Hello, my name is Matt and I’m a gearaholic.
I grew up with a relatively healthy, if not a bit overly enthusiastic relationship with outdoor gear. We spent our family vacations hiking and camping. Our basement is stocked with old, somewhat outdated gear that had trustily served my Dad since his days hiking and climbing through Kenya and circumnavigating the States via bicycle. When we packed for camping trips, I would eagerly descend into the rows of labeled boxes, pull out and sort through enameled camp ware, external frame backpacks, battered, well loved Thermarests, and metal canteens to find the tent, rope, and lanterns.
It all changed when my Dad and I took our first backpacking trip together—the summer before my junior year of high school. Trips to the local REI became a near weekly occurrence; we knew the shift changes and where to avoid judgment. How to dart towards the sale section. How to stare wistfully at a $700 backpack until, suddenly the $500 one, previously out of your price range, seemed a reasonable purchase. How to justify everything with a muttered, “we’re members—we get ten percent back on all of this at the end of the year.”
I think I began to know I had a problem when I was first introduced to Steep and Cheap. It combined irresistible deals with the pressure cooker of a ticking clock, displaying how long the item is available. When it was gone, it was gone. Even worse, they had an app. I was late to a date because I stood sweating over my phone anxiously bidding on a tent. I bought an anniversary edition Stanley thermos at 2 a.m. on the way home from a bar. Once, my friends tried to confront me when I bought a sleeveless alpine base layer bodysuit—useless in pretty much all occasions. But I shook off their accusations with feigned ignorance. I just liked gear. I could stop whenever I wanted. Soon I began to run low on funds, so I applied to every outdoor store in the area. The user attempting to become a pusher, just to afford his habit.
I couldn’t live like this anymore. Something needed to be done. I told myself I needed to go West and get away. I needed to journey into a land where I had to stop buying and I was limited to what I could carry on my back. So I went to Alaska, and what a fool I was. To put it simply, I willingly walked into the hornet’s nest. I was in the backcountry for weeks at a time. It was just me, the wilderness, and my gear. I would spend all day using it, carrying it, caring for it. With each infrequent trip back into town came the next sordid liaison with the local outfitter. Fleece pants to slip on top of an already-extra pair of leggings. A downy jacket to fight off the chill of cold lonely nights. A new hat, this time with ear flaps. A backcountry French press, complete with insulating sleeve and nesting mug gear. A small silicon scraper to make sure I took full advantage of our limited quantity of food. A second titanium spork.
It was madness. Especially when the semester was over and the gear shop forced me to pay my bill.
Part of me wants to blame other people. It’s not my fault. My parents put me in a fleece Patagonia onesie when I was only six months old. Before I was truly old enough to make a choice, they bought me my favorite REI hat and explained to me that the North Face was named after the coldest, most unforgiving side of a mountain. Research shows there is a heavy genetic component to gear addiction, and through intense, tear-filled conversations with my mother, I learned what I’d always expected. My father was a gear addict too. She told me stories of him in college, with empty pockets and an emptier pantry, but the latest and fanciest backpacking stove. Of their water filtration system that was the envy of fellow travellers across Isle Royale. Of years scrimping and saving to have the latest bikes and newest sweat-wicking materials. The musty sleeping bags, the basement full of gear, and the years of shame.
But ultimately, I know the final responsibility truly rests only with me.
I’ve been trying to change. I’ve told myself that what matters is getting out there, no matter what you have with you. From the latest and greatest to Boy Scout era cast iron skillets and tree bark skis, the only thing truly important is to appreciate the landscape, to connect with the outdoors, and to find inner peace. But it’s hard. There’s so many new activities out there. So much more to discover. So much more useful gear to buy.
So I took the only cure I could. I married a fellow gear addict. Except she’s far thriftier: she buys everything on eBay, secondhand.
Matt Medendorp (’14) graduated with a writing degree held together by duct tape and a few trips abroad. Currently he lives in Grand Rapids, works for Chaco, and claims to be producing a book of writing and photography from his time in Alaska.