Got all the right gear? Know how to use it?

I love turning up somewhere and seeing people who've invested in their gear. And then they put on their backpack, and start walking. And I see that the pack is packed wrongly and the harness isn't adjusted properly, and they're walking bent over and complaining about everything.

I love it even more when I see someone walking next to them with an old backpack, properly packed and adjusted, and enjoying the view. This person hasn't invested as much money in the trip, but has invested more time and energy in technique, and in making the trip a success.

Unfortunately I see far too often people stopping with outdoor sports due to injuries caused by bad technique. I was talking recently to a customer who'd stopped kayaking, his big passion, because of problems with his wrists. Thankfully he hadn't gotten the courage up yet to sell his gear. Okay, he was getting on in years, but was still fit and vital. I asked him about the paddle he used and the technique he was using. I gave him the advice to try a non-feathered paddle ( with both blades on the same angle, as opposed to turned from each other ), I even offered him that he could borrow one of my paddles for a few days. He came back into the shop two weeks later to thank me. One of his paddling buddies had an adjustable paddle which he was able to test. It took about an hour to get used to, but then he spent the whole day on the water just enjoying being there, without pain in his wrists, for the first time in 4 years. It's pretty hard to have to cock your wrist every stroke when you have arthritis.

A lot of gear on the market because that's how we expect it to be. Most people think that a kayak paddle should have the blades off-set, because that's what they're used to seeing. And yet if we look back into 1500 years of kayak history, it's only in the last 150 years that off-set blades came into being. Alpine style backpacks are all you can find in most shops, yet the old-school external frame is still more efficient for carrying loads on flat terrain. 20 years ago, the only people skiing off-piste were those with the technique to do so, now with wider skis, everyone can do it. Quite often unaware of the extra risks that come with off-piste skiing, such as avalanches, or the basic knowledge and safety gear required to do it responsibly.

The best place to start investing in both gear and technique is in the shop. Outdoor shops are fun. Toy shops for kids with bigger budgets. Take the time to make sure you're testing the gear properly in the shop - you'll have a greater chance of buying the right gear. And you'll have already practiced using it properly.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is, yes, invest in your gear, that glow of unpacking it when you get home from the shop is great, but make sure you invest in the knowledge and experience of using it properly. And invest in the knowledge of how to take care of and maintain you gear. Take care of it, give it a bit of love every now and again, and your gear will keep taking care of you.