Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gift Guides = Garbage

Around this time of year, ski sites start coming out with “gift guides”, which are really just a bunch of kickbacks to their sponsors. Everything is overpriced, everything is gimmicky, and it’s almost a guarantee that everything you get will make you look stupid (also, the time has come for me to officially come out against Transpack backpacks. They are the Ski-Tote of the new millennium and as easy as they might make things to carry, you generally look like a complete and total gaper when you have one – exceptions can be made for kids, but that’s the only group with immunity). Gift guides as a general concept are so beholden to the “consumer culture”, it’s hard to think of any way that they make people’s lives better. Many years from now, when historians write the book on the decline of the American empire as a result of capitalistic greed, rampant egoism, and uncaring selfishness, the “Holiday Gift Guide” will have its own chapter. It’s so much better to think about gifts like this guy:

The best gift for an adventurer is a great plan in a brand new place and a way to get there (gas $$, plane tickets, whatever).

He goes on to do the kind of gift guide that I’m really interested in: the best adventure spots in a variety of states (for New York, he recommends tagging a bunch of peaks in the ADKs on a long hike from Keene Valley to Marcy). That’s the kind of thing I want to know about. Don’t tell me what to buy, tell me what to do. Tell me what to see. Show me a cool place that I’ve never visited. Introduce me to an activity that I’ve never done before. Better yet, come with me! If you’re passionate about Stand Up Paddleboarding, or Canyoneering, or Snowmobiling, or whatever you’re into, show me why you like it. Tell me why it’s awesome, and take me on your favorite trip.

I was recently reading an article about donations to food banks being the most economically inefficient way to deal with feeding the hungry. There are many problems with the “food drive” model: charitable organizations can get cans of food for much less money than you can, handling that many cans are a logistical nightmare, and a lot of food ends up getting wasted (because they’ve received too many cans of beans and not enough cans of tomatoes, for instance). So should we stop giving cans of food? What’s the solution?

In-kind donations still help, of course, and nobody’s turning away boxes of food. But a fundamental issue is that many organizations feel that asking for money—like requesting cash as a gift—seems somewhat gauche. So, let me be rude on their behalf: Find well-managed charities in your community and trust them to know how to do their job. They have access to food at a fraction of the price. They know their clients, and they have better things to do than to sort through your canned goods.

Exactly. When it comes to food banks, the best strategy is to let them handle it. And maybe this is the best strategy for gift giving, too. I can get pretty good discounts on Outdoor equipment. I know a couple of trips next year that I REALLY want to go on. And I don’t really need that 8th pair of ski socks.

I know that this is antithetical to the whole capitalist system (or “spirit of giving” if you please), but the money that people are going to spend on Christmas gifts would do a lot more good if it were in the hands of the people who are in line to receive the gifts. I’m in favor of stipulations (“you have to spend this on something fun and not on bills”), but I’m just not in favor of filling my house with more crap. I’m not about to go minimalist, I just feel like I’ve gotten to the point where I already have enough stuff (besides that avalanche gear I need . . . and that rock climbing equipment . . . Damn. This anti-capitalism thing is harder than I thought).

I really just need to get out and start using the stuff I have.

Come on, Snow.


  1. We're also getting a bunch of requests to review all kinds of stuff. Basically every manufacture of outdoor gear has decided that by doing "blogger outreach" they are participating in social media in a meaningful way. They push HARD to get this stuff done before Christmas because that's when all the business is done. Last year I was flattered and surprised when a few manufacturers reached out and asked for my opinion. This year, it's a flood of requests, and I think you are right MC, life is too short. I'm going with my own agenda, unless it's like say heli-skiing in Alaska. :)

  2. Haha, I'll bite the bullet and review that for you if the request comes in . . .

  3. When I went looking for a new bag, I had ruled out Transpack instantly. My thoughts were much like your own... a gimmick for casual skiers. But I bite the bullet despite the image issues and found it to be a wonderful tool to get the job done. I sacrifice style points but I get them back on the slopes where it really matters.

    My philosophy on gift giving is never give gear to someone really into an activity. I get tons of crappy walmart base layers that I give away every year.

    Actually, my philosophy of gift giving is don't give gifts based on a calendar but rather when inspiration hits regardless of time of year. But that is a different story...

  4. Full disclosure - we own two Transpacks. They've turned two trips from the car into one, as our daughter can carry her own boots and helmet and it gives me another hand free to carry her skis. My two cents from the Dad Gallery.

  5. Change is good...I'll get use to it! And nice blog, so true about the giving...how many Barbie dolls does Toys for Tots need!?!? So no socks for you this Christmas...maybe a can of soup!