary wear on your expensive outdoor clothing. Having a set of clothes that work for both the trail and the city isn't any more economical.

I'm not going to walk around town in running tights and vibram 5 fingers. Puffies look incredibly silly imo, nylon pants look lazy, and mesh shoes look way too athletic. If that's the style your going for, then more power to you.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't wear your outdoor clothing in the city, or that there isn't value in good looking outdoor clothing, but trying to consolidate your all of clothing to work for both the trail and the city makes no sense to me. Don't you have a closet to put this stuff?

I may be one of the few hikers who often goes hiking in casual clothing. I've spent several days in the backcountry with jeans, leather shoes and a cotton shirt. In mild, dry weather, I don't understand the obsession with technical fabrics.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: ? on 11/16/2013 13:26:08 MST Print View

"Instead of buying ten things on sale and spending twice the money, buy 1 quality good at a time. in the end you'll have a lot less stuff and a lot better stuff."

Exactly what Thoreau wrote 150 years ago.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: ? on 11/16/2013 13:51:43 MST Print View

I just read - actually listened to MP3 - Walden

additionally, Thoreau said instead of buying things, to make it yourself : )

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
RE: Balancing vanity, utility, and economy on 11/16/2013 15:16:06 MST Print View

Justin wrote, "....It's just putting unnecessary wear on your expensive outdoor clothing. Having a set of clothes that work for both the trail and the city isn't any more economical.

I'm not going to walk around town in running tights and vibram 5 fingers. Puffies look incredibly silly imo, nylon pants look lazy, and mesh shoes look way too athletic. If that's the style your going for, then more power to you.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't wear your outdoor clothing in the city, or that there isn't value in good looking outdoor clothing, but trying to consolidate your all of clothing to work for both the trail and the city makes no sense to me. Don't you have a closet to put this stuff?"

The wear on the outdoor clothing is my quandary (and escuse).

I don't think having two sets of clothing is more economical.

I have to admit that tights and five-fingers would cross my line, but I don't wear them on the trail either. I'm perfectly comfortable wearing zip offs or shorts, tech sandals and hiking shoes in town. I often wear button down nylon trail shirts and usually were dark base layer tees. On caveat is that I live and work informally, so there is no impact. If I were say, an attorney, it might be a professional hinderance. By and large, I don't have to care what others think of my clothing.

Closet space and just sheer numbers of items are both important to me. You need to store, maintain and track all that stuff. It starts to own you after a while, and I don't want to be owned by my possessions!

Raising a family and owning a house add to the issue exponentially. I've lived in the same place since 1986 and raised two kids. I'm just getting into the empty nest stage and there's a whole lotta ***stuff*** to deal with. In fact, I call it TMS syndrome: Too Much Stuff (polite version).

I've written about voluntary simplicity and these questions go right to the core of the matter. I gave offered the idea of limiting all your possessions to a one meter cube, and most Americans say it is impossible. Those who have adopted more nomadic lifestyles, living aboard a boat, small trailer or a small shelter like a yurt have all dealt with this first hand.

Take a moment and write down those things that are essential to your lifestyle. Imagine you are going to a remote island if that helps. It's is very similar to making an UL gear list. I think the process is very insightful.

I do think this is a disease of affluence. If you told a 3rd world citizen they could fill a one meter cube with all their possessions, they would enjoy all the extra space!


Mahatma Gandhi's personal possessions at the time of his death:
Gandhi's possessions

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: west coast best coast
Re: RE: Balancing vanity, utility, and economy on 11/16/2013 15:21:22 MST Print View

"Closet space and just sheer numbers of items are both important to me. You need to store, maintain and track all that stuff. It starts to own you after a while, and I don't want to be owned by my possessions!"

This is important to me too, but it could because I already try to keep my outdoor gear to a minimum that I don't feel the need to only choose clothing that is dual purpose.

Greg F
(GregF) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
Re: Balancing vanity, utility, and economy on 11/17/2013 08:41:50 MST Print View

The patagonia down sweater.

I wear this jacket from 20 to 40 F around the city, it is a nice jacket for around town and considered reasonably stylish. Note this is not the super UL version but there 12 oz version with about 3-4 oz of fill. I used this backpacking for a few years before replacing it for backpacking with an elite down. I still use it around the city and for warm snowshoing days it gets tossed in the pack.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
the ethics of puffy coats on 11/17/2013 09:08:30 MST Print View

Ian, I respect you for bringing this up, and feel your angst. Seem to me you should be able to get an especially nice, nicely cut puffy which will serve both purposes. The Patagonia Down Jacket and a number of Arc'teryx products come to mind. A Quantum GL face fabric isn't going to get this particular job done.

I also think trying to have a warm coat which is good for both backpacking and the city is one of the poorer ways to economize. Down and synthetic insulation are both some of the more fragile things we use, and daily pressure and dirt will effect them and their useful life. Better to get a good puffy, use it backpacking, resist the fashion temptation to upgrade and have it last 10 years. Get a good wool coat for town.