How to borrow outdoor gear: A brief explanation on etiquette

Being part of the outdoor community, at some point one will need to borrow gear. Personally, I see no problem with borrowing gear from people. This equipment is expensive and, being college students, there is, without a doubt, a struggle to personally own all necessary gear. It takes years to accumulate enough stuff to ski, climb, mountain bike and paddle in the great outdoors. However, there are certain considerations to pay attention to when sharing outdoor equipment.

To begin, one must focus on the various degrees to which gear matters for survival within a given sport. This exists on a continuum from not very important for survival to extremely important. The equipment one uses on the lesser important side of the spectrum requires less consideration on borrowing. If someone is going camping and needs to borrow a headlamp, proper etiquette varies greatly from borrowing a climbing rope or camalots. Yet, this is not the only factor. One also needs to take into consideration the cost of the gear being borrowed. The more expensive a piece is, the more attention needed to properly use another person’s belongings.

It is necessary to reciprocate for the use of borrowed gear. Reciprocation, on the college student level, generally revolves around the level of food or alcoholic beverages. If someone is borrowing my ice climbing tools for an extended period of time, I expect anywhere from a six-pack of adult beverage to a three-course dinner. Reciprocation also works in the benefit of the borrower. As gear is borrowed, beverage is reciprocated and trust is built. Eventually, trust leads to the ability to borrow gear for less dinner output and the same amount of gear borrowed.

If one begins to borrow gear without reciprocating a portion of the value through beverages and dinners, there can be a large backlash. Recently, when friends borrowed my climbing equipment, I was without a climbing rack for roughly a week. When returned, they were dirty and sandy and I did not receive any payment for the use of my climbing gear. This is a big no-no on many levels: the gear borrowed always must be returned with the same quality that the gear was originally in, and lack of reciprocation leads to unhappy lenders that will then no longer share the equipment.

A situation like this leads to the borrower actually needing to purchase outdoor equipment, which one should avoid at all costs. By reciprocating value and returning gear at a high quality, a borrower can ensure the use of other’s equipment for years to come in the outdoors.