– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

The meaning of gear?

As the halfway ready trip report about Lake Inari vanished to cyberspace, I will instead take part to the current hot topic: the meaning and role of the gear. As everything in the blog, these are my personal opinions.

Hendrik started the current round of conversation with his post Who is the lightest of them all?. This conversation raises regularly on forums where lightweight/UL and more traditional backpackers meet and it can even turn into a loud debate. But now the discussion is raised among light/UL backpackers themselves and there it turns out to be pretty interesting. See for example Dave’s response: (re)Defining Lightweight Backpacking. These two posts have gathered great comments from readers and are definitely worth the reading, if you are interested in the topic.


Clothing for a five day skiing trip in Lapland in January.


For most of the time I seem to be almost obsessed by gear. But my relationship to it is somewhat complex and luckily my life is not all about the gear.

I spend a lot of time tuning my gear, making speculative gear lists, surfing the net in search for new and interesting gear, reading gear reviews and learning smart ways how other people get the most out of their gear (or manage with minimal amount of gear). For me this serves at least two purposes.

First of all: I like long trips, at least a weekend long or preferably a week long ones or longer but because of studies and work I don’t have time to do these trips as often as I’d wish. The gear freakiness is a way to extrapolate my outdoor hobbies into home and office (Don’t tell them…) and offers short escapes from the mundane reality. Planning a trip, writing trip reports and editing photos serve also the same purpose and in a way they become hobbies inside a hobby.

For me the “gear hobby” is about thriving for perfection while trying to get the optimal outcome for a (too) wide variety of situations. This means compromises, and when making compromises there are endless possibilities for variation. But luckily I don’t get endlessly stuck to a certain project. It seems that I keep on adjusting and refining certain gear to the point that I am either happy with the performance or I get plain bored with the constant refining and settle with what I have.

Second, I believe that being aware of all the nice gear and the ways to use it can also offer a better nature experience. Not necessarily but possibly. And at least the long awaited trip is less likely to be ruined by gear. But gear can also ruin the nature experience if one concentrates solely to the gear and forgets the beauty of the nature. This can be caused by wrong gear that doesn’t work properly (Waterproofs not being waterproof while on a one week trip in the fells.), having not enough gear (Try forgetting a shell jacket when going climbing…) or having too much gear (That’s why I’m lightening up: to see the butterfly.)

But the gearcentricity can also be caused by one’s mind alone. This is something that backpackers on the lighter side are often accused. But I think that the judgment is highly distorted when based on blogs, forums and other forms of virtual communication. When sitting in front of a computer one is not able to enjoy the nature and gear becomes an easy topic. It is hard to write about the deep emotions experienced while out there. But this doesn’t mean that the gram shaving backpacker would not see and appreciate the beauty of the natures and experiences it can offer.

When I am out there on a trip, I don’t spend too much time thinking about my gear. Of course I make occasional remarks on it, especially if I have new gear with me or something doesn’t work as planned. But for me the optimal situation with gear would be that I wouldn’t even need to think of it when hiking. The gear would just be there, work as planned, enabling whatever I’d like to do and not slowing me down. I think that one can, and likely will, occasionally manage something close to this state. And that is a higher degree of freedom.

I am on my way to that state, or at least trying, but luckily the journey itself is as nice one as the destination.

So, eventually for me gear is on the other hand another hobby and on the other hand only means to an end.

What does it mean to you?


3 responses to “The meaning of gear?

  1. Toby 27/01/2011 at 11:33

    Hi Jaakko – I completely agree that reading about gear on the web or browsing through gear shops is really a way of thinking about your outdoor sport when you should be doing something else and can’t be outside! The manufacturers know this, so sell their products as part of the dream. I don’t even think its particularly cycnical – if we didn’t have dreams of mountains, cliffs or wide open tundra, then they wouldn’t be able to sell us the fuel to power the dream. I used to be a bit embarrassed about being a ‘gear freak’ (mainly climbing gear in my case), but I climb every week so use all the stuff I obsess about, and have come to be at peace with my gear-freakiness. My mates might mock me, but then they always come back with a sheepish grin asking if they can borrow something. 🙂

    Good luck with the blog.

  2. korpijaakko 27/01/2011 at 14:41

    Toby: Thanks. Hopefully I find enough time to keep the blog running.

    In my opinion, there is nothing wrong in owning a lot of gear if it is also used. And borrowing is like sharing the fun. If someone has a huge pile of gear that gets hardly ever used, then it might be better to give or sell it to someone who needs it more. After all, the resources on this planet are limited and we should really consider how we spent them… And the manufacturers should also think about that, but on the other hand, it is trade that keeps the world going. But maybe part of the trade could come from repairing, recycling and refining older stuff?

  3. Pingback: The Death of UL and Feeble Assumptions « Korpijaakko

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