By Drew YoungeDyke (Originally published in the March 2021 issue of Woods-N-Water News)
If you’ve tried to buy new outdoor gear in the past year, you’ve likely experienced frustration at the lack of stock. As the pandemic has required people to keep social distance, a boom in outdoor recreation participation has occurred packing trails and campgrounds and emptying inventories of everything from kayaks to cross-country skis. You don’t need the newest gear to have fun outside, though.
As I’ve seen the “out of stock” notifications on the websites for my favorite manufacturers, though, I’ve also realized how much of my outdoor recreation is reliant on old gear that still works. For those who are looking to use their socially distant time to try new outdoor sports, this also means that you don’t have to let a lack of new inventory hold you back. Gear found at second-hand stores, garage sales, or internet resale marketplaces can get you outdoors enjoying Michigan’s woods, waters, and wildlife, if it’s still in working condition. Some of my favorite gear to still use was either handed down, found at a garage sale, or purchased decades ago.
For instance, I’ve spent all winter cross-country skiing almost every weekend and most lunch breaks (when there was enough snow) on Karhu Classic Touring skis that I’ve had since college and that my dad first purchased in the 1980’s. As waxless skis, they require little upkeep – until this winter I had last waxed them at least a decade ago – but they still give me a good glide and decent traction uphill. I even use them to get my two-year-old son out in the snow by either towing his sled or carrying him in a backpack carrier while I ski. I’ve been looking at upgrading to new skis but the ones I want are out of stock, even online. Thankfully my old Karhu’s continue to work well even after three decades.
Garage sales can be great places to find working outdoor gear. My parents enjoy shopping at garage and estate sales in the summer, so I have them keep an eye out for outdoor gear for me. A few years ago, my dad found a pair of Yukon Charlie Backcountry snowshoes with a broken decking, but with a little duct tape they’ve carried me on multiple winter backpacking trips over the years.
My only current hunting bow also came from a garage sale. Shortly after I bought my first compound bow a decade ago (at a Wyoming pawn shop) I expressed an interest to learn to shoot a traditional bow. My dad called me from a garage sale a few years ago and said that there was a recurve bow for sale for $10. I asked if there was any apparent limb twist or cracking, and he said he didn’t think so. I figured for that price, though, it was worth the shot. It turned out to be a Shakespeare Super Necadah, made in Kalamazoo in the late 60’s or early 70’s, and it shoots great.
My most prized outdoor gear was handed down from my grandpa, who instilled my passion for fishing and conservation, and mentored me along with my dad in hunting. One of these items is a Marlin Model 1892 lever-action .22 rifle. This century-old rifle is my favorite squirrel gun, loaded with copper .22LR ammunition. When he was still alive and I was in college, we fished together often on summer weekends in his boat on Lake Skegamog, Elk Lake, Torch Lake, and other inland lakes in the northwest Lower Peninsula for northern pike and smallmouth bass. Along with sage advice and lifetime memories, he gave me his Fenwick Voyageur 4-piece fiberglass spinning rod. To this day, even 16 years after he died, it’s the only spinning rod I use.
I mostly fly fish now, and while I’ve bought some newer Orvis rods for bass and pike, the Cortland rod and reel package I got for Christmas in college is still what I use for trout and panfish. This past year, with more time to fish and less opportunity to do much else, I caught more panfish than ever mostly on my 17-year-old 5-wt Cortland starter package (with newer Scientific Anglers line and mostly flies I tied myself). And no fish have ever meant more to me than the bluegills and pumpkinseeds I caught on that rod with my son in a backpack on Father’s Day last summer.
And while new kayaks were flying off of outdoor retailer shelves last summer, there’s no watercraft I’d rather fish out of than the aluminum rowboat at my family’s Upper Peninsula lake cottage. It’s older than me (and I just turned 41!) but it floats and catches fish. I repainted the oars last summer and my dad and brother replaced the rotten transom a few years ago. Replacing the cracked wood bench seats is next on my list. Watching the MeatEater series “Das Boat” on YouTube – much of it filmed in Michigan last summer – has given me an endless list of future ideas for it, as well. And as the tagline for that series says, “Whatever floats.”
I’m as much of a gear junkie as anyone, and I appreciate the technological advances in materials and construction that outdoor gear and clothing manufacturers are continually putting into their products. And I certainly buy my fair share of new outdoor gear when my budget allows, but I also rely on gear that has withstood decades of use and still gets me outdoors. Some of it has sentimental value, but some of it was just a good deal.
Whether you’re looking to learn a new outdoor sport or whether finances are just tough, as they are for many right now, don’t let a lack of funds keep you from enjoying outdoor recreation. A new fishing rod may be nice, but an old one can still cast a lure. New skis may go faster, but old ones will still glide. New snowshoes may not require duct tape, but old ones will still keep you from post-holing. And while every fly angler may dream of new drift boats or every bass angler may dream of new sparkle boats, the only real requirement for catching fish is that it floats and you do the rest.
And no matter what gear you see others using out in the woods, on the water, or on Instagram, the only gear you need is the gear that gets you out there. Whether you’re using old gear to learn a new skill, because it’s the gear you could afford, because it’s the gear you trust, or because it’s the gear your grandpa used, you belong out there. Get whatever gear you can get your hands on, get outside, and have some fun. Whatever floats.
Drew YoungeDyke is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer and a Director of Conservation Partnerships for the National Wildlife Federation, a board member for 2% for Conservation, a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers, and the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association, and a state-appointed member of the Pigeon River Country State Forest Advisory Council.
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