Chewy Gear

Gear is to the outdoor enthusiast what shoes are to Imelda Marcos. Sure, you've got to have the right stuff to survive out there in the wild. But you've also got to watch yourself, or you start to accumulate lots and lots of stuff—stuff that you don't really need, expensive stuff that you've purchased as a way to impress yourself and your friends. Get too much of this stuff, and before you know it, you have a revolution on your hands.

In this dreadful economy, my own taste for expensive gear has soured considerably—and turned into a taste for energy bars. As a matter of fact, they are about the only outdoors-related item that I can afford to accumulate anymore.

In recent months, I have taken to buying this product in bulk. As such, I've become something of an expert on the pricing of these items at Seattle-area retailers and have learned that finding an unexpected bargain on energy bars is like stumbling upon a hidden gem of a hiking trail. Consider, for instance, Whole Foods—a locale not normally conducive to big savings. Here, you'll find Balance Bars for 99 cents, Clif Bars for $1.17, and PowerBars for $1.29. Elsewhere in town, you'll fork over as much as $1.75. Too much for my tight budget!

The Food and Drug Administration officially equates the term energy with calories, which means that any product containing calories can market itself with the word "energy." This literal translation has been a boon to manufacturers, as annual sales in the energy bar category have soared well beyond $100 million, a whopping figure that inspired Nestl頴o purchase the PowerBar brand and Kraft to swallow up the company that makes Balance Bars.

Yes, I understand that not all people particularly care for the often impenetrable, bricklike consistency of this food. For some, chewing the thing requires the same metabolic rush as can ostensibly be gained from its eventual digestion. But if you are going to dislike this product, I say that you should dislike it for more scientific reasons. While different bars tout different formulas of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and supplements, several studies prove that you gain just as much of a dietary boost by eating healthy, whole foods such as fruits and vegetables.

Still, energy bars possess the benefit of the name. When approaching exhaustion on a rigorous mountain bike ride, who can argue against the psychological benefits of unwrapping a PowerBar? In fact, this particular brand has become synonymous with rugged outdoor activity. Sure, the convenience of this food adds to its appeal, but ultimately many of us are attracted to the sense of validation it offers. Packing an energy bar is probably the least expensive way to pretend we know exactly what we are doing out there.

Best of all, unlike most gear, energy bars aren't fragile, they don't take up a lot of room in the garage, and they survive the test of time. I've found unopened energy bars stuck in the back of my closet, relics of some long-forgotten hiking trip from many years back. The packaging remains intact, and the bars themselves remain as edible as ever (always a subjective point). Now who can say that about an old pair of shoes?


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