Buy More Gear.
There are countless sound arguments against this article’s title: Consumerism begets waste. Materialism amplifies economic inequality. Supporting corporations is unsustainable. Better to use what you have. Etc. But given the outdoor gear industry’s position and reach, as evidenced in the aftermath of last Monday, consider this…
To preface, this is an op-ed for our US audience…
Just a week ago today, in response to the government’s executive order to dismember Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments — the largest elimination of protected land in American history — several US-based gear makers took action and ultimately created an avalanche of protest on social media. It all started when Patagonia blacked out its homepage to feature the message “The President Stole Your Land,” which had a matching Facebook post that’s since been shared over 82,000 times with likes on all those shares in the millions. REI, the North Face, and others followed suit by posting similar, yet less harsh, messages on their public-facing websites. All of these dispatches had a ripple effect and directed readers to public lands advocacy organizations as well as those specifically working to protect the two national monuments in question.
This isn’t the first time that outdoor gear companies have stepped up in defense of the environment. Until recently, most of that support has come in the form of philanthropic donations to the NGOs that champion environmentally responsible policy. Back in February, the Outdoor Industry Association, a nonprofit membership-driven trade organization that represents outdoor companies, relocated their annual trade show from Salt Lake City to Denver in reaction to Utah’s political action toward public lands. In addition, OIA has two registered lobbyists in Washington. Unfortunately, lobbyists are a “dime a dozen” in DC, and those fighting for the energy industry have much deeper pockets than those defending our public lands. Enter the game changer…Donald J. Trump.
Unlike other less audacious actions made by politicians in the past to dilute and strip protections from natural lands, this one is so egregious that it’s forced members of the outdoor industry to take a stand and fight. So, as ironic as it may seem, I guess we can thank Donald for one thing… as Christian Beckwith, founder and director of SHIFT (Shaping How We Invest for Tomorrow) said: “We’re all activists now. That would not have been possible without Trump.” (Friedman, V. A Call to Activism for Outdoor Apparel Makers Unbuttoned, New York Times)
From proposals to liquidate millions of acres, to an attempt to get rid of the Forest Service, there are extremist lawmakers actively trying to privatize, develop, or just sell off our national public lands… all for profit and gain. In many cases the effort is to transfer land to the state government, which can open it up to other fates, including mineral development, subdivisions, extraction, logging, or other uses that the appointed and elected state officials see fit, or profitable. Even as many individuals and much of the outdoor industry advocate for public lands, attacks on our national monuments, forests, wilderness, and parks are gaining steam.
Inciting social protest and taking legal action against the government are risky propositions for private companies. It’s no doubt that taking a political stand during such divided times will cost Patagonia and other such companies hundreds, if not thousands of sales and customers. As this article will likely cost us a few dozen readers. But, they have reasons to stand up for wild places, as do we. Some might argue that outdoor brands are making noise as a publicity stunt in order to actually sell more gear. And perhaps that is a strategy for some companies. After all, without these places that we cherish, open spaces where we are able to hike, climb, fish, camp, and bikepack, where would the outdoor gear companies be? But, more importantly, where would we all be? Just speaking for this website, 98% of the US bikepacking routes we’ve published utilize federal public lands. So, for whatever the motive, if the private sector has the guts, reach, and wherewithal to stand up and help defend our outdoor playground, and in turn help preserve public land, wilderness, ecosystems, and nature as a whole, we are all for it.
Consider this issue during the holiday season before you throw your dollars at an iPhone, pair of earings, fruit basket, or LED TV. Contrary to this article’s title, I am not saying that buying outdoor gear is going to save our public lands. Nor am I advocating for people to spend money on gear for the sake of doing so. If you can donate to a public lands conservation organization in someone’s honor, that’s without a doubt the best option and a gift that will keep on giving (see below).
But if you are into buying wrappable presents for loved ones, support a small gear maker who speaks out for public lands, or consider items such as a wool shirt from Patagonia, a Black Diamond Headlamp, an Osprey Pack, or something from REI or another company that’s invested in our public lands. Leave the recipient a note describing why you bought it, as well as a reminder that our national public lands are under threat. As for yourself, if you have such gear that you’ve considered replacing with the latest and greatest, give/donate your gently used items to local orgs such as The Mountaineers which takes kids on outdoors adventures in effort to pass along the value of conservation. If bikes are your thing, how about donating time or equipment to Trips for Kids which helps children from all walks of life experience nature and outdoor spaces on a bicycle.
You may not agree with how some of the companies mentioned choose to run their businesses. But in times like this, it’s important to recognise the message they’re sending… which you can do by supporting them directly, or sending some hard earned dollars directly to the causes they’re actively promoting.
Unfortunately, Bears Ears and GSENM are just a sampling of the threats that our public lands face here in the US. On the flip side of the mainstream atrocity, there’s a lot more unfolding behind the scenes. All the more reason to tune in. Outdoor Alliance (creators of the #protectpubliclands hashtag as well as protectourpublicland.org) seems to be leading the way. In short, they are advocating for outdoor recreation on America’s public lands with current campaigns in Southern Utah as well as the Sierras, PNW, and my neck of the woods, Pisgah and Nantahala national forests. Here’s how to tune in: Learn about various legislative issues that affect public lands, track new legislation, and join Outdoor Alliance by signing the petition. You can also make a donation to the organization here and learn how to take further action here.