It’s a mantra that we should all repeat from time to time: I’m not buying any new backpacking gear this year. No, it’s not because I’m not thru-hiking. This summer I will brave the CDT, as they say, but I won’t be buying anything new for this thru-hike. And no, it’s not because I already bought a bunch of new stuff before my cancelled thru-hike last spring. The truth is, before my cancelled thru-hike last spring I had only bought a couple new items, mostly replacing my long loved and long used, but worn out tent.
The reason I’m not buying any new backpacking gear this year is because I don’t need anything. Simple as that: I don’t need any new gear, and that’s good. I’ve bought enough high quality stuff over the years that nothing is worn out and nothing is broken. I don’t need that new rain jacket. My rain jacket works well enough. My down puffy jacket has a lot of holes, and a lot of patches, and I’m keeping it. That puffy is the only thing in my backpacking set up that has more patches than my inflatable sleeping pad, which I’m keeping too.
Why replace when you can repair and continue using? Yeah, there’s probably at least one more hole in my pad, and I’ll use the remaining winter months to find that hole. My puffy is only 850 fill. Yeah I know, 1000 fill is available, but 850 is still warm, pretty light, and think of all those geese it took to fill this one!
I carried all my backpacking gear across Colorado last summer, and the PCT the year before, so I know it’s not too heavy. I have carried it. It’s not too heavy. I know that newer could be lighter than the slightly less new gear, by grams or even ounces, think of the weight savings! But I’ve carried my old gear, and I know it works great.
I get it, though. It’s cold outside right now and those long days hiking for 8 hours seem so far away. We want something to focus on, we need to prepare. So we can feel like the time for backpacking is here. Well, winter will be over soon enough and you’re probably already prepared, let’s be honest. Maybe all the preparation you really need is to get off the internet and go for a hike.
If you’ve never been backpacking and are planning to get out there this season, then you should be buying all the gear! But even you, young backpacker, maybe don’t buy it all. Buy the bare minimum to start so you can find out what you actually need when you go out there on your first shakedown hike.
Use, learn, adjust, repeat. Maybe that’s a better mantra.
Buying new gear isn’t inherently bad, entirely. I do it, we all do it. But you can’t argue with what is perhaps humanity’s greatest achievement: the giant landfills that dwarf the rolling hills of the American plains and have led to the new industry of landfill mining.
Yes, you can buy used, which is infinitely better, but do you need that new gear at all? I get it, sometimes you really have worn out that puffy jacket and it looks like a deflated balloon (should have patched those holes sooner!). And your tent sometimes stops working at keeping the weather out, or is seriously not the right tent for you. That’s all fine, buy what you need.
But so much energy seems to be put into new gear that there has to be a counterbalance. We just don’t all need new gear this year. I bet that due to the pandemic, some people barely had the opportunity to use their outdoor gear last summer. And now there’s a new version of that tent, a lighter sleeping bag with even better water resistant down, and a rain jacket that claims to be even more breathable than the last one that wasn’t really breathable even though it claimed to be. And all that “old gear” is going to live its life in the back of closets, garages, and sheds while the new stuff will get light use for a year or two, and the cycle goes on.