Impact Giving: Gearing Up New Adventurers

Access to gear can be a big barrier for new adventurers of all ages. Gear can be expensive. It can be tricky to use and available sizes or styles can be limited. The Mountaineers Gear Library helps to break down barriers to access, reduce waste, and encourage people to try new outdoor activities.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
August 01, 2022

It’s a hot afternoon in July, but the Seattle Program Center basement is invitingly cool. Ethan Metzger, Gear Library Manager, sits at an old wooden desk. He is surrounded by shelves full of packs, snowshoes, and boots from floor to ceiling. A rolling workbench is cluttered with repair and cleaning supplies and a couple of large tents are set up to air out. 

Shane, a 7-year member, arrives during his pickup time to get his reserved gear for an upcoming trip with the Foothills B3 Course. What happens next is less like a transaction and more like a consultation. “I grabbed this pack for you, but I wonder if this other one will work better,” Ethan says. They go through each piece to make sure the fit and size would work and talk through the trip details to ensure they hadn’t forgotten anything. Then Shane was ready to go!

Shane has been a repeated user of the Gear Library and appreciates that he hasn’t had to miss any activities while slowly accumulating his own gear. Access to the library has also let him experiment with winter sports and winter camping. “I don’t know if I will buy a four season tent, but I was sure glad to have it for snow camping last year. It snowed 18 inches on us!” he said as he tried on a pair of boots. “One reason that the Gear Library is so great is that a lot of this equipment is hundreds of dollars - if you only use it once or twice it doesn’t really pay off.”

Access to seasonal and technical gear is an obstacle for many people. The Gear Library first launched to support youth adventure programs at The Mountaineers and other organizations in the region. Washington Trails Association (WTA) shared endless guidance to help create systems and infrastructure, and partnered in facilitating training workshops for youth-serving organizations. Within just a couple of years, the Gear Library equipped over 1,000 young people for their adventures! During the pandemic we piloted personal lending with gear kits for community members. It became clear that The Mountaineers could have a long-term role in providing gear access for our broader community. And as of 2021, The Mountaineers Gear Library is open to everyone.

Ethan Metzger has been delighted to watch the impact of the Gear Library expand into the community. We're continuing to provide high quality gear to youth groups. But more and more, families and individuals see it as an affordable and sustainable way to gear up. “While we’ve been experiencing a huge uptick in usage, we’ve still been able to give plenty of time and attention to each person,” Ethan shared. “I want this space to be community-oriented. I want everyone to be set up for success and to have fun.”

Some users borrow what they need as they save up for their own gear and some want to ‘try before they buy’ to reduce waste. Some users will only need the gear once or twice. Some have quickly-growing kids and need new sizes every six months. And some simply wouldn’t try a new activity unless they could find gear at low cost. In all cases, every piece of equipment that goes out means that someone is safer or more comfortable while they enjoy our natural world.

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How Donations Promote Access through the Gear Library

Many people experience barriers to outdoor recreation. Our vision is that the Gear Library can make it easier to get outside by providing access to low-cost, high-quality gear.

“The way that I have seen it used over the last six months is that people are taking their first steps into outdoor adventures,” says Ethan. “We’re shepherding in new backpackers, new snowshoers, new hikers, and hopefully turning them into advocates and stewards as well.”

The Mountaineers Gear Library is made possible by a community of people committed to making the outdoors more accessible. Brands and retailers provide gear as in-kind donations or at a very low cost. Library membership fees cover a small portion of the operating costs. Financial donations help to cover the rest, ensuring that this valuable community resource is accessible to anyone who needs it.

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D5C37977-8205-48D1-A069-3FC1625B52E0 - crop.jpgPhoto by Mountaineers Youth staff.

The evolution of a Gear Library

  • 2007: New space for keeping communal gear - When The Mountaineers moved from Downtown Seattle to Sand Point, volunteers organized the new building to store technical gear used in courses.
  • 2010: Gear collection expands to equip new Mountaineers youth programming - The Mountaineers became a 501c(3) nonprofit, which fueled the development of new programming for youth who may not otherwise have access to outdoor adventures. 
  • 2018: Gear Library launches to support youth-serving organizations - Hundreds of individuals, brands, and partner organizations like WTA provided donations and expertise to turn our gear collection into a Gear Library. Dozens of youth-serving organizations have been able to check out essentials for their own excursions.
  • 2020: Personal lending gets people outside during the pandemic - The Mountaineers offered hiking, camping, and hammocking kits to members of the community during the pandemic.
  • 2021: Gear Library expanded for general use - People of all ages can now access gear specific to their needs.
  • 2022: Online inventory and reservation system - To further reduce barriers, the reservation-by-email system was upgraded to a browsable online platform, made possible through our partners at the Outdoors Empowered Network. 
  • And beyond... The Mountaineers is adding staff support for the Gear Library and Mountain Workshops. This means more capacity for more users (and more excursions for youth groups!). It also is another step toward expanding the impact of the Gear Library as we further identify barriers to outdoor access. We want to improve our selection of inclusive sizes. We want to be available during more accessible times. We want to explore solutions to the additional financial challenges some users face. And we want to make this valuable community resource more geographically available and easier for all branches to access. With the help of our community of donors, and with the input of users and partners, The Mountaineers will continue to find ways to bring high-quality gear to the people who will benefit most.

Support Outdoor Access with a Donation

Join the Gear Library

Our gear library would not be possible without the generous support of: Adidas TERREX, Adventure Medical Kits, Bogs, Cascade Designs, Cocoon, Deuter, Helly Hansen, Jansport, King Country, Kovea USA, Outdoor Research, Petzl, Rab USA, REI, Salomon, Sea to Summit, The North Face, The Outdoor Empowered Network, Vasque, Washington Trails Association, Wise Owl Outfitters, and the financial donors to The Mountaineers. Thank you for believing in and supporting our vision.

If you represent a brand or retailer and would like to support The Mountaineers with in-kind donations, please contact our Donor Event and Partnerships Manager Hana Wilder at hanaw@mountaineers.org 

LEARN MORE

Our Impact Giving blog series helps our community understand how donors make a difference.

The Mountaineers ® is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located at 7700 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98107. Our staff located in Seattle work to support our seven branches (Bellingham, Everett, Foothills, Kitsap, Olympia, Seattle, and Tacoma), three lodges (Baker, Meany, and Stevens), and our Kitsap Forest Theater. Tax ID: 27-3009280.  

If you are inspired to make a gift, please visit mountaineers.org/donate or call 206-521-6006. 

MAIN IMAGE BY Mckenzie Campbell Davies.

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