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#156915 - 11/07/11 11:46 AM Can good equipment make up for lack of skill
ppine Offline
member

Registered: 01/10/10
Posts: 184
Loc: Minden, Nevada
There is a lot of discussion on this forum about equipment, and many of us have had periods when we turned into gear heads. These days I am not concerned about equipment much at all. Why is the latest equipment important? How can it overcome a lack of skill and experience?

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#156917 - 11/07/11 11:57 AM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: ppine]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
The latest gear isn't important to enjoy a trip. It does nothing to offset inexperience.

But as a gear head, I find that new toys are fun to play with. I like stoves and fishing gear - I have duplicate stove sets - but that comes in handy outfitting newbies with loaners. I have several shelters but they each are best suited trips to different environments, or different seasons, and the same with backpacks - having a separate pack for SAR is sort of important since you have to go at a moment's notice, and some of my gear has to be stored in it.

And buying a down sleeping quilt was the best investment I've made, since the cycle of cheap bags was ridiculous - no sub-$100 bag will ever replace a good high quality down sleeping solution, in terms of lightness and warmth. Never going back to cheap sleeping gear.
_________________________
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

http://hikeandbackpack.com

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#156919 - 11/07/11 12:28 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: lori]
Glenn Offline
member

Registered: 03/08/06
Posts: 2617
Loc: Ohio
Can good equipment replace skill? No. It simply means that your heirs will inherit lots of good stuff - which they probably won't know how to use, either.

I backpack in areas that are, by some of your standards, heavily crowded. I see all kinds of gear, from the cigarette premium stuff to low-end stuff from Dick's or Dunham's to REI brands to high-end and, on the sunny, pleasant weekends, everyone's having a great time with whatever gear they have. But let the weather turn, and I start seeing the low-end stuff abandoned in campsites or beside the trail, thoroughly trashed. It wasn't always because the gear failed, it's usually because the people using it didn't know how to get the most out of it. Usually, when I run across them a mile or so later, huddled under a rock shelter, I notice that their "rain gear" consisted of a cotton-lined, uncoated-nylon, company-logo windbreaker layered over cotton sweatsuits.

On the other hand, I have seen (and been one of) the people who were warm, dry, and happy using lower-end gear in foul conditions. But we knew the limitations: we didn't put our fiberglass-poled Gander Mountain tent out on the ridge in 40 mph winds; we tucked it off the ridge, in some trees (after checking for widowmakers), with some bushes as a windbreak, if possible. We knew that a coated nylon poncho was still better than a sweatsuit in the rain.

Now, one observation that goes along with this is that, in many cases, experience drives a hiker to choosing better quality gear as ( and if) they can afford it. They know that a good, high-end tent will have design features that will simply make it easier to deal with foul conditions. Of course, you still need the know-how to use those features. But generally, I've found that the more experienced folks are using the better gear, and that the newbies with a minimal collection of better gear are often being mentored by those with more experience.

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#156920 - 11/07/11 12:44 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: Glenn]
Rick_D Offline
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Registered: 01/06/02
Posts: 2801
Loc: NorCal
Good equipment provides an extra margin of safety so in that context yes, it helps counter the negative consequences of errant decision-making and sheer bad luck.

Going lightweight and then, ultralightweight involves serial rounds of equipment discarding and "shaving." To that end, somebody departing into the high country with a four-pound base load had best be bringing a good skill set and clear mind with him/her. A bad series of events that might normally be merely uncomfortable could have worse consequences for somebody lacking experience with a barebones kit.

(Poor equipment isn't necessarily heavy, but oftentimes is. Good equipment isn't necessarily light but the "best" is light, too.)
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#156924 - 11/07/11 01:23 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: Glenn]
BZH Offline
member

Registered: 01/26/11
Posts: 829
Loc: Torrance, CA
Originally Posted By Glenn
Can good equipment replace skill? No. .....But let the weather turn, and I start seeing the low-end stuff abandoned in campsites or beside the trail, thoroughly trashed.


These statements seem to be at odds. If it was only a matter of skill, then the high end stuff would be along the trail with the low end stuff.

The reality is, is it takes more skill to make poor equipment work. Skill can make up for poor equipment... that necessitates that equipment can make up for a lack of skill.

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#156925 - 11/07/11 01:38 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: Glenn]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
There is also the skill, easily learned by understanding how to do online research to find reviews and posts in forums like this one, of knowing what equipment you need to do the trip you're planning with a minimum of difficulty.

Deciding that a 4 season, 10 lb dome tent is necessary to do the PCT can be an easy assumption if you hear there can be snowfall year round in the Sierra - talking to veteran PCT hikers or Sierra hikers takes that assumption away again. You find out that in summer any 3 season tent or even a tarp works okay in snowfall at that time of year, if you are good at site selection and pitching your shelter with proper orientation and adequate guy lines. While there was the lady who went out with a tiny tarp, sandals and inadequate sleeping quilt and ended up causing a search after a panicked SPOT activation, there are also hikers who successfully hike great distances on the PCT with an accurately planned and carefully selected gear list including tarp, quilt, and other minimal gear.
_________________________
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

http://hikeandbackpack.com

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#156926 - 11/07/11 01:40 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: ppine]
ringtail Offline
member

Registered: 08/22/02
Posts: 2296
Loc: Colorado Rockies
Good gear is not a substitute for skill. But skill increases your appreciation for good gear. My limited driving skills only require a Subaru, but Jimmy Johnson has the skill to appreciate a performance auto.

It is possible to substitute skill for gear, but not vice versa.
_________________________
"In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not."
Yogi Berra

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#156928 - 11/07/11 01:52 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: ppine]
aimless Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/05/03
Posts: 2838
Loc: Portland, OR
Strange as it may seem, I suspect there are certain cases where good equipment CAN make up for a lack of skill. An excellent example would be an unskilled hiker who is incapable of starting a fire with anything but bone-dry wood vs. a highly skilled hiker who can coax a fire out of a pile of wet rocks (caution: hyperbole at work grin).

The skilled hiker is going to make a fire and stay warm in adverse weather conditions, even having very cheap and mediocre clothing, and a sleeping bag made of two blankets pinned together with safety pins. However, if some unscrupulous salesperson convinced the newbie to buy $1000 worth of high end clothing, an overkill-rated down sleeping bag and an R-5 pad, plus a bombproof tent with color-coded, glow-in-the-dark poles, then even the unskilled newbie will stay warm and dry - with no skill to speak of other than a high credit card limit.

Note: This scenario does require the newbie to have enough skill to set up the tent and to dress himself.

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#156936 - 11/07/11 03:21 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: BZH]
Glenn Offline
member

Registered: 03/08/06
Posts: 2617
Loc: Ohio
They're not really at odds - as I said later, the more experienced folks tend to have upgraded to better gear, and know how to use it. End result: the good gear doesn't get trashed. (And, if it does, the more experienced know enough to pack it out.)

The newbie with good gear may not be able to use it, but having paid megabucks for it, he'll pack it out so he can get his money back using the no-questions-asked refund policies most sellers have. However, I have seen a few pieces of pretty good stuff abandoned, too - my buddy found a really good Mountain Hardwear waterproof/breathable jacket, muddy and soaked; he took it home and cleaned it, took it on his AT thru-hike, and is still using it. But that's the exception, not the rule.

I do agree that it takes more skill to make low-end stuff work (see my other comment about not pitching the fiberglass-poled tent out on the ridge.)

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#156937 - 11/07/11 03:27 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: aimless]
PerryMK Offline
member

Registered: 01/18/02
Posts: 1153
Loc: Florida panhandle
Originally Posted By aimless
...incapable of starting a fire with anything but bone-dry wood vs. a highly skilled hiker who can coax a fire out of a pile of wet rocks (caution: hyperbole at work grin).

A Bic lighter makes up for a lot of magnifying-glass-and-stick-rubbing skill.

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#156940 - 11/07/11 03:42 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: Glenn]
TomD Offline
Moderator

Registered: 10/30/03
Posts: 4963
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
The right answer is "it depends," a lawyer's best answer to almost any general question, because it is true. Having the best gear won't substitute for skill if you don't know how to use it or get yourself in a situation where even the best gear won't help. Putting up a $500 tent in the wrong place may not not have the same consequences as putting up a $100 tent, but it depends on where that place is.

Having the best clothes won't save you if you are lost or run out of food. Winter campers who go out without checking the weather may find themselves in trouble, not matter what they have with them. The same is true of climbers.

I consider myself a beginner winter camper. I make up for my lack of skill by taking along a very sturdy four season tent, enough clothes for far worse weather than I expect and don't go so far out that I am miles away from an exit strategy if things go really wrong. I have enough with me that if I got trapped in a storm, I could stay for a few extra days. I have either skis or snowshoes and a shovel-the basics needed to travel.

I don't consider much of my gear to be "the best," but it is more than adequate for what I am doing. I think some of the skill is in knowing what to take.

When I used to teach scuba diving (which I bring up every now and then), one of the most important things I could teach someone was this - know how and where to get out of the water before you get in. Any idiot can jump in anywhere with gear on; it is knowing how to get out that saves you.
_________________________
Don't get me started, you know how I get.

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#156950 - 11/07/11 06:43 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: aimless]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
Skill is far more important than good gear; it isn't even close. I recall one of victims, found going hypothermic on a cold dreary damp evening in the mountains. When we arrived, someone said, "Hi there, how about we get a fire going?"

"You can't," he replied, "It's too wet." Needless to say, we got a fire going quickly - we weren't interested in becoming hypothermic ourselves. This dude was carrying a fifty pound pack, filled with lightweight hiking gear no doubt. I don't think he had the slightest idea of what any of it was for.

The only thing I know for sure he carried was a pistol. As we got near the road, he became irritated at a light on a ridge about a quarter-mile away and threatened to shoot it out. It is just barely possible that he was not right in the head.

When I was a noobie, I had neither skill nor equipment. As I gained experience and knowledge, I also learned about the nuances of good gear -like nylon climbing rope is superior to 1/2 hemp rope from a spool condemned by the telephone company, which is what we used the very first time.....

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#156959 - 11/07/11 08:36 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: PerryMK]
Steadman Offline
member

Registered: 09/17/09
Posts: 510
Loc: Virginia
and a candle stub will do even more for you than that lighter

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#156961 - 11/07/11 09:45 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: ppine]
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3938
Loc: Bend, Oregon
some well engineered equipment will have features such as ease of set-up or being properly water proof and breathable or easy to light or fast to get into. These features may make it a lot easier for someone new to do things properly, and may stand up to worse weather than cheaper gear, but one still needs basic camping sense like not setting up that nice Hillberg tent under a dead snag in a wind storm. And you still need to know how to light a fire. That said, there are many places in Oregon where you cannot light a fire without a chainsaw and an axe, and the only wood might be about 8 feet in diameter at the base.
Whether skill can make up for a lack of equipment is kind of a balancing act kind of question, but those who are highly skilled and resourceful can go where others cannot. An unskilled person may benefit greatly from having good gear, but good gear cannot teach you how to use it.
Jim
_________________________
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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#156994 - 11/08/11 03:25 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: Jimshaw]
OregonMouse Online   content
member

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6372
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
Quote:
An unskilled person may benefit greatly from having good gear, but good gear cannot teach you how to use it.


Amen and amen!!!
_________________________
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey

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#157002 - 11/08/11 05:36 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: Jimshaw]
Glenn Offline
member

Registered: 03/08/06
Posts: 2617
Loc: Ohio
Agreed - an unskilled person will benefit from good gear. But, in the process of learning how to use it, his/her skill level will probably increase. Which comes first - the gear or the skill? And does it really matter which comes first? (That's a rhetorical question.)

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#157069 - 11/09/11 02:12 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: Glenn]
ppine Offline
member

Registered: 01/10/10
Posts: 184
Loc: Minden, Nevada
Glenn,

It is obvious from our discussion that skill comes first, second, third, and last.

It is heartening to see the strenght of conviction people have on this topic. It is the basis for being outdoors in general, and backpacking specifically.

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#157119 - 11/09/11 10:31 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: ppine]
phat Offline
Moderator

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 4107
Loc: Alberta, Canada

Nope. but good gear can make you more comfortable, which can make you go out more, which increases your skill and makes you be comfortable and safe, perhaps with less gear.

However, there are reasonable limits - a bic lighter is a mighty fine substitute for a bowdrill and skill. However, having *used* a bowdrill (premade in good condiitons it works pretty good) and attempted to make a bowdrill and board from scratch (a multiple hour exercise, with eventual success, but god help me in bad weather with the shakes) - there would be the "skill" that makes me always have a bic lighter.. it's not like I *can't* do without.. I just don't *want* to. it sucks!

decent gear *can* also make up for a lack of skill because the poor inexperienced sap is only carrying 15 pounds total on their back, and is still comfortable and well fed. I've taken more than enough newbies out with my kind of kit to know that - the light good gear means they aren't beat to death and stupid at the end of the day. That means their lack of experience doesn't catch up to them so quickly, and they learn things and enjoy themselves. Ok, they are with me so they have some walking experience with them. but still.

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#157144 - 11/10/11 10:59 AM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: phat]
thecook Offline


Registered: 10/03/08
Posts: 541
Loc: Minnesota
It isn't an either or answer but one based on a range. Equipment makes up for lack of skill in many areas of our lives everyday. For instance, schools are teaching less and less spelling in part because of spell check on wordprocessors. The equipment (computer and wordprocessor makes up for a lack of skill-spelling) Phat's example of bowdrill vs. lighter is another great example. With a lighter,anyone can create the heat necessary to start a fire now, whether or not they know how to make or use a bowdrill, but being able to create heat does not guarantee that you can get or a fire started or keep it going. Will good gear keep you alive if you have NO skills? Probably not. Will good gear make it more likely you servive with minimal skills. Probably. Will good gear increase the odds of survival for the experienced? Definately.
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If I wouldn't eat it at home, why would I want to eat it on the trail?

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#157177 - 11/10/11 07:51 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: thecook]
Kent W Offline
member

Registered: 10/15/09
Posts: 607
Loc: IL.
My perspective is good gear means lighter gear. Does it make up for the fact, that I only get the time too backpack twice a year? Well, being as I am not in great condition! I wont say bad but not great! The good gear weighs less, and has definatly made backpacking more enjoyable too me! Last year i felt much better hiking with 8 to ten pounds less gear than the year before. Good gear is expensive. Myself, like most people cant afford to do it over night. As I have slowley acheived good gear, I appreciate and desire to use it even more. Make up for skill? I am sure it helps. I do feel at work or at play there is no replacement for experience!

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#157202 - 11/11/11 04:24 AM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: Kent W]
OregonMouse Online   content
member

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6372
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
Another perspective: Experience gives people the criteria to chose good gear! Glenn said it first! A number of us on this forum are dedicated (as the result of our own experience) to helping beginners chose better gear or at least not make the same mistakes we did (which, for starters, are more expensive in the long run). Of course a lot of gear choice is a matter of individual taste and style, so this sort of advice can go only so far!

I once again want to express my thanks to this site for giving me the knowledge to cut my pack weight by more than half without sacrificing comfort or safety! For the most part this was done at relatively low cost, although admittedly I have spent more $$$ than I should have on a few items since the original "lightening." If it weren't for this site, I would no longer be able to backpack, and I thank you all!!!
awesome



Edited by OregonMouse (11/11/11 04:52 AM)
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May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey

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#157222 - 11/11/11 12:53 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: OregonMouse]
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3938
Loc: Bend, Oregon
Lets say that good gear does benefit people with little or no experience even if they don't how to use it because at least it weighs less so they carry less. Well from the same point of view, carrying less "good of" = heavier gear" = less benefit because of the weight factor alone. Then if I have this "less good gear" but lose ten pounds, have I not accomplished the same thing as buying better lighter gear? What I'm saying here is that the classic lightweight answer of "oh its lighter so its better" is abunch of Huey. Just because a piece of gear is lighter or more expensive does not make it "better", more durable nor more functional.

So maybe we first need to ask "what is good gear vs (not good gear)?"
I think a lot of the value "good gear" that gets applied to things is based on our perceptions of contemporaty design vs how the item functions in the wilderness. A "good high quality" canvas anaorak for deep Canadian cold would be called "el cheapo retro overweight gear" by almost this entire lightweight group, yet the ultralightweight version of the veneerable canvas anorak would not function as well nor be even a tenth as durable as the "heavy (BAD???)" piece of gear.

So anyway we want to say "No no you first need the experience but how can one get experienced first?
Jim grin
_________________________
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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#157231 - 11/11/11 03:26 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: Jimshaw]
GrumpyGord Offline
member

Registered: 01/05/02
Posts: 847
Loc: Michigan
All of my gear is good because 1: it is mine 2: it is paid for 3: it works for me and I am satisfied with it. Anything beyond that is irrelevant. If I go out into different conditions than I now face I may have to upgrade but for now it is good.

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#157235 - 11/11/11 04:47 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: Jimshaw]
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3865
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Quote:
So anyway we want to say "No no you first need the experience but how can one get experienced first?


Neither equipment, nor experience, is the entire answer. Knowledge, even without experience or good equipment, is of import too.

It's entirely possible that someone with years of experience might not know the best way to handle a specific situation, or they might not have the proper gear to deal with it, or know the best way to use it.

You can learn a lot at places like this one. You can learn from others experiences, and that counts. It's way easier to learn from others studies, mistakes, and successes, than it is from personal trial and error.

One of the first things I learned here was that my "Snake Bite Kit" was junk. I double checked what I was told here, and sure enough, y'all were right. Quit carrying that.

Lori posted a link just a day or two ago about what to do in a Lightening Storm. OregonMouse reposted it with a gentle urging that we read it. So I did, and it answered some questions I had, reaffirmed what I thought I knew, and provided some very important information that I needed to know, but didn't.

Anyone younger and/or less experienced (skilled) than me that'd read that before this morning would have had more knowledge than me, and that could make the all the difference there is, even if it was their first time out. So, in essence, you can obtain skills with no experience at all.

"You can learn something from anybody if you listen to them."

Someone taught me that long ago, and it's true. It's one of the truest things I've every been taught. Even as I get older, it's still true.

No matter how much experience, how good our gear, how smart we think we are, we can all still learn. From anybody. That's an important thing to remember.

_________________________
--

"You want to go where?"



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#157236 - 11/11/11 04:57 PM Re: Can good equipment make up for lack of skill [Re: GrumpyGord]
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3865
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Originally Posted By GrumpyGord
All of my gear is good because 1: it is mine 2: it is paid for 3: it works for me and I am satisfied with it. Anything beyond that is irrelevant. If I go out into different conditions than I now face I may have to upgrade but for now it is good.


I'm with you all the way on that. If you want to get out there then use what you have and go. Go when and where your gear is good enough and have fun.

I don't have much gear that would qualify, but I do have a lot of fun with what I've got laugh
_________________________
--

"You want to go where?"



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