You know I never hold back when I don’t like the gear I’m trying out, particularly if the gear is just openly stupid. I’ll be gentle on a well-intentioned product, but lazy, sexist, and foolish gear designers and openly consumerist companies beware.
Sometimes I look around at all the hype surrounding a given product and I wonder if the gear industry has no clothes. Am I the only one who notices how stupid that product is, or how silly the hype is, or how outlandish and brazenly false the claims? It’s like a form of gaslighting; the more hype and hysteria and “OMG! A NEW PRODUCT!” retweets and shares they get the less anyone is inclined to think independently and realize that the product itself is just a bunch of bullshit, or at least blatantly exaggerated in effectiveness and innovation.
Here are some examples if you’re not into veiled references:
1. Action Wipes. They smell good, they work, they’re nicely packaged, they clean your skin when you wipe it. OK, fine. But am I really the only one who realizes that these things are just expensive baby wipes in a grown up package? Just like the Moist Flushable Wipes I buy in bulk at Costco for $20 for 600? Or you can buy Action Wipes for $30 for 30. That’s right, a buck a wipe. Let’s be generous, though, because Action Wipes are bigger than regular baby wipes, so let’s say you get the square inchage of 60 baby wipes for $30 in Action Wipes. Come ON (but thanks for the free samples, Action Wipes, really, I do use baby wipes frequently so I appreciate it. I also realize I will never get any free Action Wipes ever again after this and I’ll just have to live with that). Repeat after me. Baby wipes. They are just baby wipes.
2. Columbia OmniFreeze. Marketed by a cadre of carefully-chosen-by-Klout-score official product spazzers (sorry folks. But you sound spazzy when you are freaking out in joy about getting a free shirt that you haven’t even tried out yet to see if it’s any good) lauding this line of clothing supposedly designed to make you cooler, OmniFreeze created a frenzy of annoying hype. As such, I pretty much ignored it (hype makes me suspicious) but nevertheless I inadvertently discovered that all the performance claims regarding OmniFreeze are complete and utter bullshit. I found this out on my motorcycle tour of Colombia (irony) last month when I discovered that the ordinary low-end tech-fabric T-shirt I was wearing was actually an “OmniFreeze” item according to the label. There is no “cooling effect” and in fact you’d never even notice a difference if you hadn’t had hammered into your head by marketing the idea that you are supposed to feel cooler if you wear the shirt. Oh wait, there’s a cooling effect, I feel it! Oops, no, that’s road wind because I’m going 90mph and all my motorcycle jacket vents are open because I am DESPERATE to get out of the heat, but I am still NOT COOLER IN THE SLIGHTEST and definitely do not experience the “arctic blast” claimed by the company. Sweat reacts to the fabric to lower your body temperature, does it? Well THAT’S WHAT MOISTURE DOES TO ALL FABRICS, people! This is basic physics. You want to be cooler? Wear a cotton T-shirt, nothing beats cotton for moisture-based cooling. I also know for sure that OmniFreeze is pure hype because that T-shirt is actually one of my favorite ones and I wear it all the time IN ALASKA where a “cooling effect” is definitely not something that would bring an item of clothing into my frequent rotation. It’s already cold here, why would I want to feel colder? I like the T shirt but Columbia, your OmniFreeze claims are complete horseshit. Stop it. If you want to feel cooler, try this product.
3. Women’s Geometry Bikes. People are shaped differently. So are women. People have different preferences. So do women. Most “women’s geometry” bikes are just regular bikes with a special decal and a shorter stem and sometimes shorter cranks all of which you could get on a regular bike (except the decal). Some are actually different geometry, but they don’t necessarily work better for women. They might fit you, but so might a regular bike. A woman’s geometry bike is no more likely to fit you than any other bike, and they don’t come with better seats which really would have gone a long way to making a “women’s” bike. You know what works better for women (and people) is suspensions tuned to lower body weight, but the only company doing this to my knowledge is Specialized which also is on my shit list for pretending to be supportive of women riders with a bunch of pro-women marketing but turning around and producing this “sexy nurse” ad for men’s magazines, showing exactly what they believe the relationship is between women and bikes:
4. Any and all footwear claims. If you want to make my hype-sense tingle, start spouting about all the things your new and amazing footwear does. I don’t and will never believe that footwear does anything in particular other than protect and sort of support your feet. If it didn’t do that, and you didn’t need that, you wouldn’t need shoes, and you do need shoes unless you’re Michael Franti who does, in fact, wear shoes sometimes. I concede that you need special footwear for particular special activities like skiing and ice climbing. Other than that, if it fits you, and you like it, go with it. Different shoes don’t make you run or hike or stand around holding a beer better or faster or differently. By the time you are wedging your baby toe into a sweaty rubber foot glove or strapping what is basically a small mattress to your feet in an attempt to improve your performance, you’re already long gone. Stop worrying about your shoes and start worrying about why you think you need a gimmick to perform well.
5. Water bottles. Get ahold of yourselves. Every week a new water bottle company barrages us with marketing about why their water bottle is the best. It’s just a water bottle, not the Holy Grail – it’s just something to hold liquid. Which also describes the Holy Grail, now that I’m really thinking about it. Anyway, your fancy, expensive, Ecohydrocamelgene is just a freaking water bottle. You know what water comes in when you buy it in the third world? Plastic freaking bags. That’s right, you buy your water in a damn plastic bag (and you do have to buy it because the tap water isn’t potable) and when you want to drink it, you chew a little hole in the corner and suck the water out. I just spent a month doing that in Colombia and the Philippines to get water, and you want to tell me I need a $20 super special optimized water bottle to carry liquid in? Suck THAT, industry.
This is all getting ridiculous. I think more money is spent on hype and advertising than on product development sometimes. Even products that are kind of junky get the star PR treatment to divert attention from the products’ flaws or even from its sheer ordinariness, and it works. The hype works. The industry knows this. That’s why they do it, to protect their weak products from actual critical examination. It’s hard to go against the flow and they launch the flow as an aggressive stream of positive sentiment that’s awfully hard to slow down even if the product itself isn’t the source of the sentiment. They need to sell, sell, sell, and it’s effective. People not only buy the stuff but add to the tsunami of hype. Nice work on the part of the PR people, but how is this affecting the world we live in?
I agree that we should have access to good dependable gear in a range of sizes, shapes, fits, and prices. But we don’t need endless and constant barrages of entreaties to buy stuff that we don’t need, that doesn’t work, or has inexpensive alternatives. You may have heard the statistics about how big the outdoor industry is becoming – statistics based on consumer spending. We should not be proud of this.
Let’s work together to rein this stuff in. Try to see through the hype. Find stuff that is real and good and use that until it can’t be used anymore. Then buy something else good. If you lose your water bottle, buy another one, that’s fine. But if you already have one or ten perfectly serviceable bottles, ask yourself – do I really need to carry my water better? If you are laying down cash for something new, go through a little internal interview: Why am I buying this product? Because I need it, or because I’ve been marketed to so that I think I need it? Is the product really revolutionary or is it just claiming to be? Do the claims seem so wild they they are beyond belief? That’s because they are, and then you have your answer.