It's a new year which means that all the gear I used last year is rendered useless now. I should probably never use it again because 2017 is long gone and so are the designs that went with it. Right?
Of course not, but that's what we tend to think right about now as brands begin to unleash new and tempting products. Just like you, I'm eager to find out who's coming out with what like a kid at Christmas. The truth is though, it's pretty rare that a company comes out with anything worthy of mention let alone a purchase. The marketing cycle we're in now with brands is ugly and I'm growing weary of people releasing new things just to release new things.
There are brands that drive me insane with how often they revise their designs year after year. I see pack after pack pumped out like clock work with complete redesigns only to be discarded the year after it is released. One of two things are happening here - either these companies suck so freaking bad at designing that they have to redesign everything each year because the last one didn't work OR they're doing it because they know you'll drop the cash to get the latest and greatest from them regardless of how awesome the last model was. I recently saw a comment on an Instagram account from a guy who "needed" this a new pack from one such company even though he admitted to never even using the one he bought from them last year. What?!
I get it. I'm in the same boat when it comes to this kind of thing. Just like you, I find myself in the black hole of YouTube trying to find any sliver of reason why the pack I used last year is no good anymore. Clearly if a company is coming out with a new design, that means the old design is flawed, right? Maybe, but maybe not.
Just admit it that we love new stuff! Go ahead and say it out loud as you read this post. I FREAKING LOVE NEW GEAR! Why? Because I am a hopeless romantic, but in the adventure sense. Though I can't stand most outdoor stores (Cabela's....cough...REI..cough, cough), I still go into them because I love thinking of the adventures I could have with everything I see. I think of kayaking down the Grand Canyon, climbing some peak in Patagonia, or chasing the ram that's staring me down from the taxidermy displays.
So, how do we sort through all the new stuff coming out? How can we efficiently go about selecting what gear is worth purchasing and which is not? Well, I'm going to answer that very question and it's going to make your life better and you won't have to have that awkward conversation with your wife either.
Deciding what gear is worth purchasing comes down to two easy elements
- Does the spec sheet of this item actually improve my position when compared to the gear I already have?
- Does this new piece of kit improve my overall experience by making me more comfortable, efficient, or safe?
The Spec Sheet
The devil is in the details. Always, always, ALWAYS, analyze the spec sheet. I've ruled out entire companies based only on their spec sheets. Why? Because most of the time pictures sell people on ideas even though the numbers don't work out (welcome to marketing). I recently found a new sleeping system that looked super cool in pictures, but when I looked at the specs, I saw that it weighed almost 2 pounds more than my current set up and used crappy insulation. Exit stage right...
My belief in spec sheets has become such a pillar in my decision making that if a company fails to properly spec their gear, I begin to question their intentions, transparency, and goodwill towards its customers. You know you've found a unicorn when the design marry's up with the spec sheet. When that happens, you pull the trigger. But let's be honest, most of the time that's not the case. If you've been in the backpacking and hunting game a while and have invested into gear over the past 3-5 years, odds are you probably don't need anything coming out in 2018. Sorry...but it's true.
Does the new gear improve my position?
Every single piece of gear you purchase should improve your overall comfort, efficiency, or safety. If there was a throne built on making bad purchases, I'd be sitting atop right now (come at me, bro!). I've literally bought gear knowing that it didn't help me. Why? I have no idea... but it's probably because I'm sick. As a result I have drawers full of knives and bins full of gear that I'll literally never use and never have used. I think I just like buying cool stuff, but I've since gotten better at it. I'm actually so good at it now that I'll go into a store with my purchase face on looking for a specific product from a specific brand that should improve my overall position and walked out empty handed because what I found didn't improve it enough to warrant a purchase. Why should I spend money on something just because I "think" I need it? I now only spend money on things that I actually believe in that will improve my situation.
Sometimes you just need to start saying "no" before you can be effective at saying "yes." Each time you feel drawn to a new piece of kit, really ask yourself how much of an impact that thing will have on your overall experience. I went through this recently with the desire for a new hunting rifle, but as I began to compare my trusty 30.06 from the 1980's to what was out there on the market today, I realized that there wasn't that much of a reason to make a purchase. Why? Because when I'm hunting, I'm trying to hit a pie plate, not a tack, and I'm certainly not trying to drive 3 shots into the same hole over and over again. For my purposes, my old ass rifle is doing a fine job of taking down a deer when I need it to.
As brands begin pumping out new products this year you should be excited, but don't be so willing to your hard earned money in their hands without really analyzing your purchase. If the spec sheet tells you it's not a good idea and it doesn't clearly improve your comfort, efficiency, or safety, then let it go. Let 2018 be about being more intentional with your gear, your trips, your family, and your friends.
If you're new to backpacking and hunting, then I envy you because the world is your oyster and there are a ton of amazing products out there waiting for you that will no doubt improve your life. However, if you're an experienced member of the backcountry and you've already purchased some great stuff, this year is going to be hard for you...but I'll be there anytime you need a shoulder to cry on.
Get out there and do some cool stuff!