Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dan Crane: I’m Addicted To Outdoor Gear

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAExploring the Adirondack backcountry requires tenacity, perseverance and great deal of fortitude, as climbing over blowdowns, crossing beaver dams and struggling through hobblebush is an arduous way to spend the day. These personal qualities are not the only necessities for enjoying the backcountry however, having the proper gear is equally important. Backpacks, shelters, sleeping bags and numerous other items are tools of the trade for any intrepid soul that leaves societal comforts behind to enjoy some time surrounded by trees, furry animals and all the other creepy-crawlies in the great outdoors.

Sometimes the need for the proper gear quickly becomes a compulsion for owning the latest and greatest equipment on the market. For these people, the satisfaction of owning adequate gear is not enough; instead, the desire for the lightest or flashiest item becomes overwhelming. Whenever a new “superior” piece of equipment comes to their attention, whether it is lighter-weight or just a better way of fulfilling some backcountry need, the desire to own it gnaws at them. They want it. They need it. They must have it.

These people cannot help themselves; they are addicted to outdoor gear. I am one of them. My name is Dan Crane, and I have a problem. I am a gearoholic.

Over the past twenty-some years, I accumulated a great deal of outdoor gear. Backpacks, shelters, sleeping bags, pads, stoves, water filters, the list of gear goes on and on. I have gear for all different types of occasions, be it seasonal (summer vs. winter), weather-related (dry vs. wet) or based entirely on the type of adventure (trail vs. bushwhack). The downside to all this gear is finding a place to store it, as mine has taken over every nook and cranny of my home, not to mention most of the closets.

There are some good reasons for acquiring a prodigious amount of gear. Newer technology is always innovating, producing more effective equipment, typically at a lighter weight, thus placing less of a burden on my aging back. In addition, backpacking, and especially bushwhacking, takes its toll on even the most durable equipment, with scrapes, tears and rips accumulating over time.

In addition to the practical aspects for owning all this gear, there are social ones as well. Hiking companions are continually upping the ante, producing better equipment than your own old and beat-up stuff, thus compelling the acquisition of new gear to maintain your place within the hiking group’s hierarchy, just like the social structure of a baboon troop. No one likes to witness a companions’ show-and-tell without being able to pull some new toy out of their own backpack, to the ooos and aahhs of all assembled.

Ultimately, much of this reasoning is just another form of denial.

Signs of my addiction are obvious. My gear collection currently includes at least five shelters, five sleeping bags, seven backpacks, six sleeping pads, seven stoves and many water filters, rain gear, hiking boots, etc. Just trying to count them all is exhausting. Although many are either retired or damaged in some way, there is more than enough gear to equip a small army, if the need ever arises.

The fact that others have a worse case of this affliction is of small consolation. One of my hiking friends is so afflicted. Almost every year for the past twenty, we have gotten together for a backpacking trip in the early spring, and almost every year, he pulls out numerous new pieces of gear, typically the latest and greatest in outdoor technology. Having many years of backpacking on me, and enjoying less of a sense of buyer’s guilt than I do, I gave up trying to outdo him long ago.

One aspect of my personality has tempered my affliction to a great degree. My frugality, what others might call cheapness, has long prevented me from going too crazy when it came to acquiring outdoor gear. It scares me a great deal to think of how much gear I might have otherwise.

This frugality has been effective in holding my addiction in check these last few years. Most years I would only add one or two pieces of equipment, not counting a replacement for something that wore out or broke. Last year, I bought the smallest personal locator beacon, the year before I failed to buy anything, mostly due to sitting out most of the fair-weather hiking season with an injured knee.

This year, I felt the monkey on my back return, but luckily, I beat it back before it did any serious damage. So far, anyways.

Having heard about a lightweight, freestanding tent, I felt that urge begin to stir inside me again. I had been thinking about replacing my tarp system, which is now over a decade old, with something that has a smaller footprint, is easier to set-up and does not require crawling on my hands and knees to entry or exit. Luckily, I held off the urge and decided against buying the tent, in part because I have been planning on buying a GoPro video camera for the last couple years.

Just what I need, another piece of gear.

Photos: My summer bushwhacking equipment laid out near Sunshine Pond in the Pepperbox Wilderness by Dan Crane.

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Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.

7 Responses

  1. Matt Sisti says:

    Hi Dan. My name is Matt Sisti and I’m a gearaholic. Wow, so liberating to finally share this; like a thousand pounds off my chest. A fun point I wanted to add is I find an enjoyable side benefit of new gear, whatever it may be, is the unveiling in front of your hiking partners. Imagine the joy in your heart after a 7 mile hike to Slant Rock Lean-to in the pouring rain of early May. Everyone in your group is spent. They remove their wet jackets and other soaked items and settle in onto their sleeping pads for a break. You slowly pull out the ultralight espresso maker,small bottle of Sambucca….and only one small espresso cup. You watch their eyes glisten with desire as you light the new titanium stove and the coffee percolates in what appears to be a few seconds. They wantingly stare at your lips as you consume the sweet elixer and secretly hope for you to experience an untimely slip into a ravine along the trail the next day. Only then, and timing is of utmost importance, you slowly unveil 4 more espresso cups and some Italian pastries for your dear hiking pals. Ah, yes, the joys of new gear.

  2. Bill Colucci says:

    I too am a gear w**re.

    Matt…you had me salivating there even as I was sipping my morning mug….great post

    What is new this year? My Sawyer mini…which I have rigged to act as a gravity filter as well while in camp…oh…I did buy a four season tent as well…and a solo tent too, (almost bought the SMD Lunar)…and a longer spoon to replace the one I broke..and a a few fancy feast alky stoves for me and friends….hey, it was a long hard winter!!

    • Dan Crane says:

      Spoken like a true gearoholic!

    • Matt Sisti says:

      Favorite gear (in no particular order)

      Titanium spork
      MSR Ascent snowshoes
      12 pack of Old Milwaukee

      One day I should write the story of a fateful trip me and 3 others hiked to Slant Rock in the pouring rain. 70 lbs in each full pack (10 lbs was beer). A particular piece of new gear I was so proud to show off nearly ended our trip.

  3. Pete Nelson says:

    My last extended solo foray:

    1 ultralight pack (love that thing)
    1 bivy sack with sleeping bag in it
    1 pad (solid – I never use thermarest-type pads anymore)
    1 4 x 6 light tarp
    2 stakes and about 15′ light rope
    2 ace bandages
    Small supply cipro
    1 knife
    1 extra pair boot laces
    matches in H2O proof container
    1 water bottle
    1 filter
    MSR Whisperlite stove with 1 large fuel canister
    1 small pot with lid
    1 spoon
    selected freeze dried food
    granola bars
    1 change underwear, 1 change socks

    That’s it. Total weight < 20 lbs.

    I think I have the opposite problem! I'm going to bet Dan smells better during his trip than I do. But that's my next column anyhow…

    • Dan Crane says:

      Wait, your next column is going to be about how I smell better than you out in the backcountry?!? Now THAT is pretty creepy. And I thought I had issues.

      That’s a light load for a week or so in the backcountry. My gear list for a two-week trip to Isle Royale National Park is fairly close to what I bring for a week of bushwhacking in the Adirondacks, and can be found here:

      As you can see I bring plenty of “luxuries” with me. Maybe that will be the topic of my next column. Then again, maybe not.

  4. Randy says:

    I, too, suffer greatly from the affliction. But have now redirected my compulsion to all things afloat….Having been diagnosed with a few spinal limitations (likely due to a combination of advanced age, its attendant gain in weight, and a few too many miles with way too heavy a pack) I have found respite in loading all my goodies into my touring kayak, slapping on a set of wheels and lugging the whole shooting match to any isolated or semi-isolated body of water in the Park. Then it’s literally “wheels up” and off to a few nights of luxury on my newest piece of waterfront property! Only downside to all of this is the inevitable transfer of obsession from boots and packs to boats and paddles…..quite a costly transfer, indeed!

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