Real Cost of the “Free” Outdoors

“The outdoors is free and most importantly the outdoors is open to every single person.”

The second part of that quote is 100% true, but the first part.. well that’s a blatant lie. I’ve only embraced everything the outdoors has to offer in the past couple of years, so I definitely know the outdoors is not free. So why do we pretend it is? Playing and recreating outside and especially in the mountains can start off free, but it quickly goes downhill from there. A fact I can attest to first hand, seeing as I’ve gone from not even having a pair of hiking boots to having enough gear to survive indefinitely in the mountains. And this “free” outdoors comes with a hefty price tag.

Where does it all begin? For most, it starts out with a scenic walk through a local park trail. No, you don’t need a fancy pair of hiking boots to get you where you’re going, any pair of shoes will do. But the beauty and solitude you find out in nature is what brings you back to the trail again. Then you begin to put more miles on your shoes and you find out, rather quickly, that your shoes just aren’t meant for the rough, and sometimes rocky, terrain on the trail. Intelligently, you decide to buy a dedicated pair of hiking boots or shoes.  Now you’ll have a pair of boots to take you anywhere you’re feet want to go for the next few years. But that smart decision is going to cost you anywhere from $70-$199. But that’ll be all you need, right?

Unfortunately, that’s wrong again. Because, you will eventually see a picture of some mountain or lake and want to see it for yourself. And this might be farther than you’ve gone before on the trail. With all those miles, you’re probably going to get thirsty and hungry. At first, it won’t be a big deal to carry a bottle of water and maybe a few snacks. But having to put down your drink every time you want to use your phone, or need to lend a hand, will begin to grow tiresome. So the next time you head outdoors, you bring along a backpack with you to carry your snacks and water. If you couldn’t guess by now where I’m going by now, this is the slippery slope. That regular backpack will get worn out or not comfortable enough, so you buy a hiking specific one. Another smart decision, but again that’ll cost you anywhere from $50-$250. Just like the hiking boots, at first you didn’t need them, but after some time it only made sense to buy it so that you can spend more time in the mountains and nature.

For most people, it may stop here, with a pair of hikers and a backpack. You’ve spent a little bit of money, but it was worth it, right? But what happens when you want to spend even more time in nature and you decide to go camping. Unless you want to just lay on the ground in the middle of the woods, you’re going to need more gear. A comfortable camping setup will include a tent, sleeping bag, and something to lay on. That’s another $50-$200 for the tent, $40-$190 for the sleeping bag, and another $5-$150 for something to sleep on. Little by little, you end up with more and more gear so that you can enjoy the outdoors more. None of these items have any significance without being used, and the enjoyment you get from using them would easily make them all worth it. But realistically, to go camping and hiking over a weekend, it will cost you around $280 for everything I mentioned. So much for free.

I should note that most of the gear you need will be a 1-time purchase. And the gear should last you for years if not a decade. When thought of like that, $280 is more like $56/year over 5 years. Assuming you can use this gear only 4 months a year, that evens out to be $14/month over 5 years. Not free, but well worth it, considering that’s the equivalent to 3 cups of coffee. While I claim that most of the gear is a 1-time purchase, well that all depends on what quality of gear you buy. I personally am a big fan of people starting out with buying cheaper gear from Walmart or Amazon. My backpack that has been with me to various peaks and countries was purchased from Amazon for $60, and I love it. My first pair of hikers were only $40; however, unlike my backpack, my hikers fell apart the first time I used them. So you will get what you pay for. The $40 tent from Walmart might seem like a great deal and might even last you a few nights under the stars. But it will probably rip or break the following year, resulting in you having to buy another tent. This has happened to me with boots, tents, packs, sleeping pads, you name it. It’s always hard to justify how much you think you’ll use something and whether or not it’s worth spending the extra money to make it last. Which is another reason why this whole outdoors thing can get very expensive.

Now that I’ve come to terms with the fact that playing in the mountains is not cheap, I’ve found that every penny has been worth it. The outdoors are a place I can go to escape and feel at peace, not to mention challenge myself in every aspect.In doing so, I’ve taken up nearly every sport imaginable outside. And this is where I figured I’d let you know how much it costs to roughly begin these few activities.

(Note: When I started most of these, I borrowed gear for a long time, rented it, bought it used, or in rare occasions, purchased everything new)

Rock climbing: Harness, Chalk Bag, Belay Device, & Locking Carabiner Package ($70), Climbing Shoes ($80), Rope ($90), Trad Climbing Rack & Gear (+$600)

Mountain Biking: Hard Tail Mountain Bike ($500), Helmet ($40)

Backpacking: Tent ($94),Pack ($170), Sleeping Bag ($83), Stove & Cook Set ($30), Sleeping Pad ($25)

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