Ice out in Algonquin Park was literally just announced, for the paddling community has been sitting anxiously awaiting for the official declaration. You see not everyone is a year round camper, I know shocking right?! People have patiently awaited the cold months until this moment and trips have been planned to be taken at the spur of the moment or whenever ice is out. Can you imagine pulling out your gear only to find that the life jacket you put away wet last year is moldy or worse you left a granola bar in the pocket and an opportunistic mouse has been snacking over the winter through the hole they chewed? I’d be deeply saddened by the loss but excited that a trip the the gear store was in order, don’t lie to yourself you know the feeling.
How do we prevent ourselves from becoming a gear addict? How do you prevent overspending on gear you really don’t need but want because its shiny, new, the latest, your old gear ‘might not have long left’, etc. First take care of what you already have, check the pockets of gear, life jackets, backpacks, hydration packs and make sure there’s no stray food. We like to hang our life jackets from a hook in the ceiling in the off season with a rope and pulley to keep them not only out of the way but this also lets them air out. Our tents, mats and tarps also get a good airing and drying out at the end of every trip so they are never put away wet, they get stored in air tight blue barrels in the garage so the critters can’t get them. Our sleeping bags are used monthly and get and airing out before being put away loosely in dry bags. Maintain gear such as stoves, lanterns and paddles you want to make sure you keep what you already own in tip top shape which makes it harder to spend money when things still work and function the way they should.
Back to the trip the gear store, the one you’ve been thinking of since I mentioned it. If you are anything like us you already have a running list of what you want to ‘look’ at while you are checking out a new life jacket, I know I would. How do you keep yourself from blowing the budget the moment you enter the store, here are some questions to ask yourself when you have to replace gear that’s damaged, worn out or lost.
Before purchasing an item ask yourself:
- Will this item last? How long 1,5,10,15 years? Certain companies offer lifetime warranties on their products. While usually a little more money, those are the companies we look for as they stand behind their product. Along the same lines ask the question, can this gear be repaired? easily and by whom?
- Can this item be multi-pose or is it a single use item for example a water bottle can be used to measure, carry water, used a lantern with a flashlight attached, a hot water bottle etc. eliminating the use for other non essential gear. BUT sometimes a sleeping bag is just a sleeping bag or a tent is just a tent.
- Quality. This goes back to number one, don’t buy cheaply made items that are going to fall apart after one season just because its on sale or discounted. Plastic clips break and can’t be fixed, seams come apart or one lone thread unravels.
- Is it made locally? Probably not. The next question should be was it ethically made in fair wage environment?
- Retailers. Are you purchasing from an online source, big box type store or a local outfitter? Its important to support the smaller, local outfitters where you live and or play. For us its harder, there are none with in a 45 km drive so we tend to accumulate a list of things to ‘have a look at’ throughout the year sometimes we will wait until we get to a specific outfitter to buy. Often outfitter or outdoor store specific staff are more knowledgeable and helpful than the big box gear retailers so support the small retailers.
- Stay with me on this one….can we make it instead or re purpose an old piece of gear? We have come up with some good gear hacks overtime, we have converted water filters into gravity fed ones, made our own hot water bottle cozies, stuff sacks and even hammocks. Think about it, that old sleeping bag could be turned into a dog’s sleeping bag (trust us, its a thing and they are not cheap)
- Do you have another piece of gear you could use instead? I know we are guilty of this, I found an entire plastic bin marked ‘camping gear’ on the top shelf in the garage. I thought I knew what was in there but in reality I had forgotten. I found a Trangia stove, brand new camping frying pan(which we desperately needed) several replacement pots I had purchased off an outfitters ‘used’ table many years before. So go thru your gear closet, plastic bins and have a look at what you already have before buying new.
- Do your research, make sure that this is the right gear for your needs. Read reviews, research price points and ask questions. Chances are you will get an honest review from a friend or forum who owns or has used the gear in question.
- Cost. You’ve asked yourself, do you want it, need it, crave it? Whatever but now ask yourself how long will it take to pay for said piece of gear. Be honest break it down by how long you would have to work to pay for it, by the hour, day or week. It can be an eyeopener. We don’t mind paying a bit more for an item that will last us longer. You can use the same formula and figure out how many trips you would have to use it on to make it worth it, of course the more trips you use it on the less it costs in the end.
You probably won’t make it out of the store with only the life jacket, if you are anything like me you remembered you left your water bottle next to the campfire too close this winter and it’s melted, there’s no escaping replacing that or the head wear section. Multipurpose head wear is my weakness and there is just no way I ‘am leaving without a new buff (there my secret addiction is exposed). Stay tuned for a future post focusing on multipurpose head wear addiction, cause its a thing and I know I’m no the only one to suffer from it!