Finding My Footing
Backpacker|January 2022
A hiker pulls confidence from an unsolicited gear critique in the Catskills.
STEPHANIE VERMILLION

It’s hard to destroy a post-summit high, but the mansplainer judging my footwear just about did it. I was happily sauntering down the pine fringed trail from the top of Hunter Mountain, the second-highest peak in New York’s Catskills range at 4,406 feet, when the gearshamer appeared.

My hiking companion Maggie and I had just climbed Hunter for the first time. Despite air so cold we could see our breath and a layer of sweat that chilled us to our bones, we were giddy. Our next stop? A Hudson Valley winery to celebrate, sip, and grab a bite before heading back home to New York City.

But as we rounded a bend in the trail, one hiker stood between us and my car’s seat warmers—a man so decked out in shiny new gear and gadgets he might as well have been an REI store mannequin.

“Oh, sorry,” we mumbled after realizing we’d taken up more than our half of the trail, preventing the bedazzled hiker and his group from passing. But his hands-on-the-hip stance told me the encounter wasn’t over.

The man’s lips parted in a smirk. He looked at our well-worn running shoes, then stared me straight in the eye and proclaimed, “That’s a good way to break a tailbone.”

Was he right? Maybe. After all, any hiker in road-running shoes could benefit from an upgrade to grippier, more durable trail footwear. But, at the time, we couldn’t afford the $100-plus it would take to make the leap. And, having just bagged the second-highest Catskills summit successfully, ragged Asics and all, I could confidently say that high-end gear wasn’t a requirement, no matter what this fellow hiker thought.

A few months ago, I wouldn’t have remained so blasé. I would have questioned if I belonged on these trails at all, my hiking euphoria thoroughly smashed. But after a half-dozen hikes—all successfully ending with a new Catskills summit—I’d come to see that fitness and fun were far more important than shiny new gear.

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