Why do we love outdoor product catalogs?

I use the short walk to the mailbox every day as a reason to give the dog a chance to sniff and lift and my recovering knee a reprieve from the confines of 90-degree desk life. Then as I get close, I grow ever so slightly giddy with hope that at least a portion of its contents will be for me. Maybe—probably—there’s a new outdoor product catalog waiting.

Bill. Insurance claim notification. Coupons on MRIs (I get a lot of those now). A check. (Finally.) Bill. Cable company “bundle to save” postcard. REI Winter Sale. Yes!

Truthfully, I’m not sure why I enjoy getting catalogs. Gear lust maybe? Good marketing ideas? REI sends one for every holiday, regardless of how insignificant, triggering a direct-mail barrage of competing sales announcements, like in honor of Columbus Day or something. I suppose that’s outdoorsy; he was an explorer.

Patagonia mails the gold standard in outdoor product catalogs, without question. Captivating photography accompanied by riveting product ambassador chronicles cleverly (or not so) entwined with images of a Capilene layering system or new Live Simply shirts highlighted on the opposite page. I don’t care though. I know what marketing is all about. And Chouinard is a genius at it.

I’ve grown to really like Eddie Bauer’s new print mailings, especially the recent First Ascent/Expedition Outfitter edition, even though the company is trying way too hard to remind us that it was the “original expedition outfitter.” (We get it.) Anyway, the surprise vertical layouts, QR codes and full page gear spreads managed to keep me page turning like a14-year-old boy who came across his old man’s garage porn stash. The pinnacle of the one that arrived a few weeks ago was easily the “Ed’s Pack” spread, which presented us with a smiling, Antarctic-ready Viesturs proudly climbing through a presumptuous check-list of his expedition pack items for us to peruse, the numbers for which match up with each item in an intricate opposite page photo titled “Ed’s Pack Unpacked.” Brilliant. There was even a half-eaten Hersey bar. And man, that Microtherm Down Shirt is sweet.

Mountain Gear’s catalog is a return to basics: pure gear love. Screw the esoteric J. Peterman diatribes and pretentious attempts to lull me into anoesis with slick jargon about new material and breathability and just give me the goods, man. I can flip through this saddle-stitched circular ten times over and see a new piece of swag every time. Sweet. Do I need a Selk Bag? The fall sale edition was a bit thin compared to previous years.

Evo sells mainly ski and snowboard gear and its catalog is pretty cool. It’s well-designed, showcases what matters and even throws in some real life case studies of Evo athletes struggling like the rest of us with the nine-to-five grind in between slope time. (Patagonia’s stories are great, but who really has time to spend six months trout fishing in South America?) The employees posing with outerwear in the waning pages was a little contrived but I’ll give them points for their model selection. Cute, real-women types. I don’t get the whole candy tie-in. But I don’t care, because I need new snowboard boots this year. And I bought my helmet from Evo, too.

As much as I hate paper and try to avoid clutter in my life, especially around my writing desk, I always give a pass to the gear catalog and make room for it. They become coffee-ringed references for buying decisions and oases of justification for post-purchase regret. “See? I knew I bought the right shell. It has this cool anti-abrasion coating on it. You can’t not have that … ”

So, keep ’em coming Patagonia, Eddie Bauer and happy Boxing Day REI. You can keep my address on file too Ibex, even though you’ve taught me more about wool thickness than I ever thought I would care to know. I’m digging your Shak line. And that piece on Vermont flooding because of Irene was solid, short and compelling. Can we get more of that and maybe fewer math lessons? When am I ever going to need to know how to use a micron?