Gear Does Not Replace Experience

Gear does not replace experienceSometimes I am miffed by the gear people think they need, and equally dumbfounded by the lack of gear essentials others are absent of. At each end of those two extremes are people that make questionable decisions in the backcountry — almost always. Perhaps it’s a false sense of security that gear provides a notion of experience. Or, perhaps it’s a generational urge to clutter the pack with the same crap we fill our houses with. To that end, it is a void which can never be filled. Generational stereotypes are no more misleading than any other. They are misled, sure, but that would be a social science, and beyond the scope of these words.

You cannot buy experience on the shelves at REI.

Bringing in demographics whom were never particularly likely to be passionate about the backcountry muddies the water even further. Again, I don’t disagree or criticize a particular gear list. But marketing and purchasing gear in the hopes of the accessible rhetoric, and hence people that get themselves in over their head, makes one scratch their own head a bit.

It’s entertaining to listen to how passionate a certain generation is of the outdoors or environment. Its sort of like saying that you care for old people because you support social security. Support for our natural resources will NEVER rise to the top of anyone’s priority list until it becomes dear to them, and that only comes through experiencing it. Experience doesn’t come from filling the shopping cart on Amazon Prime.

The trend that I notice is that more experienced backcountry enthusiasts are willing to pay more for quality and durability. The difference of paying more for a quality hardshell that will last many seasons makes more sense to them environmentally. There are also the lessons learned of gear failures in the wrong places that contribute to buying a quality item. They are willing to shed the gizmos and creature comforts for one quality piece of gear.

There are of course essentials that anyone even thinking about venturing out in to the backcountry should have (more importantly know how to use). A beacon, shovel and probe are among those items. I like to refer to them as the three horsemen, and they never ride alone. But even with such basic rescue gear, it’s incredible just how few perople know how to perform signal search, course search, and fine search, probing in concentric circles, or where to begin shoveling once a pinpoint has been established.

Rather, these items are carried around as if peer pressure or what was learned in a Level One AIARE course has dictated that. So, it is carried, as if an insurance policy that it will not be needed — just all living sinfully together, in an orgy of unrelated items in the pack. The failure here is that the gear does not provide a level of experience in and of itself. And, you know you have reached the end of this particular avoidance tactic when you throw your hands in the air and declare – “It really took me 45 minutes to locate that victim?!” Hello, rock bottom…

Most people in the circles I know spend 20-30 hours per season practicing with beacons and companion rescue. But then again, it’s experience and realization that has engrained that. It is perhaps trivial until experience tells you to drop the bells and whistles and know how to operate the ‘essential’ equipment you have.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”


— Antoine de Saint-Exupery

As the bells ring in the new year, and the steep of consumerism season passes, this trend is all too obvious. To echo the words the season always brings, armed with all KINDS of spontaneous resolve, “I’m buying all this incredible gear, and my resolution is to actually start doing this or that, or the other”.  Until…a month later, they will wake up, have coffee, and wait patiently for all of that big fancy “resolve’ to return. And, of course, it will not. Analogous to the beer-gut buying the treadmill for a New Year’s resolution, so that by the last week of January we can all sit in harmony looking at the craigslist ads which will be saturated with (for instance); ‘For sale: Treadmill used only once (I think) – $50′. 

It shouldn’t surprise us really. I have seen quite a few that haven’t even checked the batteries in their beacon since last season, or worse, they wait until they arrive at the trailhead to do that. Or show up with an avalanche shovel that makes me want to trade them with my own so I am at least sure they can dig me out.

By buying material objects it seems as if certain folks satisfy and replace the actual experience itself. It’s sort of a consolation prize for not getting out there and actually doing it. Which is somehow congruent to tossing random shit in a pack because ‘I think I might need it’. Pay attention to the red flags of people you venture in to the backcountry with. The higher the risk, the less likely you should be willing to venture out with them. All the same, I tend to feel more comfortable with people that understand their capabilities, bodies, and know how to use their equipment (pun intended).

“We consume the backcountry instead of experiencing it.”

It is effortless to convince yourself you need to go buy something else, something current, something better, just one more piece of gear, just one more thing in your pack to make your trip easier, more successful, more something. Meanwhile, your cat will have an aneurism, as the clutter to a closet or gear room builds and this same gear has never seen the light of day.

In the end though, the point has surely been completely missed.

Again, this is an endless void that can never be filled because it has been forgotten how to actually enjoy what the passion is all about. We consume the backcountry instead of experiencing it. Insofar I do know that it is far easier to find things to buy and add than find things to leave behind or get rid of. For the most part it is experience that should behest a gear list.

Meanwhile, carry the essentials and know how to use them. Don’t waste money on gear you think you ‘might’ need. You are robbing yourself of the opportunity to know why you need certain items, more importantly, why you don’t. Use the time and money to get the essential gear you need and actually enjoy the backcountry — the additional gear you need will find it’s way to you.

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