Three Pieces of Outdoor Gear I'll Never Get Rid Of and Why

My North Face Badlands 60 Backpack and I
in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. (2007)
As outdoor enthusiasts, we demand a lot from our gear. We get it dirty, we push it to its limits while we're pushing ours, and we expect it to perform no matter what. There's always a newer, fancier version of our favorite baselayers, backpacks, boots, even socks. But sometimes, it's not about having the New Fancy Thing for your next trip. Sometimes, it's about using gear you've used since you started using gear because it works, and if you're me, because like a good friend, it's always been there for you. 

The North Face Badlands 60 Backpack. This gem was a hand-me-down from one of my college roommates. I knew nothing about how to fit a pack, what to look for in a pack, or how to pack one properly. But as luck would have it, it's one of the few backpacking packs I've found over the years that actually fits me. Since that fateful day in college, the Badlands 60 got me through adventures in Virginia, California, Alaska, British Columbia Upstate New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and more.

But there was a time when I thought of replacing it. There wasn't anything wrong with it, aside from the fact that it was old. There still isn't. During prep for a trip to climb Mount Rainier in 2012, I went to REI to try on a fancy new pack because, hey, it's Rainier. You need fancy new gear for a climb like that, right? I couldn't find anything that fit better, felt better, or had the features I loved most on the Badlands 60. I walked out of the store, I felt guilty. It was as if I'd told the Badlands 60 it was inadequate and washed up. I decided was only fair that I take my Badlands 60 to the top of Rainier. And I did.

The boots and I hanging out next to the
Toklat River in Denali National Park (2007).
EMS Backpacking Boots. I've had these for so long I can't begin to remember what they're called. Heck, I can barely see the EMS logo now. I got these around the same time I got the hand-me-down pack on the advice of my partner in crime. He told me to look for a heavy-duty, waterproof, full-grain leather pair with Vibram outsoles.

I walked out of the EMS in Ithaca, New York $185 poorer but stoked to have a real pair of boots. So stoked, in fact, that I didn't pay attention to the requisite break-in period and paid for it dearly on our first trip with quarter-sized blisters. Break-in period aside, I should have shopped more carefully. I went back to the same EMS a few months later and saw a pair of the same boots used, returned, and on the sale rack with a tag that said "makes users feet hurt." "Yeah," I thought, "they make my feet hurt too. Hmmm." The tongue still hits my ankles in an uncomfortable place, but I've worn them enough that after a few minutes of wear, they're fine. More than seven years later, they're still my first choice on extended trips.

The EMS Fleece You Can See From Miles Away. Another piece of gear I'm attached to is a neon yellow and black fleece. I was shopping the EMS sale rack in Ithaca with my college roommate Anna in 2005. Anna is one of the sweetest people in the world, and she did her best not to make a face when I asked her what she thought of the colors. Despite Anna's grimace, I took it home. It was cheap and it fit. (Noticing an EMS pattern here? That's because EMS was the only outdoor outfitter in town at the time. And it basically still is, save Old Goad Gear Exchange. Plus, they make good stuff that lasts.)

The 2006 version of the EMS Divergence Fleece and I next to
Kluane Lake in British Columbia (2007).
The fleece has been everywhere I've been since, including to the EMS Nor'easter Festival in New Hampshire in 2010. The Brand Communications Manager for EMS noticed it while we were hanging out at a tweetup and commented on how good it looked, given it was six years old. While I was prepping this post, I sent him a note asking him if he remembered the product name. Turns out it's an ancient version of the Divergence, the 2012 version of which I absolutely love. Keep doing what you do, EMS.

There's also the brandless, nameless bright pink long sleeved baselayer I got at for $25 at Cornell University's Lindseth Climbing Wall in 2004, the beat up REI bullet mug I took on my first ice climbing trip, the oversized men's Patagonia down jacket from a gear shop outside of Denali National Park...the list is endless.

Despite all of the newer, fancier, cooler options out there, what pieces of gear or clothing can you never imagine yourself getting rid of? Leave a comment (so I don't feel like a hoarder)!


Lynn said…
I have some fake "smartwool" socks that I got forever ago at Fred Meyer. They are my absolute favorite socks and I will wear them until they fall apart. They seem to be going strong after 5+ years!
Tiffany said…
My first backpack, a CampTrails Sirocco I, purchased in 2001 from Sierra Trading Post. It was for my first backpacking/train-hopping trip around Europe. Fits like a gem still and is used as my dayback/ski pack. I love that thing.
Diane said…
I have the Cornell long underwear too! it has been everywhere with me as well :) hope all is well Katie!
Katie said…
Nice! I love Fred Meyer...we don't have them around here. And considering they're not known for their socks, that's awesome that yours have lasted so long!
Katie said…
Wow, that's amazing it's lasted so long! It's cool to think where our gear has been with us...some of my stuff has seen as many amazing places as I have!
Katie said…
SO good to hear from you, Diane, it's been forever! I have such fond memories of just about everything related to you and water polo :) and now, I'm going to think of you every time I pull out that bright pink baselayer!
Pete said…
I have quite a collection of EMS clothing so I know what you mean. I love their Techwick line and were them nearly everyday. Other than my baselayers the 2 pieces of gear I would never give up are my 6 year old Kelty Shrike pack and my Leatherman Skeletool.
Katie said…
Seems EMS makes some good stuff that lasts! It seems like a lot of us are attached to our old packs too. They're so important that when you find one that fits, it's hard to think about replacing it! Thanks for reading, Pete!