Buying Gear for an Activity You’ve Never Done Before – Do’s and Don’ts

The only thing better than buying new gear is using new gear.  So you want to make sure that you spend your money on something that you are actually going to use, something that you’ll be able to show off more than once.  Obviously you aren’t going to go crazy if you are just starting out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t gear up a bit.

Don’t buy a canoe if you’ve never been out on a lake.  *Apply this concept to whatever hobby has piqued your interest.*  There are many shiny, lightweight, streamlined vessels to dream about for the future, a reward to look forward to if you commit.  Consider a padded seat (recommend the ones with a back rest) that will attach to the rental canoe making your first paddle oh so much more comfortable.  Can be used again if you frequent stadiums or parks.  Do buy items that have multiple uses.

Don’t buy items you don’t know how to use.  Certain activities require extensive and expensive gear lists.  Backpacking, mountaineering, bicycling.  Tempting to go all out.  But unless you know what you are doing, that $200 ultralight bivy tent, $300 rope, and $1,500+ carbon frame road bike can get you killed.  Gear is not a substitute for experience, no matter how advanced it may be.  However, if you are going out with a professional guide or experienced friend there are things you’ll need that you can’t rent/borrow.  Mountaineering?  You won’t regret having a warm insulating layer, such as a fleece, in that unpredictable mountain weather.  Most likely you won’t take it off all winter.  Do buy appropriate clothing.

Don’t buy gear just to look the part.  While I tend to break this rule a lot (I enjoy the idea that pictures of me look like they could be featured in a North Face ad), you really don’t want to appear like you’re trying so hard to fit in.  Focus on learning and improving your skills at this new outdoor activity and you’ll be much more impressive.  You’ll look ridiculous with a full rack of cams hanging off your harness if you’re simply top-roping a route at the climbing gym.  Trekking poles for a 1 mile loop at the local forest preserve?  Don’t be that person.

Don’t buy solely based on gear reviews.  It’s great that you are doing research and it is fun to read up on what is available out there.  Gear reviews give insight into what you can expect from a product that you would have no way of knowing otherwise.  Like how certain hydration bladders leave a plastic taste in your mouth even after several uses/cleanings.  Good to know.  But just because a shoe didn’t fit someone properly doesn’t mean it won’t work for you! Probably that dude has an odd-shaped foot, but failed to mention it (I wouldn’t) and you could be missing out on the most comfortable shoe you’ve ever worn.  Don’t not consider a brand or product just because it didn’t work out for another person.

Do buy items recommended by a guide or individual who has done this before.  One of the first times I went camping, someone mentioned I would be well off to purchase a drybag.  I had these 1 gallon Ziploc bags ($1.50 for 10) to protect my clothes from wet conditions.  Trying to fit a sweater inside and closing the zipper without breaking it was a struggle I never want to repeat.  Got the drybag ($15) and could fit all my clothes easily then push out the air, leaving a rock-hard ball of outfits for the weekend that fit easily in my backpack, stayed dry, and kept everything in one place.  I don’t even want to think about how many Ziplocs I would have needed to pack the extra socks and underwear I ended up bringing.

Do buy gear that will facilitate comfort.  #1 Example: Rainwear!  #2: Polarized sunglasses/UPF rated clothing.  If you become wet, cold, burnt, dehydrated (translation: miserable) during an outdoor adventure you are 33.33% less likely to try it again.  Okay, I may have just made up a stat there, but chances are you won’t be as keen to explore nature’s playground if you were soaked and shivering (flipside blinded by the sun and burning alive) that first time out.

Do buy last season’s model or sale/clearance items.  You can upgrade to the latest and greatest once you have a better feel for the activity.  Plus maybe you bought something that is just perfect for you, forget those new releases and feel good that you saved money and have an awesome piece of gear!

Do go to a trusted outfitter.  The staff will have knowledge that you might not and will share information to get you even more excited for your new endeavor.  They want you to have fun so you come back for more (of course they want to sell stuff), but as fellow gear enthusiasts, they are genuine.

Do buy appropriate clothing.  Mentioned this before, but it’s the best advice I have so do buy appropriate clothing.  Even if it costs $20 for a single pair of socks.  Allow me to share that I have a pair of wool socks, celebrated their sixth birthday last summer, that I originally thought were too expensive.  The first day of the trip I bought them for they earned their keep, drying about an hour after I stepped in a mudpuddle that swallowed my foot.  Definitely one of the best twenty dollar bills I ever spent.  Clothing is a technical piece of gear with the added benefit that you can wear it even when you aren’t engaged in a specific activity.  The base layers I use for snowshoeing are also great for lounging.  Clothing is the best example of a multiple use item as well since it usually carries over through most outdoor activities.  Although you can get highly specialized, there are basics that you can always use.  The quick-drying t-shirt you bought for hiking will be just the thing you need for whitewater kayaking on a warm, sunny day.

Recently, I got the idea to try trail running.  I already have appropriate clothing so I couldn’t follow my own best suggestion.   And while I could use my gym shoes to hit the trails, I decided to buy footwear to facilitate comfort and save myself the trouble of having to clean them all the time.  I’ve heard trails can be muddy/dusty.  Ended up saving 50% by going with last season’s model of the Brooks Cascadia and I know that I can use them for light hikes if I decide running through the woods dodging tree roots and creeks isn’t for me.  I’ve found that now that I own these trail running shoes, I am more motivated to go to the local trail system.  Sometimes, the gear will be the thing that pushes me to follow up on my curiosity about an outdoor activity and actually go.  Got your new gear picked out?  Now get ready to use it.  It’s nice to look at, but the best part is getting it dirty, testing it out.  Recreation in the outdoors is fun, challenging, and comes with many rewards (like gear).  Hopefully the activity you’ve decided to explore is one you’ll continue to pursue once you have that first experience.  And when you really get into it, you’ll find a whole other level of gear is waiting!

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