Hikers strive for pinnacle in outdoor gear, fashion

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Hikers strive for pinnacle in outdoor gear, fashion

On Mount Cheonggye, it’s not difficult to see hikers fully equipped from head to toe, trekking poles in their hands, looking as if they are about to conquer Mount Everest.

A 57-year-old man surnamed Kim who was climbing Mount Cheonggye last month was one of them.

Kim said he holds his head and shoulders high, feeling proud when hiking in his German Meindl boots, Canadian Arc’teryx pants and Swiss Marmot jacket.

“Hardcore mountain climbers will instantly notice my outfit,” Kim said. “It costs about 2 million won ($1,730) in total and many climbers wear gear like this.”

Most of the hikers on Korean mountains are seen dolled up in colorful outdoor outfits. The outdoor product market in Korea surpassed 4 trillion won last year, second highest in the world after the United States, which generates nearly 11 trillion won in sales annually. In third place is Germany, with annual sales of 3 trillion won.

And experts say Korean sales are expected to surpass 5 million this year.

Industry officials insist Korea’s outdoor product market is “abnormally large.”

Yoo Jin-gwan, head of North Face Korea’s Cheonggye branch, said most of his customers are in their 40s and 50s, people who can afford “pricey” outdoor products.

“Most of our consumers range from their mid-40s to early 60s and I think they spend such an amount of money on themselves because they believe they can,” Yoo said.

Yang Mun-young, deputy head of Kolon Sports, also said “middle-aged people are more sensitive to outdoor fashion brands.”

“There’s even a saying that you are not a ‘real’ fashionista on the mountain without a Gore-Tex label on the wrist of your top,” he said.

According to psychologists, there are multiple reasons that contribute to Koreans’ competition to have better, or at least comparable, quality sports gear.

“Koreans’ characteristic ‘comparing,’ I believe, is one of the contributors to creating such competition to wear fashionable and popular brand outfits,” said Kwak Keum-ju, a psychology professor at Seoul National University.

“They look at people around them and feel left out when they are not similar to others. This is goes to the heart of another Korean characteristic, having a strong desire to belong to a group.”

By Chang Chung-hoon, Yim Seung-hye[sharon@joongang.co.kr]
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