Last May I organized a mellow backpacking trip with a small group, one of whom was considering being outfitted by a rental camping equipment service that will mail you a backpacking kit, complete with tent, sleeping bag and pad, stove, backpack, and headlamp, all of which you box up and send back at the end of the voyage. I saved him the expense and supplied him from my own well-stocked (okay, very overstocked) garage of outdoor goodies. The price for the service isn’t too bad though, a couple hundred bucks per trip. Less than buying everything from scratch if you just wanted to try backpacking for a weekend.

Couple weeks back a brand new jacked-up Toyota Tacoma passed me on the street, fitted out with a clean rooftop tent and and freshly shined knobby all-terrains. Looked like your standard adventure-y pickup, except “RENTAL 4X4” was emblazoned on the door panel beneath the name of the company renting out the shiny overlanding toy. I dug into it a bit and discovered the company, based in San Francisco, will outfit you with anything from a Tacoma to a Land Rover to fulfill your overland fantasies, one weekend at a time.

Most recently, just yesterday in fact, I walked past a new surf shop that’s participating in beta testing of a surfboard subscription service. For a monthly fee, you can waltz in and grab a different surfboard every day. The annual cost shakes out to roughly the same price as a new surfboard. So, really, if you lived close to one of these facilities, and you bought about a surfboard per year, you’d never need to own your own board again.

I suppose you could say the same for all your outdoors gear at this point.


Especially in the Bay Area, where I live, the subscription-based economy seems to be taking over. Cars, clothes, jewelry, phones, computers—why actually own something when you can use it just when you need for a small fee, then send it back? On the one hand, the “Own Fewer, Better Things” philosophy is a guiding light for most purchase decisions I make these days. So, in theory anyway, renting things that you don’t necessarily see a need to own yourself makes a lot of sense, both economically, and in terms of just less stuff to haul around with you throughout life. It feels good to own less. Simple as that.

There’s a local sporting goods store near me where you can outfit yourself by renting everything you need for a crack at the John Muir Trail, a fishing trip in the Tahoe backcountry a weekend of skiing in Mammoth, or a snowshoe trip through the Trinity Alps, complete with ice axes and everything. Throw all that in a rented 4×4 and you don’t even need a car. Make it a Baja surf mission with a surfboard subscription service and you’re all set.

I’m conflicted. Personally, I want my gear to get beat-up and filthy. Every rip in my pack, every dent in my water bottle, each stain on my tent, and every tree scrape eating into the paint of my pickup form a sentimental patina. There’s little better then pulling out a well-loved piece of backpacking gear the first night on the trail and, for a moment, having that flash of nostalgia for trips past. Plus, I trust my gear and my truck. If I’m deep in the backcountry, I don’t want to rely on gear that’s been questionably used lord knows how many times.

I get the freedom from things that rentals provide, though, I do. It’s compelling. It’s just not for me. What about you though—would you trade ownership of gear for the freewheeling bliss of an empty garage?