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Balancing vanity, utility, and economy
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Ian Schumann

Locale: Central TX
Wow! on 11/17/2013 09:39:49 MST Print View

I'm humbled by the wealth of wisdom and responses to this. Not least exciting is the fact that this is a community where so many people are conscientious about this kind of problem. That's refreshing.

The responses are too numerous for me to respond to each or even a good fraction of them. But, I think at bottom here, I am relieved to have others point out that I have created a bit of a false dilemma here. More than one of you pointed out that having specialized, separate gear that is suitable for its own respective context (city and backcountry) is totally reasonable and in fact wise if I want to truly enjoy my possessions in both contexts, rather than being worried about them or disappointed by the compromises I've made.

However, as some of you also noted, this strategy only ends up avoiding wastefulness IF I can also avoid giving into the consumerist impulse to turn my gear over every 18 months (or less). This may have been the hidden issue buried beneath my question, in fact. That's the real challenge. These three goals are easy to hit as long as I can manage to purchase the right stuff in the first place, and then keep it instead of dumping it when something more neato comes our next fall.

Well done, everybody. Thanks :-)

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Want on 11/17/2013 09:52:48 MST Print View

To put it simply its a want, not a "need"

Most people here dont need several packs, puffies, bags, stoves, jackets, etc ... To do what we do outdoors

Now there ARE people who do need it ... However most of use arent doing crazy climbs on baffin island or the himilayas, or bushwhacking the amazon, or skiing thr antarctic ice cap ...

We want all this fancy gear because
- its a substitute for being able to actually go out everyday and do stuff
- it makes us feel "outdoorsy" and allows us to identify with it even in the city
- we stock it up in the hope of doing things in the future
- we try to "buy" our way into a sport, substituting gear for skill (i see this ALL the time climbing)
- we think itll make us better
- we just like nice shiny things

The reality is that you dont need very much stuff to walk around ... And you dont need to spend $$$$ either

But we WANT it ... And companies know this ...

Most americans and canadians probably did MORE outdoors decades ago, back when we didnt have as much "outsoorsy" brands or gear


jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Want on 11/17/2013 09:59:39 MST Print View

Ian - the original poster doesn't get to decide when the firehose gets turned off : )

"we just like nice shiny things"

Buying new things produces some of the same effects as taking drugs.

If the sellers (pushers) get us to buy more stuff, they make more money.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Hunter gatherer shoppers on 11/17/2013 14:11:53 MST Print View

I frequent thrift stores, where the shopping is much more like foraging and it has occurred to me that shopping appeals to our hunter gatherer roots. There is definitely some sort of reward loop going on.

The trouble comes in turning it off when you reach your goal, like gathering an UL kit. You can get wrapped up in the education, research, purchase and testing of gear. Many UL devotees go through a fine tuning process after finding what doesn't work for them.

And then you have a kit that works and you can turn off the shopping spigot, but like sugar, you are used to the effect and don't want it to stop.

A couple aids: allow no duplications, which works more like one-in-one-out. The other is to shed anything you haven't used in a period of time, with a year being the most common I think.

Also, like your gear list, organization can be illuminating. I had been using a couple large storage tubs and recently switched to simple cardboard banker boxes, sorting into categories like kitchen, clothing accessories, hydration and so on. I did the same with smaller items using plastic shoe boxes from a storage supply store. I found duplicates that it had gathered over the years which I sold, gave to the kids, or used to improve our emergency kits.

And now I can find things quickly and I don't feel like I am owned by my belongings. The process continues through my workshop and household. I have crossed a line in attempting to integrate my casual and hiking clothing and eliminating duplicates there.

The other psychological issue with bargain shopping is a feeling of rarity or the possibility of the source drying up. Even with the economic downturn, the cornucopia of used goods has remained open. You come to realize that you don't have to buy every bargain that comes along, because there will be some when you need them. I shop for upgrades to my equipment, being careful to shed the spares. The only things to duplicate are consumables like fuel canisters or less perishable food items.

What do you buy the man who has everything? Storage and batteries :)

Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: London, UK
Re: Re: Hunter gatherer shoppers on 11/17/2013 17:07:38 MST Print View


Edited by rmjapan on 06/19/2015 17:49:36 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: Hunter gatherer shoppers on 11/17/2013 17:15:48 MST Print View

It goes so far beyond clothing: gear in general, housewares, kitchen gadgets, furniture, etc.

For example, how many varrietes of MUSTARD does one household need?

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Re: Re: Re: Re: Hunter gatherer shoppers on 11/17/2013 17:22:30 MST Print View

3 types of mustard in my house, each for different purposes ;-)

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: What would Descartes say... on 11/17/2013 18:26:51 MST Print View

I consume, therefore I am.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: What would Descartes say... on 11/17/2013 20:23:56 MST Print View

When I saw the title, "I shop, therefore I am" is what came to mind.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Re: What would Descartes say... on 11/17/2013 20:38:08 MST Print View

"When I saw the title, "I shop, therefore I am" is what came to mind."

A most reasonable interpretation. :)

Kimberly Wersal
(kwersal) - MLife

Locale: Western Colorado
Re: Re: Re: Re: What would Descartes say... on 11/17/2013 20:48:43 MST Print View

Here, I always thought it was "I drink, therefore I am"..... But shopping works for me, too.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What would Descartes say... on 11/17/2013 20:51:40 MST Print View

"Here, I always thought it was "I drink, therefore I am"..... But shopping works for me, too."

They go hand in hand quite nicely, I'm told by some acquaintances in a position to know. In either order. ;0)

scree ride
Gear Swap on 11/17/2013 21:19:12 MST Print View

I wonder how much merchandise lives it's entire life cycling between someone's closet and Gear Swap without ever actually getting used. If it don't work for you, there's a good chance it won't work for me either.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Gear Swap on 11/17/2013 21:28:23 MST Print View

That's kind of a sweeping generalization.

Some things don't fit

Some things are duplications

Sometimes people upgrade

Sometimes people get married, or single, or have kids, or move, or run out of cash.

Matt Dirksen
(NamelessWay) - MLife

Locale: Mid Atlantic
Re: Balancing vanity, utility, and economy on 11/18/2013 05:35:06 MST Print View


This was one of the "great questions" that customers had in the back of their mind when I used to work at REI. You are not alone in trying to create the right balance. I whileheartedly agree with others who have suggested that in order to have any chance of something being street worthy (and remaining intact for years to come) it MUST be durable, and at a minimum, appear benign.

You are speaking only about down jackets here. At the end of the day, they are designed to keep you warm in as light a fashion as possible. A (good quality) down jacket is a specialized tool, just by its design. As others have mentioned, down is NOT the first thing most of us think of when it comes to durability. Perhaps consider a more generalized tool (like a windoroof fleece) that you can layer as needed?

Personal story time: the most versie piece of gear that I have owned the most over the past 19 years is a TNF Pamir jacket (originally a US made hooded prototype of one of the first "windstopper" fleece jackets on the market.) I have used it more than anything else because with the TNF logo blackened out, the black fleece jacket looks very benign and suddenly becomes fashionably "acceptable", is extrordinarily durable, and has almost always kept me warm either with a tee shirt underneath or a heavy fleece underneath. Yeah it's much heavier than a down jacket, but I still wear it out and about to this day (much to the shagrin of my wife, whom I happened to meet while wearing it in a nightclub on Thanksgiving night in 1995.)

So my point is: there are other (heavier) tools out there that can keep you warm and perhaps offer a better balance of durability/vanity. However, if your heart is set on down, perhaps eliminate the most $$ of the five (on principle) and invest in a light windshell that looks/feels street worthy and know that you can wear it overtop the down jacket as needed. Just limit your budget to whatever the delta is between the most $$ jacket you knocked out and the one you settled with (assuming you were willing to spend all that money in the first place. Just remember that nothing will last forever, ESPECIALLY down streetwear/outerwear.

Good luck.


John H
(pastyj) - F

Locale: SE US
The way I look at it... on 11/18/2013 08:08:57 MST Print View

Vanity: I understand those who are still young and good looking worrying about this, but once you've crossed the half century mark, you tend to focus more on whether something works well or not :)

Utility: Montbell jackets/parkas have always appealed to me and fit well. I have both a Thermawrap jacket and a UL Down Parka. The parka is decidedly warmer and lighter, but suffers from being more fragile. The Thermawrap is pretty much bomber if you aren't bushwhacking, but not as warm. When very cold, I will carry both, the jacket in case I need it for hiking (don't think I'd ever hike in down), the parka for camp and/or sleep. If it gets really c-c-c-cold, I will layer the parka over the jacket.

Economy: I've said this a hundred the long run the good stuff is ALWAYS cheaper than the cheap stuff. It works better, lasts longer and you feel better owning it. Buy the good stuff (whatever you determine that to be).

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Town vs backcountry on 11/18/2013 09:19:05 MST Print View

I could wear my outdoor wear for city wear, but, well, I don't enjoy looking like
I am always ready to hit the trail at any given moment.

The blue jeans, cotton t-shirt and boxers, casual shoes and my three-quarter zip light sweater that I have on now is comfy if impractical for backcountry use. (The Costco brand wool socks work fine however)

My nylon pants, trail shoes and long sleeve thermal could be worn during the day, but besides being not nearly as comfortable as my above ensemble,the outdoor clothing has frayed cuffs, stains, is torn and is a little worn looking.

As someone above said:

>> 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

Indeed! I am reasonably active outdoors and my outdoor gear does look trashed out after a while.

Not something I want to wear out and about on town.

Call it vanity, but I like to look nice when I am not out on the trail. (Or as nice as my ugly mug will allow ;) ).

My grandfather was a sharp dresser and so is my Dad. Guess it rubbed off.

I *could* do the "outdoors as lifestyle thing" that is popular here in Boulder, but I don't need to look like the latest GoLite or Patagonia fashionista.

So I wear a softshell that looks less like an outdoor jacket and more like casual wear at a glance for milder weather. Versatile, too.

A retro-looking Golite down jacket for colder weather (looks a bit like the 60/40 jackets from years past. GoLite no longer makes it) that I've rec'd some nice compliments on. The Patagonia style down sweaters are what most people wear, but frankly it is funny going to the grocery store and seeing everyone wearing one. :) At least to me.

For really cold weather, I have my wool Filson Double Mac that Dad bought me for my 30th birthday. Could never personally justifying the money on it, but it is a piece of clothing that will never go out of style and will outlive any nylon and down jacket out there.

Maybe I should live simpler in some ways, but I figure using higher quality "urban wear" that will last a while, it is more sustainbable in the long
term. And my outdoor gear last longer, too. AND because my urban wear is not stained, frayed, torn and worn out looking I look less like Boulder's other
look: The homeless! :)

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

My contribution to the discussion... on 11/18/2013 11:21:57 MST Print View

I used to (maybe still do?) lead college groups on camping and mountain-climbing trips in the Northeast. I think looking good has a direct correlation on whether or not people are willing to listen to you when you're in a leadership role.

I go out of my way to dress in a way that is:

1. Effective and condition-appropriate. I want to set an example. Even if I could be ok with just a wool shirt, I'll wear a fleece so that others copy my setup on future trips and nobody gets too cold. If I make a gear list for a winter trip, I make sure I have every item on it in my pack.

2. Professional. I have at least one outfit that is neutral colored, clean looking, and well-fit.

3. Outdoorsy. Here's the grey area. Sometimes, tying that EMS bandanna around your neck makes you look just a little bit more like someone on the cover of National Geographic. I dress like my heroes and I try to emulate the confidence and reliability of the quintessential Outdoorsman. I often fail, but it's ok.

Ultimately, my voice is what get 18 year olds to buck up and listen when we're trying to set up 6 tents in sleet at Acadia National Park. But, not wearing a T-shirt and jeans helps.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Re: My contribution to the discussion... on 11/18/2013 11:39:59 MST Print View

actually in climbing the one you generally DONT want to listen to is the one with the shiniest, nicest, best dressed gear

now there are exceptions like sponsored climbers and such ... but even guides with pro-deals tend to wear out their gear pretty fast

if hes got a shinny new rack, stylish fresh set of matching "outdoor" branded like new clothes, and a rope that looks fresh out of the plastic ... its often not an experienced climbing group "leader"

i see those "leaders" all the time outdoors and most of them are clueless


Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: My contribution to the discussion... on 11/18/2013 11:48:03 MST Print View

"Ultimately, my voice is what get 18 year olds to buck up and listen when we're trying to set up 6 tents in sleet at Acadia National Park. But, not wearing a T-shirt and jeans helps"

Y'all need a pointy hat :)
Tent instructor

I went into REI one day wearing a khaki vest. Someone started asking me questions and I answered a couple, giving my frank opinions. It finally dawned on me that he thought I was an employee. What fun I could have had with that. I could have told him anything and he would have believed me :) "umm yeah, these will chafe less if you wear 'em backwards...."

Edited by dwambaugh on 11/18/2013 11:50:29 MST.