My Ten Year Gear: 2022 Edition
The goal of this blog post is to celebrate possessions I’ve had in my service for at least ten years. I believe that reflecting on these items will help me learn a few things about reducing waste, being efficient with my money and designing good products. These are all valuable to me, thus this blog post.
For something to last ten years in my service in needs to have a few important attributes. It needs to:
- be useful or beautiful – otherwise I would have gotten to a point where I didn’t need it and donated, sold or tossed it
- be durable and/or repairable – otherwise it would likely be broken and discarded (unless I didn’t use it, in which case, see above)
- I must have not outgrown it – the item would likely be passed on if I changed my preferences, body size, skill level, or hobbies away from its use case
- not have been disrupted – otherwise I would likely have replaced it with a newer and better item that serves a similar purpose but is better in some or every way
- not have been lost or stolen – otherwise, even if it fit the above, I wouldn’t have it anymore
Class of 2022:
Now that we’ve completed 2022, I’ll look back on items that entered my service in 2012. That was a significant year. I entered the year single and left it married. That means that a bunch of wedding gifts and things we bought to enable our life together entered our life that year and are hitting the 10 year mark this year.
I’ll group things into a few higher level categories. I’m sure I missed a lot of things, but hopefully I remembered enough to learn from.
When we got married, my wife and I setup a wedding registry, as is tradition in our part of the world. We chose to register in two places, Macy’s and REI. The former is a department store that happened to have a location close to us and so it meant we could go try things out and manage any pickups or returns fairly easily.
Just for fun, here is our tiny apartment at the time after a delivery from Macy’s.
Hotel Collection Towels – We still have our original family towels (in fact, we might even have my towel from before that as a backup). They say Hotel Collection on them, but I believe this is the store brand name for towels from Macy’s. They are 100% cotton and they are still soft and fluffy, some thousands of uses later. The colors are a simple blue and beige and we have large bath towels and a smaller hand towel – probably two sets in each color.
Mikasa Dinnerware – Our dinnerware set is a nice white set from Mikasa. We opted to have a set that included the large dinner plate, smaller salad plate, a bowl, teacup and saucer plate (which we mostly use as an XS plate). In an act of supreme foresight, we registered for 8 sets even though during the first few years we only really used two sets. At the time we didn’t have a dishwasher so we would wash and dry everything each meal. We did take four sets out of their boxes for when we had company. Eventually our children came and outgrew their children’s plates, so now, a family of six, we use all eight. Actually, sometimes we use more than that in a day and have to run the dishwasher mid-day to make sure we have enough clean for dinner. We’ve supplemented the original set with a few replacements over the years as individual items broke, but generally we’ve been satisfied with them. We don’t often take picture of our plates, but I happened to stumble across one picture that features the plate from a Saturday morning breakfast I made for one of the kids.
Nautica Luggage– In my bachelor days I exclusively travelled with duffel bags, but upon getting hitched, we decided a set of luggage made some sense, so we registered for a set of nesting rolling bags from Nautica. We still have all three of them and still use the biggest of them regularly when we travel. We might get back to using the medium one some day, but currently our travel ends up on one of two poles, me or Suzanne traveling solo with my carry on luggage (another bag I got from work) or all of us going together and filling up two bags to the maximum allowable weight. I will say these bags have taken a beating, the plastic frame has cracked, a few zipper pulls are missing and the handle on one of them barely works, but the flip side of that is various airlines have given me ‘baggage damage credits’ that sum to more than the original cost of the bags, so I kind of consider every trip with them as playing with house money.
I mentioned we also registered at REI when we got married. If you aren’t familiar, it is a camping and outdoor store that I’ve been frequenting for the last 25 or so years. It took some convincing for me to get my soon-to-be wife (at the time) on board with registering there, but in the end we got a lot of good feedback on it from our friends and, as I hope you’ll see, it served us well.
Camping Stove – This was the item that helped me convince my wife to let us register at REI. I made the case that people expected to get a newly-married couple gifts for their home for things like cooking and living, and a camping stove was just an extension of cooking. Anyways, it worked and so does the stove. We use this every camping trip to cook hot dogs, pancakes, chili, eggs, bacon, etc. It has gotten a ton of good use and shows no signs of slowing down.
Double Camping Chair – This remains one of my favorite wedding gifts because of how unique it is and how often we use it. We didn’t know this existed, but our cousins found it and thought we would enjoy it – they were right. This olive green double camping chair is a like a loveseat for the woods. We take it with us everywhere and it has spent many nights around a fire pit. Though it is marked as a double chair, we’ve frequently had 3-4 people in it as our little kids hopped in laps to cuddle. It shows no signs of slowing down and I expect it might make an appearance on a 20 year list someday.
Arc’teryx and Deuter Backpacks – Potentially the least conventional wedding gifts, we ended up getting a hiking backpack each with money we got at our wedding. These were immediately put to good use on our honeymoon as we wandered through the wilderness of New Zealand. These went through a few years without much use as we had little babies and mainly car camped, but recently I’ve begun taking kids camping and we’re getting close to the point where we can all go on a trip – something we’ve yet to do (though we have done a whole family SUP camping trip – which is easier because of the whole floating thing). Interestingly, the trend in backpacking in recent years has been towards lighter, so my Arc’teryx bag is a bit overkill for a contemporary setup. When I go to the backcountry solo these days, I often just toss a few things in my running vest and the whole setup weighs less than this bag does by itself. I’ve found that it is still good for trips where I have the kids though and am hauling 3x the food, sleeping gear, and water – it really helps distribute the weight. On a recent trip I was lugging 55 lbs, and the bag made easy work of it.
Large Coleman Cooler – This 62-Quart wheeled cooler can hold enough food to feed our family for a long weekend and it keeps things cold for that long too. There are fancier coolers now, but I haven’t really been tempted by any of them. It seems to me like this is a classic case of people being overserved and overpaying for it. Some of that might be because my trips are usually 3-4 days max and I live in the temperate Pacific Northwest though. Perhaps folks living in places where it is hotter and more humid have a more real need for longer cooling.
Small Rubbermaid Cooler – The above cooler is great, but overkill for many things. We us this smaller cooler to pack a lunch for many outings. We find it is nice to toss in an ice pack on one side with a few things that need to be cold and then the other side can have other things that don’t need to be as cold. The hard body makes sure nothing gets crushed and periodically makes a nice seat as we prepare food. Many an outdoor meal have been eaten by our family around this cooler.
Rayovac Lantern – Another wedding present, this lantern is what we use for car camping. I guess some of the reason I haven’t upgraded is we live pretty far north and so in the summer it is light out until ~10pm. But when we do need light, this one still does the trick, powered by a few D cell batteries, which I’ve now upgraded to rechargable ones. I won’t add another picture of it, but you can see this lantern in the picture of the stove above (and barely in the picture of the chair).
Bern Bike Helmet– When I moved to San Francisco and started bike commuting, I decided to upgrade my helmet to one of the ones that was the style at the time. I picked a modular unit that could have different attachments put into it to make it work with different sports. He we are ten years later and I still use it for biking and skiing. It now has a GoPro mount on it as well as goggle clips.
Here I’ll spend a few minutes using these items to reflect on things. You’ll notice when reading this that I talk a lot about platforms, disruption, strategy and jobs-to-be-done. I’m a technology product manger and that is what I do for work, so I can’t help it. When you ask me to think about bike helmets, I think about innovation and meeting customer needs. I’m sure if I were in supply chain, I would think about the logistics of delivering that product or the materials that needed to be sourced for it.
1) Certain Jobs Are Difficult to Disrupt – Lighter, stronger, warmer, faster… things tend to improve over time thanks to new materials and human ingenuity. Certain jobs are just hard to optimize any more while others are much easier. I don’t think you’re ever going to see a cell phone show up on my 10 year gear list because mobile computing remains an area of high innovation where every year we get more processing power, lighter materials and better battery life. I’ve kept phones for 6 years, but 10 would just be really hard without making some major sacrifices. Meanwhile a chair is a chair and it fits my bum today as well as it fit it 10 years ago (and lets hope my bum still fits in it 10 years from now…). I notice a lot of car camping things are on this list but not many backpacking things – that is because backpacking is a game where weight is one of the key factors and so something that gets 20% lighter might be well disrupted (lightweight things also tend to be more fragile and not last as long). Car camping, meanwhile doesn’t worry about weight as much, since the hard work is done by the vehicle, so things just last a lot longer because there is no need to upgrade for a 20% weight difference and the items tend to last longer because they’re made sturdier. This is interesting to think about both in terms of when we are most able to enter into a market (needs to be disruptable) and what areas are best to buy-for-life in.
2) Platform Effects – One of the things I was thinking about as I complied this list was the number of items I had that didn’t make this list because some other item didn’t make this list. I’ve owned plenty of things that were good items, but that I replaced when some other item needed to be replaced. For example, you wouldn’t keep a phone charger that didn’t work with your new phone – as is the way of all of the old 30 pin iPhone chargers. Most of the items that I have that have made it 10 years serve a job well on their own and can keep doing so even as other things change. Sometimes marketers push the message of integration on us – a single platform for all of your gear carrying needs with modular components, etc. But the risk of that is if the platform fails, everything fails. Sometimes individual items are better.
3) The Benefits and Limits of Flexibility – My helmet has lasted a long time through multiple hobbies – bike commuting, Ironman training, canyoneering, snowboarding, skiing, etc. If I were to have bought a sport specific helmet for each scenario, I’d have a lot more helmets. Meanwhile if I had just tried to use a normal bike helmet for all of those, there would have been shortcomings (the breathability of a bike helmet is horrible for skiing when it is cold and vice versa). Finding one helmet that was pretty good at a lot of things I did periodically has served me well over a period where my hobbies evolved some but my needs largely stayed the same (protect my head from being disrupted). I did periodically have to supplement it with specific items though – I bought (and later resold) a triathalon specific helmet for my Ironman race, I borrowed a biking helmet for a particularly hot 150 mile ride, etc. Were I to do those things more often, I might have ended up getting more specific gear and the other items were >20% better, but I couldn’t justify the extra ownership due to frequency. Flexibility seems great when the job is somewhat rare, somewhat likely to change and it can meet the needs well enough.