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:
- 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 :-)
- 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.
- 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.