|Fellow outdoors blogger, Jake Lunnis in his bivouac by the River Derwent.
Last weekend I finally got round to meeting fellow outdoors blogger Jake Lunniss. We arranged a bit of a wee jolly in the Peak District which involved nothing more than visiting pubs, socialising and walking. At the end of the day we’d look for somewhere suitable to spend the night in our bivouacs.
It made for a fun and relaxing weekend. It didn’t feel like we walked too many miles but tallying it all up we did manage to cover a minimum of 14 miles on the Saturday before spending the evening in The Old Hall in Hope. And as it happens he’s quite the opinionated young man too. We didn’t always see eye to eye (who does?) but I did find we shared much in common when it comes to talking about the great outdoors.
One conversation we had concerned ultralight backpackers and how the ‘lightweight’ scene has evolved over recent years with a somewhat mass market appeal. Nowadays, it appears to have reached it’s peak and I do find more and more people quite dismissive of the thinking behind it all. There are many reasons for this I suppose. I find one can encounter a number of camps (no pun intended) people fall into on this subject matter.
Those who take backpacking kit to the limit (or arguably extremes) to save weight.
Another who just want lighter gear over all but not to the point where it almost becomes masochistic.
Then you get the camp where there’s a happy medium of the two above. Folk who enjoy the idea behind going ‘ultralightweight’ but want something a bit more substantial (for whatever reason, perhaps durability?).
After these folk you’ll encounter the group who some could say are ‘traditional’. To put it mildly they look upon the others with a wry smile and rolling of eyes. They just don’t give a hoot. “Lose weight on your body before thinking about losing weight on your back” could best some this camp up.
And finally those who like to talk about lightweight gear and all in it’s varying forms but don’t actually go out that often to enjoy what they dream (and sometimes preach perhaps). The sort of folk who use retail therapy of outdoor kit to compensate not actually spending as much time as they wish outdoors.
In truth, I think I’m made up of a bit of each of the above. But that’s for another conversation.
Take a look at Jake’s take on it all below….
CFS Principles vs. Ultra-Light – the lost art of Common Freaking Sense
After attending the Terra Nova pre-product launch (which Terry kindly invited me too along with Mark the other day), and saw the spectacular things they are doing with Wild Country, I began wondering about (and by that, I mean bitched about it with Terry) the state of the market. Without giving too much away, they have a new tent that makes the Laser Competition obsolete in my opinion – at half the price. Not only do I think they have shot themselves in the foot, they have another Hilleberg-killer, at £500 less. And it’s lighter. (More news soon…)
So why on earth are people still fannying about with American tarps that don’t last five minutes? That isn’t a comment on durability – the number of times I’ve read or heard someone raving about a Trailstar or a Duomid, only to see it on some outdoors forum being flogged, is both amusing and soul destroying at the same time.
The current Trailstar obsession sweeping Britain has highlighted one glaring characteristic of people, which apparently isn’t glaring enough: we never learn. There was a tarp phase a few years ago, but people decided that they required too much arsing about to be usable in the UK 95% of the time. And they were right. Even then, with a regular tarp you can pitch it in whichever configuration you choose.
Then the Trailstar landed: a draughty, expensive sheet of silnylon (or Cuben, if you’re loaded) with a foot print so enormous it’s a challenge to find a dry patch of ground big enough. And then the Oookstar landed: an expensive custom inner ‘nest’, which turns the Trailstar tarp into a (one man) tent with a lot of superfluous space. But it’s a tent without a door. And then the Oookscreen landed: an expensive sheet of Cuben, to make it complete. That comes to over a kilo, without the trekking pole required to pitch it, at a total cost of around £400 for the silnylon (cheap!) version.
What would you say if I told you there was a proper tent out there that weighs the same, pitches tight as a drum without the need to ‘fine tune’ guy points in a gale, is made of a significantly tougher material, and costs less than half? Does saying it has a Wild Country badge change things?
Part of it, I think, is the desire to be doing something different; to be ahead of the curve. For some, the fear that someone else might have the same tent compels them to buy something new. I have one rule that has served me well over the years: when a design has been around, unchanged, for years – it is good.
The Akto. Buffalo. Vapour-Rise. Yes, you can argue that there are other choices more suitable for certain situations, but you can’t argue that they’re excellent. When I see a field full of nothing but Laser Comps, I don’t roll my eyes and think, ‘look at all those sheeple, following the crowd’, I think, ‘Bugger, it must be good after all.’
Yet the merry-go-round of new releases, rash purchases and classifieds on outdoors websites goes on. For me, planning trips and agonising over gear selection is a salve of sorts – when I can’t get out, it makes up for it by buying new toys to use when I finally do. The ironic thing is that the more I get out, the less interested I am in gear. Even if it’s just for one night a week, I stop caring. You learn quite quickly that the difference in comfort between 10 and 15lbs is negligible – but the cost is enormous.
And fanatically reducing pack weight is its own kind of idiocy:
Jhuara Wachsman of http://www.superultralightbackpacking.com, a fine collection of affiliate shopping links and not a great deal else, says in a video about a trip: ‘I didn’t sleep well because I’m a cold sleeper’. Why then, you stupid twit, did you not take a warmer sleeping bag? Because it wouldn’t be ‘super’, is the spectacularly moronic answer. An answer you often hear in response to this is, “It’s only for one night”.
My repose is thus: it’s only 200 fucking grams. Weight that helps you sleep is weight worth carrying. The whole point of reducing pack weight is to increase comfort.
People talk about ‘transitioning’ from ‘traditional’ to ‘light’ hiking as if it’s a fucking deep lifestyle choice. And, of course, it justifies a whole new set of gear.
But here’s a crazy idea: take less. Don’t buy more stuff: chuck out the crap you don’t (and will never) need, and use what you’ve already got.
Use a bivi bag. Nowadays they are heavier than tents, but that’s not the point. Bivouacing ultimately forces you to buy less crap: stove? Do you want to sit with your head out in the rain, getting cold, all for a reconstituted bag of wheat gloop? Didn’t think so. Book? Yeah, right.
Ultimately your pack weighs less, because you have less in it. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to go to sleep in a bivi bag – they’re like a cocoon. The comforting closeness and snugness sends you to sleep as soon as your head is down.
When it comes to reducing weight by sensible degrees, simplicity is important. Colin Ibbotson has a remarkable pack that, depending on what you class as the rucksack part, weighs as little as 20g. Apparently he ‘likes the simplicity’ of the original design. Fuck… A pack that is your sleeping mat that is your stuff sack that comes apart, cannot be easily accessed during the day and has nowhere to shove a waterproof in between squalls and must be reassembled each day is not simple. My definition of simple is a big bag that all your shit gets chucked in. A.K.A, a rucksack. *I would like to make it clear that this is not an attack on Colin. I’ve never met the man, and by all accounts he is a jolly decent chap. So put the handbags down.
All this endless fettling and farting about with gear detracts enormously from the purpose of owning it: to get outdoors.
Our focus is in the wrong place. At the time of writing one forum has a trip reports section containing 965 posts and 4404 comments. The gear talk section has 16398 posts, with a staggering 255036 comments!
So join me in shifting the focus to where it should be! The £400 you’ll save by not buying a Trailstar and its accoutrements is £400 you can spend on travel and food, and perhaps a B&B if you so choose. And wouldn’t the memories be immeasurably more precious than a new toy that will only be sold to pay for the next one?
Which reminds me, anyone want a Tarptent Moment? £120 Special Delivered and it’s yours: I’m after a new rucksack…