Wilderness Wales


Good Old Days with Bad Old Gear

Have you noticed how everyone seems to be obsessed with buying the latest hi-tech gear these days? I don’t think I’m the worst offender, but I’ve certainly bought my share in recent years. I now own an ultralight tent with practically see-through material, a sleeping bag that I can practically stuff in my pocket, a stove so light it might float away on the breeze if it weren’t screwed on, and a rucksack so flimsy that I’m afraid to brush it against anything for fear of tearing the thin fabric.

Yes, this new gear is wonderful! Backpacking has never felt so effortless. Provided I don’t overdo the camera gear, it almost feels like I’m just carrying a daysack. Then there’s the huge “cool” factor, showing off your latest gear to make your friends jealous. And it enhances the experience too, doesn’t it? Walking and camping has never felt this good! Or has it?

Let’s cast my mind back a few years, quite a few…

What do I remember as the highlights of my outdoor life? Well there were my first ascents of Snowdon and Cadair Idris, the highlights of my Swansea to Snowdonia cycle tour, back in 1985. That magnificent October sunrise on Moel Feity in 1984. My first waterfall camping trips in the rain. My semi-wild cycle tour of Mid Wales. Gorge walking on the Nedd Fechan. Sgwd Einion Gam frozen. And many more…

And what did all these trips have in common?

Bad Old Gear

Yep, my gear was completely crap! A nasty cheap framed rucksack (the frame broke on one trip) which narrow straps that cut into my shoulders. Sleeping bags that weighed a ton and still didn’t keep me warm. Pathetic waterproofs that got wetter on the inside than on the outside. A smelly solid fuel stove. A two man tent that really needed three people to carry it. A crappy road bike without low gears. Boots that fell apart after a year. It was horrible!

Then there was my clothing. I thought dedicated outdoor clothing was a con at the time, so I made do with jeans that weighed a ton when wet and never dried out, and woolly jumpers that kept me warm except when it was windy, which it usually was. So I had to wear my sweaty waterproofs over the top to stop the wind. How did I ever put up with it?

My mind is filled with memories of lugging a heavy rucksack with painful shoulders, being soaking wet from sweat or rain or both, and generally having to endure all sorts of physical hardships, all in the name of “enjoying the outdoors”.

Good Old Days

And yet, that’s exactly what I was doing! I was having a great time, creating the best memories of my life. No amount of physical discomfort could dampen my spirits. All that crappy gear was irrelevant. Oh sure, I used to dream of owning some “magical” gore-tex and a better rucksack and a lighter tent and so on, but not having any of those things didn’t spoil my experience in the slightest.

I’m sure that the novelty factor had a lot to do with it. I was young and all that outdoor “adventuring” was new to me at the time, but still, it’s remarkable looking back that all that crappy gear and physical discomfort had so little effect on my experiences. Some people might have been scarred for life!

I wonder how many of us have similar memories of our first outdoor trips?

The Present Day

Nowadays of course, I demand the best, and it’s nice that I can finally afford it. I certainly enjoy having it and using it, but has it improved the quality of my experiences? I can’t honestly say that it has. Admittedly I don’t get quite the same kick out of the outdoors as I did in my younger days, but I still love nothing better being out in the wilds.

Would my experiences be any worse now if I had to use that old gear again? To be honest, probably not. I’d definitely complain a lot more, I’d get fed up with getting soaked and carrying too much, but the sunrises would be just as beautiful, the scenery just as grand, the atmosphere just as alluring, and the memories just as permanent.

I’m not suggesting that we throw away our ultra-light hi-tech gear and go back to the Victorian days, but perhaps we shouldn’t be quite as obsessed with acquiring the latest and greatest walking gear as some of us undoubtedly are. The hills and the mountains will be just the same no matter what we carry, and the sunsets just as beautiful.

Originally posted on June 8, 2007