This is the third in my initial series on building up gear. For the earlier articles look here and here. As mentioned in earlier articles, you can sometimes substitute something you have or something that is less expensive to “hold the fort” while you’re saving, building, or otherwise acquiring the items you’d rather have in your kit. To do this successfully requires careful thought and sometimes choosing between what we want as opposed to what we need. So let’s take a look at what your considerations should be when you are looking at how to plug that hole in your kit until your birthday, payday, or budget allows you to get the stuff you’d planned for.
Making do with what you have
My mother taught me to focus on what I have rather than what I wanted. It was a good lesson for a great number of reasons. Resourcefulness is a wonderful trait and a useful skill. Many times the job (whatever it happens to be) must get done and we don’t have the tools, supplies, or other items designed specifically for the job. The ability to look around (literally or figuratively) and determine what we do have that will work, at least long enough to get a better solution in place, is one we should all cultivate. So let’s look at how we might approach this when it comes to gear we are building up.
What does the missing piece of gear do? For example, you may have planned to have a decent rain shell, with breathable fabric, pit zips, and an adjustable hood, as part of your BOB or GHB, but such an item will run you about $100 for a decent name brand (more for a high-end name) and even $60 for the store brand that you were unimpressed with when you held it in your hands. So how do we fill the gap until you can get the nice jacket? Well, most of us have some sort of raincoat, poncho, or other item that keeps us dry going about our daily lives and errands. It may not be the “extra-super-desert-dry from [insert expensive gear manufacturer of your choice here]” but it does keep us from drowning when the rain falls. Can we give it a new home until we can get at least an interim item in place?
What you are likely to find when you start this process is that you do have items to fill the intended slots but in most cases they are either larger, heavier, or intended primarily for a different application. That’s OK. So long as you aren’t stealing the tools out of the kitchen or some other vital area, you can “loan” them to your kit until their replacement shows up. Is it ideal? Not hardly! But it will work until you get the stuff you need.
What Will Do the Job vs. What You Want
Looking through the Cabela’s, MidwayUSA, or Filson Catalogs is a lot of fun and let’s not even get started on those great gun manufacturer’s websites! But when we’re doing that we tend to write “Wish Lists” rather than “Gear Lists”. Given my druthers I could drop thousands of dollars on guns, radio gear, packs, and many other kinds of stuff. But the fact is that most of what you need to get done with the gear in your kit can be done for your lifetime and beyond with mid-range gear. Not all, and there are places to go all out that will get you a return on the money spent, but most tasks can be done with the middle-of-the-road gear just fine. As you have the money and as you find nicer tools with which to do a given job, by all means get them. But you don’t have to start out of the gate with the “uber-gear”.
Another point to consider when specifying gear is what you will actually be doing with it. The latest “High Speed-Low Drag “ Super-Tac 9000 may look cool but if it’s going to spend it’s life in your BOB what’s the point? Furthermore, much of that high-end, professional-level stuff also requires training and practice. Are you really ready to spend the additional time and money it will take to know what you’re doing with that thing?
And for my last killjoy point in this section; how much does that thing weight? Or how much space does it take up? If you are going to carry this kit at some point it might be a good idea to be able to lift it…
What Will Do the Job vs. What Will Let You Down in the Crunch
In my first article in this series I pointed out that cheap gear is more expensive in the long run than quality gear. This is still true, even in light of the tone of this article. This is what you balance your savings against. For example, A large big-box chain sells for about $2.00 what they fondly call an “Emergency Rain Poncho” (they’re on the internet too) and what I call a rather large piece of cling wrap folded into the smallest possible size. While they will keep you somewhat dry once you have one on, the rainstorm will be over before you can separate the layers and get yourself covered with the thing. (Those in the Pacific NorthWet should note that it will probably still be raining when you get it unfolded but you will be soaked to the skin by that time so the point still stands). Just down the shelf is a $5.00 vinyl rain poncho that will be useful dozens of times and is much faster to get in place, in fact you will probably still be mostly dry when you do.
In today’s market there is enough competition and enough choices that you should be able to find reasonably priced tools and items that will do most any job you would need. They may still require saving but the spread of options for almost any conceivable application is staggering. So while you are “getting by” and “making do” until you get the stuff you would rather have you can still avoid the truly cheap stuff. That Buck or CRKT knife will work just fine until you can afford the Cold Steel or Benchmade one.
Robbing Peter To Pay Paul
There is a balancing act with gear. You have more than one kit, bag, BOB, RON (Remain Over Night), or EDC (Every Day Carry) all told and each of them needs items that may also be needed in another kit. While this isn’t a big deal when it comes to things like matches, BIC lighters, Cyalume sticks and so forth, it does become more of an issue with things like multi-tools, knives, expensive flashlights, and high-end gear of various other kinds. It also becomes an issue with items that don’t store well or have a defined “shelf life” that will require replacement every one, two, or five years. Here are my suggested approaches to this sometimes difficult issue.
Modular kits; this is my favorite but it isn’t as neat a solution as it first appears. Having the dry bags loaded with spare clothes, first-aid kits, mini toolkits, etc., that you simply assemble in a matter of seconds into the bag you need for the particular application sounds good in theory but runs into harsh reality when you realize that your EDC will be on your person, your RON, GHB, or Car kit will likely live in the car. The BOB, Range and hiking bags will likely live in a closet by the door, and so on and so forth. You can still do some of this but the fact is that you are probably going to have to buy multiple copies of some items. Look over your gear and see what is viable to “share” and what isn’t.
“Stacking” differs from modular kits in that you combine whole kits or bags together to build the bag “of the moment”. I do some of this as well. Deliberately missing from my BOB are some of the things that are in my EDC selection for example. Not everything in my EDC applies to my BOB and vice versa but there is enough overlap to make it worthwhile to do to some extent. Again, there are limits and for some of the gear we’re talking about time is something that may be in short supply when you are putting a bag or kit into use.
Upgrades can be a source of copies. For example, a few years ago I upgraded from a candle lantern to an LED lantern for my backpacking use. Guess where the candle lantern went? It went right into the BOB, that’s where! For Winter back-packing I swap them out for the duration of the trip since I still prefer the candle lantern (and the way it keeps my small tent above 38F) in the Winter, but I swap them back when I am resetting my gear after the trip. This doesn’t apply to all gear but it does work quite often.
None of the above methods works in all situations and for some things they don’t work well at all. But a combination of them will help you get the most out of the gear you have and help keep your costs within reason.
Working smarter is what gear is about in the first place. So it only makes sense that building it up would follow the same rules. Don’t let the costs or complexity over-whelm you. Define what you need and go after it in an organized manner and before you know it you will be setup better than you thought possible. You will never have a perfect setup but you can have a workable one that will increase your capabilities in whatever you do if you take a smarter approach to building your gear up.
I hope this has been a useful set of articles for you. I have an outline for a fourth article on multi-use gear that will most likely be my next post, but if you have any specific questions or would like me to write on a particular topic please let me know and I will do my best.