It is believed that we can escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life in the great outdoors – a place that belongs to everyone. But the cost of outdoor gear tells a different story.
Outdoor recreation is an essential cornerstone of human health. Hiking, skiing, canoeing, camping, climbing, running – these activities strengthen character, promote intellectual development, increase physical and mental well-being and at the same time reduce stress, fatigue and blood pressure.
But these days, outdoor leisure is neither affordable nor easily accessible for many. This is both a price tag problem and a cultural problem.
According to a 2018 Outdoor Foundation Leisure Report, expensive outdoor recreational gear is the second biggest deterrent to getting outside right after a busy personal schedule.
This is believable when at an outdoor store like MEC or Trailhead, a pair of hiking boots costs $ 200 while tents and sleeping bags cost over $ 400. The equipment needed for most outdoor activities is simply not affordable for the average minimum wage earner.
Cutting-edge, high-tech gear is certainly more useful and pleasant to own, but the problem arises when we are told that if our tent doesn’t fold down to the size of a napkin, we won’t survive the trip. If we stop paying for the Gore-Tex raincoat, it doesn’t seem to protect us.
To say that outside areas are for everyone while essential equipment is being sold at prohibitive prices is counterintuitive.
The narrative creates a large device performance gap, and consumers distrust the more affordable options found in stores like Walmart or Costco. This creates a dichotomy where only those rich enough to buy expensive brands feel able to partake in outdoor recreational activities, while those who can’t suck their wallets off are likely to forego it entirely.
Before technology penetrated our gear and raised prices, people could still enjoy themselves outdoors – photos from the 80s show people only in sweaters and jeans on the ski slopes. These photos are a reminder that going outside can be really easy.
Mannequins and magazine covers showing someone wearing Arcteryx or Black Diamond from head to toe reinforce an exclusive perception of who can be “outside” and perpetuate a culture in which wearing simpler clothing is perceived as illiterate and justifies the judgment of others.
If we want nature to really belong to everyone, we need to focus less on what we wear and what we spend.
Outdoor recreation needs to go back to its roots when the emphasis was on being able to connect with nature, build valuable skills and friendships, and reap the health benefits of the fresh air.
Think about why we go outside in the first place – the escape we often seek when going into the forest, paddling on a lake, or climbing a mountain. Conscious living shouldn’t be that expensive.
Natara Ng is a third year kinesiology student and assistant sports editor for the journal.