I’m the kind of guy who, on a hike, will trip over a cactus because I wasn’t paying attention. I run my earbuds through the washing machine, scratch up my sunglasses, and drop my phone while jogging. And as someone who hates even the smallest signs of wear and tear, my clumsiness is often at odds with my ability to own nice things. So I buy cheap versions of nice things for exactly those situations.
The concept of a “beater” is common in a lot of hobby circles, especially EDC-type gear like watches and knives. You have your nice stuff, and the beater you aren’t afraid to ruin because it’s less expensive—or rugged enough to take a beating without getting ruined.
Casio’s G-Shock line is a perfect example of beater gear in action. It’s rugged as hell, water-resistant up to 200 meters, and while some models are a bit expensive, you can get reliable models for around $40-50—like the DW9052 or the DW5600E. If you’re more of an analog person, Casio’s venerable MDV106 is a perfect beater as well.
On the cheaper/less rugged end of things, I’d frankly still stick with Casio—their F108WH Illuminator is only $15, or you can go analog with their MRW200H line. The MRW200H is my beater watch of choice, perfect for going for a run or heading to the beach, and it comes in a ton of different colors and styles.
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I’m not a big knife guy—I just have a few of these fold-up Gerber EAB box cutters stashed around the house for quick access. For more traditional pocket knives, though, the Ontario RAT 1 and RAT II are commonly-recommended models that are affordable enough to get beat up—or, for certain heathens, to use for prying when a proper pry tool isn’t available.
You generally don’t hear the term “beater” outside these types of hobbies, but the idea is still applicable to … well, pretty much anything. As someone who needs glasses (but whose prescription doesn’t lend itself to contacts), I’ve found an affordable pair of Warby Parkers are perfect for more active scenarios—they’re not as nice as my main pair of glasses (Warby Parker’s anti-glare coating is garbage as far as I’m concerned), but they do the trick when I still want to see. Cheap sunglasses are also a godsend, particularly if you don’t require a prescription and can grab a pair or two of Knockarounds or Peepers to keep in the car.
I’m a tech nerd at heart, though, so I’ve mostly applied this philosophy to my gadgets. I like going caseless with my phone, for example, but a cheap rugged case like the Supcase Unicorn Beetle Pro is perfect when you’re on a hike. If you can swing it, the Lifeproof FRE is even better thanks to its water-resistance. Of course, you don’t need to bring your phone everywhere, either—when I go for a run, I leave the phone at home and bring an old iPod Shuffle with me (though any clip-on MP3 player will do the trick). I’m not about to risk dropping my phone if all I need is some quick tunes. If you need more advanced apps, you could even buy a $30 refurbished phone off Back Market and use that in precarious situations. (A FreedomPop SIM card could even get you nearly-free cell service for that phone, too, as long as you work around the gotchas.)
The same goes for earbuds, which I’ve lost and run through the washing machine too many times in my life. I use my beloved Bose SoundSport Wireless around the house, but as sweatproof as they are, I’d still rather take a cheap pair to the gym, or anywhere else I’m likely to drop or lose them. Affordable wireless earbuds like the Aukey EP-T21 are great, but I’ve even been known to use ultra-cheap wired models, like the ones that came with your phone. (If your main fear is loss, you might even look at the Skullcandy Sesh Evo, which have Tile tracking built-in.)
Every hobby has its popular beaters—sneakers, guitars, flashlights, even fountain pens. But none of this means you have to buy two of everything you own. If you’re anything like me, you have at least a few items you tend to baby, and those are the items that deserve some beater siblings. Maybe it’s something you actually sprung real money on, or that has sentimental value—or maybe you want to get the maximum resale value out of your phone when you upgrade in a few years. In those situations, having a cheap substitute on hand can give you some real peace of mind when you’re working out or at the beach. After all, sometimes you want a watch that looks good and brings you joy—and sometimes you just need to know the time.