What’s the Most Common Gear-Buying Mistake?
It’s easy to spot, but hard to avoid
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Welcome to Ask a Gear Editor, our monthly column where we answer readers’ most puzzling gear questions. Have a burning question of your own? Become an Outside+ member to ask an Outside expert for advice.
What is the most common gear buying mistake that people make?
This is a juicy one, and gets at the heart of many issues within the gear industry. Simply put, the most frequent error people make when purchasing gear is buying products that are not right for them—not for what their intended use is and/or the level at which they’re doing a sport.
While this is easy to spot, it’s hard to avoid. I blame a lot of this problem on marketing and media (yes, we are complicit here). The outdoor world tends to be aspirational, thus even when you’re buying your first mountain bike you’re looking at pictures of people dropping off vehicle-sized rocks even though you may never do that. Then there are the people writing reviews, who might be super experts that have been testing bikes for two decades and have a hard time speaking to beginners. Finally, reviewers also get sent the newest, coolest gear from the upper edges of the sport and so we naturally have a bias in that direction.
As consumers, our natural reaction is to either buy something too hardcore—to fit in with the “cool kids”—or to swing the other way and to assume that we need easier gear because we’re not as hardcore as the people we see in ads. Of course you want to feel like part of the in-crowd when you start. I’ve fallen prey to it myself. I started surfing on shortboards when I was a teenager because that’s what the pros were riding. If I’d only started on a longer board, I would have saved myself a couple years on a very slow learning curve. But instead I just struggled along until I finally got it through inept perseverance. I’ve seen hundreds of people make similar mistakes in my decade-plus working in the outdoor industry.
This fate can be avoided, though, by finding the right balance between confidence and humility. First, assess your skill level truthfully. Are you just starting out? Buy items that are user-friendly and affordable. The reason for this is two-fold: you want to make your entree into the sport as fun and painless as possible. And you also want to make sure you actually like the activity without spending a boat load of money (rentals and demos can also be extremely helpful at this stage). You can always upgrade later. If you have some experience and are looking to step up, think about how you actually want to use this product. For instance, if you’re surrounded by great multi-pitch trad climbing where you live, how often are you going to use a pair of aggressive, downturned shoes outside of the gym?
Second, ask yourself what your intention is with a sport. If you’re an expert skier that hucks cliffs in the winter and wants to do the same thing in the summer on a bike, your needs will be different than someone who wants a bike to get around town and take on the occasional trail during the weekend.
A good salesperson can be a major help here too. Go to your local shop and give them your answers to the questions above. Be prepared to walk away empty handed if they’re trying to upsell you, but if you get someone that truly engages with you, they can guide you in the right direction.
Peer pressure knows no bounds, people. But if you’re honest with yourself, you can save money and get the best products for you every time.