I was impressed by Coalition Snow’s recent self-reflections on their sentiments towards the types of gear and clothing people wear for outdoor activities, pulling their “Trump Skis in Jeans” stickers off the market. While it’s a funny caricature, it does belittle people who don’t wear the “right” gear. Many people can’t afford the “right” outdoor gear, or are new to a sport and don’t know what kind of gear they need yet, or they simply don’t care about looking a certain way. And that should never stop anyone from being able to participate in outdoor recreation. EVER.
I say this as someone who climbed my first glacier in Iceland wearing jeans and Walmart hiking boots, and a heavy, poorly-fitted coat bought off a sale rack in the mall. Had I felt pressure to have all the right gear and fit into some sort of mountaineer stereotype, I never would have had the experiences there that changed my life and set me on the path that I’m on today. It was a big enough deal that I even got to go to Iceland. At that time, I was blissfully unaware of the toxic “gear culture” that I think gets perpetuated in the outdoor industry, telling people that they need to have the best hiking boots, and the top-of-the-line rain pants, and the most ultralight puffy, to be a respectable outdoorsperson. (I also say this as someone who worked at REI for a short time).
For sure, some materials are better in some places than others. I am a firm believer in wool and synthetics now that I live in the Pacific Northwest. Plus, it’s fun to have specialized gear, and it can make your experience more comfortable or safer at times. But the point is, you shouldn’t have to look a certain way to be respected in outdoor spaces. I will never judge anyone I see on the trail in tennis shoes and a hoodie, or skiing in jeans. That was me, less than a decade ago (and still is, sometimes!). I’m just glad you’re outside, and experiencing this amazing place that we’re in.