Working on this gear guide, I could not help but think of all the people who lost everything they owned this past fall in Boulder’s Fourmile Fire. I felt guilty. Here I was with a garage full of new gear to write about and test while slurry bombers flew over head trying to stop the blaze. Over 160 homes were destroyed and along with them lifetimes of memories and gear.

Now, it may sound a bit petty to fret over losing a backpack or kayak in the midst of all that destruction, but think about your own gear. Your skis, shells, boots, bike, are all more than just stuff. They are infused with memories. Sure they are replaceable. We probably spend too much money on them. Despite the claims of many manufacturers the production of them increases the destruction of the planet we want so much to preserve and enjoy by using them. But for those of us who live for outdoor adventure, our gear is a part of us.

Boulder Burning: The Fourmile Fire from Flagstaff Mountain

Leif Steiner lost everything in the fire. The young, hip owner of a Boulder design firm, he woke up on a holiday morning, took a shower and was suddenly running for his life as 100-foot high flames roared toward his house. When I talked to him about it he admitted that one of the things he missed most was his gear. He had been hiking 14ers all summer long with his sons—now he didn’t even have a backpack for a day hike.

“There was gear I took to K2 to the Sahara to South America and Asia,” he said. “The thing is, I have insurance. Most people have insurance. It will pay for a new house, it will replace my stove and these objects which you can go to Home Depot and purchase—another shovel or toaster—but the stuff you can’t replace is the stuff that has memories attached. You never realize how much of your emotional fabric is tied up in the objects you surround yourself with. At the same time, I was lucky. If had been asleep 10 minutes longer, I would have been dead.”

We are all lucky, losing our gear pales in comparison to the losses suffered by less fortunate people in Haiti or Pakistan when recent disasters hit those countries. Ironically, Steiner has created relief organizations to help people in Haiti after the earthquake and New Orleans after the hurricane. He’s still alive and owns his own creative business. But it’s important to think about how lucky we really are. How good it is to live here where we worry most about whether trails should be for bikes or hikers or what width our skis should be underfoot.

I’m going through my gear now and planning to give a lot of it away to the people who lost theirs in the fire. As a magazine editor, I certainly have too much. I have backpacks for Steiner so that he and his sons can get back out enjoying the mountains.

I believe that the more time we spend outdoors playing with gear that doesn’t have much value beyond what we put into it, the better we can understand just what does mean something in this world.