Trail Magazine “Lighter” Columns
Below are my collected Trail magazine columns which ran from 2007 ’til 2009. They were all written to a word-count, so be prepared for some liberties with language and grammar.
I laughed when someone first suggested wearing a pair of trail shoes on a mountain. I used to spend most weekends walking Munros wearing stout walking boots, but I finally decided to have a go and bought my first pair of trail shoes.
First time out it was like waking up and finding that Santa is real: the benefits are enormous. Ease of movement, deftness of foot placement, lightness of step, picking a line over rocks and scree, all these things are immediate and a revelation. No more trudging over obstacles, relying in the blunt force of a big boot.
Boots are said to offer support, but I find that they just keep your ankles weak. We’ve all turned an ankle on the hill, and if you’re wearing a boot, the ankle support might catch it, but the relaxed muscles within won’t. In a trail shoe, like my Montrail Namches or Inov8 Terrocs, a slip or twist results in a skip or a hop and you carry on. It takes a bit of time but the added strength and agility you acquire makes movement more confident and assured, even on the roughest terrain or scrambles.
Boots are our comfort blanket, and a barrier to finding a better and easier way to experience the hills. Going farther, going lighter, going faster are all part it sure, but having more fun is what it’s really all about.
It’s not an easy step making the move to trail shoes, but the steps you’ll make after will be your lightest in the hills.
Lightweight footwear is only half the story. There’s a learning curve as you’re lightening your load for the hills. Too heavy a pack, your ankles and feet will tire. You’ll get none of the benefits of your new shoes and rather than get fitter, after the weekend you’ll sit on the sofa rubbing your feet muttering “Never again”.
Here’s some weight shedding kit choices.
1/ Tent and sleeping. A Terra Nova LaserCompetition offers great comfort and space for one. Carry a lighter down sleeping bag and keep more clothes on at night. Take a ¾ length sleep mat and use your rucksack under your feet.
An MSR Titan kettle, a lightweight stove such as a Coleman F1, a mug and a titanium spork. Dehydrated food.
Simple, light waterproofs such as the feature packed Rab Drillium and OMM Kamleika pants. Synthetic filled tops are warmer, lighter, windproof and more packable than a big fleece
You need it. Maybe not the big roll of duct tape, the eye patch, the orange survival bag and a tent. I make my own kits up, but the ones from Lifesystems or Adventure Medical are superb. I use a Petzl Tikka XP headtorch, it’s enough for anything from camping trips to night time Munro descents.
A smaller, lighter pack is the final component. For lightweight backpacking an OMM Villain is comfortable, carries well, and is also good for anything from day walks to winter mountaineering.
Replacing bits and pieces here and there, experimenting and working out what works best as you go along is fun. And that’s what it’s all about.
We like easier. At work we think “Hmm, there’s a better way to do that” and we want the latest gadgets with an “i” in the title.
But when it comes to the outdoors we stand there, fingers in our ears and forge on with the same kit we had in 1989.
With a half full 30L pack I’ve had glares from fellow walkers with bulging 45L packs. “What’s he doing, where’s his kit? Call the safety man!”
That they’re often trudging, stooped, watching each footfall intently as they conquer the contour lines with grit and determination compared to my happy demeanour seems not to register. It’s not about who carries the least kit going lightweight, it’s making your time in the hills easier, more fun. This is what we all want, and I know that safety is a concern that many have, but the idea that you’re leaving behind essentials just to save weight is wrong.
The safety kit I’m carrying covers all the usual items.
Torch. A Petzl Tikka XP and spare batteries. Add a Petzl e+lite for backup and the combined weight is still less than a standard headtorch.
Shelter. AdventureMedicalKits Thermo-Lite 2.0 bivvy sack. At 196g it’s lighter and far warmer than the orange plastic body bags that traditionalists regard as vital equipment.
Medical. I carry my own, with bandages, plasters, wipes, tape, water purification tablets, painkillers, digestifs and it fits in the palm of my hand.
Food & Drink. I still take sandwiches but I mostly carry energy foods and drinks. From beef jerky to bars from High5, SIS and Honey Stinger. They’re small, light, tasty and their ingredients are natural. You’ll feel better on the move and be revived by these more effectively than breaking your teeth on Kendal mint cake. A Nuun tablet dropped in your water bottle at every refill will keep you hydrated and fresh.
I always carry gloves and hat, my phone, a map and compass. There’s nothing missing except excess weight.
Moving easier I’m less fatigued and fresher at the end of the day, whether it’s at camp or back at the car. I believe these factors combined make a lightweight hill day a less risky prospect, not a more dangerous endeavour.
Ditching my bombproof Karrihaus Millstone rucksack, my winter weight MountainFace Albatross waterproof and my 4 season Scarptiva Ball’n’Chain boots is going to cost me a fortune and your lightweight replacements will wear out in minutes.
Nope. Lightweight kit isn’t inferior, just bereft of all the extra features stuck onto otherwise respectable gear purely to catch the eye of the punter in the racks of similar items, or missing the over-engineering to make it “reliable” to avoid possible returns. How many blacksmiths return faulty anvils?
Cost is usually less, not more. For example, it takes cleverer design, but less material to produce a lightweight waterproof.
Trail shoes cost less than leather boots. The uppers are less durable and the soles are softer, grippier rubber. You might wear them out quicker but they’re cheaper to replace.
It helps to be realistic as well. If you’re only out once or twice a month, trail shoes will last for years. Waterproofs
With chest pockets and a good hood, the Marmot Precip at £70 or the Montane QuickFire at £170 are lightweight and will work all year. More features come with more weight and cost. Do you really need four chest pockets to fill up, pulling your jacket out of shape and hindering breathability? Wear a 70g/ £30 windshirt and your waterproof can remain safe in your pack, free of wear and tear until you really need it.
Dyneema fabric minimises weight and increases strength but not cost. The notion that a heavy Cordura pack will live forever and a light Dyneema pack from Golite or OMM will fall apart a week on Thursday is just all wrong.
There are exceptions of course. Titanium cookwear, here you do pay more for the performance.
We don’t ever set out to make things hard for ourselves. We have remote controls for our TVs.
When we started work we watched some of the old hands and thought “I could do that better”.
We want the latest gadgets with an “i” in the title.
But when it comes to the outdoors we seem to want to stand still on the face of reason and evidence to the contrary and continue in the same kit that we were issued with in 1989.
On a Munro daywalk with a half full 30L pack I get the oddest looks by some fellow walkers carrying full 45L packs. “What’s he doing, where’s his kit? Call the safety man!”
That they’re often plodding, bend forwards purposefully, watching each footfall as they conquer each contour line with grit and determination compared to my upright posture and happy demeanor seems not to mean anything to them.
When I’m in the hills I’m never stuck, cold, wet ,and miserable because of lack of gear. I carry all the regular stuff, clothes, safety, food. Just lighter and less faffy versions. We use the big boots and 45L daysacks regardless of actual need or suitability. A trip up Ben Lomond for example? Trail shoes and a 20L pack in all but hard winter conditions. It’s a Munro, but the terrain is good. If the summit cone was stuck on your local park and was only 200m you would climb it in trainers. Why should the extra ascent change that?
Empty your pack after your next daywalk and put only the stuff you actually used back in (plus standard safety kit…). Did you wear the waterproof? Yes, it was windy/ No. Get a lighter one then.
Be ruthless, be realistic. One big step out of the comfort zone and the hills can be yours more than you though possible.
Collapse on that cairn stunned by the view not ruined by the ascent.
I know what you’re thinking, I’ve ditched all the gear so now I’m running about the hills like an adventure racer heading for the finish line.
Trail running is fun, it’s freedom and unencumbered movement on the hills. Minimal gear, a windshirt, a water bottle, an energy bar or two and you’re away. But it’s not why I went lightweight, it’s a progression from it. The lighter gear has just allowed me to get the speed up out on the trails and the trails repaid me with a boost to my fitness.
A big difference in speed is found on hill days and also when you’re backpacking. When your gear is honed down to essentials, you pack quicker. Less fuss and less chance of leaving something important behind. Last minute trip? You can still make the top by tea-time because you’ve packed quick and you’re moving faster not dragging that 45 Litre anchor. On overnight trips it’s the same story, but with other added benefits. You start fresher, good morale is important when heading out. Difficult to achieve when your harassed and straining under a load. Your goal is that bit easier and quicker to attain once you get the start of the path, maybe you’ll even get a wee bit further than you expected. Once you’re on the tops, pitching your minimalist tent takes less time and you’re inside ready to make your dinner. Your mini stove is fired up and you have a hot cuppa to enjoy in just over three minutes while your freeze dried meal is getting all re-hydrated and tasty. All this saved time adds up and makes you a winner. You can pick your prize from; more sleep, more hills, more time to watch that sunset. And my favourite; less time messing with gear. Lightweight makes the gear invisible, and that lets you see the hills more clearly.
Packing away my winter kit, I realised that I hadn’t worn traditional boots at all this season. I’d been up many Munros and worn crampons regularly in a pair of Icebug Speeds, light, flexible, mid-height, winter shoes from Sweden.
I never felt unsafe or that I was being compromised by my kit choice. They were well suited to the variable conditions of our current winters. They’re lighter than most traditional 3 season boots, but my feet were fine after a long winter day. Another obvious benefit was not pulling off my boots, wiggling my toes and letting out a sigh of relief as I’ve done so many times.
The new season brings new footwear, lighter, more flexible and not necessarily waterproof.
There is a fear that you are exposed to injury and discomfort from lack of support, kicking rocks, getting wet feet. But if you think about it, you use your feet every day. How many kerbs do you kick while walking around town with bags of shopping in your trainers? How many flights of stairs are inaccessible pinnacles without a B2 rated sole?
I went from big boots, to lighter boots, to trail shoes. Easy steps to make with big changes to your time on the hill. For example, my feet are “fitter” these days. Many miles in soft soles have tuned them up, they carry a load better, guide me through obstacles better and don’t tire as they used to when trussed up in a boot.
You can lose all the weight from your pack and wear the most minimalist waterproof. But your contact with the ground is where you need to start, and from there, more confident and considered movement, better posture, comfort on the move and at the end of the day are waiting.
I’m sitting surrounded by stuff sacks, putting together my kit for the West Highland Way . I’m going fast and light, taking three days and wild camping. We’ve had some late snow and that’s affecting my choice of sleeping bag and mat.
The best lightweight solution is a Top Bag, a sleeping bag that has no insulation on the bottom. The reasoning being that you lie on the insulation and flatten it, rendering it useless. So take the insulation out, make a pocket for a sleep mat to slip in and you have a combination that gains performance and loses weight. It’s warm, comfortable and feels secure as you can’t slip off your mat and get cold feet.
US brand, Big Agnes are the biggest exponents of the design, but on this trip I’ll be testing the new Rab Quantum TopBag AR. It’s stripped to the bear essentials for warmth. 200g of top quality down fill on the top and hood, with Primaloft under your feet, no zip and a basic drawcorded hood. At 520g it’s ultra light, but has the performance of a 1kg bag when used with the right mat. The Exped SynMat7 is my choice. It’s 7cm thick to absorb the bumps on a rough pitch and is filled with Primaloft synthetic insulation to ensure no heat is lost to the ground. The weight lost from taking the Rab TopBag means the warmer mat brings no weight penalty.
Both of these items pack very small indeed which is just as important as the ultimate weight. Your rucksack can be smaller, not crammed to bursting and unstable on the trail.
Lightweight is the ultimate goal, but camped on Rannoch Moor in March you need warmth and comfort as well. Thoughtful kit choice makes it possible to hit all three targets.
I packed light for my West Highland Way trip. I took a breakfast and a main meal for each day, some on-the-move snacks, plus some specialist energy and recovery foods. But I still came back with some of it.
It’s a difficult balance to find. I never eat as much as I expect when I’m out, but I don’t want to go hungry or not have enough just in case. To stay light I pack the right kind of food and cookwear.
Dehydrated and freeze-dried foods are half the weight. I carried Expedition Foods main meals and Reiter Energy Muesli for breakfast. A hot breakfast is so much better than a “replacement” bar. It’s for morale as much as nutrition. Snacks include the usual bags of trail mix, beef jerky which is great as most snacks are sweet and the occasional cheeky bit of Cadbury’s chocolate. I’ve been using Honey Stinger Protein Bars and Energy Bars. They’re based on honey and have all natural ingredients condensed into bar. All your food has to be easily cooked and digested, and has to do its job properly of keeping you in good shape. The kit above does just that. It’s much better than the supermarket equivalents, but unfortunately more expensive as well. Making your own meals with a dehydrator is another option of course.
Cookwear was minimal as I’m only boiling water. I chose a modular set from Optimus. A Terra Weekend pot, with a Crux Lite stove, a Folding Titanium Spork, a 220g gas cartridge, a Light my Fire firesteel and hot drinks for three days all inside it. It’s easy to use and packed like this takes little room in your pack.
I could have gone lighter, but the simplicity, speed and reliability of the cooking kit wins over it being the lightest possible.
There’s three main ways to go with shelter if you’re packing lighter. For low level or fair weather you can tarp. This is a minimalist single skin shelter popular in the US , available in many different styles from independent manufacturers like Mountain Laurel Designs. To pitch one takes practise and one eye on the weather as you are exposed to the elements. This is the way to feel closest to nature, fresh air around you all night. A sleeping bag cover is often used with a tarp to keep your bag dry and these can be used on their own as a very basic shelter. Better though is a well featured bivy bag. These are very protective and have a small footprint for pitching almost anywhere. The best models, such as the Big Agnes Three Wire Bivy or Rab’s Ridge Raider which both come in super-breathable eVent fabric, also allow some living comfort with room to move and store gear inside. You can even to prop yourself up and read a book.The next step up is a standard tent, better comfort, protection, a porch to cook in and you can sit up and weather a storm if you have to. Keeping weight down here becomes a question of compromise, fabrics become thinner, pegs and poles are trimmed down, sometimes they’re made in a single skin and have to incorporate extra ventilation to avoid condensation problems.The best designs find the middle ground between weight, stability and usability. The Terra Nova Lasercompetition hits the mark and I’ve used it on Munro summits all year round. Test pitching at home before heading out pays off with all these quirky shelters. I aim for 1kg as a maximum for what I carry, that makes a huge difference to pack size and weight.
Going light is all about getting the right kit and carrying nothing unnecessary. If you walk, backpack, trail run and mountain bike, it means a big variation in the size of load you carry. This usually means different sizes of packs, a lightweight day hike with a quarter full 45 litre pack is no fun and a camping trip with a 15 litre hydration pack covered in bungee cords holding on all your gear will only succeed in making you look like Laurel and Hardy in Way Out West. Modularity is the key, and it’s something we’ll be seeing more of. Take a basic pack and give it the ability to add extra capacity if you need it. This means the weight is always kept low, and you’re not spending money on a range of packs for all seasons. Back in the day Karrimor had extra pockets that fitted on the side straps of their packs, and their Global travel pack had a detachable daysack. Now the idea is being refined. Raidlight’s Sac Runner 30 Litre pack can expand by 5 Litres by adding their Equilibrium Frontpack. Mesh bottle pockets can be converted to storage by using the add-on shoulder strap mounted bottle pockets. OMM have used their experience from designing classics like the Karrimor Alpiniste and Hot Ice and taken the modular concept further. The 10 litre Last Drop pack can be expanded by linking it to a waist pouch and chest pouch. On the larger capacity packs such as the Villain the chest and waist pouches can be attached front and back to increase capacity and accessibility to your kit. The Last Drop can even be attached “piggy back” style to for expedition sized loads. The load spreading is another advantage, stability and better posture on the move.
There’s still the notion that lightweight=hardship; lying in a bivy bag with cold rations, wet feet and only hypothermia for company. But, with all your main items honed to their ideal performance size and weight you actually have more room and capacity left for luxuries, and these themselves are still light in weight.
Food treats are a great morale booster, it’s not always just about nutrition, I pulled an unopened tube of Pringles out of my pack to much derision at camp recently, but it was exactly the right thing to restore everyone’s smile. I’m rarely out there without something irrelevant, be it an M&M’s brownie or a Smarties cookie.
As I often use my clothing as part of my sleep system, that only leaves my rucksack to put my head on at night, so I’ll carry an Ajungilak Air Pillow. Inflatable fleece-covered comfort at only 145g, and it packs down to nothing.
I’ve now come round to the notion of electronics on the hill and I take my iPod with me on some backpacking and day trips. Weather resistance is an issue here and I’ve found the 50g Aquapac for iPod pouch (so waterproof, it’s submersible) makes it possible to carry your easily water damaged kit all year round without worry.
Music in the tent on the long winter nights is a joy, but so is the humble book. Weight here is your own choice, and weather resistance is minimal, but chuckling away by headtorch while the wind whistles outside it priceless.
Another luxury I sometimes carry in winter are down booties from PHD or Rab, weights start at 180g, packsize is zero. For cold weather camp comfort and for boosting your sleeping bags warmth, these are one luxury item that weigh in with a heavy dose of practicality.
Lighting is standard kit. Like your whistle and map it’s always with you, usually a headtorch of some sort. Things are much improved since LED’s became the standard, the days of a 300g Petzl Zoom filling the lid of your pack are fading fast.
Petzl are still the market leaders here, and to me the sprtitual successor to the Zoom is the Myo XP. At 170g, it’s not the lightest by a long way but the power and longevity (I walked the West Highland Way on one set of batteries, doing 40miles at night) of light from the single LED means that I rarely carry spare batteries, instead carrying a Petzl e+lite as back up. The e+lite itself weighs 27g, fits in the corner of your pocket and supplies enough light for camp and walking on clear tracks and trails.
In between is the L4 from Silva. Better known for their compasses perhaps, Silva has put some original thinking in its design and function. The position of the lamp is smoothly adjustable up and down, no clicky steps giving an annoying in-between beam angle. The lighting procedure is spot on. It goes from red first to preserve your night vision, it’s ideal for 4am rummaging in the tent and for 5am pee breaks outside. It’s revelation how much detail your vision has here. The next options are white light in increasing brightness and an SOS flash.
Two of your tent with headtorcheson will soon be dazzling each other and spilling cuppas on your sleeping bags. The solution is to carry the lightest headtorch as possible for walking, and it’ll give you space to carry a tent light. Online favourites Alpkit have made the Bulb for just that, a free standing or hanging lamp that also has a flashing SOS setting.
I’ve been looking at alternative clothing for winter that will save me weight in my pack. You need protection and warmth, but you don’t want to be lugging around unnecessary weight in bad weather and fewer daylight hours. I’m not so concerned by the weight of the clothes I’m wearing all day, if you’re going that far I think it’s your fitness you have to be looking at your fitness and not your kitlist. So wearing merino baselayers and my Haglofs Rugged Mountain Pants makes me comfortable, but there’s much lighter available. For light insulation to wear on the move, a microfleece pullover is all you need and packs to nothing, but I’ll be wearing something heavier with a hood from the start on a very cold day such as a Haglofs Treble, or the more weather resistant Montane Sabretooth. I wouldn’t be keen on carrying either in my pack, but their extra protection allows you to carry the lightest of waterproofs. Another approach is to wear all your layers from the start and carry nothing on your pack but your insulation for rest-stops and camp, and there are clothing systems that allow you to do that. The most familiar name is Paramo. Taking heed of a desire to enjoy their fabrics condensation control without the legendary weight and bulk they’re bringing out new lighter models. The Velez Adventure Light knocks 200g off of the regular version and with great venting options I found myself in the hills with just a large bumbag for essentials and food as I wasn’t needing any spare clothing.
With modern styling and with a more technical fit and features, Furtech have the Claw2 jacket. Again, great venting gives all day comfort across a range of conditions and the need to carry much less in your pack.
For me, footwear choice is crucial to going lightweight. No matter how light my pack, wearing a pair of stiff heavy boots makes me feel like I’m plodding. It also creates a barrier, your feet are your contact with the hills. Feeling the ground through lightweight shoes tunes you into the terrain and you can experience the hills with all your senses. Sight, sound, smell and touch.
Summer in trail shoes is fantastic, cool feet and easy miles. But now, with lower temperatures and the occasional damp foot being more likely to be a blister inducing day-long wet sock, I’m looking at lightweight alternatives. Stretch Gore-Tex oversocks like those from Rocky that work with your summer shoes and socks are the first option.
Waterproof trail shoes are fine if you can avoid getting water in them, as it just stays there. Gaiters are the answer, not the familiar knee high affairs that are best saved for deep snow, but the mini type. They’re usually just water resistant, which is fine unless you’re feet are constantly immersed. The best models for trail shoes are stretchy to cope with the ankle movement, such as Outdoor Research’s Flex-Tex, Inov8’s debrisgaiter32 and the crazy coloured but brilliantly performing models from www.dirtygirlgaiters.com. Waterproof trail shoes rarely have soles suitable for wet and soft conditions, great exceptions are Montrail’s Continental Divide GTX and Inov8’s Flyroc 345 GTX.
Next is the waterproof mid, cut high enough to give a bit of ankle protection and hinder water ingress. There’s a couple of outstanding new models I’ve had on test. Salomon’s Fastpacker GTX which is feels like it’s been grown out their fantastic XA trail shoe, and Montrail’s Hardrock GTX which also has trail shoe roots in its design. Both are light, comfortable, grippy and will work up to and alittle beyond the snow line
I still carry accessories, handy bits and pieces that make life easier at camp or on the hill, or keep me warm, dry and comfortable too. Carrying trimmed down options means I’m not leaving out vital kit to save weight and I’m going straight for performance instead.
Your extremities are often the first things to feel the cold and the last to heat back up. In my lightweight winter footwear I’m usually wearing the thickest of socks, like Thorlo’s Mountaineering calf length models, also great for sitting in a cold tent. This winter I’ve also been carrying PHD,s Mera down mitts and booties for snowy camps. They both pack down to nothing, and the 96g mitts are brilliant for walkers prone to cold hands.
Powerstretch gloves have a little wind resistance, keep some warmth when wet and are comfortable against the skin. At 45g, Haglofs Bungy gloves are ideal, and for waterproofing and an insulation boost, slip a pair of Haglofs 50g Gram Paclite mitts over the top. Dexterity is always restricted in mitts, but the protection afforded is superior to gloves, and there’s rarely the need to play a piano at the summit. The Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap has been a long standing classic. It’s also heavy, bulky and outdated. If your shell jacket has a good hood, there’s no need for a waterproof hat, if your midlayer has a hood there’s no need for insulation either (plus, you can loose a hat, but not a hood). But, I’ll always carry a hat of some sort. The 22g Taranaki Merino Beanie from Chocolate Fish has seen a lot of use recently. Its low bulk layers very well under a hood, and merino’s anti odour properties mean wearing it all night on cold camps doesn’t give it the smell of a damp dog blanket.
Compromise and cost are two things that always come up when talking about lightweight, and they’re the two most common points raised on the LFTO forums. Some components or materials are cut as thin as possible to give an impressive packed weight or to keep retail costs to an acceptable level. You can have low weight plus high performance, but you might have to search the internet and then get your wallet out to enjoy it. Tent pegs and guy lines are a favourite for this corner cutting, so after a recent trip where gale force winds bent pegs and frayed guy lines, I looked for alternatives. The guy lines I’ve replaced with Dyneema cord and Line-Lok mini adjusters. The pegs I’ve replaced with a mix of 9g Vargo Titanium Nails and16g aluminium Y stakes from Camcleat. All the new pegs came with cords attached for easy removal, pegs packed with tents rarely have this detail as it’s an unwanted manufacturing cost. The packed weight hasn’t increased, but performance has, although at some expense.
You can apply the same formula right across your rucksack essentials. I carried a heavy Victorinox Swiss Army Knife in my pack for years and only ever used the blade and the toothpick. Now a I carry a tiny titanium Gerber STL 2.0 knife and a plastic toothpick. Great for camp cooking, trimming frayed cords or broken fingernails and I’ve saved 90g.
Your medical kit, be honest have you ever opened it? Even the smallest ones are packed with exotic items you can remove replace with kit that’ll be more useful. As well as slipping in a Compeed or two, take a narrow roll of climber’s finger tape. It’ll hold together, feet, boots, jacket and tent. Only a few grams and you’re replacing several just-in-case items.
Lightweight walking is often seen as an American concept. Their established long distance trail network, dependable weather and free-thinking ingenuity has led to the development of equipment that allows frighteningly light loads to be carried. Driving this evolution are the independent and “garden shed” manufacturers who develop ideas quickly and for a purpose without the worry of having to cover overheads with big sales. The internet is where most ply their trade, so things like correct clothing sizing might be issue, but you’ll usually be buying from an enthusiast who will do their best to help.
Golite have grown to international size but their packs such as the Jam2 are lightweight benchmarks. Others like Cilogear are pushing boundaries for general mountain use with their Dyneema pack range. For backpacking, Granite Gear’s Vapour, Gossamer Gear’s Mariposa are light, functional and robust. ULA’s Conduit and Mountain Laurel Design’s 2009 Revelation abandon everything that’s unnecessary for simply carrying a load.
Shelters are also cut to the minimum, tarps being widely used as they’re often half the weight of even the lightest standard tent. Sleeping bags can be swapped for quilts, essentially an insulating blanket. Nunatak’s 285g mummy-shaped Arc Edge is made of Pertex Quantum with a down fill, standard performance components in a radical package.
The usability of lightweight US gear in the UK is always a subject of debate, our maritime climate giving us such changeable weather conditions. But with a little thought it’s all usable and the availability of the gear has seen the UK brands reacting with designs of their own.
Montane are already a leader in the lightest weatherproof clothing, Terra Nova have a range of tarps in the shops this year and OMM are producing a range of US inspired lightweight backpacks with the UK weather in mind.
Lightweight gear follows different threads of evolution depending on what users need. Backpackers are looking for the ultimate lowest weight, but to achieve this, the gear can become very basic, often just enough to carry a load or keep the rain off. If you’re sticking to the trail it’s fine, but on steep or rough open ground, or in the worst of weather, its limitations and comfort limits can be found quite quickly.
Gear for alpine ascents is usually stripped-down and purely functional, meaning be default that it’s also light. Alpine style packs such as the insert product series can work for climbing as well as for lightweight backpacking and daywalks. Waterproof shells like insert product jacket show their alpine roots by being simple, robust and user friendly, carrying only the features you actually need.
Adventure racing has had a huge influence on lightweight gear, and it’s here that weight, functionality, durability and performance often hits a sweet spot. The result is gear that works exceptionally well for any lightweight outdoor pursuits.
The idea of adventure or fell racing kit normally conjures up visions of skinny folk in black tights with big watches, but that doesn’t have to be the case. There’s plenty of crossover gear that works and still looks good too. The only issue is usually cost, the best fabrics and cutting edge design don’t come without a little pain in your wallet. Terra Nova’s Laser packs have taken everyone by surprise, they’re the lightest out there and super functional, with capacity enough for a weekend in the hills. OMM have used their years of experience to make the AdventureLight 20, a year-round daypack and racers favourite at 420g.
Haglofs Kazoo’s are tights but not tights, slightly looser cut in fantastic softshell stretch fabric for comfort without embarrassment.