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Good gear need not be straight off the shelf/Out There

April 20, 2012
By Dan Schneider - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

Backpacker magazine, in its story submission guidelines for freelance writers, stipulates anyone pictured in photographs must be wearing gear that is five years old or newer.

Much of my gear would not make the cut.

My convertible hiking pants, for instance, no longer convert to shorts. The zippers have been jammed for some time, and they have unsightly tears where I came close to lacerating myself with a folding saw while clearing blowdowns from a trail.

But I have an entrenched tendency to hang on to gear long after it looks attractive in photographs. It always stems from some combination of three factors: thrift, nostalgia and environmental conscience.

There is an eco-minded axiom - "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without" - which applies to my mountain biking shoes. Three years ago, when they were still relatively new, I tore the buckle off the right one when I crashed into a chain-link fence alongside an old railroad grade near Mason.

Instead of getting a new and different pair of biking shoes, I've made do since that time by wrapping an old inner tube around my right shoe and tying it tight. I think this setup actually works better than the buckle did.

I have a pair of mountain biking shorts I've worn since Pearl Jam's "Vs." was a new album. All mountain bikers listened to Pearl Jam, I think, in those days when the sport was just breaking into the mainstream. The shorts still fit fine and are more comfortable than other pairs I've owned since that time, but I think nostalgia is the major reason I still wear them.

A quick aside relating to safety: if gear becomes unsafe, I replace it. I've dented bike helmets in the past, and always get a new one. This doesn't interfere with thrift, since most helmet manufacturers will replace crash-damaged helmets for free.

My hiking boots will get replaced this summer even though I have good memories of hiking in them to the top of Siyeh Pass in Glacier National Park and Mount Tamalpais outside San Francisco. Their current lack of tread and ankle support are potentially hazardous on the steep and rocky Trap Hills sections of the North Country Trail.

Of all my outdoor gear, it's my favorite wool layering garment that takes the cake for thrifty, nostalgic, eco-conscious clothing retention. It's an Izod Lacoste cashmere sweater with an alligator patch on the chest and everything. I bought it 12 years ago, and that was from a Salvation Army store.

A total of eight inches of original stitching remain on this sweater's seams. I can count three different colors of thread I've used to repair it, inelegantly, over the years. After repeated machine washings, the sweater has lost all resemblance to cashmere, but it retains most of the insulating properties of wool. I've worn it on hiking trails from Mt. Baldy (Lookout Mountain) here in the Keweenaw to The Ramble in New York City's Central Park. So there's really no getting rid of it now.

A final note relating to my favorite sweater: it was never intended as an outdoor garment in the first place. I don't think hikers are high on Izod's list of target customers. But the sweater keeps me warm and is breathable, which gets at my main point in all of this - a piece of gear, regardless of whether it's photogenic, is doing its job if it helps get you away from asphalt and into the outdoors.



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