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“How much do you think all this stuff is worth?” my girlfriend asked me recently, gesturing to the massive array of outdoor gear jammed into my storage unit.
I live on the road and carry a fair amount of gear in my car year-round, but at least two-thirds of my outdoor gear and apparel stays in this storage unit in my Alabama hometown. Regarding her question, I wasn’t sure, but the off-the-shelf cost for all of it was over $10,000, without a doubt.
It wasn’t something I often thought about. Like many climbers, I consider myself fairly minimalist in most aspects of my life. I only own three pairs of pants (and one of those has a large hole in the crotch that I’ve been procrastinating on fixing, so for the time being that pair is restricted to backcountry use). A bar of soap and a toothbrush make up my hygiene arsenal. I haven’t gotten a haircut in something like three years (and the last haircut was just me shaving my head bald).
All told, aside from my laptop, clothes, a few books, toiletries, motorcycle, and an old PlayStation buried somewhere in my parent’s attic, I don’t own much of anything… until you come to the elephant in the room: my outdoor gear.
I have boxes upon boxes of gear in my storage unit. Ropes, pro, helmets, climbing shoes, crashpads. Crampons, microspikes, ice axes, boots. Stoves, tents, hammocks, sleeping bags, sleeping mats. Headlamps, knives, medkits, dehydrated and canned food. A packraft, a kayak, a bivvy sack. Thousands upon thousands of dollars of equipment is in there.
And don’t even get me started on the apparel…
It’s strange that I’ve acquired such an arsenal because I don’t consider myself a frivolous spender. On top of that, I’m a freelance writer. As you can probably imagine, I don’t have much cash to spend in the first place.
So, where did it all come from?
To be fair, part of my hoard can be attributed to my career in the industry, which means that I occasionally get gear for free in exchange for product reviews or sponsored articles. But this unintentional hoarding happens to all of us, and it was happening to me long before I was an outdoor writer.
Quality outdoor gear lasts a long, long time, but it’s constantly being upgraded and improved. Gear from as little as five years ago is often already “outdated,” even if it’s still in great shape. It’s too heavy. It’s too bulky. It’s too inefficient. So we buy new gear.
You have an old stove from the 90s that your dad gave you back when you were a teenager. Later on, you buy a bigger stove for car camping. Then you buy a small stove for solo missions. Then you buy a windproof stove for alpine trips. Then you buy another stove at REI one day just because it’s on sale.
Before you know it, you have half a dozen working camp stoves laying around, only two of which ever see regular use. The same thing occurs with technical outdoor apparel such as rain shells or down jackets.
We all know that the financial barriers to entry for outdoor sports, and climbing in particular, are astronomical. This factor has been perhaps the main reason that, historically, climbing is a sport for the wealthy.
According to the American Alpine Club’s 2019 State of Climbing Report, a whopping 63% of AAC members made over $50,000 annually. I say at least because of the remaining 37%, 11% declined to answer, while only 26% openly admitted annual incomes of less than $49,000. Even for non-members, the stats are similar. 47% had incomes over $50k, with 8% declining to answer and 45% making less than $49k.
Climbing isn’t just expensive, it’s getting more and more expensive each year. The same study found that “the average change in prices for all categories of climbing gear rose 23.3%” during the 36-month study period.
Obviously, there are a lot of ways we can improve diversity in our community, but it’s beyond certain that improving financial accessibility plays a major role at the ground level.
As climbers, of course, the quality of our gear is often more important than in other outdoor sports, and there are some things that simply can’t be bought used. You can’t just go out and donate used rope or carabiners. But there’s plenty of gear and apparel that you can pass on. If you’re like me, you probably have an older sleeping mat you no longer use, a rainshell you rarely take out, or a spare pair of almost-new rock shoes you never really took to.
Not only is getting rid of your used gear a way to provide access for someone who may not have the financial means, but it’s far more environmentally friendly than new climbers going out and purchasing new product.
So open up your stockpile. No matter how old or outdated or inefficient a piece of gear or apparel may be, I’ll guarantee there’s someone out there who would jump at the chance to use it.
Sell it, donate it, do whatever you can to get that gear out to the community. Failing that (like in the case of life-dependent gear like ropes and pro) you can always repurpose the gear.