The community of outdoor enthusiasts is on the whole a very welcoming group. If you want advice on hiking or cycling or boating or what not, they will give it, and even to a complete beginner.

And that’s the problem.

When a person starts participating in the outdoors, they need guidance. Too often what’s offered as guidanceĀ  translates into directions on what gear to buy. And even if this translation is in English its all Greek to the novice. Outdoors people let their enthusiasm combine with the desire to recommend the best equipment and all it does is produce confusion. And now to avoid my confusing you, let me give examples.

For instance, many people decide to take up cycling as a hobby as an aid to regain fitness or lose weight. I’ve seen posts on bicycle forums, even ones allegedly devoted to bigger and heavier cyclists, that recommend the first thing the new bike owner do is purchase a custom 36 or 40 spoke rear wheel build. The reasoning is sound – heavier riders put more weight on the rear wheel, and the stock wheel usually has a lesser spoke count and is more prone to spoke breakage and going out of true. A larger cyclist such as myself will invest in an upgraded wheel. And its worth considering if you are super obese.

But not all novice cyclists are super obese, and anyway the emphasis should be on the word “novice” and not cyclist. The new rider hasn’t even decided he’s remaining in the hobby yet, and already people are advising him that he needs to spend two hundred dollars on top of the cost of the bike in order to participate. Stock wheels aren’t made of paper. And they aren’t designed to fail. They will last enough for the newbie to decide if he likes riding a bike or not. And probably well beyond that. The rider should commit to the hobby before he commits his wallet to it. Otherwise gear becomes the gatekeeper, reinforcing the idea that participation is difficult and expensive.

But cycling is a gear-heavy recreation, you might say. Well, OK, here’s a hiking example. On my personal Facebook page I brought up this topic of gear gatekeeping, and in less than a dozen posts I was being told sock choice is vitally important for a beginning hiker. Sigh. The outdoors is for everyone provided you wear the right socks. Heck of a motto for a website.

2006 Neil
Me after a hike in my then new 30 dollar hiking boots. BTW that is not my van.

I remember one of my first hikes back in 2006, when I knew less than I do now. I brought a water bottle, but I wore cotton head to socks, and outside the socks were my now worn out and too large athletic shoes. And you know what? Aside from the choice of t shirt – it said “I am the kid your parents warned you about” – I wouldn’t change a thing. Yes, wicking fabrics and hiking poles and better boots and, ahem, high tech socks might have improved my experience. But they might not have. And I still had a great time. If you handed me a list of stuff I had to buy to hike a mile on level ground I might have gone back to the couch instead.

I can hear the protests. “But what about if….” Well, there are always exceptions to general rules. But the exceptions aren’t the general rules. And in the case of someone new to the outdoors the rule should be “the minimum gear it takes to participate.” For hiking and walking, that should be a pair of shoes they can walk in. The minimum can vary depending on the activity or other factors such as the health of the participant, but regardless, to get people active, don’t make equipment the gatekeeper. Share your passion, not your possessions. Get them outside and enjoying before you talk with them about your go to gear. Or your favorite brand of socks.