Simplify Or Die (For Perfect Outdoor Experience )

What’s your picture of the classic outdoorsman? If it’s anything like mine he (or she!) is carrying a small knapsack containing the bare essentials for life in the backwoods: a knife, an axe, a pound of tea, a pipe, and some tobacco to fill it, a frying pan, a small kettle or billy can, a few fish hooks and some fishing line, matches, a wool blanket, and a few extra cooking ingredients.

With this in mind, how is it that I need so much kit?

Of course, in the UK (and most places these days) I can’t just go out and fell a tree for shelter or make cooking fires wherever I stop so I need some extra stuff but do I really need this much? The answer is most definitely no!

Now is an ideal time to simplify things – to change expectations and change needs. But it’s a tough thing to do. I like buying stuff as much as the next man but over the last few years, I’ve increasingly been questioning myself. If I think back over a couple of decades of buying the outdoor kit I can count on the fingers of both hands the things which have really impressed me and I’ve come to rely on.

I would need many fewer fingers to count the items that I couldn’t live without. So what does this mean? Has it all been a waste of time and money? It’s been great fun trying out different things but I can’t help thinking I’m missing something.

When it comes to buying stuff, marketing has a very powerful influence. Even those, like myself, who like to believe they’re immune to it fall under the spell of the marketer. It’s great at making us think we can have anything we want in any quantity.

In marketing, there’s no downside. Look at the smiling faces of the people in the adverts, the guy hanging off that awesome rock face – it’s all good. But is it? There must surely be a downside.

There are of course a few downsides. A recent report gave outdoor gear manufacturers a good kicking:

Ethical Consumer magazine says that, despite having a healthy and wholesome image the outdoor gear industry is in reality heavily dependent upon oil-based chemicals for the production of everything from tents to walking jackets, the production of which results in highly polluting toxic waste.

The authors say in their outdoor gear special buyers’ guide they surveyed more than 60 companies and found ‘virtually all the companies pay little regard for environmental issues with most having woefully inadequate environmental and ethical reporting policies’.

The 16-page report features some of the best know brands in the outdoor market. Tim Hunt of Ethical Consumer and co-author of the buyers’ guide said: “It’s the ultimate irony that whilst outdoor gear companies depend upon a pristine environment for their profitability the vast majority show a total disregard for the environmental impact of their businesses.”

Yet it appears environmental concerns come low on most buyers’ list of priorities. Co-author Simon Birch admits that, in a recent survey in a leading hillwalking magazine, the issue barely registers on most people’s radar when buying new gear – a surprising and disappointing finding, he says.

From Grough:

The authors of the report appear to have a relatively extreme viewpoint as they marked manufacturers down for using leather and manufacturing for the armed forces but the overall thrust is crystal clear.

With very few notable exceptions the big outdoor gear manufacturers have just one thing in mind – they want us to buy more stuff and it’s something they’re very good at achieving. The big question is how long can we go on consuming at the current rate if nothing changes?

The truth is, as much as we all bang on about minimum impact, leaving no trace, leaving only footprints and a load of other stuff, how many of us can say we apply the same ethics to our whole lives and to our outdoor gear buying choices? I certainly can’t.

One minute I’m looking in dismay at pictures of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the next I’m looking at the latest rucksack made from products from the very same industry. A feature of our modern lifestyle is the very distant link between manufacturer and consumer.

The effect of our consumption is hidden from us and these days is usually far far away but have no doubt, it’s there. Notice the use of the word consumption. It’s very easy these days to become just a “consumer” rather than the more wholesome “user”.

So what’s the answer? Most of us are in the fortunate position of being able to make a choice. We’re not generally buying this stuff because our life depends on it.

If I went out dressed in a pair of trainers and any random old clothing I found I’m sure it wouldn’t make any difference 99% of the time. Of course, I never know when that other 1% will happen but I think it’s time to rethink my needs and think about what really matters to me.

“What?!” I hear you cry – “North Mountain Face Equipment has just released a new version of their great Glacier jacket. It looks fantastic”. Ah, but do you really need one? Fair enough – if your old jacket’s knackered or you don’t have a jacket buy one – but come on, do you really need one?

Are those fantastic new features really worth the spend? For mass-market manufacturers to sell mass-market quantities of gear, product design has to be largely driven by what appeals to the average guy on the street.

The adventurous dog walker, the guy in the pub who looks like he’s popped in after an evening at the crag. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily what would really work well for the outdoor enthusiast. It doesn’t stop me from being suckered into it.

I’ve decided to have a good long look at my needs and my goals and to simplify! To aid my simplification I’m setting some ground rules:

1. Ruthlessly weed out unused kits. Sell it or give it away.

2. Don’t look for that killer item that’s sure to make all the others redundant before I’ve reached the limits of what I’ve got.

3. Rate quality far higher than fashion.

4. Really think about multiple-use items.

5. Have a purpose or goal in mind before buying.