“Ignorance is bliss.” This famous quote can be applied to many things in life, like fixing that bad engine noise by simply turning up the car stereo. But in outdoor life, the quote can work equally well while dreaming about new, expensive gear that we all want in a salivating-frenzy-kind-of-way, but don’t really need (and probably can’t afford.) Being ignorant to new gear can be your only defense whenever faced with an opportunity to buy something new and expensive. But life generally never works out that way. No matter how hard we try, the clammy fingers of gear envy somehow claw their way in. And so begins the journey of Fancy Recreation Accoutrements Addiction, or FRAA.
My gear envy-induced path down the FRAA road started innocently. It happened the first time I swung my leg over the saddle of a full-suspension mountain bike, and then bombed down summer trails that bank thin and tacky through a ski resort’s aspen groves. The “ignorance is bliss” mantra died right then. Compared to my old hard tail, this demo bike felt like a Cadillac floating over freshly paved highway. I was hooked, convinced, in love, and woefully unable to afford my own. I tried to blow off the experience, but it was too late. The wheels of gear envy were in motion.
Now, being envious of new gear wouldn’t be a problem if outdoor stuff wasn’t so expensive, but it is, and it’s impossible to resist. We can try our best to avert our eyes and cover our ears to the temptation by tossing out annual gear guides and avoiding outdoor shops. But gear envy wields an insidious force that breaks our will and is impossible to avoid unless you turn off your phone, unplug the computer, and hide in the basement whenever there’s a knock at the door. This entity is your outdoor buddy, and he or she is all too happy to show off their new stuff.
Outdoorsy types are the worst when it comes to bragging about their latest purchase. Anyone who puts boots to dirt or skis to snow is acquainted with at least one individual who fits the mold. This person rolls up to the trailhead with the latest, most futuristic technical product that doesn’t even come out until next year because he knows a guy who works at Backcountry.com. Suddenly you don’t like your sorry old stuff anymore. Now you want what THAT guy has. This “friend” is always quick to boast about it too. I’m ashamed to say it, but thanks to FRAA, I sometimes fall into this category myself.
In a past life, I tried to be a frugal outdoorsman by concentrating on the mountain experience rather than focusing on people’s derisive looks when I set up my $30 tent bought at a discount store. I made “ignorance is bliss” my mantra every time I came face to face with the next waterproof, breathable thingamajig that promised to do everything except chew my food. But the mantra always blew apart like a trailer in a tornado when that friend-in-question points gangster-style to his brand new doohickey with (gasp) updated colors. Slowly, over the course of years, the siren song of shiny new gear eventually chipped away at my resistance until I too became a geek for gear.
Actually, that’s not accurate. My defenses crumble rather easily. Thanks to innovations like rockered skis, ultra-breathable softshell jackets, and carbon-fiber 29er mountain bikes with hydraulic saddles, “ignorance is bliss” always becomes “can I try it?” When faced with such beauty possessed by generous friends, willpower is chipped away and a new, blissful world opens upon the first pedal stroke or ski turn that makes my poor-ass gear feel like it was born circa 1885.
But beware. If you try out gear that’s better than yours, then you can kiss ignorance and frugality goodbye and say hello to the constant idea that you too can afford that gear, and the thought will never leave your head. You’ll spend days, weeks, even months justifying an expensive purchase, regardless of whether you can afford it or not. The only way to make the torture stop is to just give in and buy the damn thing. Gear envy is the gateway drug that leads to FRAA, and credit cards are the enabler.
Once you fall into the uncontrollable spin-cycle of always having to be the one with the latest and greatest gear, you’re officially a gear junkie. Like a dealer in shadowed alleyways, outdoor gear companies have your fix. Every year, hell, every change of the season, gear-slingers unleash a blizzard of new stuff that we all must buy now, or else perish in the harsh elements. Catalogs and websites present fancy product on glossy pages with descriptions penned by writers versed in the art of selling by fear. Scroll through any number of gear websites and you can scan prose about how that minus 60-degree expedition-class sleeping bag insulated with fairy wings will save your life when you unexpectedly find your sad self trapped on a knife-edge ridge in the middle of a Pakistani mountain range where no man has ever set foot. And worst of all, we live in a state that hosts the bi-annual Outdoor Retailer Market, a warehouse-size opium den of new gear that’s downright pornographic with its flaunting promises and look-but-don’t-touch teases. Step foot in the Salt Palace when that gear orgy is swinging, and you’ll turn into a quivering mass racked with gear junkie shakes.
As if that wasn’t enough, if you give into it all, then gear envy becomes the least of your problems. Massive gear accumulation is a tragic side effect, which leads to another problem – lack of storage. All that stuff can get so out of control that expansive gear closets or a giant garage become prerequisites when looking for a new home or apartment. Luckily for the ladies, an overflowing gear closet can actually be a source of pride. Nothing attracts an aggro man better than opening up that closet door and having skis, kayaks, and a full trad-climbing rack come spilling out. Our gear closet is a shrine, and outdoor recreation is our religion. But this form of worship is pricey, and for those of us who max out the credit cards, gear is a serious problem. The only way to recover from FRAA is to stop thinking about gear, and redirect our focus to what got us outdoors in the first place – simply being outside.
Learning to be happy with the gear you have is the key to a successful intervention-by-nature, but for recovering gear junkies, there are just too many ways to fall off that wagon.
Catalogs, websites, outdoor expos, demo days, and those ever-present buddies all conspire to suck you back in. It’s best to ignore the temptation. In times like these, when your mailbox explodes with glossy pages seducing you with images of jackets draped on sexy rock climbing women you’d marry in a millisecond, or by simply watching your neighbor unload next year’s top-of-the-line 29er bike from his wicked expensive hitch-mount rack, you have to get downright biblical with yourself and say, “covet not thy neighbor’s gear.”
So if you can’t afford a new setup every time the gear tide rises, and you look down at your second-hand, dented bike with caliper brakes that threaten flying lessons you each time you squeeze the handlebar, there’s another famous quote to sift through your noggin that can also work as an effective mantra to resist gear envy and Fancy Recreation Accoutrements Addiction: “that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”