Back at the end of the Cairngorms Loop I had a little think about the gear that I had used, and talked about what I might do differently next time.
Winter… long nights. Wet nights. Less riding. More time to spend looking at a glowing screen, researching kit. It is easy to fall into the trap of “needing” the best of everything.
The last few years have seen the evolution and maturing of the fast and light philosophy. What was once the preserve of alpine climbers, is now pretty much the de-facto way of doing things for anyone spending more than one day in the mountains. I’m sure that part of this is marketing led. Outdoor gear manufactures find a new niche to sell to, another reason for the consumer to buy a new jacket, or sleeping bag, or rucksack. What is interesting though, is that away from the Berghaus, Rab and OMM, there is the antithesis of consumerism. People making things for themselves, adapting existing gear (usually by cutting off superfluous weight, which is often driven by the big companies adding unnecessary marketing-driven features to gear), small companies being born making uber-niche products. Many of these small companies are American, but there is an increasing number of Brits out there as well.
Interesting times, and the result is more choice for the discerning consumer. And potentially more bewilderment… The challenge will always be to balance weight with practicallity, durability, function, fit and cost. Cost is an interesting one. Lightweight kit almost always sacrifices features and size, sometimes the price comes down correspondingly, sometimes it doesn’t, as lighter weight (and more expensive) fabrics and materials are used. Everyone’s priorities are different (and may vary depending on what kit we are talking about), but I am willing to make some sacrifices in the name of lightness, understanding that weight is not the end in itself, simply a means to an end. Broadly speed and comfort while moving take priority over comfort while stopped. There are a few caveats on this approach:
1) I live in the UK. Our weather is not known for being predictable. “Just comfortable” can quickly become dangerously cold/wet/exposed. Depending on the situation, I’d rather play it safe.
2) I’ve not yet been out for longer than two days/one night. A single night of discomfort isn’t so bad when you know you’ll have a warm bed the next. I also don’t believe that one bad nights sleep hugely affects performance the next day. Head down and carry on. On longer trips recovery becomes more important.
3) I sleep very well, and in the short term can make do with not much sleep anyway
4) I can’t afford to buy the best of the best for all conditions, so inevitably have to make compromises when choosing gear.
So, based on all that, what recent purchases have I made?
Top of the list was a sleeping bag that would keep me warm for three seasons of the year, to replace my worn out, and never very warm in the first place synthetic bag. I’ve gone for a Rab Neutrino Endurance 200. Toasty warm down, with a water-resistant finish on the outer. Useful for damp bivvies, hopefully.
I used a rucksack to carry much of my kit on the Cairngorms Loop. This wasn’t the end of the world, but there are better solutions available, which keep the weight off ones shoulders, and should hopefully reduce fatigue. At the moment, I am testing a Wildcat Tiger and Mountain Lion for Singletrack Magazine. They both feel secure, and allow the use of dry bags to keep kit totally dry.
For time off the bike, but not in my sleeping bag, I’ve bought a Golite Bitterroot down jacket. I’ve been looking for a hooded, lightweight down jacket for a while, along the lines of the Rab, or Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer. I spotted the Golite on sale for £100 (from £260) though, so snapped it up. So far, all I can confirm is that it is keeping me toasty while I have my first brew of the morning (at home), but it feels good.
I’ve used an MSR Pocket Rocket for years and years, and always been happy with the reliability and cleanliness of gas cooking. Meths brings back memories of heavy trangias and DofE expeditions. Times change though, and there are a new generation of ultralight meths stoves out there, ranging from DIY coke can jobs to something a little more sophisticated. Jenn has been sent a couple of minuscule meths stoves by Stu at Go
Bearbones to try out. I’m interested to see how they fare.
First test for a lot of this kit will be this weekend. Can’t wait!