I was 10 years old during the severe economic recession of the early 1980s. The unemployment rate was the highest since the stock market crash of the 1930s. Mortgage rates at the time exceeded 21 percent. At the supermarket I pushed the buggy and tallied up the cost of the groceries my mother put inside. Times were tough and families were on tight budgets.
It was a time when discretionary spending was at an all-time low. If you were lucky enough to have a job and a house, you worked extra shifts and squirreled away every little bit of money to pay down the mortgage principal. If you could afford holidays, families flocked to campgrounds for simple, cheap vacations.
Camping wasn’t fancy in those days. We wore what we always wore. We ripped through the campgrounds on whatever bikes were handed down to us and we paddled whatever canoes our parents borrowed or rented.
The world is a different place today. Discretionary spending has increased every year for the last 30 years. My mortgage floats at an unbelievably low 2.6 percent. Not only do parents today have more discretionary money, they also have fewer children to spend it on.
I truly enjoy spending time with my kids. And the time I enjoy most is when we’re off on outdoor adventures together.
As my kids have gotten older and more able, I’ve realized how important good gear is to their success and happiness. On an all-day mountain bike ride last fall, I started doing some math.
I weigh around 175 pounds and my mountain bike weighs just shy of 26 pounds with five inches of highly tuned suspension on the front and back. My daughter is eight years old and weighs only 52 pounds. Her bike weighs 30 pounds. That hardly seems fair.
Using the same bike-to-body weight ratio I calculated that my bike should be 101 pounds of low-grade alloy and pogo stick shocks.
On the water I see kids in old cast-off whitewater kayaks with long heavy paddles. In the winter I see kids on gear-swap alpine straight skis from the ‘80s. This doesn’t make sense. How is a kid supposed to tilt or roll a kayak three times wider than her hips. And let’s see that ski dad try the bumps on a pair of 30-year-old, 260-centimeter (length calculated to scale) Olin Mark VIs race skis. We would be saying the same thing: “This sucks!”
If we want our kids to ride with us, paddle with us and ski with us; if we want them to love the things we love; we need to be investing some of what we’re not paying in interest on good outdoor kids gear.
Outdoor gear and apparel brands are figuring this out—probably because their CEOs have children of their own. In each issue of Canoeroots, we’ll be picking an outdoor activity and decking out a kid from head to toe. In our Early Summer issue, it was mountain biking. On the list we have fly-fishing, standup paddling, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, and maybe even birding.
Please don’t look at it like an expense they’ll out-grow in a couple years. Look at it like playing the futures market. Buy commodities they’ll enjoy today and that you hope to cash in down the road. Winning in this market is when my grown children have an afternoon off work and call me to go riding, paddling, fishing or skiing.
Scott MacGregor is the founder and publisher of Canoeroots. He and Kate are headed to the Whistler Mountain Bike Park (bike.whistlerblackcomb.com) for a few days of father-daughter downhill mountain biking.
This article first appeared in the Early Summer 2015 issue of Canoeroots and Family Camping magazine. For more great canoeing content, subscribe to Canoeroots’ print editions and digital editions, download issues on your device or view this issue for free on your desktop here.