A few weeks ago Andre and I were hiking Cub Lake Trail, when we had an odd exchange with another couple on the path. Andre and I had stopped to take pictures for the post I was going to write, and were taking an extra moment to re-hydrate. That’s when they came up the trail.
Everyone we have ever met hiking has been friendly and eager to share what’s ahead on the trail or favorite spots they like to hike and fish. These two were not an exception. However, in the middle of telling us how beautiful Lawn Lake Trail was and how highly they recommend it, the man paused, looked us both up and down, and asked something that took both Andre and I by surprise, “So…you’re both pretty inexperienced hikers?”
I was mortified. Inexperienced hikers? I kept hearing his words replay in my head, over and over. I honestly can’t tell you anything that was said after that, due to my excruciatingly damaged pride causing a 2013 Super Bowl level blackout in my brain. INEXPERIENCED HIKERS?? As we left our new “friends“, Andre and I walked along in silence for awhile, save for the cacophony of echoing rage reverberating between my ears. Unable to continue holding it in for one second longer, the words burst out of my mouth. “INEXPERIENCED HIKERS?!?”
“Ah,” said Andre, “Yes. That was weird.” We began trying to assess what on earth might have pegged us as “inexperienced”. I was dressed in distinctly non-cotton layers with a very expensive light down REI jacket (it was on sale!), outdoorsy zip off pants, and extremely practical and not at all fashionable sturdy hiking boots. For accessories I had on my hydration pack and was using a set of hiking poles I used to make fun of people using, but will now never leave home without, due to being an EXPERIENCED hiker. So it wasn’t me. I looked every bit the part.
We turned our attentions to Andre. Andre was wearing sturdy hiking boots, but that’s about where the “officially sanctioned hiking gear” ended. Above that he had on jeans, a cotton tshirt, a Wisconsin Badgers light jacket, a regular school backpack (with fishing gear attached), and his trekking poles. Ding ding ding! But here’s the thing– Andre is so tall he hasn’t been able to find good outdoors pants that fit him well yet, half of our more practical clothing and gear is still in storage from the move, and it was a relatively easy hike on a well populated trail, located about 2 miles from services on a warm fall day with little to no chance of getting lost in a situation where more expensive gear means the difference between life and death.
Wait. Why am I making excuses about what he was wearing? Who the heck cares?? I mean, besides THAT couple. We were outside, seeing some beautiful sights and having a great time. There were elk to our left and snow capped peaks to our right. Did we really need a polypropylene half zip with a gore-tex shell with a 1.6mm micro-seam allowance to enjoy ourselves more? Was it necessary to have an ultra-light Osprey day pack made with 210-denier double ripstop nylon? Should we have been embarrassed at not having $150 carbon titanium anti-shock trekking poles? (Ours were $14 a pair and serve us quite well.) The answer to all of this is quite simply, no.
The wonderful thing about day hiking– nay, the BEST thing about day hiking, is that anyone can do it with exactly what they already own. We didn’t need our hiking boots to do Cub Lake Trail; sneakers would have done the job just fine. I wouldn’t want to wear sneakers up Longs Peak, but we weren’t ON Longs Peak. And once you do become an “experienced” hiker and you do own all the fancy expensive gear, you don’t have to use it every time you take the garbage out. You may be the cool kid on campus for wearing your Lowa Tibet GTX Hiking Boots, but step into a National Park and you should be more focused on the stunning views and fresh air than the latest fall fashions. If you’re the most comfortable in basketball shorts, wear basketball shorts, as long as the weather calls for it and it’s not the only thing you’re packing on a 3-month thru-hike.
The point is to get outside and enjoy nature. Weather and safety permitting, go with what you have, enjoy your beautiful day, and pay no attention to anyone who tries to make you think owning more stuff is a barrier to the outdoors. Just make sure to bring extra water— that’s free.
– C. Egli