Made to Last

Gear that’s made to last simplifies my life. Build quality tends to be the first consideration for whether gear will last but it shouldn’t be the only one. Other factors beyond durability could mean that a piece won’t always work for you.

I’ve come to appreciate the BuyItForLife subreddit1 as a good source of discussion around the values of quality gear.

Buy It For Life, or BIFL, is this idea that you can buy something of quality once and it’ll last for a lifetime. Once you’ve purchased that item, you don’t need to ever think about it again; you just use and enjoy that gear. Even if you invest a large amount of money in buying that one thing, its value shows over time because it’ll last so long. My mom, who is Polish (and hence frugal), used to teach me that when I could, spending money on something of quality often meant it lasted longer than the extra you paid. So a $150 Jansport backpack wouldn’t just last 3 times longer than a $50 backpack, but if I cared for that gear, it would probably last my lifetime. That backpack is over 10 years old already and my Dad uses it now.

But how much you pay and the quality of that gear doesn’t mean it’ll last forever. After the last life cycle of jeans, I decided to spend about twice as much to get a higher quality, 18oz Japanese denim in hopes they would last. The good news is that they’ve lasted longer and still have a lot of life left in them. They’ve gone through repairs once and are held together in a few places with the best hand stitching I could do with just the memory of what my mom showed me years ago. But they finally need to be replaced and not because of quality: I started weight training a few months ago and have been putting on some much needed weight. Adding fifteen pounds has made my skinny jeans a little too skinny and though they’re still in decent enough condition to continue wearing, the fit isn’t there anymore. I spent a lot of money on these jeans and, much sooner than I was expecting, I’m no longer able to wear them. I feel almost like I’ve duped myself into thinking that even if it’s as simple as a pair of jeans, money can always buy something immortal.

So some factors to consider when choosing Made to Last gear:

  • The ease of use/experience of using a product: Sure it may be built like a tank but it being built like a tank could be its downfall. Maybe it’s heavy, clunky, or using it is just a pain. It’s easy to buy something thinking it’ll last forever but you only end up using it for a few months before you get annoyed and it just sits there on a shelf.
  • Style: This matters mostly for clothes and outerwear. I know that jacket you bought in the 80s was really well made. But it was also purple with green stripes and now you can’t really wear it out in public. Buying gear that has a traditional and lasting style, like 1000 Mile boots will allow you to wear them through the decades.
  • Sizing: Just like my too-skinny skinny jeans, clothes are tough to be considered BIFL. The hope is that as we age we keep our lean, tight, 25-year-old bodies but somewhere along the road, gravity and ice cream will both have their way with us.
  • Regimen of care: All gear needs to be cared for but is the amount and frequency of maintenance sustainable? My dad has a fishing boat motor that was passed on to him from a friend. It’s from the 60s and still starts on the first pull. It needs care but draining it and the end of the season and storing it indoors, then cleaning and oiling it at the beginning of the season is enough to keep it working well. If you need to constantly be maintaining the gear for it to work well, chances are that at some point, you’ll lapse with that regimen and that will cause issues.
  • Repairability: Lasting quality doesn’t mean your thing will be in mint condition in 20 years. You’ll need to care for your gear and over time, repairs will help keep it in working condition. Shoes made with a Goodyear welt are easily resoled which adds life to the shoes.
  • Warranty/Guarantee: Whether it’s for repair or replacement, items with guarantees can last indefinitely. My sister had bought some Tupperware at a second hand store and when the lid cracked, she was able to send it back to the company and have it replaced. She’s now guaranteed to have a working, functional container forever–whether it’s that exact piece or not.
  • Reliability of the company: Lifetime guarantees only count if the company is still in business, so take this in to consideration. I wouldn’t bank on being able to fulfill your lifetime guarantee on that bag you bought on Kickstarter.

It’s been taking me years to get the hang of this for even a few good items I’ve purchased (and that’s, like, forever, for an increasingly short-attentioned 25 year old). Part of taking ownership of your belongings is investing your attention in them before you even buy them and taking these factors in to consideration will help you commit to, love, and use that gear for a long time to come.

  1. If you shy away from Reddit, I encourage you to read my guide on getting started.↩︎