The other day, I was reading, right here on Outside, about a tool designed for eating, when it occurred to me that it would actually be impossible to use the device for putting food in your face. And that reminded me that there’s an awful lot of outdoor gear out there that, despite grandiose marketing claims, doesn’t actually do anything. Here’s a list of the worst offenders.
IndefinitelyWild is a lifestyle column telling the story of adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there, and the people we meet along the way. Get the newsletter! And follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.See the Archive→
If I were to describe to you a fork with tines so short and so blunt that they couldn’t stab meat, or a spoon with holes in it, or a knife attached to the handle of a fork—ensuring that you couldn’t use either at the same time—you’d agree with me that those were all useless things. And yet I’ve also just described a spork, one of the tools most closely associated with eating outside.
The weight you potentially save by combining your fork with your spoon, or even adding a knife, is so puny as to be irrelevant on your worksheet of gear weights. Instead of spilling half your freeze-dried beef stew down your shirt, how about instead packing a spoon designed to reach all the way to the bottom of a meal bag? Or a fork designed to deliver optimal mouthfeel? Or how about just using the knife you carry everywhere to cut up your food? One of the best experiences in life is enjoying a good meal in the backcountry, so why not carry the tools necessary to make the most of it?
Flashlights with Multiple LEDs
When we reviewed the FourSevens Mini Mk II, I raved about how exciting it was to get so much light (1,020 lumens) in a package so small that it can fit on your keychain. I was also excited about the price: $40 is incredibly cheap for such a useful, innovative, bright flashlight.
Of course, one of our dear readers was quick to point out what an imbecile I am for suggesting this light is a good value. “But I can get a flashlight with more LEDs in it for $8!!!!” he commented.
Let’s settle this once and for all: the bargain flashlights you find at gas stations with all those LEDs clustered together are garbage. Their claimed outputs lie egregiously. To get the most out of an LED, a quality reflector or optic is required to gather and throw the light it produces. It is, therefore, a sign of high quality for a flashlight to have only one LED housed in such a reflector or optic, with the notable exception of super-high-output spotlights, such as the FourSevens XM18, but that’s more a collection of individual flashlights than a janky cluster of quality rejects.
Small Portable Power Generators
If you can fit a device capable of capturing energy from the sun, wind, water, or heat in your backpack, then that device is a sham. You get more capacity in a cheaper, smaller, more rapidly charging, more versatile portable battery pack. There is no exception. Want more proof? We’ve written about this issue at length.
Waterproof Membranes in Shoes
Don’t buy waterproof shoes. They lock as much water in as they keep out. Trying to make a shoe waterproof when it doesn’t even come above your ankle is just stupid.
To start with, your feet are sweaty, especially when you’re doing active stuff outdoors. Companies claim their waterproof membranes are breathable (and they have gotten a bit better), but they don’t work as advertised when sandwiched between layers of faux suede. And footwear that can’t breathe quickly turns into a swamp of sweat, stink, bacteria, and fungus.
Now imagine you’re wearing your fancy new low-cut waterproof trail runners out on the trail, and it rains. Where does all the water go when it falls out of the sky and runs down your legs? Right into your shoe. And because of that waterproof layer, they’ll stay wet for days.
Believe it or not, the most heavily ventilated trail runner possible will actually keep your feet drier in the long run. Pair them with thin merino socks and the action of your pumping feet will literally pump the water right out of the shoe. I wear mesh-upper trail runners for virtually every outdoor activity, in most weather conditions, for this reason.
It’s a brilliant idea: create a match that can be swiped on any rough surface to achieve combustion. In reality, little balsa-wood sticks are fragile things, and the combination of phosphorous and potassium in the match head is prone to drying out and crumbling. Swipe one against a rock and you’re more likely to snap the match or destroy the head than light it up. Don’t even bother trying if they’ve ever gotten wet.
If you’re looking for a foolproof, unbreakable, 100 percent reliable fire starter, go with a knife and ferro rod. Catch those sparks in a Vaseline-coated cotton ball and you’ll be warm in no time.
Any Tool Designed to Fit in Your Wallet
You always have your wallet with you, so why not design a tool shaped like a credit card? Well, because thin metal edges are a pain to hold, and any tool thin enough to fit seamlessly in a pocket will have approximately zero strength. The quixotic pursuers of wallet-friendly tools know this and make tools that are way too thick to fit in your wallet as a result yet still manage to be both painful and free of utility.
Instead of looking to your wallet to hold your tools, use your key chain. Tiny flashlights, multitools, and pry bars that fit on it will actually get the job done.
Any Wallet Designed to Be a Tool
You know what works pretty well? Plain old wallets. They hold your cash and cards, and they fit in your pocket. Know what will never work? Trying to make a wrench that’s comfortable to sit on.
Your jeans have at least four pockets. You can spare the real estate to keep your wallet in one and a multitool in another.