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Dear Kay,

Over the weekend, I bought a pair of hiking boots.

Yes, I already owned a pair of hiking boots, but they dated to 1994, before I had children. They’re now two sizes too small for me.

This may give you a clue about how often I go hiking. Yet I never got rid of them. How’s that for hope?

My new boots are nothing like those boots. Ernest Shackleton crossed Antarctica in my old boots. These new ones are like giant sneakers, with Vibram soles that can take me over hill and dale.

At the REI store, on Memorial Day weekend, the overall freakout level was high—hordes of people were lit up with the prospect of new gear to get them through whatever adventure they were contemplating.

Many of us stood in the shoe department, contemplating our feet, climbing up and down the fake boulder to test our toe wigglyness. OK, I was the only one climbing up and down the fake boulder. Maybe everybody else had enough experience with actual boulders that they could suss out their fit in a more intuitive way. I hadn’t worn hiking boots since 1994—how was I supposed to know? Toes could be all different now.

I felt pretty good about my toe wigglyness, though my sales associate assured me I could bring them back in a month or more if something went wrong. “Sometimes you just decide they’re not right,” she said, solemn.

I’m all: you mean, I could conceivably have a great month with my hiking boots, then it all craters and the dream is dead?

She nodded. “The right boots are a big deal.”

YES. I suddenly got what was going on.

Love. Your. Gear. That’s what was going on at the REI store last weekend.

Maybe it was the two guys talking crampons—on a day when it was 94 degrees outside, not a glacier in sight. Or the woman standing in front of the fifty sleeping bags, hanging like banners, her face planted in a downy wall. They were so so so into it.

What does any of this have to do with knitting?

Everything! They love their gear the way I love my gear. Yarns, patterns, gizmos, a row counter in the shape of an alpaca—every bit of it is crucial.

I felt such kinship with these people. We’re all weirdos about something. Yes, sleeping bag lady, go with the North Face Dolomite 40! You’re gonna love that thing! You need it! It’s the one!



PS Up top, the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, a man who loved his gear. You can hear him tell a snowy tale of one of his expeditions here. It’s the most 1910 thing ever.

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  • I love outdoors gear and knitting gear…obsessed with both – I SO get this!

  • So glad you went to your REI store – it’s the nation’s largest member-owned cooperative ^..^ U love that. Those folks know their gear – just like your fave person st your LYS knows knit & crochet gear.

    • Upon buying my new boots, I became a proud member of the REI coop. Ask me anything about boots now!

      • And…. did you go hiking yet?

  • If you drew a Venn diagram re: my husband’s and my gear obsessions hiking ‘stuff’ would be firmly in the middle. REI is coming to our town and I’m really looking forward to it. In the meantime we’ll continue to go to the store in Brentwood.

  • Why are we not talking about Shackleton’s sweater? That’s some great woolen gear!

    • Agree!

    • One of the famous pics of Sir Ernest featured him in a lovely basket weave patterned jersey. I’ve got this cool book of Antarctic-inspired hat patterns compiled by two women from the McMurdo Station stitch n bitch group that has a hat pattern inspired by it (think basket weave texture). I’m a massive Shackleton fan so I think it will make an appearance soon….
      PS – if you want to see it, search Rav for “Shackleton hat”.

    • I seem to remember from reading his memoir years ago that at one point he waxes poetic about the worth of his woolens – hats, mittens, sweaters, etc. and how they helped them all survive. Proving once again that wool beats Polartec any day!

    • I am more of an ambler through the woods type but I definitely get the love of gear thing. Love my knitting gear and am always looking to add odd bits. But, that sweater!!! I am intrigued by Shackleton’s glorious woolen wear. Well designed for freezing weather…needs more investigation.

    • There is a miniseries called “The Last Place on Earth” about the Amundsen and Scott expeditions to reach the South Pole. I remember it being amazing. I would, however, wait to watch it until the very hottest and most humid days of summer. That was the time of year I watched it, and I STILL wound up huddled under a blanket on the sofa.

      I too would love to know more about Shackleton’s crew’s wooly gear. (The Edison cylinder recording is **amazing** – thank you for that link!!!)

    • LOVE the idea of a “Shackleton Sweater”!!!!

      • I also love the idea of a Shackleton sweater!

        • YES!! looks like a Gansey with a turtleneck.

    • I’m hoping somebody knows about those handknits and will tell us!

    • I thought the same thing! It is beautiful. Did a granny in his birthplace of Ireland knit it or maybe his wife Emily crafted it with her hands before he went off on an expedition. Someone needs to write a book about that sweater!

  • Growing up in Colorado, I learned early on to love my gear or suffer. My boots are a 10.5 with wiggle

  • Shackelton’s sweater and all those knitted helmets!

  • You are so right! My husband loves his fishing gear and his Kung Fu gear. He’s got all sorts of fake swords, knives, and spears. I just read Endeavor about the Shackleton expedition and it was nothing short of heart stopping!

  • I didn’t realize how old my hiking boots were until about 3 years ago when I was invited to hike into the woods (real woods, not those pretend woods which are actually just tree lines between housingdevelopments). We were going to find lady slipper orchids!
    We found the orchids, but on the way down my left boot upper separated from the sole– yes–, just like a clown shoe. Like Shackleton, I was intrepid: I tied my boot together with a length of Virginia creeper.
    On the way back up from the wild orchid glade, my OTHER boot also fell to bits. Quite the outdoors woman, am I.

    • That’s the best story ever, Deenie!

    • Before our first trip to the National Parks after we retired, I decided I would need a pair jeans f hiking boots for our adventures in Utah. I went to an REI store and tried out various hiking boots on their fake mountain trail! The clerk did an awesome job finding me a great pair of boots. They were comfortable the first time I wore them (a 4 hour hike in Arches), never had a blister or sore feet. I’ve worn them all day and never once thought about wanting to take them off. Moral of this story is if you are buying outdoor gear ( or knitting gear) go to a store that specializes in that gear.

    • I had a pair of hiking boots that I adored. They were perfect to wear with hand knit socks in the snow here and they really gripped the wet slushy city sidewalk. They had gotten quite well worn – and I looked down one day and saw a big hole in the left one. Weeping and wailing!
      Jealous about the lady slippers, won’t be able to see enough in a lifetime. Excellent save with the Virginia creeper. Hope you took photos.

  • For me, it is all about the knitting gear. For my husband, it is all about the biking gear. We will have conversations with each other where I talk about knitting only and he talks about biking only, but it kind of makes sense.

  • Such a good point, Ann. We do love our gear. Sometimes I even love the fact that I don’t need particular gear and have found a way to make do. It’s all so individual.

    I wonder if others go through this: lately if I start a new project I must buy the knitting needles to go with it. I think it’s because I don’t pay attention to where I put anything anymore! A twist of events occurred when I recently asked for a pair of US 9 needles to go with a new project. The owner of my beloved LYS would not sell them to me. She said you MUST have a pair of number 9 needles at home. Little did she know…

  • i received an email regarding order number 1252559
    I did not order anything other than a download of a free
    pattern which I already received. ant information about this would be helpful

  • Yes, but, where are you going that you needed new boots????

  • Ann – THANK YOU! I am also a gizmo/gadget girl!! When I joined the *CERT team in my area, they recommended hiking boots as emergency equipment. That was enough for me- off to REI and purchased a beautiful purple pair of AHNU boots – and I love, love, love them! My knitting gadgets are my (not so secret) obsession. Thank you for giving me permission to say it loud and proud.

    *CERT-Community Emergency Response Team

  • Ann, you and Kay: wow I just love how you two write. There’s always heart, wit, and information; case in point, your reflections today on your time at REI. I’m glad you got new hiking boots.
    May they be keepers. Thank you for always lifting my mornings!

  • TOTALLY get this! My knitting gear and my other half’s music gear fill our closets and every little bit of nook and cranny either of us can find before the other. Once we are true empty nesters, those extra bedrooms are getting converted, for sure!
    Also, how awesome is that photo of Shackleton in his knit sweater? it looks so much like the first sweater pattern I ever attempted.

  • Thank you so much for this article. I have also bonded, loved and depended on my knitting gear with passion. The brilliant connection to Shackleton delighted me with no end. I have been a fan of his bravery and his adventurous life forever. He is a real hero to me. Now when I rummage through my gear I’ll be smiling and my thoughts will drift to Shackleton and his accomplishments.

    • Yes! Such a hero to me too. He was such a tremendous leader, so inspiring.

      • Also one of my heroes, the story of the Endurance expedition is endlessly inspiring to me. A visit to his resting place on South Georgia is high on my bucket list.

  • OMG, Ann, I did the same thing at REI! Stood on the fake boulder with a hand rail, climbed up and down. I got my boots and in addition to learning to knit (ok, I learned once 18 years ago, but forgot and held on to my knitting gear all those years) this year, I am going to hike in Norway! I am terrified with the 6K treks up and again down from some fjord mountain outcropping but I am going to do my best to persevere (because, you know, I have Gear!) I’m walking (“hiking”) with H in the forest preserves of Illinois, and perhaps soon in the state parks and hopefully, by mid July, I will be ready for Pulpit Rock and Troll’s Tongue (Trolltunga). If not, I will just sit on a rock and knit another sock. It is the least I can do to counter the increased sitting involved in knitting. I love the comfort of your daily missives although they are well beyond my skill set, I love the attitude and panache in the writing.

    • What a fantastic trip you have ahead. I count my bouldering at REInas my first hike. The handrail! They knew I was coming!

  • Knitting bags are my Petronus.

  • I was forced, forced, I tell you, to hit up my REI for new boots, because the old ones, dating back to the last century, had the soles detach while I was hiking (fortunately on the last leg back to the car). (And, in a nod to advancing age, I bought poles too.)

    • <3

  • We’re all weirdos about something. That may be the best line I’ve heard in a long time.

  • I am a keen fly-fisher (as well as a keen knitter) so my interest in gear quality is huge! From bitter experience, I think you get what you pay for with outdoor gear, ESPECIALLY wet weather clothing. There is nothing worse than a leaky raincoat when you’re still 1 hour’s walk away from the car with solid rain coming down (with river crossings in between, just to add to the fun).

    • You definitely get what you pay for, evident to me when I could finally afford to buy good boots and my own board (well that was a gift) and pants that actually kept me dry. Winter was a whole different world for me when I had the money for goodwinter gear!

    • Fly fishing is so much Love Your Gear! And thank you for your wet weather gear tip—noted!

  • Love it

  • I got my old tent out of the workshop loft a few weeks ago, and set it up. At home. It was hands-down one of my best ideas. It is now My Studio, and it’s a lot more fun painting without black flies, mosquitoes, and deerflies. Such luxury! It’s like going to one of those “safari camps” where the most recent guest was Oprah. Well, pretty much like that.

    • I love this! Makes me want to try camping in my backyard. The mosquitoes in our backyard are vicious bloodthirsty bastards—a tent would take care of them.

  • What a fun treat to read today! In addition to being a huge fan of MDK, I am actually a proud REI employee as well…and definitely a gear junkie for knitting as well as outdoor gear 🙂

    Would you mind if I shared this post within REI? Often at retail stores we hear complaints or frustrations more often than the positive stories like this. It is such a good feeling to hear you were able to help someone have a great experience and be excited to get outside, especially during the hectic times of year like our Anniversary Sale.

    • Absolutely, Megan! Such a great place.

  • This is a serious testimony to the healing power of hiking soots and the kindness of strangers. Last year my knee had a relapse; it’s not actually my knee, rather a replacement. My surgeon suggested I might need a new one, I disagreed and asked for a shot and PT. He gave me only the shot and told me to rest the knee. But I was going to Wales and needed new hiking shoes so I went to REI. It was very crowded so I asked them to get me every shoe in my size. After I tried on the second pair, a man who did not work at the store, and whom I did not know, suggested that I was making a poor choice and had me walk towards a mirror so I could see that I was pronating. He helped me choose a better pair and disappeared, as saintly people often do.

    I went to Wales, a land with no flat spaces (and many, many sheep!), and lived in hiking shoes for the entire 9 days. By day two, my knee pain was gone and did not return: it was the shoes all along! (And everyone should go to Wales; it is magically beautiful. But take good shoes!). I still try to wear them once or twice a week, like maintenance. I am not sure that every REI has magical shoppers that appear as you need them, but they should!

  • I SO loved this story — I bought my first hiking boots in Seattle at REI circa 1982, back when there was only one REI store. I bought a membership (for $5, I still have the original card). One of my floor-mates from SPU sold me those boots, and she made me promise to take care of them as if I was adopting a puppy. I’ve never had another pair that fit, or I liked, quite as well. Thanks for a reminder of a happy memory. Good hiking, and happy knitting!

    • Also, Undaunted Courage — a great book about the Shackleton expedition — and I’m a fiction reader.

  • Vibram soles are a STEP above the rest. No really, punning aside, they have lasted me the longest and been the absolutely most reliable.

    • So true! I get the same deep inside me stirring whether I am about to step in REI or my fav (or a new!) yarn store. Good “gear” stirs my creativity, ambition and inspires me to “do it.” And who wouldn’t be inspired by Shakelton’s amazing story. Try listening to the audio version of “Endurance.” Soon a cozy wool sweater will be flying off your needles!

    • Yep, have Vibram soles on my fishing boots. Have had them nearly 10 years and they’re still going along just fine.

  • Today’s edition of Snippets hit my “Amazing” button. Laurie Colwin and Ernest Shackleton in the same edition! Two of my heroes/heroines. BTW, Colwin’s fiction is amazing as well. And Roland Huntford’s The Last Place on Earth about the race to the South Pole is a great book. Love, peace, and knitting.

  • MDK is the greatest website. I love to read whatever you write. All of you are witty and fun and I would love to have you live next door to me. I share your enthusiasm for all things knitted but alas, I don’t do much more than socks and cowls and scarves. Now I have ordered the sock book and I no longer have to be embarrassed to say that I only knit socks. Keep up your enthusiasm for all things knitted. A question though: when do you have time to cook/clean? Hugs to each of you.

  • Very entertaining post, Ann, as usual! The part about toes changing over time is more true than you may realize, the humor of it notwithstanding.. Good you are getting new hiking boots! Toe troubles tend to sneak up on us. And surgery for them can get pretty grisly. So stay off the stilettos, update your shoes regularly and keep the podiatrist’s number handy. P.S. I have a sheep-shaped tape measure using real fleece to form the little sheep (whose toes seem to be in top form.) Very cozy Chloe

  • I needed this tale so badly this morning. It gave me a good, head thrown back, semi-silent, wispy laugh that’s just right for a Saturday morning.

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