Earning It

I sat down to catch up on some long-overdue reading with Sid O’Neil’s recent article Earn Your Tools the other day, and before I knew it I had gotten sucked in to the world of every day carry. When I finally resurfaced and finished Sid’s article, after embarking upon more tangents than I could possibly remember along the way, I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with him: all too often, especially in Boy Scouts, I see kids touting some fancy piece of gear despite having no idea how to use it both properly and to its full potential, and with little regard for either its worth or its value. To all too many, that price tag was just a number their parents made disappear with the swipe of a credit card. They did not earn the right to that piece of equipment, yet they toss it around as if no more useful or valuable than a sack of potatoes. To borrow a line from Sid’s article, many of these kids truly are “that idiot with the shiny new thing who thinks he’s bought himself into the ranks of the talented.”

Growing up (and I say this at nineteen, so bear with me and try to take that without too much irony) I was fortunate enough to have to buy at least a portion of my gear, or wait until my birthday and Christmas to get that cool new thing. That’s how I got my first backpack upon joining The Boy Scouts at fourteen: I bought a green canvas rucksack from a military surplus shop with my own money, and loved that thing until I had to confront the unfortunate reality that it was better suited to carrying books around than a tent and equipment for a weekend away from home. I still have that bag in the back of my closet beneath its successor, a full-fledged hiking backpack complete with an internal frame and more space than I knew what to do with at the time. Like the one before it, I took great care with this bag also — it was my money on the line, after all, and I would not waste it. After a few summers, a week on the Appalachian Trail, and a broken strap though, I finally decided to upgrade, and so I moved to the external-frame pack I have today. Although significantly smaller, I prefer this to its larger predecessor because it not only forces me to bring much less extra crap with me than I would otherwise, but makes the hike exponentially easier as a result of that restriction as well. These two traits were more than enough to push me towards this type of pack design, even if some do consider it made for children given the emphasis it places on minimal and light packing; I’ll leave the consideration of this asinine reasoning as an exercise for you, the reader, so that you may draw your own conclusions. Although I think of replacing this backpack every so often, I have no strong desire nor need to any time soon.

I went through a similar process with flashlights: starting from an unwieldy D-cell resplendent with a fragile halogen bulb, it took me quite a while to graduate to a generic Rayovac headlamp — you know, the one you might find in the “Battery Center” at your local WalMart. In fact, I had that until two years ago when I finally got tired of having to stumble around in the dark with nothing but the feeble glow of a subpar flashlight to guide me along my way, so I upgraded to the fantastic Fenix PD32 after a great deal of research. Extremely satisfied with every aspect of this flashlight, I added the Fenix HP15 headlamp to my collection last Christmas. I have no intention of replacing either of these in the foreseeable future, nor purchasing any additional lights: these two not only meet my current needs, but exceed them as well.

And then, of course, to get back to the genre that prompted this post in the first place, my approach to finding the perfect pocket knife resembled that of both my backpack and my flashlight, except that it extended much further back in my life. At ten I got my first pocket knife: a Swiss Army Classic SD. This gift set off a chain of events that had me working in pursuit of the perfect pocket knife for the next nine years. I went through multiple Swiss Army multi-tools, a tin full of no-name one-offs, a Leatherman, and a Winchester before finally settling on my current blade of choice: the Gerber Evo Large Tanto. After nine years and more knives with more tools on them than I care to remember, I finally decided to go with this simple, single-blade knife. Like my flashlights, I plan on sticking with this knife for quite some time.

I have prematurely reached a point in my life where I no longer want to settle for anything: I want to eat good food, watch good movies, listen to good music, and — most of all — I want great gear. Whereas it takes most people a lifetime to reach this point, I have somehow managed to get here after just nineteen short years. With regards to technology, that means an iPhone as the always-on computer in my pocket, a MacBook Pro in my backpack, and an iPad to replace the gargantuan Calculus textbook I would otherwise have had to carry around. Most kids my age settle for a PC. In my glove box I have a 340 lumen monster; others store minuscule maglites in there without thinking of the scenarios in which they may need a flashlight, and how those situations would likely necessitate something slightly more powerful. When I go out to eat, everyone else in the restaurant outranks both me and my girlfriend by twenty years at the very least, and usually twice that much; we prefer to eat well in nice restaurants, even if everyone else our age is perfectly happy at O’Chrley’s. We have been dating for just shy of two years now, and have yet to eat at a fast-food “restaurant”. I cannot say for sure that I have earned the right to these preferences that dictate such decisions and such a lifestyle as befitting someone much older — much more world-weary — than I, but I can say this: if I have not, I will continue working every day so that some day I can claim that coveted right and finally earn not only my tools, but the lifestyle that flows from the desire that prompted me to choose them over inferior alternatives in the first place as well.