A Ripstop Love Story: How the gear that gets us there wins our hearts

Backpack

My jeal­ousy start­ed to bub­ble up when the sales guy reached his hand deep into the back­pack to fluff it out to its full 35-liter capacity.

“It’s a nice tech­ni­cal pack,” he mur­mured, slid­ing his hand over the thick Rip­stop bot­tom and gear loops on the used backpack.

“Yeah, it’s iron­ic that it nev­er actu­al­ly car­ried a piece of climb­ing gear,” I laughed.

“It’s been around the world with me, but nev­er on a tech­ni­cal climb.” He obvi­ous­ly under­stood. But I sud­den­ly imag­ined myself tear­ing it out of his hands and run­ning back out the door with it in my arms like an over­pro­tec­tive moth­er. Could he ever pos­si­bly grasp the true val­ue of that dear, spe­cial blue and black nylon back­pack? Ten years ear­li­er, it had roamed the streets of Paris and Munich with me on my first trip to Europe, stuffed to capac­i­ty with the most fash­ion­able clothes I could afford as a fresh lib­er­al arts grad­u­ate. A year later—and new­ly dec­o­rat­ed with French and Ger­man patches—it car­ried my cam­era and super-fat par­ka on hikes from the Antarc­tic research sta­tion where I worked. I’ve shak­en sand out of it from Cal­i­for­nia, New Zealand and Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes. Through long lay­overs and gru­el­ing treks, the back­pack had earned my trust. And, appar­ent­ly, my affection.

It’s fun­ny how objects sewn of nylon and leather or weld­ed of steel can pull our heart­strings so. The gear that helps take us to the most amaz­ing places in our lives hold such pow­er­ful mem­o­ries, they can be dif­fi­cult to let go of, even when they’ve been worn to shreds or long retired.

How could you throw out the boots that climbed your first four­teen­er with you— even if they’re blown out with holes? Toss­ing them in the dump­ster just feels so cold and heart­less. Or maybe it’s that old steel road bike in the back of the garage that’s col­lect­ing dust, but you can’t bear the thought of sell­ing. Your new car­bon frame is so much faster, but there’s some­thing spe­cial about the frame that took you on your first road rides—the bike that real­ly made you fall in love with cycling. Putting it up on Craigslist would feel like pawn­ing your grandmother’s wed­ding ring.

The night before I took my back­pack to the con­sign­ment shop, I care­ful­ly loos­ened the threads on the Euro­pean patch­es and peeled them off. For a few min­utes, seam rip­per in hand, I lost myself in mem­o­ries of New Zealand rain­for­est treks, Ger­man beer halls and Antarc­tic glac­i­ers. Maybe I’m a sen­ti­men­tal chump, but as the fond mem­o­ries sur­faced, the back­pack began to feel much more like a cher­ished keep­sake than a dis­card­ed piece of gear I hadn’t touched for months. The climb­ing pack had been col­lect­ing dust in stor­age for the last two years— while a new­er, slight­ly small­er and more dialed pack accom­pa­nied me on trips and climb­ing days instead. Attempt­ing to pare down my stor­age unit, I had gath­ered a load of neglect­ed gear for a trip to the local con­sign­ment shop. So proud of myself for final­ly check­ing that pesky task off my to-do list, I admired the stor­age shelves I’d emp­tied. But lat­er, as I leaned over the stick­ered and scratched glass counter in the gear shop while the sales­man looked over my wares, my heart tightened.

He wrote up prices for each of the items. They seemed fair. Maybe some­one else would buy my beloved pack and give it a new life, bright with adven­ture and beau­ti­ful places, instead of a dark, dusty garage.

But then again, I thought with a tiny glim­mer of hope, maybe some­how it will go unno­ticed, nobody will buy it and I’ll get a call to come back and res­cue it in a cou­ple of months.