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« prisons we make for ourselves | Main | sands of death »
Thursday
May072009

walking man #1

As a boy I loved army gear and as a teenage climber I thought the world of any gear tested to destruction on K2 or Kanchenjunga, but as a walker I can see that these ancestral gear-parents (climbing, the army) are worse than useless, in fact delinquent; source of many false, but widely accepted, ‘truths’ about outdoor gear.

Take rucksacks. Climbers have rucksacks because they need their hands free and they don’t want gear swinging around and destabilising them. Soldiers only have rucksacks when they have a ton of gear to yomp across some empty space. But walkers always have rucksacks- why? No reason except the brainless need to copy the mountaineering pattern. If you like bending down and picking up stones, looking at flowers, examining dead badgers- as I do, then a rucksack is your worst enemy. By bending you are putting yourself into a top heavy position – uncomfortable and unstable- so what you actually do is keep walking and simply admire stuff from a distance. Nuts to that. Wear a bumbag or waistbag, get the biggest size, and if you need to carry extra water carry it on a shoulder strap hung water bottle. I have great insulation covers that take a standard 1.5 litre evian type bottle- dead light and it stays cool- unlike the clearly mad camel back system.

So lose the small rucksack- walking the Pyrennees I saw that shepherds carried a bedroll slung over one shoulder and water bottle (probably full of wine) over the other. Some had the bedroll slung from their waist. And these were men walking all day long. Unless you have a big load- ditch the sack.

And ditch the heavy sack. Army Bergens are designed for carrying ammo in a war zone. They’re way over engineered for a non-combat role. If you need a backpack for multiday hiking get the lightest one you can find. The best ultralight sacks now weigh in at under half a kilo.

I did just buy a rucksack- a one kilo Berghaus 45 litre Arete climbing sack. I use it for training hikes and two or three day backpacking hikes. It’s OK, pretty light and has some nice features such as open pockets at the back you can stuff stones you find into without taking the pack off, but I still prefer a bum bag and separate water bottles for a long day hike.

Traditional peoples the world over make packframes when they need to carry a big load-and this is still a great way to shift bulky odd shaped loads. I have an old aluminium Karrimor packframe and hipbelt that is way, way lighter than the latest crappy bells and whistles backpack. Mainly of course you don’t want ever to be shifting loads more than 15kg but if it happens a packframe is a good way to go. Buy them on ebay or at car boot sales.

I wonder if the real attraction of a rucksack is that, on a solo hike, it becomes like a companion. I can recall walking into strange mountain villages being glad I had my big rucksack on. It vouchsafed my serious purpose for sure but it was also comforting, a home from home, a pal. Solo climber Reinhold Messner reported weeping when he ditched his rucksack on Everest, his mind wavering from lack of oxygen, causing it to focus on the emotional reality of the situation- he was saying goodbye to his last friend.

 

 

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