The Cost of Being Outdoorsy

By nature, I am not passionate about the outdoors. My foray into being a Person Who Enjoys The Outdoors was a result of my time spent in pre-tech bro San Francisco. I had moved there after college. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by apple-cheeked people with a propensity for Patagonia hard-shells who showed up to bars with a pair of rock-climbing shoe sticking out of their Chrome bags. Most people looked like they were either headed to or returning from yoga. Everyone was hyped up on a combination of self-satisfaction and endorphins.

I spent my first year demurring invitations to hike, climb and camp because I enjoy the outdoors the way it was intended: with a beer in one hand, a book in the other, and my toes buried in warm sand or fragrant grass. Eventually, I caved to peer pressure. I was young, impressionable, willing to try something new.

The allure of being outside is that nature is free. Hopping in someone else’s car and driving across the Golden Gate to the desolate headlands of Marin is free. Throwing a bunch of newly-acquired fleece outerwear into a daypack and car camping for a few days in Big Sur is relatively cheap. The stars, the smell of the woods in the morning, the virtuous feeling that accompanies gnawing on a granola bar and drinking lukewarm water out of a Nalgene are the rewards.

I started small. I tried one indoor climbing session, nearly conquering my fear of heights and watching as nine-year-old girls lapped me on a treacherous stretch nicknamed “The Princess Walk.” I went on day hikes that took me through sunny meadows in January, sharing the space with cows. I hiked to a lake with a rope swing and scrambled down cliffs to reach the beach, to stand with my feet in the Pacific. I dabbled in car camping, putting cardboard boxes full of Trader Joe’s trail mix and avocados into the back of Subaru and driving out of the city, to pitch a tent in a copse of trees and drift off in complete silence.

With each tiny start, I gained confidence.

“I’m going camping again,” I’d tell my dad on the phone, waiting for the inevitable guffaw, the declaration that I had been replaced by a nature-loving impostor of the daughter he raised.

It was at the peak of my confidence that I decided to level up. When a friend suggested ditching the city during Fourth of July weekend to climb Mt. Shasta, I was all for it. While everyone else in town will be spending their day wrapped in scarves and straining to see the fireworks through the fog, I will be summiting a mountain. It’s easy, I told myself. It’s a big, long hike. All you do is go up the mountain and then come back down. This was my test. I was sure of it.

I had to buy things. So many things. Things I never thought I’d spend money on. I went to Sports Basement and REI, I sent emails to friends inquiring about spare sleeping bags. I debated the merits of a camping pad (borrowed one) and what size Platypus water bladder thingie to buy (I got the largest). I spent a half hour on the fake plastic mountain in the shoe department at REI, testing out hiking boots, envisioning myself somehow ascending a real life mountain.

I would love to say that I climbed that mountain, conquered it smiling, and returned back to the city in possession of that coveted self-satisfaction I saw on every single young person’s face. Instead, when we signed the registry at the bottom of the mountain, we realized there wasn’t enough snow to summit. We hiked as far as we were going to go, and set up camp at a beautiful spot between giant boulders, near a running stream of snow melt, and ate dinner by the light of our headlamps and the stars.

The next day, we explored a giant ice field, wearing crampons, carrying ice axes, taking baby steps in single file. Upon misunderstanding my friend’s command NOT to follow his very steps, I slipped and slid at a rapid clip towards a giant pile of rocks. I broke my fall by slamming into a giant boulder. I spent the next half hour being coached to the bottom, where I promptly burst into tears. That night, we watched fireworks over Lake Shasta from camp, passing around a flask. I slept like the dead.

The descent was uneventful. We were mostly grateful to make it back to the car, to take off our packs, and to use a real restroom. I nursed a giant bruise on my left thigh for a month, watching it turn from purple to a sickly yellow. I left San Francisco a year later and the remnants of my life as an outdoorswoman came with me.

Here’s how much it cost to almost climb a mountain.

• 1 REI internal frame multi-day backpack: $144
• 1 pair of the cheapest hiking boots I could find, honestly: $100
• 2 pairs of hiking socks, now used in lieu of slippers: $14.50 each
• 1 set of Helle Hansen moisture-wicking long underwear: $40
• 1 moisture-wicking, breathable, hideous T-shirt: $24.95
• 1 pair of those atrocious pants that zip off into shorts: $44.95
• 1 headlamp, used primarily for reading in bed: $29.95
• 1 “mountaineering” package from REI in Berkeley: $40
• 1 Platypus water bladder system thingy: $12.95

Not ending it all by slamming into a pile of boulders wearing aforementioned zip-off shorts/pants(shants?): PRICELESS


Megan Reynolds lives in New York.


16 Comments / Post A Comment

ceereelyo (#3,552)

Sports Basement! When we had a visit/vacation in SF last summer we spent the first half in Yosemite (in a cabin), but the second half camping in Big Sur. My friend who we were visiting had two roommates who worked at Sports Basement and they set us up with our tent and sleeping bags and sleeping pads – best vacation hook up! We were flying out to California and my friend only had one set of camping gear, and we wren’t about to fly/ship out anything with us. It definitely was a cost saver. I also ended up buying a couple of things – sweatshirt, sweatpants because the weather n San Fran/northern CA was a lot colder than I thought it would be. I wished we had something like Sports Basement in NJ, it’s all big box (we do like EMS though) and sooo expensive! My husband has expensive tech-wick stuff from EMS, and lucky I can fit into his! I really ought to get a set of my own. Wicking/long-underwear will be the thing I say if anyone asks if I want anything in particular for xmas.

@ceereelyo Where in NJ are you? If you’re north, check out Campmor in Paramus, I think – they also have a website if you know what brands and stuff you like!

Also, they’re a big company but LL Bean is pretty great too.

Derbel McDillet (#1,241)

@ceereelyo Sierra Trading Post (online) has great deals on good brands. I just bought Marmot rain jackets for Mr. McDillet and myself for $50 each.

ceereelyo (#3,552)

@polka dots vs stripes @Derbel McDillet – AH Campmor! I totally forgot about them, thouhg I didn’t know they had a physical store, we get their catalog that I like to treat as a coloring book. We are in central NJ, right outside Princeton, so it would be a hike, but my cousin lives in Elmwood Park. I’ll have to check out Sierra Trading Post too!

JuliaS (#5,364)

hey, you forgot to talk about the time I took you snowboarding and you had a totally awesome time. here is a story my dad enjoys telling:
“I was on the chairlift and I saw megan on the mountain below me. I called out, ‘megan, how are you doing?’ and heard a faint, ‘not so well…’ as I passed her.”

meganR (#5,514)

@JuliaS get outta here who invited you!

JK, I forgot about that time. it was a good one.

I camped and hiked a lot as a kid, and I’m trying to get back into it by slowlyy accumulating gear over the winter months so as to not kill my wallet. I have no plans on calculating how much I’m spending.

Instead of those “shants,” I have a great pair of pants from Columbia, I think, that just roll up a bit to make a nice capri length. Shants are the worstttt.

I’m totally down with, like, 3-hour hikes, but not beyond that. Far too lazy, and far too cheap. I do have a huge backpack from my RTW trip and we have a tent but I refuse to overnight outdoors ‘for fun’.

LA (#4,587)

The thing I learned about nature and hiking is that you really don’t need most of the fancy REI equipment. My first proper hike was 8 hours at high altitude in Colombia-and I wore a pair of cotton F21 leggings and sneakers that had never seen the floor outside of a New York gym. I survived! (I swore never to go hiking again and then months later became super into it)

I’ve done lots of long hikes in normal tshirt and jeans and $30 outdoor shoes with a little bit of traction, and a plastic bottle of water. I think outdoor sports has just become such an industry in the U.S. When I go into REI it always seems like a good idea-so much useful stuff! But when I think of how little I actually need and actually used…totally different story.

Derbel McDillet (#1,241)

@LA Agreed. I hike a lot in homemade skirts with $10 bike shorts underneath and cheap-ass t-shirts.

Also agreed about REI. I think REI is to me what Whole Foods is to some people. I both lust after everything there and resent the fact that I lust after everything there.

megra (#2,906)

If you want to have any money left in your bank account do not sign up for the emails from Sierra Trading Post. If you love Smart Wools and fancy rain coats (seriously, everyone: Helly Hansen) do it!

Things are usually a tiny bit irregular (has never been enough that I notice) and a whole lot of money off. The best/worst part is when you see your total you also see how much you would have paid full-price.

Derbel McDillet (#1,241)

@megra This is hilarious. I just ordered two rain jackets from Sierra Trading Post before seeing this comment.

andnowlights (#2,902)

Total was $451.30 (I couldn’t help myself). I am a hiking girl, for sure. Love it and I normally just wear workout clothes and my Merrell’s, which clash horribly because they are brown and all my workout pants are black and great. I feel stupidly self-conscious about clashing black and brown and I can’t take it anymore.

All of that to say, overnight hiking requires too much equipment and I’d rather spend the night at an awesome hotel for that amount of money! Of course, I grew up doing day hikes and NEVER overnight camping (except Girl Scouts) because of my dad, who also hates it.

Beaks (#3,488)

@andnowlights Day hiking forever. I adore day hikes, and collapsing into the cushy comfort of my own bed the night after.

Allison (#4,509)

I miss hiking so much! Chicago is way too flat. I doubt I’d do it as much as I long to if I actually lived in the Bay, but man I love nearly having a heart attack climbing Cataract Falls.

I’ve never really bought fancy gear for it (besides newer sneakers with more tread than my rundown ones) hiking in jeans and a fleece is totally fine. Although I could have used, oh anything responsible that one time I went on like a 4k hike in flipflops where it had kind of just stopped raining. Complete mudfest.

beet hummus (#946)

A good portion of my credit card debt was racked up at REI. I’m okay with it, I see good-quality camping gear as an investment (and I use it a lot). Plus I hear they are good to their employees.

Also, hiking in jeans/anything cotton is the worst, and potentially dangerous!! Go ahead and buy those hideous, expensive, wicking synthetics, people!

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