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Sometimes Quality is Worth the Money - OR - Why I Own a Titanium Spork

A while back when I was in semi-decent shape and was into adventuring (which was maybe more than just a while back) I was planning a trip with a friend to Big Pine Lakes in the California Sierras. It wasn't just any trip, it was an early-February snowshoe backpacking trip with over 5,000 feet of elevation gain in an area we weren't likely to come across any other travelers on paths that were buried in many feet of snow. Not your run-of-the mill camping trip. I wanted to be prepared.

I ventured to REI, the adult adventurer version of a candy shop for kids, and was looking at cookware. I picked up a fancy and slightly confusing multi-fuel stove, a steel pot, an aluminum bowl, and was now looking at cutlery. The idea was that I'd be mainly melting and boiling snow and making what looked like delicious freeze dried foods that came in big foil packages. I picked up an awesome looking titanium spork that was $20.

"That's a product made for idiots," said a voice from behind me. I turned to find that it surprisingly came from an REI employee. "This is $3 and is better in every way." He picked up a lexan plastic fork, knife and spoon kit.

"Those are for rich people," chimed in another REI employee. "People who don't know what to spend their money on."

"Yeah, at Taco Bell board meetings they sit and eat with titanium sporks!" Laughter ensued, seemingly, to me, disproportionate to the actual humor of the joke.

"Seems like it would last forever," I sheepishly offered, having nothing else to add to this conversation.

"There isn't a single thing that can do that the lexan ones can't, and they will probably even outlast it. They can't even get bent out of shape." 

Their point was made, and they walked away, leaving me feeling foolish with a titanium spork in one hand and the lexan option that was a mere 15% of the price in the other. I put the rich people monstrosity back on its hanger and walked away having saved $17.

Fast forward to a freezing cold day, 10,000 feet up in the Sierras. Josh and I had just finished digging 4 feet down into the snow, then stomping the remaining 2 feet down hard until we could set up our 4-season tent on it. We carved out a kitchen a little bit away and set up my stove. I took out the stainless steel pot, fumbling with it because my fingers were numb due to the inadequate gloves I had purchased, and used it to scoop up a fresh chunk of snow. I put the lid on the bot and lit the stove.

After a few minutes, during which I had been carving a snow bench for us to sit on and dine, I opened the pot to see if the water was ready. 

"Shit."

In my exhausted (from the 4 mile snowshoe hike), cold (from the 10 degree weather) and hungry (see previous reason for exhaustion) state I hadn't noticed that the lexan fork was still in the pot when I scooped up the snow. It was now melted to the bottom of the pot and burning. 

I dumped the water and tried to retrieve the fork, but it was too late. It was fused to the bottom of the pot. I took out my knife and started scraping it, but there was no way to get all of the plastic off, and it was charred and if we continued to cook with the pot the plastic remains would probably expel nasty stuff into our water as we heated it.

"Well it's a good thing we have a backup," said Josh, who had brought his own stove and cooking pot. He took care of the cooking for the rest of the three-day expedition.

Turns out there WAS something the titanium spork could do that the cheap lexan plastic versions couldn't. Resist heat. 

I learned a valuable lesson that day. You can't plan for every stupid thing you might do. And not every quality piece of gear is going to be idiot-proof. But don't believe people when they say you can do something just as well with something cheaper. Sometimes you can. But sometimes you're paying a premium because something really is better. Longer lasting, higher quality, more resistant to your own stupidity... there are lots of reasons better is sometimes BETTER. And often you have to pay for that. Or you might pay twice.