How to Shop for Gear: Hunter or Gatherer?

My friend has an interesting theory that humans hold onto primal instincts from our ancestors who existed pre-civilization.  Specifically, he thinks that when it comes to shopping some of us are born hunters, and others are born gatherers. Can you guess which gender he assigns to each role? Yep, you guessed it: women are gatherers because when they shop, they compare different brands and different stores to find the right item at the right price.  And men are hunters because they go into a store, find an item that works, and buy it.

I do see his point broadly, but maybe I’m just not the average woman because shopping has a tremulous place in my heart (somewhere near drinking sour milk and behind getting my hair caught in a car door…think about it. No, I mean really visualize tugging your head against the force of the door. I’m not saying I’ve done this before, but if I did, it’d probably be embarrassing. But only careless clumsies do this, so of course that means I’ve never done it, no. No, not I.).

Despite my distaste for shopping, I do love research and planning, which means that I might have a fighting chance of enjoying the experience of finding the right gear for my A.T. thru-hike. The problem is that I get to a point where I am sick of planning and, in the words of the ever-impulsive Nike, I want to JUST DO IT.

Well, I’ve been poking around on and on various blogs.  What I’ve found is that everybody has an opinion, and no two are the same.  And it’s an awesome/awful thing that there are five REIs (and various other outdoors stores) in the DC metro area.  A couple of weekends ago some friends and I went to the REI out in Fairfax, VA for their members only sale and ended up spending three hours there chatting with staff about gear.  Last weekend we went to a different one and spent an hour talking sleeping pads – blowing them up, laying on them, comparing specifications, borderline taking a nap on them (and can I just say that it was all the energy I could muster to pull myself off the ground? A nap in the middle of the REI was sounding pretty good after an hour of shopping).

So, that’s the gatherer part of me.  I research, research, research.  By the time I’m done, I know all the pros and cons about every single option.  But then…

I hit a wall.  I’m sick of shopping.  I can only take so much.  The wall comes out of nowhere (“What are you doing here, wall? I thought we had an agreement that I’d meet you back at my apartment.”), at which point I want to just choose one, buy it, and move on.  At this point in the game, I’m hesitating on which headlamp to buy.  For goodness sakes, a headlamp! I’m talking an ounce and a half difference between options.  I don’t know how I’m ever going to pick all the items for my pack or, for that matter, the pack itself.

To relate for a moment, allow me to compare this situation to eating out.  When at a restaurant with dozens of options, it’s inevitably torture picking an entree.  That is how I felt the other day at REI with the sleeping pads.  The hunter in me wants to come out.  See a clay pigeon, shoot a clay pigeon (I’m not getting into a sensitive subject like shooting Bambi in my blog, so we’ll stick with the “clay pigeon” bit).  I want to start buying things lickety split.

But I also know that patience is a virtue.  See, I ordered a pair of hiking poles from Sierra Trading Post, only to realize when they arrived that they weigh 18 ounces.  Oops, that’s pretty heavy for a pair of hiking poles.  Too hunter-like, too impulsive.  Instead, if I continue to do my research and make sure that all the moving parts work together (and don’t collectively weigh too much), then I’ll be much better prepared for the trail.  And worse comes to worse, if I tear my hair out over this process, then I won’t have to worry about cutting it off after all.

Meandering on,



5 thoughts on “How to Shop for Gear: Hunter or Gatherer?

  1. As a guy I think I would have to describe my shopping style as an assassin. I know my target, get close, acquire target and make the purchase,and am gone before anyone realizes i was even there.

  2. I have FOUR years to plan for this trip and am still completely overwhelmed by all of the choices out there. I’m like you in that I abhor shopping. I think I may like shopping for the hike better than regular shopping but still…too many choices are daunting to me. I can’t go into antique shops, flea markets, etc without breaking into a cold sweat. My husband is one of those who can walk into a place like that and immediately take in everything at once. My brain doesn’t work that way and has to break down each individual item and I still miss the obvious (i.e. Husband: “Hey, wasn’t that 12 ft stuffed grizzly bear at the front door cool?” Me: “????”). So I’m hoping to try out a backpack here, some underwear there, overanalyze every choice I make, have a panic attack, take some Gaba Calm and start over. In four years I will either get really good at managing panic attacks or medicating them. I can’t wait to see what works/doesn’t for you.

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