Hidden Treasures: The Things We Find When We Clean Out Our Gear Closets

If you have a garage, I am jealous of you. Sort of. Maybe not really. Over the past seven years, I've moved six times, three times in Alaska and three times in Philadelphia. When you're in a one bedroom apartment in the heart of the fifth largest city in the United States, storage space is at a premium. We accept that bikes will live in the bedroom, post-trip tent drying will take place in the bathroom, and significant creativity is required when playing Tetris with storage bins in a small closet. But a lack of places to put things can be a blessing. When we're short on storage, we're forced to limit what we keep to what we need, or at least, what we think we need and don't want to get rid of.

As great as it would be to have a giant garage to store a million things in, or at least to better organize things in, I like that I have to use the space I have wisely. My general rule is that if I haven't seen, used, or thought about a given item in a year, it's time to get rid of it. On a recent foray into my gear closet in an effort to find those things it's time to get rid of, I found a few items that came with memories attached. 

My First Sleeping Bag - When you're starting to accumulate outdoor gear, you don't always know what you need. During a summer internship in Maryland in college, I found myself with a long weekend off and a colleague willing to take me camping. She had everything we needed except an extra sleeping bag. I was eager to start the process of outfitting myself and zipped over to Hudson Trail Outfitters to pick one out. I did what most proud college students do and insisted I knew more than I did about what I wanted. Luckily, I still ended up with a Moonstone Mountaineering synthetic bag I've gotten a lot of use out of over the years. (Pictured above right, also doubles as a cat bed.)

Friendless Gloves - We've all heard of the sock monster, but apparently, I've got a glove monster in my apartment too. I found four completely different single gloves and mittens in my gear closet, and of course, none of them would make a good pair. From left to right (pictured right), the single to my first pair of serious mittens from EMS, a glove liner from an old pair of ski gloves, half of my favorite pair of Ibex liner gloves, and an old, cheap cotton glove from a drug store. I'm tempted to hang on to them, just in case the glove monster has a change of heart.

"Bug Hats" - On one of my first backpacking trips in northern Ontario, I learned a lesson about being prepared that I'll never forget. When you're traveling to a new place for backcountry adventures, it's as important to know the trail as it is to know the ins and outs of the area. My trip partner and I didn't anticipate how awful black flies and mosquitoes can be in that part of the country during backpacking season. Luckily, a few locals gave us a pair of what we dubbed "bug hats" after we told them we didn't pack any mosquito netting. They're not the most attractive outdoor accessory, but they saved me from what could easily have been millions of black fly bites. (Click here for a moderately embarrassing picture.) 

Banff Squirrel "Refreshing" Pins - On a cross country drive from Alaska to Pennsylvania in 2007, we stopped in some of the most unbelievably beautiful parts of northwestern North America, including the town of Banff, Alberta. At the time, a $22.8 million refresh of the city's infrastructure was underway. Knowing construction, blocked sidewalks and closed roads would frustrate tourists, the city came up with a campaign to ease the pain. Initiatives included a series of squirrel mascots on signage, squirrel tracks to guide people around the city, and ambassador stations. Visitors could collect five pins featuring squirrels with beautifying tools on them, and of those I collected, two survived. (Pictured at top, middle.)

Hiking to a beautiful hidden lake outside of Anchorage, circa 2007.
Mountainsmith Cross Body Bag - I can't remember where I bought this, though it was likely at the Anchorage REI. Either I thought backpacks weren't cool, or just didn't have the right backpack for short day hikes. Regardless, I took this bag on short hikes in the Chugach outside of Anchorage. I'd also use it to store water and snacks while I ran (not literally) up Mount Healy in Denali National Park for exercise when I lived there. Looking back, it seems silly to carry a small casual bag on hikes instead of a backpack, but seven years ago, I didn't know any better.

Life is Good Tote - As a proud member of the Alaska Clubs in downtown Anchorage, I'd visit one of two fitness centers on a regular basis. I had my eye on a cute Life is Good tote in the retail area for weeks, but couldn't bring myself to spend over $20 on a bag I likely wouldn't get much use out of. But after getting a job as a front desk attendant, my employee discount brought the price down enough for my liking. As predicted, I can't remember the last time I used it. (Pictured at top, left.)

Whether it's spring cleaning, moving, or searching for an item you need for your next trip, it's amazing what you can find in your gear closet. What does your gear closet look like? When's the last time you sorted through everything? What's the weirdest thing you keep in it?


Heidi Henry said…
I find this interesting with stuff in general. I do a once over at least once a month and good purge every 6 months or so. I used to have weird attachment issues but have since gotten much better. On my way to getting rid of it all ;)
Nora Ganow said…
We just went through our gear closet before our last trip! The funniest things I found were random articles of clothing I received from vendors when I worked for a small outdoor retailer in high school... There might have been a pair of mountain hardware MEN'S shorts that I remember wearing all the time... Which I now realize look ridiculous. Those were the days!
Kate C said…
I'm at the point where some of my old climbing gear is starting to feel downright historical. I have guidebooks from year 2000 where the entire Red River Gorge could be described in about 100 pages. And rock shoes from companies long out of business. My first helmet REALLY looked like a construction/caving hardhat, and I still keep it around "just in case," but probably more so I can show it to my son someday to make him laugh.
Haley D said…
Haha. I'm actually doing the same thing right now! Luckily I have a garage (for now) so I don't need to get rid of too much, but its good to clean house every now and again. And I love the friendless gloves. After tweeting about it once I got followed by @unloved_glove. Hilarious.
Katie said…
ha, of course there's a bot for that! and yep, it's good to take stock of what we have every once in a while. it was fun thinking about where all of the gear I found has been!
Katie said…
how cool! it's fun to see how gear has evolved and how areas we've known have changed...hopefully for the better :)
Katie said…
yeah, I definitely found a few pieces of clothing that fit in the "why on earth did I every think this looked remotely acceptable" category :) those were the days indeed!
Katie said…
sounds good to me, Heidi! I did a full-on clothing closet purge last night after realizing I was in the mood to not feel attached to my clothes and I'm so happy with the results. I had to take advantage of that feeling while it was there :) lots to donate!