Eight years ago, when I was first starting to explore the hiking trails around Southern California, a co-worker and I who weren’t traveling home for Thanksgiving decided to use our extra days off from work to try our hands at backpacking in the San Bernardino Mountains. We woke up before dawn on Friday, loaded up our gear, and started off east on on the freeway past the 80 miles of strip mall sprawl that lay between us and the tallest mountain in Southern California.
The trip itself was epic – the San Gorgonio Wilderness is one of the most gorgeous and seemingly remote areas in the region. We hiked through alpine scenery and pine forests that we never expected to see so close to Los Angeles, camped next to a dry lake bed, and generally just had a blast – even though altitude sickness kept us from actually summiting. But despite all of that – one of the things that still sticks out in my memory these years later isn’t from the hike itself – but from the drive in.
On the way to the San Bernardino National Forest, Interstate 10 makes its way past a variety of national chain stores – and we were a little confused. Did people really waste a perfectly good tent experience camping in front of a store to save money on an off-brand flat screen TV? Unfortunately, the answer appeared to be yes – as hundreds of people hunkered down in a rare SoCal rain (something that would elsewhere just be called ‘drizzle’) for their chance to save big on something they, in all likelihood, were getting by just fine without.
That was one of the first times that the so-called Black Friday was actually the busiest shopping day of the year – a title it has held every year since.
Of course there’s a difference between outdoor gear and general consumer goods – for the most part, our stuff is built to last and protected by generous warranties or companies that care. I’ve been rocking the same pair of Vasque boots since 2004 and sent more than a few items in for repair after some overzealous bushwhacking. It’s not surprising, then, that Patagonia’s Black Friday sale event was actively discouraging people from buying new items and instead showing them how to fix the ones they already had.
But as enjoyers of outdoor activities, we are not immune from the pull of consumerism on the holidays. Every year, outdoor companies improve their lines – now this fabric wicks 10% more! This tent is .05 ounces lighter! This zipper doesn’t get caught in your beard! I knew I had a lot of gear, but when I moved into a new place this fall, I had to ask myself – do I really need four tents, five sleeping bags, and six different backpacks?
It’s easy to get caught up in the mad rush to buy things the next few weeks – and I’ll be honest, I’m probably going to end up getting some new outdoor goodies myself. Just remember to buy quality gear that will last.
And in case you were wondering, I gave away most of my redundant gear after moving into the new place … but I kept that jacket with the chin zipper guard. You can’t put a price on keeping zippers out of your beard.
-Casey Schreiner writes Modern Hiker, Los Angeles’ oldest and most-read hiking blog. Casey’s been encouraging Angelenos to explore the world-class hiking beyond the Walk of Fame since 2005. When not exploring trails, he acts as the series producer and head writer for Pivot TV’s live, late-night show, TakePart Live. Keep up with Casey on Twitter: @ModernHiker.