Imagine you’ve just shown up to the trailhead, sporting your very first pair of premium hiking boots. You found them on sale just 2 days ago and, miracle of miracles, they fit!
But leaning against the (nonexistent) starting gate is Carl Campmaster, the authority on all things hiking. As you fill your water bottle at the pump, he twiddles his man-bun and lets fly these words of wisdom: “Actually, did you know that Salomon makes the best boots? Actually, you’re just going to get blisters if you buy on clearance at REI. Actually, did you know you shouldn’t be buying from REI at all? Small cottage makers are actually better, because they actually care about their products.”
Intelligent, helpful sentences rarely begin with the word, “actually.” On behalf of outdoors folk everywhere, Carl, shut the hell up. No one asked you, and we’re not buying your superior attitude. Go huff the fumes from your Jetboil, and let the rest of us enjoy the trail.
Unfortunately, gear snobbery isn’t just common, sometimes it’s downright rampant. I’m sure you’ve experienced these conversations — and if we’re being honest, most of us have been the perpetrator at least once or twice.
On some level, it’s understandable. Gear enthusiasts tend to obsess about stats, testing, reviews, and research. And when you’ve devoted so much time and passion to a topic, it can be difficult to keep your knowledge to yourself.
But there’s a difference between being helpful and obnoxious. So, before you shower others with your presumed wisdom, here are a few reminders that, on some level, nobody cares.
The Many Faces of Gear Shame
Opinions: Available Upon Request
I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this one. When you’re excited about a subject and it comes up in conversation, sometimes it’s easy to get carried away. This is especially true when you run across a fellow enthusiast. Finally, a chance to talk about the intricate details of tents, backpacks, pocket knives, or bicycles!
But we all know someone who likes to rant about politics or “cheap, foreign-made” products at inappropriate times. Lecturing someone else on the ins and outs of gear produces a very similar effect. When you find yourself on the receiving end of such an experience, it’ll change your perspective real quick.
An overemphasis on niche terminology can also reinforce others’ feeling of “imposter syndrome.” Folks who insist on throwing out details that are exponentially deeper than the conversation calls for produce immediate discomfort and dislike.
I aggressively don’t care about the composition of your synthetic down jacket, or the riboflavin content of your granola.
Someone who’s engaged and curious will ask you clarifying questions if they don’t understand. Otherwise, don’t assume folks have the knowledge or fluency that you do. Don’t dominate the conversation; read the room.
Keep It Positive
This one’s pretty simple: Don’t make uninvited negative comments on someone else’s gear choices. Just because you watched every YouTube video on the pros and cons of a particular ski jacket doesn’t give you the right to critique someone’s apparel.
Let’s go back to Mr. Campmaster’s hiking beta. If you’re like me, you’d be happy to see ol’ Carl get treed by a bear.
Outdoor adventure is supposed to be a boundless experience. But as GearJunkie’s hunting and fishing editor, Rachelle Schrute, states, “It’s a barrier to the outdoors. There are those too afraid to recreate with others because of that undertone of having ‘inferior’ gear.”
Here’s a personal example: I review knives and multitools. And my friends who know this sometimes ask, “Hey, Josh, what do you think of my new knife?” Often, they’ll pull out a blade they bought from the gas station, likely bearing the name of a firearm brand. Odds are, it’ll have a half-serrated blade.
My first instinct might be, “Wow, uh, you could definitely do better.” But then, I think back to the first time I showed a coworker (who was far more well-traveled and wealthy than I) my new watch — a black Fossil. Even now, thinking about his expression makes me cringe.
I’ve had petty, but heated arguments with friends over knife steels — how stupid is that? At the end of the day, it’s only gear. And any piece of gear that gets folks outside having a good time is good gear.
So when somebody asks for your opinion, try to be as positive as possible. No one wants to feel bad about their purchases, and there’s no reason to cast doubt on someone else’s judgment.
Budget Gear Is a Joy
Snobbery is a trap and a lie. Look — I understand that there’s a difference between a $12 Casio and a $10K Rolex. But both instruments tell the time, and you can look pretty damn stylish wearing each.
Well-made, budget-friendly gear should be celebrated; it gets more people involved in the hobbies and pursuits we love. When quality and affordability meet, it raises the bar for everyone. Remember, it’s the hiker, not the shoes, that sets an FKT.
But, there’s an uglier aspect here. Again, Schrute: “Gear shame can often, in my world, equate to poverty shame. I’ve hunted with plenty of people who sheepishly start to give me reasons they wear Walmart hunting gear without even being prompted. And they immediately put themselves as a lower-class hunter, which is BS.”
That hits home. It’s one of the things that have kept me away from the enthusiast realm of cycling. I’ve had people try to guilt or push me into spending thousands of dollars on a bike. They insist on breaking down every reason why my $120 consignment find (which, by the way, I was super proud of tracking down during the pandemic) wasn’t worth the rubber it was riding on.
But guess what, jerks? My calves grew several inches thanks to this vintage Schwinn, and I just might beat you up that next hill.
If you’ve ever felt the need to qualify a piece of gear you owned — or apologize for it — ask yourself where that came from.
Don’t Get Caught Up in Brand Crusades
Brand crusaders are the white knights of the gear world, and I mean that in the least positive sense. These internet personalities get hold of some “new” bit of information, and go on mad tirades against a designer or maker.
They build a following with their demagoguery and fade away as the controversy passes. Unless, of course, they find another outrage to justify their bully pulpit.
For example, a few years back, the Rockwell Scale was all the talk of the internet knife community. But, one thing led to another, people began pointing fingers and proselytizing with bad-faith arguments, and it sent a whole bunch of hobbyists scurrying for the exits.
Several of these victims were my friends, and I still haven’t forgiven the cutlery hobby in general for its idiocy. We lost some good people, thanks to the demagoguery of a bunch of clowns. Have fun in your knife-shaped echo chambers, gentle-sirs!
It’s important to recognize the line between legitimate critique and outright meanness. Unless, of course, you find out that a maker engaged in racially insensitive marketing campaigns, or crafted handle scales from endangered rhino horn. In that case, it’s probably best to sound the alarm.
Your Kit Is Not Your Identity
Even as gear lovers, there’s only so long we can stay on the topic — $300 puffy, $800 tent, and the lightest of ultralight packs. If that’s all you have going for you, people will notice in a hurry.
But that shame runs both ways. I can’t tell you home many times I’ve heard hiking YouTubers make snarky comments about people rocking brand-new, barely used equipment.
“[Dirtbags] don’t want to be seen with me when I’m testing new gear,” admits GearJunkie climbing editor Seiji Ishii.
Come on, folks. Even if your pack made it from Georgia to Maine, it didn’t come preseasoned with sweat and ramen crumbs. Everything (including your damn attitude) requires a break-in period. Remember, though your load-out offers a window to personal preferences and tastes, the things you carry aren’t you.
What I’m saying is this: Discussing your gear choices is fine. But for the love of God, no one wants to hear the story of why you “only wear Patagucci” each and every time outwear comes up in conversation.
If you let your preferences become the basis of your personal and emotional capital, your priorities are woefully misplaced.
If you skimmed everything to this point, it all boils down to this: Sometimes, not everyone is as gear-focused as you. And that’s okay!
Our outdoor hobbies would be pretty dull if everyone wore the same kit, focused on the same things, and came to identical conclusions.
The “right” equipment varies by person, and its job is only to boost your adventures. So have fun, get excited, and share your passion.
But remember that, on some level, it’s just stuff.