It is not enough if gear is "good." It needs a solid niche to survive in the market.
This man's suit, harness, web gear, and backpack are all fabricated at his base,
because his needs are special. His parachute is repaired in-house as well.
Like anything else, gear needs a niche to survive in. If people don't buy it, it withers and dies in the marketplace. When shopping for commercial equipment, it sometimes helps us to think a little about the ecology of gear. We see three basic types in stores:
USING GEAR ECOLOGY
- Steady State Gear: Some gear remains the same year after year, because the company making it realizes that it's highly evolved for its use, and the market provides a steady stream of users. Fundamentals (such as long underwear) and depletable gear (such as iodine tablets) often fall into this category.
- Boom-Bust Gear: This gear comes out in a new model every year, always trying to create something new and enticing for the customer. Ideas are recycled - perhaps every few years, perhaps over decades - as the manufacturer tries to appeal to customers with something constantly "new," even if it's just a redux of an old (perhaps very good) idea. In our HIGHLY INFORMAL experience, this gear is usually higher ticket or has a longer lifespan. Shoes, coats, and so forth seem to fall into this category.
- Gimmick Gear: This is your NEW stuff, BOY HOWDY! Gimmick gear certainly isn't bad by any means. LED lights, new stove designs, and so forth are all gimmick gear. It's high risk, high gain. At one point, everything was a gimmick.
- Salespeople: Salespeople are like a wild card in the gear universe. Sometimes, they're very well informed. Sometimes, they're full of it. They might be getting a big commision, or just working for the employee discount. No matter what the case, whenever getting sales advice, we try to size up the salesperson and figure out how much to trust them.
Somewhere, somehow, every aspect of commercially available equipment is a conscious choice. While the specific motives may vary, the ultimate aim is to sell the product. Although many manufacturers are sincerely trying to make good products, their choices are market driven. "Innovative" can be new-and-improved, or just new-and-might-sell-because-it's-different.
Understanding gear ecology helps us inform our choices in the following ways:
- Steady state gear is most likely to be a no-brainer. We recognize it, understand, and usually have a good idea of what we need. Unfamiliar variants are easier to understand in the context of the rest of it. The salespeople are often more familiar with it as well and - perhaps even more useful - its easier to tell if a salesperson is more or less informed than you are.
- Boom-bust gear is more difficult to assess. Very few people have a comprehensive knowledge of it, and the newest models are often not the best. We find ourselves more likely to shop around a lot and pine for older, "obsolete" models of boom-bust gear.
- Ask around on boom-bust gear. It's profitable to get lots of opinions, even if we already feel we know about the stuff, because it changes enough that our knowledge may be out-of-date. Salespeople may have good advice, but their view tends to be incomplete, hence we like multiple opinions.
- Don't trust people about gimmick gear unless they have convincing evidence or anecdotes. Anything that new probably hasn't been through the grinder, we suspect.
- Wait a few models on gimmick gear, if you can. The first runs are usually at a low level of evolution. Purchaser feedback leads to improved later versions.
- Suspect the Ad Campaign. Why would a company advertise heavily unless they thought they might have a breakthrough product? Usually, they won't. Anything being driven by a big ad campaign is likely a gimmick item.
- Woo the salesperson. Don't be afraid to probe what they know. The salesperson is usually not the enemy, nor are they the sovereign authority. A positive relationship makes their day better, and they're more likely to tell you if they think something's junk.