Being back in the world of gear after a fashion one of my long term bugbears has returned to catch on my socks like the toenail that grew back in an odd shape after I tore it off one winter in Kintail many years ago.
A seemingly innocuous term for the flow of newness and imposition of order in the outdoor gear world. I believe however that it’s bullshit and causes more problems than it solves.
Also in the mix of this train of thought is a notion I had last year of revisiting and using just old gear. The scary hot summer tripped up that plan a wee bit but it did have me digging out, cleaning up and using old gear. That hasn’t stopped, I mix and match vintage and current kit all the time.
One of the thoughts was that I could happily trash my old kit around the Lang Craigs but what’s subtly happened is that I started to choose old gear first by preference and it doesn’t get trashed, that wee bit of extra weight seems to offer a disproportionate amount of durability. Interesting.
Nikwax sent me their whole range of kit which I’ve been applying and testing for many months and I’ve also been seam sealing, sewing and duct taping all over the place.
It’s adjusted my mind set a little. For ten years or more I’ve always been in the newest and the best, now I’m swapping that around with the older and, in some cases anyway, better.
There’s a lot of chat on Facebucket and Twatter about stuff like this just now and it’s probably fueled by a mix of things from nostalgia, to curiosity to environmental concerns. Whatever, folks are talking and thinking, so it’s a good thing.
I’m going to try and pull all this and more into a series of posts from my own experience and perspective. It’ll help me make some conclusions and might actually be useful or interesting to someone. Once I’m gone…
Spoiler Alert for the last page…
99% of old footwear is shite, modern is better here.
Seasonal ranges artificially influence they way we perceive of the evolution and development of our gear. Tiny changes and tweaks every year, new colours, bolder claims, bigger plans that have to be funded by selling even more bland gear that’ll never see a mountain. I was in Tizo* last week and it’s just racks of uninspiring black and dark blue interchangeable dullness. Swap the logos around the jackets and no one would notice, characterless, generic alpine nonsense.
It’s so far removed from the user driven trade it once was, but that’s what expansion brings, it’s the nature of business. I’m not judging on that, just voicing my frustration as an enthusiast because of the effect it has on our choices.
Seasons are convenient, planned-out selling to shops and fixed dates to design and manufacture for. But materials and construction advances don’t run to a timetable and neither does inspiration and discovery.
Real advances come through accident, through feedback, through mistakes and through time.
While I was away from regular gear stuff very little has actually changed, I think LED tech is the only thing that’s really taken a big step, some fabric evolutions and everything else is styling. Which is not necessarily bad, retro is in after all. Reissue Rab Kinder smock anyone?
When I was with OMM’s Lead User Group, we worked on advances from testing samples, making adjustments and then testing those, when it was ready it was ready. That’s what you get when it’s a small independent, it was mobile and proactive. No giant factory ship to crew and feed while they wait for the next actually new thing to appear.
So is the new season bringing you something new? Maybe, maybe not. You can’t properly measure progress in seasons, it takes years, in some places maybe decades. Seasons are good for business but bad for us, we come to expect new, assume it to be better, then we expect the same again in six months and I know all the gear isn’t that much better, I’ve spend a year proving it to myself.
In saying that, my current favourite combo is a current rather quirky current midlayer and 90s Gore Tex, more of which later.
*Made up name to protect the real retailer who I’m sure is very nice and totally didn’t make my daughter cry when she walked on their pretend stony path. Bastards.
It’s a thread I’ll continue, but it’s important to say that I’m not criticizing the designers or anyone else behind the scenes at the outdoor brands, I know enough of them now to know that there is passion and knowledge as well as huge capacity for practical application of their products. It’s just that most of them are welded to the rigid structure of big business now. It must be so frustrating at times. Imaging what these folks could do if set free from crosses on a calendar, we’d have the lightest, most durable, most ergonomic, most breathable… The brands would all go bankrupt too. See, I understand you have to have turnover in a big company, I just get twitchy thinking about this stuff.
So, pit zips.
The top one is from 1997. Multiple storm flaps with hard to manage velcro and a regular zip. Hard to operate, complex to manufacture and best left alone when wearing the jacket unless you’re really, really hot.
Next one down is a couple of years later, slightly simpler but still faffy, still bulky and complex, still a pain in the arse to use.
Then we have the early 2000s, water resistant zip with stitched and taped seams but with a storm flap (including a really clever wee bead in it that keeps it in place) because, you know, will this zip leak when in wears in? Usable and practical.
Below is current, a lightweight water resistant zip welded in. Easily used and you can’t even feel it on the jacket.
Fifteen years from first to last, that’s an example of evolution from available technology and probably also nudged along from Gore’s influence with the “Guaranteed to Keep You Dry” swing tags. As the zips got better, the external protection slipped away and disappeared.
More to come and the next one is called “Lightweight gear is rubbish, it wears out too fast”. I have evidence.
For the defence.