Who's Your Gear Guide?
These are the folks who help you build your gear collection. Learn the pros and cons of following their advice and how to shop like them: The Early Adopter I The Dirtbag I The Curator I The Minimalist I The Multi-Purposer
Gear Reviewers, A Backpacking Guide, An Alpine Adventurer, and a Climber.
Your intrepid aunt in Alaska; the quiet former thru-hiker at your local REI; the ski patroller you’ve admired since you were a kid; the office bike messenger. Heck, maybe it’s you.
We’ve all got them: Gear Guides. Whether we’re building a pack from scratch or looking to make our latest refinements, these are the folks we turn to for inspiration. One of the most interesting things about them is how wildly different their recommendations can be; we sat down with some of our favorite product reviewers, adventure guides, and retail employees to discuss the different ways a Gear Guide can show up in your life – and the pros and cons of listening to each one:
Motto: Always down to try something new.
Description: This person always has something new to pull out of their bag. Permanently ahead of the crowd, they constantly are on the lookout for the season’s latest items. From new fabrics to new technologies, they’re willing to give it a whirl for the simple thrill of being first – and therefore being one of the first to have an opinion on the matter.
"Early adoption is a double-edged sword," says Chris Brinlee Jr., Adventurer & Gear Tester. "On one hand, it can lead to expensive purchases that see very little use after the initial excitement wears off. On the other hand, splurging on exciting technologies or upgrading outdated gear can help us save time or become more efficient."
- Quick to acquire means you’re not waiting on backordered hot items (you already snagged it!)
- Potential influencer points if you’re one of the first to share your own reviews/reactions online
- You'll probably get invited on a lot of trips as the resident futurist
- Can get pricey
- Trial-and-error: not every pick is going to be a long-term winner
- You're the guinea pig: second and third generation models may come out with improvements based on your own user feedback
How they find their gear: Kickstarter (and other crowdfunding platforms), Seasonal Gear Guides, Design Awards and Best Of Awards.
Motto: Bargain, Borrow, Repair.
Description: If good gear is built to last, then up-cycling and buying second-hand is the smartest thing you can do. This person is always on the lookout for a good deal, but exclusively for great brands and products because they’re going to use it…a lot. They value quality as paramount but are willing to wait for the right moment – and the right price – and have the inside scoop on the best sales and secret channels in town.
“Us Dirtbags come clean up after the Early Adopters” says Joe, BioLite’s Digital Marketing & Analytics Manager (he’s a frequent climber and formerly worked at Brooklyn Boulders). “Kidding aside, a great tip is to check out Craigslist postings outside your town or city, especially in areas known for active outdoor communities: spots like Bellingham or Freeport have insanely great deals on the regular because so many people are buying and trying new sports and activities."
- You can save a ton of money - and no one is the wiser
- You can spend that money on stuff that matters...like a beer after your hike.
- You get really familiar with the brands and products that can stand up over time vs the ones that show their wear fairly quickly.
- Sometimes you're a season behind on the latest designs and materials
- Not all purchases should be second hand: items like helmets and climbing rope are designed to be safely used only a certain number of times and it's hard to determine their shelf life when purchased used. For other items, know how to inspect gear properly especially if safety performance is involved.
How they find their gear: Craigslist, Garage Sales, Gear Swaps, Facebook Marketplace.
Motto: Big Collection, Precise Selection.
Description: Just like the resident expert at your local art museum, their collection is vast – yet their presentation is on point. Translation: their gear closet is probably close to bursting, but their 40L on your next backpacking trip is precisely packed with exactly what they need for that specific occasion. They love adventuring in all sorts of ways and their kit adapts seamlessly to each situation, expanding for big group trips and contracting for ultralight sprints. Goldilocks, you’ve met your match.
"I have a large gear closet crammed full of pretty much all of the gear I need to visit any place on Earth," says Kraig Becker who reviews gear for The Adventure Blog and Digital Trends. "When packing for an adventure I always like to go as light as possible however, so I carefully select the items that I take with me. My approach is to bring everything I need and nothing I don't. On a recent trip to the Arctic for example my backpack weighed just 27 pounds, but still had everything I needed to stay warm and comfortable.”
- By finding a time and place for everything, you're open to new experiences (and new gear!)
- You're good at identifying gear that sticks by you through almost any trip. (Like - shameless plug - how your Solar Panel 5+ tags along on bike-packing trips, hikes and your camping trips).
- Gear closets can quickly become a gear room if you don’t watch out.
- When word gets out among friends and family, you may get hit up with a lot of 'can I borrow...?' Establish some boundaries and don't be afraid to call back an item if it's been a while.
How they find their gear: Anywhere and everywhere. The real test is experiencing the gear in real-time and deciding when it'll show up in their pack next.
Motto: Less is More.
Description: This person believes a gear kit should be simple, lightweight, and most importantly functional. And you know their gear kit is dialed in to the last ounce. They are hesitant to expand their gear closet but when they do, they are very prescriptive about exactly what they need.
“I guess for me it's not really a question of 'light weight' as much as 'right weight'," says Sam Combs, Backpacking Guide at Discover Outdoors. "I take a good hard look at the scope of my upcoming activity and then at my gear and say 'do I have more than one use for you?' If the answer is yes, then it pretty much always makes the cut. If not, I'd rather not lug it around. Being a Guide means that certain items are essential (Med kit, Communications gear, extra layers for forgetful clients etc.), so I certainly get stingy on personal items where I can. When I'm unpacking my bag at the end of a weekend if there is anything inside that I didn't use, let's just say it gets put on the "think twice" list before it makes the pack next outing.”
- Your gear kit is made up of a few pieces of reliable gear from brands you trust.
- You learn from experience and keep your pack's weight down by only packing essentials.
- When you need new gear, you know exactly what you are looking for in terms of form factor, functionality, size, weight, and even brand.
- It's easy to get siloed into only buying brands that you've trusted in the past causing you to miss out on new innovations that may serve you well.
- Being so preoccupied with cutting ounces can be distracting and cause you to overlook packing certain necessities. As Sam mentions, strive for the right weight rather than just lightweight.
How they find their gear: While they might buy from an outdoor shop, they’re doing a ton of research beforehand by hitting up the experts: folks like ski patrol, search and rescue, river guides, and others who have to be fast and light in extreme conditions are fountains of information for the minimalist.
Motto: Get Creative With Your Gear.
Description: To this person, everything is a swiss-army knife: a bowl isn’t just a bowl, it’s a speaker for music; they know how to use a bandana 50 different ways; they’ve worn the same shirt for five days straight, two of which was on their head. They know how to stretch their gear in creative ways, unlocking potential that only comes with a healthy dose of on-the-fly imagination and the constraint of a pack.
Johnie at Dirtbag Darling says, “A hammock is not a hammock. It’s a hammock, a sun shelter, a beach blanket, a tarp, and somewhere to coil a climbing rope. When you start planning a new adventure or on trying a new outdoor sport, look for the most versatile gear you can. Maybe that’s a rain shell that can keep water off you in a storm and while kayaking. A well-made 35-liter backpack with good support is probably a lot more practical than buying one day pack and one 60-liter overnight bag. You can’t go wrong with a solid pair of waterproof hiking boots that can take you from the desert to the high peaks. A camp stove that can boil water and charge your electronics is a space saver.”
- Your cleverness often leads to comfort: you know the hacks that make you feel at home outdoors.
- By seeing potential everywhere, you can see beyond outdoor hype: sometimes a no-name tarp can be just as helpful as your high-tech all-weather performance blanket.
- Not all gear is meant to be used in a variety of outdoor adventures. Make sure to test out the gear to ensure it performs well in multiple off-grid scenarios before relying on it.
Where to Shop: A lot of the time, it starts by forgetting to pack something and figuring out what to use as a substitute: “I forgot my camping pillow and realized that my small roll-top dry bag worked just as well,” says BioLiter Erica about a recent trip to Iceland. “I’ve taken so much fluff out of my pack and now it motivates me to unpack my dry-bag dopp kit diligently in a corner pocket of my tent.”
By outlining the pros and cons of these Guides, our hope is that you have everything you need to find new, helpful guides within your own network. Ahead of your next trip, ask your Uncle the mountaineer for his advice on what pack you should use or talk to your friend who works on bikes at your local shop for tips on the best bike-packing gear. Once you know what gear you’d like to try, consider testing out one of the tips recommended above. Maybe you borrow from a friend or buy second hand or back a new crowdfunding project. However you go about gearing up, have fun with it.