On the Morality of Gear Addiction


I admit it. I am a gear addict. Currently, I have a dozen pairs of hiking boots and trail shoes, twelve packs, five pairs of snowshoes and skis, eight tents and tarps, eight sleeping pads and mattresses, six sleeping bags and quilts, five sets of trekking poles and a full dozen insulated jackets, parkas and vests. My equipment storage room currently has 12 boxes and chests of various sizes to store everything. I am not totally a lost soul. I own only five stove setups, three pairs of traction devices and three headlamps. Then there are my other hobbies. Fortunately, I recently sold my sailboat and got rid of several boxes of sailing gear in the process.

If you are not sure whether you are a gear addict, click on the following article for an in-depth analysis: Are You a Gear Addict?

The primary reason for this current article is to raise questions of right and wrong, as well as of the mental health of heavy duty gear addicts. Specifically, when is gear addiction unhealthy, unacceptable, unethical, immoral? This article will, hopefully, help me and my readers to answer these questions.

To begin to answer these questions, I first comment on human addictions in general. I then consider some more extreme cases of gear addiction evaluating them on both ethical and mental health grounds. I then focus on gear addiction as it might relate to some high-profile social ethical issues.

Judging Human Addictive Behavior

Some will automatically jump to the conclusion that addictions of any kind are wrong or at least unhealthy. 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 purchased food; others 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 or unhealthy. By itself it is neither right nor wrong, but a fact of human behavior.

More Extreme Cases of Gear Addiction

When the word “addiction” is used to describe human behaviors, the reference is usually to the person who goes to extremes. Here are a number of scenarios involving more extreme behaviors regarding outdoor gear:

  • goes deep into debt to finance their outdoor gear purchases
  • works two or three jobs to finance their gear addiction and in doing so shortchanges their health
  • skilled at stealing gear, enough to not get caught
  • often ignores needs of their family as they obsess about their gear
  • so focused on their own gear as to be self-centered (i.e., ignore the needs and perspectives of others in their hiking group)
  • focuses on gear to the detriment of the well-being and safety of their hiking party
  • preoccupied with their gear enough to be a danger to themselves
  • spends more time testing and messing with gear that enjoying the natural environment they are in while hiking
  • spends most of his or her spare time constructing, testing and messing with gear at home and seldom gets out into the backcountry?

Some of these behaviors I hold to be wrong—morally and ethically (e.g., stealing, ignoring family, endangering themselves). Some, I hold to be mentally unhealthy (e.g., going into debt, being self-centered). Some are neither unhealthy nor wrong, but only misguided (i.e., ignores the natural environment, seldom gets out in nature). Is gear addiction unhealthy and morally wrong? It sure can be—depending upon the specifics and who might be hurt by such behavior. This is my view. What is yours?

Questions of Social Ethics

So far the analysis in this article has focused primarily on questions of personal ethics and mental health. But what about social ethics and mental health? Can heavy duty gear addicts be accused of contributing to some of contemporary society’s current ills (e.g., pollution, climate change, overuse of the planet’s resources, materialism, consumerism, overuse of credit)? This is a more difficult and complex question to answer. In general terms, gear addiction is a serious ethical and social issue in which most affluent outdoor types (including me) are complicit. The greater the degree of gear addiction, the greater the complicity. Regarding our material possessions, we must take some responsibility for how our actions affect the greater good of society.

If you agree with the conclusion offered at the end of the last paragraph and believe that gear addicts should take some action to moderate their impact on society, what might some solutions look like? What about going out with mostly used and recycled gear? What about seriously limiting the number of outdoor activities that require extensive gear purchases? What about getting involved in outdoor activities requiring minimal gear (e.g., day hiking vs. backpacking, or snowshoeing vs. downhill skiing, or alpine scrambling as opposed to high angle rock climbing)? These are just some of the possibilities, but they should give gear addicts an idea of the questions that need to be asked (if one sees that gear addiction is a problem on the societal level).

How do you respond to these questions of ethics (both personal and social), especially if you admit to being a gear addict? Do you believe that ethics should be an element of gear purchasing?  How easy is it for you to rationalize or marginalize or totally ignore these issues?

Author’s Self-Evaluation of Personal Gear Addiction

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.

Is this rationalizing? Given the amount of gear I own (and continue to acquire), it probably is. If you are a gear addict, how do you rationalize your behavior?


A final note: If you are interested in a broader examination of ethics, as it relates to hiking and backpacking, check out this in-depth article: Wilderness Ethics—Taking the Moral High Trail.