There is no doubt that we are seeing an increased interest in the outdoors as of late. Much like snowboarding, surfing and climbing, being an outdoorsman or woman is seemingly on trend right now. And like most trends, there are people lining up to buy in and brands and media companies lining up to sell to the eager masses.
Some might call it a hipster bastardization of the outdoors, those that live more metropolitan lifestyles are flocking in droves towards the wilderness with artisan wares and bank-account crushing vehicles so they can claim their small piece of social media glory. And while I don’t want to condemn these stylish weekend warriors or the labels that cater to them, as I support both looking stylish and making the outdoors more accessible, I do want to set some things straight. It takes a lot more than product to make you a proficient outdoors person. Read on.
Apart from the recent influx of brands and websites dedicated to hip outdoorsmanship generally making non-durable gear that is more style than substance and spreading irrelevant information about outdoor survival, the biggest faux-pas of all seems to be the recent attempt to package and sell masculinity to befuddled men who seem to think it is necessary to have a $300 artisan knife to endure a weekend of car camping.
I recently spoke with a friend in Seattle who told me that he had started to notice a lot of the “van life” crowd was bringing chainsaws with them on weekend excursions. I found this idea completely perplexing, as in why would you need a chain saw when you are sleeping inside of your vehicle and most likely using fire bundles from the local gas station to fuel the flames. The only viable explanation I could think of for carrying a cumbersome and loud chainsaw to a car camping spot would be to offset the emasculation that modern technology and comforts have set upon the fragile male ego. Or, maybe you’re really into carving animals out of tree stumps?
All this while the average NOLS instructor can do more with a toothpick than a weekend warrior could do with a van full of modern toys and tools. I like gear as much as the next guy or girl, but I certainly don’t feel anything a brand is selling me equates to masculinity, and while a flashy axe and small batch single barrel whiskey will surely make you feel like more of a man, they are actually a red flag for any real outdoors person. For anyone that has actually been at the mercy of the wilderness, education and experience will always supersede a product.
I would, in fact, argue that the more stuff you need to bring into the outdoors and the fancier it is the less masculine you are. But the most unmasculine thing you can do is equate outdoor aptitude with gender. When the shit hits the proverbial fan in the wilderness it won’t be the guy with the designer camp stove that saves you, it will be the man or woman that spent the same amount of money on a wilderness first responders course and an emergency blanket that steps to the plate.
So buy your fancy knife and your artisanal whiskey, but take a CPR course and buy a first aid kit as well. Learn how to field dress small game, learn how to tie essential knots, properly dress a wound and take an outdoor guide course. All of these essential life skills will be more potent in the wild then any slow roast french press coffee from your favorite Portland roaster could ever be. And when you rock up to the camp site in your retrofitted vintage Land Cruiser we’ll all be relieved that if something happens you will be more of a benefit than a burden.
For those venturing off into the wild know that nature teaches us about the essentials of life, it strips away the clutter, it doesn’t add to it. Being an outdoorsman isn’t contingent on what objects you carry, but by how you carry yourself. Humility, respect, knowledge, and courage are what make you a great outdoorsman, not a fancy product, no matter how rugged they convince you that it is. So bring what you will, but make sure you invest in knowledge, competency, and products that work even if they don’t look that cool.