Battling temptation at REI — spend less on outdoor gear

What can Buddhist philosophy teach us about buying a headlamp?

Tonight I entered the lion’s den, the sirens’ cove and the Judean Desert all at once. REI — the land of temptation. This outdoor co-op masquerades as a harmless group of tree-hugging, granola lovers, but behind the mask, REI poses the same consumerist trap as any other store. I found myself at REI after a family visit to see my grandma in Castle Rock. Like dutiful Americans, we capped our night out with a “quick” shopping trip.  

My mom had legitimate business. The rest of us silently dispersed as soon as we opened the ice ax-handled doors. We lost all manners. Like moths, we flew to the brightest Gore-Tex jackets. We pawed at pants as if we’d never seen fleece before. We laid on the floor, testing sleeping pads and gazing at the endless array of items, the endless promises of health, adventure and meaning. 

Photo by Jpellgen, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Before entering, I’d convinced myself I urgently needed a new headlamp. I located the wearable flashlight section. Model names rang like a roll call at the Mount Olympus kindergarten: Astro, Comet, Storm…. I found myself a wash in numbers, prices, charging types, battery statistics and lumen counts. I pretended like I knew what a lumen was.

For the record, I have a headlamp. It dates to a family trip to Costa Rica when I was ten. Since then, my headlamp has illuminated many early-morning hikes, late-night card games, and camp-kitchen shifts. It is brighter than a coal miner’s candle, but weaker than the newer models my friends brandish. It works. 

 I tinkered with the headlamps on display, clicking buttons and dazzling the aisle with a blinking light display. I couldn’t turn it off.

 “Do you need any help here,” a green-vested employee asked? 

“I think I’ve got it, thanks,” I said. 

My pupils wandered directly into a 500 lumen beam. I stumbled away blind. 

By the time my family was ready to check out, I still hadn’t escaped my state of indecision. I grabbed a lantern and headed to the checkout line. Yet by the time I got there, I’d changed my mind. The extra minutes wandering the store allowed me to reconsider my need. Yes, a new headlamp sounded nice, but how often did I need to see beyond the small halo of light my current lamp emitted? How often have AAA batteries failed me? 

Online shopping, overnight delivery and well-stocked stores provide near instantaneous gratification of our desires. I am not immune to these consumerist schemes. Like most critics, I find it easier to chastise others than myself. Yet a simple pause or delay forces us to sit with our cravings. It might be enough to make you reconsider.