Many people feel they need the newest top of the line gear before they can get out for an adventure. I love new outdoor gear as much as the next person but over the years I have learned to love the gear I have and I resist replacing gear until it is literally falling apart or I have been using it well beyond its’ capabilities for some time. The truth is you really don’t need much to be able to go for a hike, an overnight camping trip or even to get out snowboarding. You might just need to be creative and determined.
I grew up in rural Nova Scotia abundant with rolling hills and beautiful shorelines to explore. My siblings and I were hiking and mountain biking before we knew that they could be a specific recreational activity. For us it was just going outside to play which we did with whatever pair of shoes we had at the time. During university I lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia so I had to make a specific effort to get out to explore natural places. There was a Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) near my school which is where I first discovered hiking specific footwear. Up to that point an old pair of running shoes were the hiking footwear of choice. It was at this MEC that I picked up my first pair of hiking shoes (Merrell Moabs, $120 CAD) and began to explore the rugged coastlines South of the city. I was blown away at the difference a Vibram sole and a plastic shank made on rocky shorelines. Suddenly my confidence in my footing grew and I would traverse long swaths rocky of shoreline via a half jog half parkour motion, running and rock hopping. I’m sure I looked hilarious, an adult male in his early 20’s with already greying hair, hopping down the shoreline as if everything not a rock was lava. I wore that first pair of hiking shoes for years. I wore them to my classes, on shoreline lava sessions and on some of my first multi-day backcountry hikes such as Cape Chignecto. As they wore out I realized I would benefit from a bit more ankle support for those multi-day hikes with a heavy pack on.
When the time came I upgraded to a pair of Solomon Quest hiking boots ($225 CAD) which were still light enough for day hikes but had the necessary ankle support for those days spent with a heavy pack on. I’m not sure if others feel this way but I can get borderline nostalgic about old gear. Those hiking boots took me there and back again on many many adventures. I wore them on backcountry hikes such as Cape Chignecto in Nova Scotia, the Long Range Traverse in Newfoundland and the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. By the end of their life they had begun to split at the seams from wear and I would often apply duct tap as a waterproofing solution.
Skiing and snowboarding are the types of sports that appear to have a high barrier to entry both from a financial and skills standpoint. In my experience that may be the general perception but it doesn’t have to be the norm. My first real snowboarding experience was when I joined a friend and his family for a trip to Quebec in high school. I borrowed a setup and learned how to snowboard on the fly, much to my friend’s enjoyment. He would typically stop at the top of every steep pitch to watch me crash, tumble and slide to the bottom. By the end of several days on the hill I was a bit bruised and battered but I was starting to figure it out. Prior to this trip I had only ever strapped a snowboard on once. Note that I was still young and bounced back pretty quickly from falls. To minimize chances of injury you might want to consider lessons with a friend or instructor. A few years later I picked up a used snowboard setup for $100 CAD that included boots, bindings and board. I rode this setup at ski hills in Nova Scotia, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta. It was my only setup for 8+ years and it worked perfectly for me. I wasn’t caught up in having the fanciest gear, I just loved getting out on the mountain. Pictured below are my old boots complete with duct tape repairs as well as my old board setup (along with a small pair of old boots given to me by a friend). In winter of 2020 I sold the board, bindings and small boots for $40 CAD. Not bad considering the amount of use I got out of the board and I’m pumped to think it’s still getting more use!
I believe you should only buy new gear when you have been participating in an activity enough to justify it. For example, I love backcountry split-boarding. The initial setup is quite expensive however (~$1500 CAD) so for the last 5 years I have rented or borrowed gear each time I go, which up until this past winter was only a few times a year. This past winter I got out 5+ times and could have gotten out more if I had my own setup. Rentals were booking weeks in advance and at $75-$100 a day for a rental setup it’s now getting close to justifying the need for my own setup.
In summary here are a few of my own personal rules for equipment:
- Don’t let the lack of specialized equipment hold you back from a sweet adventure, you can go hiking with an old pair of running shoes and you can camp with budget equipment.
- Use the equipment you have to it’s capabilities and beyond (unless it’s a legitimate safety hazard).
- Only consider buying new / specialized equipment once you have participated in an activity enough to justify the need.
I hope you enjoyed this post and are inspired to squeeze every last drop out of your equipment. Don’t let lack of equipment or old equipment hold you back from an adventure. You might just need to be a bit creative and maintain the focus that the adventure itself is the primary goal. Keep your eye out for another post this week. Last week was Canada day and we spent it out in the mountains camping and enjoying this beautiful country. As a result I now have to make up for it to keep my commitment of writing a post every week.