This is going to be a landslide of contradictions. But so am I, so what the hell.
After a year out I’ve been updating myself, seeing what’s new, confirming to folk I’m not dead yet, seeking out any exciting or revolutionary ideas. Even evolutionary ideas would do.
There’s tinkering, there’s cosmetic changes under the guise of performance updates, there’s recycling (of ideas, not fabrics), dull colours in the shops and still there’s an inability of the outdoor world to admit defeat and just put Dr. Martens Air Cushion Soles on all outdoor footwear. Really.
I’ve got some new kit in already, stuff that I do like the look of, but in general I’m not that inspired yet.
The season by season rush has continued, product produced to price points and deadlines instead of innovation and ideas being honed and released when they’re ready.
My first thought when looking at this aspect again was watching David Attenborough talking about the plastic in the oceans while patting a sad looking Polar Bear. It then cuts to him squaring up to Donald Trump and punching him right in the face. Every night this programme is on. Just after I fall asleep.
The plastic worry is real though. I don’t care how many swing tags outdoor kit has on it saying recyclable, ethical, or green, it’s still part of the problem and we all know it. A swing tag should never dull our conscience.
So what do we get in return for killing the planet just a little bit more? With this season’s latest developments are we really more comfortable in the rain at 900m? Is that tent that fits in your pocket giving you the best sleep of your life? Are the adverts talking a lot of shite and we just give away our money too easily?
I’ve used a lot of gear. In the past 11 years pretty much every trip I’ve been on has been with review kit of some kind and I’ve gotten used to that, the unfamiliar is now familiar. The truth is that most current kit is okay, I’ve never had anything genuinely bad. The biggest difference is in how it works for you, your body shape, how hot you get, do your ears stick out, do you need lots of pockets because you’re a faffy bastard.
But I love it. Seeing a sharp mind somewhere has tweaked something in a way I didn’t expect making something better, smoother operating or lighter. There’s a real joy in that. It’s not about the gear, it’s about the person behind it.
The best time I had with this was when I was on the OMM Lead User Group, working on new designs and evolving the existing. Seeing the ideas forming, the little lights going on above folks heads and being put on paper then appearing as samples taught me that gear isn’t just product to sell, good gear is someone making something because they think it’ll work and they want to use it too.
I’ve still got sample stuff that never saw the light of day, good ideas that were never quite finished. How many times does that happen across the many design teams? Newer ideas always come along though. People are good at that.
So, all these contradictions have been swirling about in my head the past couple of weeks, and it got me to thinking. How much have things really changed since I got sucked into the outdoor gear arms race in the 90’s. I was in army surplus before that, maybe a Javlin jacket (see, there was purpose to that old advert) along the way?
I noticed right away what I’d been missing when I wore Gore-Tex for the first time, when I wore Polartec 100 over a Smelly Helly. What I haven’t noticed is the difference from then to now.
How far have we really come? Are current fabrics really that much better than they were? Are we really just a wee bit better and just styled differently?
I want to know.
In recent times I’ve been clearing cupboards and attic boxes and finding all sorts of stuff. It’s partly this that got me thinking about old versus new in amongst so many memories, so much stoor, so much purple lycra.
With this in mind I have set myself a task of sorts, a 20 year old challenge.
One bit at a time I’m going to see if I can put together an entire kit list for an overnighter with gear that’s at least 20 years old, then head out with it.
It’s entirely pointless, but I think it’ll amuse me putting it all together.
I do mean entire kit list, socks and boxers as well as shell jacket and compass. I’ve been mentally ticking stuff off that I know is stored away somewhere and some things I’m not sure about. A tent might be iffy, I sold my Rab Glacier down jacket years ago so I’m hunting for something that I only have a vague memory of. I think it was blue though.
It’s surprising what I still have around, there will be some cleaning and maintenance I dare say, but it’ll put it together. I’ll let it slip a little if I have to though, maybe make the space year 2000 a cut off. We’ll see.
However, first up and the spark for it all. the Petzl Zoom.
I’ve had this for more than 25 years. It’s been so many places, shone a light on so many things and I found it caked in crap on the top shelf in the workshop where it’s been for maybe 15 years.
This was the torch to have back in the day. The bezel rotates to change from a wide to a focus beam and the yellow light would dim slowly as the huge and heavy 4.5V battery drained ever faster as you got closer to the car park.
It should still work, I’ll strip it and clean it, get it powered up. The straps are replacements, it was a bright green and sky blue pattern originally but they stretched out and had to go. Maybe these ones which still have a bit of elasticity in them are where the colour obsession started?
I can still get the big batteries or convert it to AA’s, even put an LED in it, but I’ll keep it as original as possible I think. Damn though, it’s just so big.
Anyway, that’s the first thing sorted. I’m sure there’s an old stove in the garage…