Mistrust all enterprises that require new clothes.
I have always wholeheartedly agreed with that sentiment (originally from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden) since I first came across it in my all-time favorite book, A Room With A View.
Even as a teenager, I hated going shopping for clothes. It wasn’t that I was self-conscious or worried I wouldn’t buy the “right” thing—I just didn’t see the point.
What was wrong with my old clothes?
Nothing, that’s what.
Now that I’m old enough that Mom can’t drag me to the mall anymore, I only buy things when strictly necessary. My jeans from five years ago are holding up just fine, thank you.
I Love Me Some New Stuff
Unfortunately, planning an extended bike trip through rugged and unknown territory requires new clothes. Lots and lots of new clothes. Not to mention new bikes, bike bags, tents, sleeping bags, camp stoves, and on and on and on…
Gathering enough stuff to ensure our survival for six months (or more) on the road is an anti-shopper’s nightmare. Sort of.
Part of me really loves new things. New things are shiny and exciting and they smell so… new!
It’s this kind of excitement that keeps our consumer society going round.
Buying With An Eye To Impact
Despite this excitement, I am also hyper-aware that new things come at a cost—and I’m not talking about price tags.
So how do we (at least try to) reduce the impact of what we buy?
Bikes and Bike Gear
We bought our bikes and most of our bike gear at a local bike shop. Sure we could have ordered most of it on Amazon, but the price was about the same, so we put money into a local business that would have instead gone to one of the shopping world’s biggest players.
True, supporting small business doesn’t always equate with supporting the environment. But in the case of bike shops, I think it’s vital that they are on as many local corners as possible, to make it easy for people to get out of their cars and on to two wheels.
That’s also not to say we’re ignoring Amazon altogether. It is still the one place where you can find absolutely everything, and it connects us to independent, specialty businesses we wouldn’t be able to find otherwise.
We also look for brands that at least express some awareness that their business has an impact on the world. I loved this post from our bike company, Surly.
Despite the waste created, we know that the net environmental result of one bike, from raw material to the end of its life, is still cleaner and far more sustainable that the result of one car. And we strive to make the net result of our bikes cleaner compared to most other bikes. But that’s not enough…
It shows they are thinking about their impact, and that they have weighed (and perhaps even calculated) the impact of every new bike. That’s an attitude I am happy to my money behind.
Choosing between natural and synthetic materials presents a major conundrum. Both have their benefits and detriments.
The sleeping bags we want, made by Big Agnes, are available filled with down or synthetic materials. Most buying guides point out that down is lighter while synthetic performs better in wet conditions.
What most buying guides don’t mention is that, depending on its origins, down can also be extremely cruel. There was no way I wanted to nestle into a down sleeping bag every night, with visions of dead fowl dancing in my head. So we choose synthetic.
But we’re not ignoring all animal fibres. Even though Merino wool is universally acknowledged as the best fabric for cycle touring, I didn’t want to support cruel Merino farming practices.
When I found the Icebreaker website, where you can trace your particular garment to the farm of origin, and meet the farmers, I felt reasonably comfortable choosing their products. They also have details on their animal welfare, manufacturing ethics, and environmental ethics.
Is this all just greenwashing? Possibly. Are my decisions always right? Probably not. Will some things we need to buy, like GPS and laptop, be extremely harmful to the environment and the people who make them? Most definitely.
There’s no way around it: buying stuff is worse than not buying stuff. But since we don’t really want to go live in a cave, buy things we must.
So we do our best, support companies that also care about the world, and keep our dollars away from those who don’t. This, in itself, will have to be enough.
Got a few more minutes? Read these posts.
Do you need it? Do you love it? Can you afford it? Then don’t buy it.
Still can’t fight the urge to shop? Go buy this stuff!