Friends with Benefits

broken bike, gear loaning

A guide to loaning outdoor gear.

When it comes to loaning gear, there are unwritten rules by which we all must abide—especially in the West, when virtues like honesty, loyalty, and integrity are held so highly by all. I thought of these principles as a sort of “law of the land” governing all recreationists, insuring any lent-out assets. So recently, when a colleague asked to borrow my hardtail, of course I agreed. Nevermind him being a mountain-biking neophyte, I thought, he must be savvy of the sacred gear-sharing doctrine. Apparently, I was ignorant.

When he returned the bike, the brake pads were worn thin. The tires had been ridden bare and were smattered with tubeless puncture plugs. The frame was laced with pipe cleaners holding loose cables back to the frame. Really? Pipe cleaners? I know pipe cleaners are versatile, but using them for this had not crossed my mind. Before I had time to ask what happened, he was on his way back to Texas.

Instead of vowing never to lend any gear out for the rest of my days, I’m opting to put ink to the unwritten rules I assumed were known to all. Below is a general guideline for loaning and borrowing gear. If you care at all about human decency, you’ll follow it to a tee. If not, hop next in line for the pillory.

Know the Party
First and foremost, get a feel for the borrower’s character. What’s this guy like around his friends? How does he speak of his enemies? This was perhaps my biggest mistake as a loaner. Although I had worked with Texas Twinkle Toes, I really had no idea who he was. As a general rule, the farther your gear gets from you—say, a friend of a friend of a friend—the higher the liklihood of mishaps.

Clarify Expectations
This goes for both parties. As a borrower, you will always be at the mercy of the lender, but lenders need to lay the groundwork. Consider the value of the item, and set your expectations accordingly. Essentials to communicate include what is being borrowed, where it will be used, any necessary regular maintenance, and when it will be returned.

Give It a Once-Over
Before, and afterwards. As you would when moving into or out of your next overpriced rental, you should do a quick inspection of the property to make sure it all checks out. That way you aren’t left wondering if that scuff or lost piece occurred when your gear was out on loan. As a borrower, this may also save you from getting falsely accused for pre-existing damage. As a lender, it’s a good opportunity to walk the borrower through specific, unique features or quirky abnormalities.

If You Break It, You Buy It
The most crucial rule, and what I (wrongly) thought to be most obvious. It’s simple: if you borrow gear from anyone, you inherit responsibility for it. Treat it as if it were your own, and return it in better shape than you found it. If you destroy it, replace it or offer fair market value, plus an inconvenience fee, ideally paid in an alternative currency such as beer or a gift card.

Consider Collateral
Especially for a big-ticket item, or if you’re lending to someone you don’t know well. If you’re really worried about something, offer up a gear trade for the day. If someone asks to borrow your climbing shoes, swap them for some trail runners. It’s mutually beneficial, and if your gear is returned in disrepair, you have some leverage on the borrower to fix or replace it. Conversely, if you’re trying to borrow from someone who’s on the fence, offering collateral might help persuade them.

Be Gracious
Sharing gear is a nice gesture, and it’s a good way to spread the love for outdoor fun. Show your thanks with a gift—alcoholic beverages tend to go over well. Here’s a rough scale for reference: buy a round at the bar for clothing, throw them a six-pack for a tent, pick up a twelve-pack for a bike, shell out on some quality bourbon for a raft. After all, you’re probably spending far less than a rental fee. If you’re lending, be forgiving of small mishaps. A little mud on your shoes or a stain on your fleece ain’t gonna kill ya, and it’s not worth making a fuss over—even if it makes you think twice before lending again.

Barley Bonus

In these parts, when you’re asking for a favor, a little beer goes a long way. Here are some guidelines for situations where you can smooth things over or secure some extra attention in exchange for suds.

Accidental Damage
If you borrowed a friend’s gear and had a mishap, swing by the beer fridge on your way to return it. If it’s cosmetic, some frosty brews may well serve as a sufficient apology. If it’s something more serious, requiring repair or replacement, you should cover the cost anyway, but some beer will help soothe the tension and show that you actually care.

Complimentary Guiding
Getting out with a more experienced friend is an awesome way to learn new skills, but even if you’re keeping up, it always takes a little extra attention to accommodate a beginner. Show your appreciation by at least springing for a pint at the bar afterwards, or even better, a six-pack to take home. Class it up a little here—ask for a preferred brew, don’t just buy whatever’s cheapest.

Pet Sitting
We all love going on trips with our dogs, but some multi-day adventures necessitate a human-only team, be it to a National Park or in hazardous terrain. If you’re leaving your furry friend with a non-furry (or, in some cases, very furry) friend, throw in a twelve-pack to show your gratitude. Just make sure you’re confident they won’t drink all 12 at once, and specify whether or not Bridger is allowed to partake. —Jack Taylor