Sunday 24 June 2007

In reply to those against lightweight

Maybe I ought to ask why? Performance and reliability are arguments that I constantly hear bandied about. Well, speaking personally, I go back many years, more than I care to admit. My first tent was cotton, not nylon. It took more care and looking after than any modern day tent; it was heavy, was a brute to dry when wet and the guys needed constant adjustment. Ok, I have known nylon tents that have had their share of problems; read my blog on the round of Blackmount. Clothing until not so long back was certainly functional, often heavy and really offered no better protection on the hill. It was an accepted fact, you got wet. Trousers where often britches, plus two types, with long, woolly stockings and canvas gaiters. Shirts where either wool or cotton. Pullovers added to the layering system. In summer it was cotton t shirts and shorts. For foul weather protection ventile was the norm. My ventile smock was a double thickness; I can recall struggling to get out of it after it had become encased in ice. When frozen, which could be regular on the hill in winter, it was like wearing a suit of armour. Gloves where also wool, mine where dachstiens with an oiled cotton pair of outers. Boots where heavy, lumpy beasts and always took time to break in; blisters and raw skin where an accepted fact of buying new boots. My early stove was an half pint paraffin which could taint everything. it required a priming paste to get it going, mind, it was pretty bombproof. Rucksacks too where duck canvas and added to the pounds when wet. Down sleeping bags where also quite heavy and oh so expensive.
Moving on, the early inroads of nylon where just as scary, I recall cagjacs, heavy weight nylon coats designed for the hillwalker, loads of condensation and heavy. Internal framed packs slowly came on to the market and these where heavyweight nylon. A big improvement on the previuos canvas external framed beasties..
Over the years I have experimented with kit in all its many shapes and forms. As will be seen on my regular blogs, I embraced the early KSB's, that is until the got soaked inside and out. the result being painful feet and the fact that they stunk. the smell never left the boots. The biggest plus these days; and possibly it is a hindrance too, is that we are spoiled for choice. That it is an expensive option is very true. over the years I have passed on various bits of kit to others. Bought on the spur of the moment but not found to be suitable for me. However, many bits of equipment that has been passed or sold to others, often very cheaply, I may add, has proved benefitial to them. Students, unemployed, people just starting out.
Certainly a lot of lightweight equipment is not going to have the longevity of heavier stuff and some certainly does not function as well as it ought. However, the lightweight industries, per se, re often almost cottage industries are, in the main, willing to listen to their customers. it is in their interest to rectify problems and smartish too.
It seems whenever the winds of change blow in the outdoor world there are those who are going to resist it. This has always been the way. Early in the climbing scene working class climbers and walkers where a new thing. They had no money for expensive kit and improvised. Some of those improvisations are still with us; from rucksacks to shorter, lighter ice axes, front pointed crampons, clothing etc.
Personally speaking I have used very light equipment above and beyond that which it was designed for and it has proved to funtion perfectly well. Basically, it is a question of balance and common sense. What I use in the summer months on the hill may well not be suitable for winter in the same areas. It is question the right tools for the job; and without common sense a person is not going to last too long out there anyway. Ok, if a person prefers to wear boots and carry a mass of equipment on the hill, so be it, that is their choice. There really ought to a common acceptance. For me, surgery and age has meant I have no choice but to travel lighter. certainly, although travelling light, I am not ultra light; for example, I add the weight of a book. There are things I must carry that are outside of the hill walking scene. This also requires me to use some form of tentage. However, those that use tarps, good on them. Tarps are something I have used, even in winter; having bivied with a tarp and in snow.
recently I have noticed youngsters doing their D of E's. It makes me shudder to think of the weight of gear they are carrying. To give a few examples, teenagers wearing four season boots. re, scarpa mantas and one girl, plastic boots. Massive rucksacks with three person tents and every other conceivable article stowed in as well. Fine, I realise there are health and safety factors included here. Surely though there must be a way to teach these youngsters how to travel a tad lighter on the hill and at the same time make things a little more enjoyable.
Really though, it is appalling that people should be so voraciously anti all things lightweight. Surely we all have a common interest, the outdoors, be it on the hill, trail walking, country walking, climbing and all the other interests asscociated with the great outdoors. There ought to be common unity, working as one to protect and preserve those places. What does it matter if a person travels light or otherwise? Ok, I know there are safety issues involved. However that boils down to experience, being on the hill in the middle of winter in full winter conditions with ultra light equipment is obviously a no go. One adapts and adjusts accordingly to area, weather conditions and time of year. Inverted snobbery and constant sniping, criticism and anger will no no good for anyone.
Just a thought in passing, are those who shout so loudly against lightweight in any way connected to the big outdoor manufacturers?

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