The fear of putting your feet in wet shoes is always worse than the actual skin-to-soggy-sole contact. It’s this cold-mushy fear that fills my mind at 0230, 3000m above Lombok’s sandy pancake shoreline and teal breakers. Cold, wet, and unrecognizably ashen, my haggard low-top All-stars are a weak substitute for proper hiking boots, but there they sit, just outside the door to my tent, alone. Three hours later I’m basking in the early heat of an equatorial sunrise, choking down the three-day-shaken foam of the coldest Bintang in all of Indonesia on the crowning summit of Gunung Rinjani.
I shoved those now-defunct All-stars in my bag as I ran out the door to catch my flight to Bangkok nearly eight years ago. Why would I need hiking boots in sunny Thailand? I don’t even own proper hiking boots (come to think of it, I still don’t). At that point, I had no plans to go hiking, or to go to Indonesia. While standing on one of the country’s more obscure and odd small parcels of land – a bachelor-apartment-sized plateau of crumbling rock distinctly higher than anything around for thousands of kilometres, in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by dragons, crushing surf, and scented temples – I wasn’t thinking about hiking boots, or my been-in-the-bathtub-too-long-looking feet. I wasn’t thinking at all. I was just there, on a big ochre rock, the air tinted with sulphric-compounds, staring at the sky with open eyes.
Back then I was young, uninterested in investing in gear, and keen to see new things. Not long after returning from that trip I took a job as a bicycle tour guide. It’s a pretty sweet gig. I get shipped around the world to show people places I’ve never been too. Through work I’ve spent the better part of six years wandering around some of the more beautiful places on our planet. I get paid to play outside. I also, somewhat unconsciously, have amassed a ton of gear. I ran a canoe down a river last weekend, it took three days, and I lugged two 55L dry-bags full of stuff with me. In the process of packing for that trip I took a little catalogue of my neatly-packed collection. It’s horrifying. I own eight different sized stuff-sacks. Why? What happened to my Rinjani days? 3700m volcano, sub-zero nights, nighttime scree scrambling, fuck it, these shoes will do. Facing the same mountain now I’d likely spend a solid week of nights staring into my computer screen endlessly scrolling through boot reviews and assessing their pros and cons with obsessive detail.
The guests on my bike trips are often decked out in the finest equipment. Rain shells that cost more than my raggedy 4Runner and cycling kits that outweigh my student debt. Sometimes, when they’re not looking, I leer at their shiny stuff with ill-placed envy and disgust. We’re hopping off our bikes for a 2km loop walk to a viewpoint, do you really need two layers of GoreTex? I say to myself. Really, I’m just pissed I refuse to shell out the dollars for my own GoreTex, and probably flashback in my mind to a day spent hiking alone soaking wet in Nova Scotia.
But, I can’t help but get a little forlorn when, at the bottom of a beautiful waterfall in Iceland it feels more like a fashion contest with a cute backdrop than a humbling mist-filled wonderland. You don’t need all that stuff to get outside. Grab the basics, trade with friends, or strangers, borrow, share, and fix your stuff when it breaks. Get outside anyway you can, but consider the consequences of gear-frenzy. Don’t feed the machine any more than you absolutely have too. The products we all love, and that help us get to the places we want to be, come at a huge cost to the Eden’s we seek. The big brands are trying to give back, and that’s great, but we can help on our end. Want less, and less will be made, it’s market economics, and it seems to be the only language big producers listen to. Get outside, have fun, be nice to the world around you, and, if you can, buy less shit!
Tyler Leblanc hails from Canada's East Coast. He is a spirited adventure and writer and completed an education in Fine arts and Creative Writing at University of King's College. Presently he's working at Freewheeling Adventures. Some of his work and inspiration can be seen on instagram at: @tleblancj