Are You a Gear Addict?

I really had my act together. I had gone beyond the ultimate. I now had a 2-1/2 pound pack, 1-1/2 pound bag, and 2-1/2 pound tent. Now, there was no question, the vicious buy/sell cycle was over. There could be no further improvement. From here on out, priorities would change. Incidentally, have you heard about the new, ultralight boots that . . . .

—Anonymous (found on website)

You are only over-equipped if you never do anything.

—ad for Gerber brand combination tools

I personally fall in the 7 to 9 pound range [base pack weight]. I don't want to sacrifice a good night sleep. If I don't sleep well, I'm not hiking well. Still, if i could get my weight down without sacrificing, I would. For me it is an obsession. Sometimes I wonder if I'm more of a shopper than a hiker (I love gear). I often find myself spending lots of time and money trying to reduce my pack weight by a few ounces all while sitting at my computer putting on extra pounds reading the latest posts and eating handfuls of gorp.

—Mike Hinsley, “How light is light enough?”, 02.22.2008

Central Issues Addressed in This Article

Do you ever wonder whether you or your friends are gear addicts/gearaholics? What behaviors distinguish and define the gear addict? What are their common beliefs and values? When is gear addiction a negative personality trait? What is a healthy relationship to outdoor gear? What is the best way to deal with an unhealthy relationship towards outdoor gear?


Those having close and intense relationships with outdoor gear are often given or take on labels like the following: gear head, gear girl, gear chic, gear guy, gear addict, gear nerd, gear glutton, gear junkie, gear slut, gear freak, gearaholic, gear expert, gadget-o-holic, state-of-the-art packer, techno-packer, technoholic, flash packer—to name most of them. The fact that there are so many labels being tossed around is interesting in its own right and suggests that many outdoor enthusiasts might have problems in this area. In this article, “gear addict” will be used as an umbrella term to cover the whole range, unless otherwise noted. Many of these terms carry negative connotations. My starting point is to be as neutral and descriptive as possible, not making personal judgments until the end of this article.

Definitions of a Gear Addict

What does the label “gear addict” actually mean? Probably the best way to define this phrase is by looking at behaviors common to those fitting these labels. As might be expected, there is a whole range of behaviors covering a wide continuum. On the milder end of the spectrum there are behaviors like the following:

  • Spends a lot of spare time buying, selling, organizing, cleaning, repairing, modifying and making gear.
  • Subscribes to magazines, Internet groups, chat rooms, etc., specifically because they review and discuss pieces of outdoor gear.
  • Pays close attention to the yearly outdoor recreation retailer shows; is quite knowledgeable about the latest trends and the greatest new gear  items.
  • Develops computerized gear lists for most overnight or longer backpacking trips.
  • Involved in a never-ending search for the simplest, most functional and lightest pieces of gear.
  • Does a lot of comparative shopping before buying new gear; develops electronic spreadsheets on specific gear options before making purchases.
  • Spends considerable time testing and evaluating new gear in the field.

On the more extreme end of the spectrum there are behaviors like the following:

  • Spends more time buying, selling, organizing, cleaning, repairing, modifying and making gear than communing with nature or fellow hikers.
  • Knows exactly how much each piece of owned gear weighs.
  • Develops an extensive master gear list (including weights, models and functionality) that includes gear currently used, gear no longer used, and gear coveted for future purchase.
  • Develops subsystem gear lists (e.g., sleeping systems, clothing systems, navigation systems), comparing one potential set of subsystem gear against another; concerned with how specific pieces of gear in a subsystem interact with each other.
  • Reads most advertisements for new gear; carefully peruses gear guides and goes online to search out more information. 
  • The walls of gear storage areas and home living areas are decorated with favorite pieces of gear from past eras.
  • Understands the capabilities of all pieces of owned high-tech electronic gear; uses some high-tech electronics on all trips.
  • Purchases gear that is not really needed because it was on sale; it was such a good deal.
  • Goes to REI, but can't find anything to buy.
  • Writes newspaper columns, magazine articles or Internet blogs featuring new outdoor gear.
  • Has a whole room is dedicated to the highly organized storage of gear (e.g., all the cooking gear on one shelf; backpacking food on another). The storage area contains many examples of the same piece of gear (i.e., a half-dozen each of sleeping bags, tents, packs, boots, etc.).
  • Total value of current outdoor gear is worth more than current automobile.

 Many more behaviors could be added to those above, but there should be enough to provide a relatively clear definition of a “gear addict” and to realize that there is a continuum of this personality trait.


Reader Participation: Personal Relationship to Outdoor Gear

First, add any behaviors I might have missed that you think might describe yourself as a gear addict. Second, go back and circle those behaviors that best describe you, especially from the perspective of a friend who knows you well. Third, rate yourself overall from 0-10 regarding gear addiction, with 10 being the most severely addicted ______. Fourth, evaluate yourself from 0-10 regarding your satisfaction with your relationship to outdoor gear (with “10” indicating the highest level of satisfaction and “0” indicating totally out of control) ______. In this last evaluation, consider the possibility that being highly addicted to outdoor gear is not necessarily a negative.

 Author’s Evaluation of His Own Gear Addiction

I admit it. I am a gear addict. Given the behaviors listed at the top of this article, I rate my gear addiction as a 6 or 7 (out of 10). Currently, I have eleven pairs of hiking boots and trail shoes, twelve packs, six pairs of snowshoes and skis, eight tents and tarps, eight sleeping pads and mattresses, six sleeping bags and quilts, and a full dozen insulated jackets, parkas and vests. My equipment storage room currently has 15 boxes and chests of various sizes to store everything. I am not totally a lost soul. I own only four stove setups, three pairs of traction devices, three headlamps and five sets of trekking poles. Then there are my other hobbies. Fortunately, I recently sold my sailboat and got rid of several boxes of sailing gear in the process.

Even though I admit to being a gear addict, I don’t see it as a serious problem in my own life (but I have been known to be wrong in some of my self-assessments). I rate my level of gear addiction as a 6 or 7 (out of ten). I rate my level of satisfaction with my gear addiction as a 7 or 8 (with zero being totally unacceptable behavior). To give myself a fairly high satisfaction rating, I rationalize (?) my extensive hiking gear closet as follows:

  • I believe I need lots of gear options for the wide variety of hiking trips I take: day trail trips, day climbs and scrambles, quick overnights, week-long jaunts, winter trips sometimes in extreme weather. Sometimes I go ultralight light and other times I pack most of the comforts for some base camping.
  • I hang on to old gear that I seldom use believing that I will loan it out to newbies (although this seldom happens).
  • I love to experiment with the latest and greatest gear innovation.
  • I don’t splurge on gear purchases for any of my other hobbies and recreational activities.
  • I generally live simply with minimal material possessions.

Beliefs and Values Underlying Common Gear Behaviors

The “gear addict” behaviors listed earlier are usually based in specific values and beliefs about life in general. Here are some examples: 

Inherent tinker and experimenter

Needs to do thorough research and analysis before making purchases

First-hand personal experience important; believes 2nd or 3rdhand experience should generally not be trusted

Comfort and security are important to happiness

Feeling safe and secure is a strong personal need

Appreciates quality and functionality in material possessions

Place high value on the simplest, lightest and most compact

Values organization and efficiency

Flexibility is important; likes to have many options to deal with whatever comes up

Prioritizes things over people

Uses people to obtain things

Considers technological progress is praiseworthy

Appreciates the history of technological advances

Believes science and technology will cure most of planet’s ills

Believes that whoever has the most toys at time of death wins

Believes it is important to contribute to grow the national economy


Reader Participation: Acknowledging Values Relating to Gear

First, consider adding more values and beliefs that fit with this topic, especially those held dear. Second, circle those values and beliefs above that best describe your personality, your way of looking at the world.

When Is Gear Addiction a Negative Personality Trait?

The title of this article refers to addiction, specifically gear addiction. Some will see addiction of any kind as a negative, but is this fair and defensible?  I think not. For example, some have an addiction to unselfish behavior (like regularly giving away some of their gear to others who can not afford to purchase it). Some have an addiction to exercise. Others are obsessed with buying only organic and locally produced food; others are addicted to chocolate and ice cream. And still others to hiking and backpacking (one of my personal addictions). I maintain that addiction is not inherently bad. By itself it is neither right nor wrong, but a fact of human behavior. The degree and context of the specific addiction makes it positive or negative.

When the word “addiction” is used to describe certain behaviors, the reference is often to a person who goes to extremes, who focuses on one thing to the exclusion of most everything else. For example, the person who goes deep into debt to finance gear purchases, the person who ignores their family to focus on gear, the person who focuses on their gear to the detriment of the well-being and safety of their hiking party. These extreme behaviors are generally negative and often seen as morally wrong. I am inclined to go further and attach a psychological disorder label to these kinds of gear additions: obsessive gear disorder (OGD).

What about somewhat less extreme behaviors? For example, what about those who spend considerably more time working with gear and various gear projects than actually using it in the field? Or the person who focuses on outdoor gear so much they seldom actually get out into the backcountry (as per the introductory quote)? This person is often a procrastinator or practices self-deception. Or the person who works two or three jobs to finance their gear addiction and in doing so shortchanges their health? These kinds of behaviors are usually seen as negative and maybe even neurotic. I offer these examples to illustrate that addiction is a matter of degree: some are positive, some negative but not extreme, others are extreme and maybe morally wrong.

Is gear addiction unhealthy and morally wrong? It sure can be—depending upon the specifics and who might be hurt by such behavior. For more thoughts about the moral aspects of this topic click on this link, On the Morality of Gear Addiction.