Outdoor gear and consumption

Yesterday, I lost almost an entire hour "researching" running jackets. This is especially odd because my running jacket died back in November, and so far, I've managed just fine with multiple layers. 

It is embarrassing how much I know about these.

It is embarrassing how much I know about these.

This isn't the first time this has happened. From wool baselayers, to running watches, to tedious comparisons between 4mm and 8mm offset Sauconys, to lobster claws, to sports bras: I've compared them all. I don't own very much, but what I do own has been compulsively researched. I'm not proud of this. Any time it comes up in conversation and I feel the need to participate, I come off sounding like a mansplainer. Besides, I live in a mild-weather climate where conditions don't come anywhere close to the "extreme" weather this stuff claims to be designed for. This spot-on Portlandia sketch comes to mind:

So when I read this a month or so ago, I felt a pang of recognition:

"Purchasing is a sport, a hobby, predicated on making the very best decision based first a learning of everything you can about a product category.

I once spent 40+ hours researching a storm shell (a hyped-up rain jacket). I looked at the weights, limitations, and benefits of every breathable clothing material. I looked at the variations in seam sealing techniques of every major manufacturer. I watched online videos of jacket owners performing tests and looking for flaws in design and build. I looked for features like pocket designs, hood configurations, and adaptability.

I would feel a rush when I made my way to an REI or received a box from the one online retailer in the US selling products produced by an obscure Scandinavian manufacturer offering a slightly different design variation than that of Marmot, TNF, or other more ubiquitous US manufacturers. And I did this with survival knives, camping equipment, flashlights, cooking equipment, electronics and more. After one project was completed I was on to the next, accompanied with a sense of urgency and importance.

I have realized that my desire to learn and the excitement of the purchase (that emotional rush that comes when new packages arrive in the mail) combined into an obsessive compulsive, out of control spiraling that would infringe on my ability to focus fully or ever hope to exist in the moment. There is a sense of urgency with this type of purchasing. I would feel as though something was wrong or missing until I had discovered and owned that perfect purchase. And the longer I “researched” and obsessed, the more exciting the fulfillment would become."

Like the OP, I think this does a similar kind of psychological work for me. The three things that most easily come to mind are:

  1. Guilt: I loathe spending money, but this offers a way to justify my purchase by making me feel like I'm getting "the best."
  2. Motivational crutch: I am embarrassed to say that when I'm struggling to motivate myself, having something shiny and new makes me excited to use it. Of course, that eventually wears off and I begin searching for a new object of motivation...
  3. Retail therapy: Shopping can be an easy way of keeping feelings at bay. I often find myself researching something when I feel vague anxiety, insecurity, or frustration about something.

In the moment, when I have a dozen tabs open, I find it pretty hard to notice what emotion is generating my urgent research. Maybe a more honest and wiser use of my time would be to write down the emotions I'm feeling whenever I find myself clicking furiously to compare the next batch of "ultralight" whatevers.

Does anyone else struggle to navigate the tension between the gear required to do their sport of choice, and an uneasy relationship with REI.com? I should note that this only happens to me when I'm shopping for outdoor gear (never when I'm shopping for regular clothes.)

Maybe a gear-purchasing freeze is the answer. Has anyone ever tried this?