3 Outdoor Items I Prefer To Be Junk

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The best gear is decidedly imperfect. 

So much of spending time outdoors involves that other kind of spending… spending money. 

And while getting things for your hard earned dollars is great, it sometimes leads to a desire to keep it nice! This keeps me from actually making good use of my outdoor items. 

Ultimately, this ends in a circular trap whereby ‘things’ decorate the shelves in our basement and rarely see the light of outdoor themed days.

That’s why I prefer to keep a few junky outdoor items. These are the things that make every trip. If you don’t have some gear you can use and abuse, consider these essentials for your next trip and make a point to see if you can destroy them.

1. Stainless Cooking Pot

MSR pot sitting on rocks above a small stick fire.
Summer 2020 trip to the BWCA.

I’ve owned two of these pots in my life, my first and then a spare I bought on impulse. 

Ironically, the spare is still in perfect condition, while the original is as burned and beat up as the first day I broke it in. 

The example shown here is an MSR brand, but I’m sure any model would do. While you can spend more on fancier equipment, it might prevent you from legitimately using it! You probably wouldn’t want to shove a magic-potion-coated super-rare-metal model directly into a fire like you can with a plain-Jane stainless steel pot. 

Furthermore, they just don’t make a white-gas/alcohol/propane/rocket-fuel stove that can boil water as fast as a roaring campfire. So having an outdoor item you can stick right in the flames is a plus on cold days.

A few pro-tips for your stainless steel pot purchase and operation

  1. Buy according to the size of your party. A medium pot (775 mL) works great for the two of us.
  2. Embrace the black gunk on the outside and don’t try to clean it off, just carry the pot in a gallon size Ziplock (after it cools of course.)
  3. Skip the store bought scuff pad and either boil the stuck food off or scrub the inside with sand at your campsite. If the bacteria in the sand bothers you, remember that you are going to boil water in it before you eat again. And besides… you’ll probably swallow untreated lake water while swimming anyways.

2. Aluminum Canoe

Pound for pound and dollar for dollar an aluminum canoe might be the best outdoor item you can purchase!

Even though we have an ultra-light Kevlar, if push came to shove and I had to downsize my fleet, the aluminum would be the last man standing. It is light enough to portage and strong enough to take on class II rapids. 

I’ve literally hit rocks so hard the canoe stops! Yet, through it all it continues to float, track, and steer like it’s first day. 

All in all, having a beater canoe allows you to zone out on a trip or take the exciting track down a stream without fear of having to walk back to your car when the side staves in. They are also the best boat to put your newbie friends in. Then your friend can hit rocks and snags all day without having to feel guilty.

Follow these steps to get into a good used aluminum canoe. 

Note, I have never seen anyone actually buy a NEW aluminum canoe. Where they are bought? Who knows!

  1. Search Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace until you find what you want. Price will likely be around $500 and the condition will be good. There is literally nothing that can go wrong except cracks or bends which will be obvious to anyone not blind.
  2. Set up a simple economic analysis showing your spouse that $500 divided by 50 years, which is the life of the canoe, works out to about $10 a year. With this kind of value there is absolutely, positively no way s/he can say no to the purchase.
  3. Get the money you need in hand. Try for mostly $100 bills and hundred dollars worth of $10s and $20s for haggling.
  4. Drive and look at the canoe. Make sure to point out all of the scratches and dents that are on it even though they literally don’t matter. Pretend that the canoe looked nicer in the picture and you were expecting it to be in better condition. Be nice about this and say it in a sympathetic way towards the seller, almost as if you feel bad for them that they have to sell something so beat up. If you act mean, they will hate you and won’t want to deal… But maybe you’re unfamiliar with haggling, try practicing on a trusted friend first. 
  5. Assuming the advertised price was $500, offer them $400 green cash (flash the money in hundreds) and see if they will bite, especially if the posting was up for more than a week. If they say no, try for $450, but make sure you act disappointed. If that doesn’t work, pay the full price, a solid aluminum canoe is still worth it.

3. Car Roof Rack

Nick strapping a canoe to the Subaru Outback.

In my decidedly more redneck days, I was obsessed with owning, driving and hauling things in a pick-up truck. 

To be clear, we still have one on our farm, but most of our trips involve equipment on the racks of our everyday drivers. Currently we have two, a Yakima Rack on our Subaru Outback and a Thule Rack on the Mitsubishi Outlander (PHEV.)

The Yakima rack is older (along with the Subaru) with peeling plastic and rusted ends. I bought the crossbars used and fitted them to new towers when I bought the car. 

The Thule Rack, on the other hand, was an impulse buy from the dealer when we bought the Outlander. We rolled it into the loan and I don’t even want to think about what it cost. It’s low profile, with super-cool aerodynamic-shaped whisper bars. Stupidly, the only time it gets used is to go to the Boundary Waters and before we go I take an insane amount of time making sure the canoe is strapped down perfectly.

Kevlar canoe strapped to our PHEV Mitsubishi Outlander.

Conversely, the Subaru is loaded without a second thought. Sometimes, I’ll walk or slide the canoe across the crossbars. Or even put lumber and ladders on the rack when working on projects off the farm. 

Once loaded, I throw the straps over and tighten the ratchets as far as they go without worrying about bending anything. Sometimes, the canoes, bikes, or lumber scratch the finish or gouge the plastic on the rack. But wonderfully, perfectly, gloriously I don’t even bat an eye at the damage. 

As for the super-perfect, like-new Thule Rack, I’m trying to figure out a way that I can break it in without guilt so I can start to get some use out of it. Possibly, I’d be better off selling and replacing it with a used one made of scrap metal and used lumber. 

Then maybe I’d actually accomplish something with that outdoor item.

Strategic Sacrifice

I’d be a hypocrite if I told you I use and abuse everything I own. Some things are just too nice or even too fragile to take the strain. If I was starting from scratch, I would do the following to make sure my main items were ready for anything.

  1. Buy quality. Or rather, wait until I have the money for said quality.
  2. Avoid sentimental items, i.e. keep them at home and use something else.
  3. Accumulate only gear that is simple with fewer moving parts.

In the end, make sure your outdoor items aren’t barriers to pursuing the epic. This will keep you moving forward in whatever expeditions you pursue.

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This post was written by Nick Schmitz, September 2020.

Nick sits in canoe and Luna swims in the water

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