There’s an assumption the great outdoors is where we can escape the hustle and bustle of daily life—a place that belongs to everyone. But the cost of outdoor gear tells another story.
Outdoor recreation is an essential cornerstone of human health. Hiking, skiing, canoeing, camping, rock climbing, running—these activities build character, foster intellectual development, and increase physical and mental well-being while lowering stress, fatigue, and blood pressure.
But these days, outdoor recreation is neither affordable nor readily accessible for many. This is both a price tag problem and a cultural problem.
According to a 2018 recreation report from Outdoor Foundation, expensive outdoor recreation equipment is the second biggest deterrent to getting outside, right behind busy personal schedules.
This is believable when in an outdoors store, like MEC or Trailhead, a pair of hiking boots costs $200 while tents and sleeping bags are upwards of $400. The equipment required for most outdoor activities is simply not affordable for the average minimum-wage earner.
Innovative, high-tech gear is certainly more useful and comforting to own, but the problem arises when we’re told we won’t survive the trip if our tent can’t fold up into the size of a napkin. If we didn’t pay more for the Gore-Tex raincoat, it apparently won’t protect us.
Saying that outdoor spaces are for everyone while selling essential gear at unaffordable prices is counterintuitive.
The narrative creates a major performance gap in equipment, and consumers end up distrusting more affordable options found in stores like Walmart or Costco. This leads to a dichotomy where only those wealthy enough to buy expensive brands feel empowered to participate in outdoor recreation, while those who can’t vacuum out their wallets are likely to opt out entirely.
Before technology invaded our gear and increased the prices, people were still able to enjoy themselves outdoors—80s photographs show people up on ski hills in just sweaters and jeans. These photos are reminders that going outside can indeed be simple.
Mannequins and magazine covers showcasing someone wearing Arcteryx or Black Diamond head-to-toe enforce an exclusive perception of who can be “outdoorsy,” perpetuating a culture where wearing simpler gear is perceived as being illiterate and warranting judgement from others.
If we want the outdoors to truly belong to everyone, we must focus less on what we wear and what we spend.
Outdoor recreation must go back to its roots, when the emphasis was placed on the opportunity to connect with nature, build valuable skills and friendships, and reap the health benefits of fresh air.
Think about why we go outside in the first place—the escape we often seek when we go to the woods, paddle on a lake, or trek up a mountain. Living deliberately shouldn’t have such a high price tag.
Natara Ng is a third-year Kinesiology student and The Journal’s Assistant Sports Editor.
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